January 10th, 2018
I was at the VA hospital last night. The psych. ward was a busy place. There were twenty-five patients staying there. The folks from the local American Legion post brought along pizzas for the vets, so the break room was full people eager to score some snacks. I put out some grapes for the patients. Besides the pizzas, we had cookies and sodas. We actually started to run out of food toward the end of our visit. That doesn’t often happen.
I spent most of my time conversing with a young Air Force veteran. I had seen him there the week before, but during that previous visit we hadn’t had a chance to get to know each other. Once I was done serving diet, non-caffeinated soft drinks to the other patients, I sat down with Adam, and we just talked for a while. Another patient, an elderly woman, sat at the table with us.
Adam told me, “I’m a drug addict.” He made a point of showing me his arms. He really didn’t need to do that. I would have taken his word for it.
I said to Adam, “Everybody is an addict.”
He paused for a moment and replied, “Yeah, I’ve heard that before, that everyone is hooked on something.”
It’s true. In some ways, the chemical addictions are the easiest to handle, because they are the most obvious, and they tend to get people into the most immediate sorts of trouble. But everybody is stuck somewhere on something. I have never met anybody who was completely free of attachments. I know I’m not.
Most patients don’t stay on the third floor for more then a week. The VA likes to get these people stabilized, and then move them to a halfway house, or somewhere. Adam told me that they didn’t have a place for him to go yet, so that’s why he was spending more quality time in the psych. ward of the VA. It’s not a happy place to be.
Adam and I talked about jail and prison. Adam has been in jail, and I spent a very brief period in there too. I mentioned to Adam that somebody I love is currently in jail, and that my wife and I were trying to help her. I also said that this young woman is likely to go to prison for a while.
The older woman sitting next to us to a break from gumming her slice of pizza, and said in a raspy voice,
“Anything less than a year in prison ain’t nothing.”
Adam thought for a moment, and replied to her, “Well, I’m sure you’re right, but any time in jail is bad. Even two days in jail are two days of your life that are lost.”
Then Adam told me, “When I was in jail, I only got one letter from my parents. They told me not to bother them until I got out.”
I winced when Adam said that because, many years ago, I got in trouble, and my dad basically told me, “You’re no son of mine!” I know how that feels when your own flesh and blood turn their back on you. It hurts, and it’s so, so wrong.
The person that we love has told my wife and me that we have in the past abandoned her. Maybe so. A year ago, Karin and I took our loved one to stay with her cousin on a mountain in Oregon. We had no other ideas, and nobody else was willing to provide a home for the young woman. The experience clearly sucked, and Karin and I wish we had been able to do something else for her. We just didn’t know what to do. Honestly, we still don’t know what to do for the girl we love.
I don’t think that people hurt others out of spite or malice, at least not very often. I truly believe that people hurt each other mostly because of ignorance. We just don’t know the right thing to do. Perhaps we are willfully blind to the truth, or perhaps we are too frightened to recognize what we have to do. In any case, we cause suffering because we are clueless. That’s how I do it.
Eventually, the pizza was all eaten, and it was time for me to leave the VA. I shook Adam’s hand, and I told him to stay clean and to get healthy.
Adam is a good guy, but I hope that I never see him in the psych. ward again.