Veteran’s Day

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November 16th 2012  |  2  |  Category: Fiction , Moral , Philosophical , Satire  |  Author: jls685  |  667 views

It was November 12th 2012, the day that we were celebrating as Veteran’s Day. I was outside a small coffee shop near the University I was attending, drinking coffee and reading. There was a group of college students sitting at the table behind me.
“I know what you’re saying because I’m the exact same way,” said one of them—he had a large flat brimmed hat and multiple piercings through his nose and mouth. “I’ve always wanted to help everyone, but you can’t do it, it’s too much to handle, you’ll wear yourself out really quickly.”

“I know it’s just hard…” replied the girl he was talking to just as I put in my headphones and started reading. I was distracted though and found myself staring at the page without comprehending what was in front of me. My mind was disturbed about what I had heard. Neither of the two people talking behind me seemed selfless. They were talking about selflessness as though it were a natural drive, something hard to resist, so overpowering that they could not help but be kind to others. I thought about it and realized this was a fantasy. Selflessness is not something that comes easily, or at least it shouldn’t be, it is something painful and frustrating, something that makes you want to leave or smirk sarcastically and walk away, but the truly selfless stick through all of this and maintain calm. Selflessness is not a need or a drive, it is not a handicap, it is a forced choice to leave your way of life behind for a little bit, all of your desires, and help someone in need.
I was slowly getting angrier and more distracted from my book when an old Native American man walked up and started talking into the emptiness between my headphones and my indifference for the people sitting behind me. He was broken. His eyes were hollow and he had a hard time meeting mine as I gave him a cigarette. His sentences were broken and fragmented, he was drunk. His shoulders were bent forward and his movements were jerky and hesitant at the same time, he would sit very still for a time then jerk his arm across empty space frustrated and confused about what he was trying to say.

This man sat down on the sidewalk in front of me as I handed him a lighter, thanking me and calling me brother. I tried to ignore him and kept staring at the pages of my book making a feeble attempt to read. I thought he would leave if I ignored him but he kept sitting there on the curb near me, so I pulled my other ear bud out, took my feet off the chair in front of me, closed my book, and offered him a seat. He looked confused for a second then got up very slowly and took the chair offered to him. I studied him more closely and looked into his small black eyes, surrounded by wrinkled and weather worn skin. This man had seen many cold winters and hot summers. The contrast between him and the people sitting three feet behind us was staggering. They all gave the illusion of being worn but were clean and fashionably dressed. This man was wearing a light blue heavily worn jacket over a long sleeved shirt that was probably black at one point and had now faded to grey. His pants were simple blue jeans and his shoes were falling apart at the seams. But his eyes, they were sad and longed for something. I couldn’t tell what it was.
He told me he was a marine. I didn’t believe him but listened to him all the same. After all it was Veteran’s Day and I wanted to show my patriotic respect for the veterans of this nation, even if this man was lying to me in order to gain my sympathy and make a few bucks off me, his life had been hard enough and if he wanted to make up a story about being a marine I had no problem listening to it.

“I need confirmation, you know? I need confirmation for what I did.” He kept saying over and over again, I just sat there and nodded my head in a knowing and sympathetic way.
“Were you in a war?” I asked, being almost completely ignorant of which wars we were fighting when this man was young enough to be a marine. He nodded his head gravely in reply, staring at the table in front of him. I thought about offering him some coffee but I didn’t because I was worried he was sick with something.
“Guam,” he replied adding the respective name and number of his platoon. “First sent in.” I continued to nod gravely and give him the most sympathetic, kind, and respectful look possible. I could think of no other way to react. He almost had me believing him at this point, if it was a con it was a very good one. He was nowhere near old enough to be involved in any conflict the United States could have had in Guam, but he was sinking further and further into the lie that it was becoming reality for him.

He looked up at me a few times and tried to speak but nothing came out, then he looked back at the table.

“I just need some confirmation of what we did over there, you know?” He looked at me so hard that I had to look away. I gently replied that I did know. I didn’t understand at all, I had never been in a war. I had never lived on the street. I had never needed subtle confirmation from the very people I thought I was fighting for. People that looked at you with hate filled eyes and disgust. I did not understand at all, I had never endured that much physical or mental pain. He told me that war is terrible and that he was now “panhandling” for money which was already obvious to me. I knew that the further I let this go, the more likely he would be to expect me to give him something in return for his story but I didn’t care, I figured that he just needed someone to listen to him for a little while, condescending and without fear, so I listened.
“I never told anyone this,” he continued, “Is, is it alright if I tell you?” He asked in that knowing way, knowing that I would listen, still I replied in the affirmative.
“I was hit in the back with an RPG, taking a life is hard brother, at least for me.” I inserted a little wisdom here into his make believe story. I think it should always be hard, I said.
“I saw one of them reloading his RPG-7 and getting ready to fire back at me, so I sent them back to Allah.” I smirked a little, thinking I should smile about his victory over the make believe Arabs in Guam, I soon realized this was a terrible mistake and quickly let my head drop back into the look of simple sympathy again, the table behind me was loud with chatter, I had no idea what they were saying anymore. The man in front of me was deep within his own delusions, his sentences had even become more coherent, he was the perfect stereotype of a war ravaged soul.
“Was what I did right?” He plainly asked me. I was a little surprised but didn’t let my face show it. I replied that I thought that what he did was right, he didn’t have a choice right? It was either him or them, he was defending people, and he had showed great honor, my face was extraordinarily solemn as I said these things, I was involved in this lie just as much as him.

“But it still hurts.” He replied gravely, looking back at the table, he never raised his eyes again. Eventually he asked me for some money and I gave him five dollars replying simply that it was all I had. I thought that was a nice touch. The weight quickly shifted as soon as he had the five dollar bill in his hands, it was now me who had the upper hand. All of his pretend sacrifices were thrown to the wind as soon as he accepted my charity. I was the one deserving of honor now and he quickly left, thanking me and calling me brother again, probably off to spend my money on more alcohol. I sat there for a while thinking about what had just happened. I did not mind being conned. Of course he could have just walked up and asked me for money and I would have given it to him, but he must have felt like he needed to earn it, to make himself feel entitled to it. At least that was his motivation at first but eventually he had become so overwhelmed in his own lie that he had become that war ravaged soul fighting for me, the American citizen, across the Ocean in the country of Guam.

Before he left he told me that he loved me because I was an American. He loved me because I was able to enjoy all of the freedoms that he had fought for, it was very patriotic. I solemnly stood up and walked by the table of helplessly selfless college students still talking together and drinking coffee not two feet from where I had been sitting. I didn’t mind giving this man my money, he had earned it, the story was well worth five dollars.


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2 Responses to Veteran’s Day

  1. Avatar of Ami Ami says:

    Awesome story/ I really Enjoyed it and share with my friends.

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