“Hurry up, cross the street,” she whispered to her daughter, ushering her toward the opposing city sidewalk. Confused, the young girl asked her mother, “why mom?” “Nevermind the reason, just do as I say,” the mother abruptly responded to her impressionable young daughter.
What the hope filled young girl failed to see was not lost on me as I followed behind the pair. Slumped in a doorway was an obvioulsy drunk homeless fellow, begging for spare change. While the mother of the young girl dared not expose her precious child to such debauchery, I took another avenue. I decided to acknowledge this man’s existence, rather than crossing the street and ignoring him.
Sitting down next to him and engaging him in conversation I learned so very much. While he clearly suffered with alcoholism, this hadn’t always been so. In what seemed like a lifetime ago for him, he had served in the armed forces and fought in the Vietnam War, defending our Great Nation. He had ambitious goals including college and graduate school, followed by a career in business. He even married whom he refered to as “the love of my life,” who had patiently waited for him the entire time he was deployed. The two purchased a home in a lovely suburb and had three beautiful children. Life was good. Until it wasn’t.
At this point in his story he seems to clam up and his demeanor changes, taking a dark turn. He recounts nightmares starting, seemingly out of nowhere. Soon though, they were more than nightmares, and more frequent. With sleep came night terrors so real and horrific that he began avoiding sleep altogether. Unsure of what was happening, and too proud to reach out for help, he kept this to himself. Soon though, the terror that plagued his nights began infecting his days. Simple errands like running to the grocery store catapulted him into flashbacks so vivid and real he truly believed he was back in combat. It wasn’t long before he realized an evening cocktail helped ease the anxiety that had become his days and nights, and before long one cocktail wasn’t enough. One led to two, two led to three, and before he realized it, he had lost control. By this point, his job was long gone and his family wasn’t far behind. In what seemed like the blink of an eye he found himself divorced, unemployed, homeless, addicted, and scared.
I listened to this man’s story intently, infuriated that our country allowed a Veteran to suffer as he has, and I offered to take him to a local VA Hospital or shelter, to which he refused (still too proud to accept help). At the end of our conversation I thanked him. “Thank me?” he questioned. “Why would you thank me? I’m just a bum on the street,” he said. “That’s where you’re wrong,” I replied. “You’re a Veteran. You served your country, and sadly, you’re a victim of a flawed system. Furthermore, you’ve taught me an invaluable lesson today that I will carry with me always; never judge someone by an impression they present. Thank you for that,” I said with tears in my eyes, shaking his hand.