We were greeted by not one, but two, old hippie couples. I noted a black POW/MIA banner above the coffee kiosk, and a display called the “Tobacco Institute Hall of Shame.”
Yup, another trek to the Veterans Hospital.
While we waited, I nearly got sucked into a cheesy episode of “Bonanza.” Then I imagined doodling faces on the wall sconces.
They called Dave, and I ventured out. In retrospect, the private hospital across the way NO doubt has a better cafeteria. But I settled in. I took in the sights and sounds: retirees talking loudly, Asians talking rapidly, and Dr. Phil—with intermittent commercials about fibromyalgia.
I started reading. But first, a freakishly long stare at Jack Sprat and the Mrs.: Stretch pants. (Bumpy.) And Jack’s bones were indiscernible—and he was wearing skinny-jeans! [“Tobacco Hall of Shame”?]
So. I got to my reading. It’s good. After eight chapters, I amble over to that POW/MIA coffee place. I ordered my usual. Since they don’t know my usual, I tell them: 20‑ounce latte.
I take it outside and settle on a bench.
Z-zzipp! Wow. With that power wheelchair, this guy was a “veteran.” (Get it?)
I said, “How are you?”
The aging African-American of slight build responded—in a cool and positive tone, “Trying to make it. ‘You?”
“I’m good, thanks. Would you like some almonds?”
“No thanks. I’ll eat when I get home. I’ve lost 103 pounds.”
I noticed he had no legs. I decided that wasn’t what he was talking about.
I sipped my latte while he fumbled with his labeled brown paper bag.
I AM RIDICULOUS. Finally…
Z-zzipp! Chair maneuvered to me.
“Will you please open it?”
“What’s this stuff I’m feeding you?”
“Do you want one, Michael Eugene? (I read the bottle.)
‘Pointing at his …lack of… “Did this happen when you were in the military?
“Diabetes. And now they want to cut my fingers off, too.”
As I handed him the pills, I saw his hands were completely arthritic, and covered with sores.
Amazing countenance on this dude.
“Tomorrow I’m coming back here for dialysis.”
I suddenly—privately—asked God’s forgiveness for grumblings about pulled back muscles and hammer toes.
“So, Michael. I want to ask you a question. Have you lived here a long time?”
“Oh, where were you from?” (Okay. He’s reeeally old.)
“West Virginia. I met my wife when she worked in D.C., and she brought me out here.”
I cut to the chase.
“I’m wondering, Michael: How are you doing with God?”
He relaxed in his wheelchair. Sweetly he replied, “Very good.”
I pondered his contented gaze at Someone invisible.
Then he added, “I should say, ‘Very well.’”
Of course, his short bus came around the bend.
“Michael, it’s your time–to be walking very closely with Christ. I want you to be opening that Bible.”
I don’t remember an oral response—but it was positive.
The driver lowered the platform.
Z-zzipp! Up he went.
Michael turned. He craned his worn neck to see me there, and lifted his withered hand to wave.
The driver got everything situated, and as they pulled away, Michael could again see me there on the bench. Even as a silhouette, I could see his white smile against his dark skin. And the outline of that withered hand—held high.