Five minutes in an old veteran’s life…

He was going the wrong way down Broadway. As I approached him head-on, I could see he was holding a can of Budweiser. But that wasn’t the issue. It appeared he didn’t care if this trip ended in suicide. He was rolling by his own power in a wheelchair, one leg skittering along the pavement, the other leg missing. There was no sidewalk, no shoulder on that stretch of Broadway. So he rolled his wheelchair into the face of oncoming traffic. He apparently didn’t care, seeming to dare traffic to hit him head-on.

Riding my bicycle, I approached him head on,  skidded to a stop and asked him, “You okay?” He shook his head no, and muttered something unintelligible. I turned my bike sideways, straddling the bike to make a bigger visual target so the afternoon rush hour traffic would avoid barreling into us. 

The man in the wheelchair was an ex-marine, judging by his Semper Fi ballcap and the tattoo on his arm labeling him a member of the First Marine Division.

He was close to delirium. 

“Vietnam?” I asked.  He nodded. He told me his roommate had “gone postal” and thrown him out. So he was headed downtown to 9th Street.

“That’s two miles,” I said. “You’ll never make it.”

“I know.”

He was too proud to go back, too weak to go forward. With a paper bag of Budweiser cans in his lap, he didn’t seem to care. By the looks of him, his amputated leg might be because of a war injury. Or it might be because of illness. By my guess, he was sixty-something years old. He didn’t look healthy.

Another pulse of traffic whizzed past. I convinced him to move out of the road, and helped him to the shoulder. Meanwhile, a car pulled over into a nearby church parking lot. The driver and his wife jumped out of the car and approached us. “Let me help you,” the driver said to the veteran. He wheeled the man into the parking lot while his wife called police for assistance.

A police officer drove into the parking lot. He appeared to know the vet, and began talking with him, trying to determine the best course of action for the old guy.

It’s hard to tell whether this veteran fell through the cracks, or jumped. I don’t know his history. I don’t know his name.

I hope he found comfort, or comfort found him.

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