Thursday, December 21, 2006

Stream of

His hair is covered with a black stocking cap with a red stripe around the bottom. He has carefully lurched over to our table and stands, beer glass in hand, staring uncertainly at us. His eyes are glassy, his frame slouched over beneath his black windbreaker. He mumbles something; the Charlie Brown Christmas Special music is playing incongruously on the bar's sound system, playing too loudly, and I can't hear him.

He manages, with many unnecessary gestures and shrugs, to communicate his desire to sit down and finish his beer at our table. "I was...over there. And he kept staring at me..." he grimaces. "Giving me a look...I just...sorry to interrupt. I was bored over there.'s okay?"

He takes the open stool and Julie asks his name. "Pee Eff See Jones," he says, shaking her hand earnestly for several long seconds.

He doesn't want to bother us and he doesn't want to talk about Yemen, from whence he returned in October. Nevertheless, he launches into a story about his time in the Reserves. I can only hear about half of what he says. He worked on Black Hawks, doing maintenance. Someone was ambushed on patrol...a vehicle flipped, two men crushed. "One of them, he was crushed right away, went fast." He tries to remember where the guy was from, without success. A shrug. "The other one, he was crushed too, but...he died later."

"I bought a gun, you know, a Ruger 9mm. My wife, she freaked out when I got it, but..." Another shrug, a curled lip. He needed to have it under the bed, he said, case.

We listen to him ramble drunkenly. Every so often he will stop himself and announce, "I don't want to talk about it." Then he will go on.

I fear he will tell us too much. Then I fear he won't tell us enough.

He says he's out, but he's going back in. "Eight thousand dollars," he says, his eyes lighting up for the first time.

He talks, we listen. We shake hands several times, try unsuccessfully to talk him into getting a cab ride home. "Support the troops," he urges me during one handshake. I bite my tongue and tell him to take care of himself.

It isn't enough. "I got a debriefing, you know, when I got hour and a half, I guess it was."

He can only take care of himself so much. Why is he the only one tasked with taking care of himself? An hour and a half, and he's supposed to step out of one world and into another, without a glitch? He drinks a lot and keeps a 9mm under his bed. If he's lucky, he'll never combine the two. Why should the quality of the rest of his life, which we collectively paid to irrevocably alter, be left only up to luck?

And if he is less lucky, and ends up on a street, will someone in Woodinville who keeps a yellow ribbon magnet on their truck be someday bellowing in anger at the thought of "his kind" sullying the suburbs?



This darkest night, this longest dark, we wait in despair for the light to return. We wait, a candle lit in poor imitation, for the return of the illumination that will drive out the shadows.

Be well, Pee Eff See.