The old man clung to the plastic bags in his lap as his power chair quietly rolled on the bumpy sidewalk. He was on his way home from the supermarket and needed to get the refrigerated items stored before they warmed up. Waiting at home for him was his adorable cat, Pookie. She loved her daddy and defied the common belief cats are independent. Not Pookie. She was always happy to see the old man and had no qualms about showing her love for him. She was his emotional support animal, and they played together, slept together, and even exchanged sounds in mock conversations. He could almost know exactly what Pookie wanted by the sound of her meows and mews.
So sad, he was. He was all alone, save for Pookie. "Just waiting for the Grim Reaper to ring the doorbell," he would tell some folks. He would spend much of the day keeping the apartment clean, playing with Pookie, or sleeping when his pain medication made him very drowsy.
His parents died more than ten years ago, and his two younger brothers, who lived more than 500 miles away, had nothing to do with him. Neither one of them served in the military, and they couldn't accept how combat had changed him both physically and emotionally. They just could not understand. Some scars are not visible.
He was promptly drafted after high school and after basic training, was sent to Combat Medic school where he learned how to save the lives of wounded warriors. Then shipped off to South Vietnam. He did save many lives with his training, but never thought he would be wounded. He just never thought about that. He was too busy saving the lives of everyone else. Then one night around two in the morning, his base camp was attacked by mortars. He zigged when he should have zagged and stopped a hot piece of shrapnel. He told a Marine how to give him first aid, then was evacuated to a hospital ship off the coast of South Vietnam. Once back in the United States, he was admitted to a Navy hospital in San Diego, and after several months of physical therapy, he was medically discharged.
Over the years, pain developed in his hip that got progressively worse. The VA refused to give him any strong pain medication for fear he would become addicted, and eventually the pain got so bad he could hardly walk. He even swore if the VA could not help him with the intense pain, he would use his pistol to put an end to the pain. He just could not live with the pain. The VA took him seriously and took steps to prescribe him some pain medication and whatever else he needed. Hence, the power chair. He wasn't paralyzed, but he couldn't walk much anymore unassisted.
He was married once, but it wasn't obvious his wife was a hateful woman until the honeymoon was over. She constantly corrected him if he didn't do things they way she liked, and never missed an opportunity to humiliate him in the presence of visitors. Eight years of misery passed before the old man just couldn't take it anymore and left. Leaving was both easy--and difficult. They had no children, so that made it easy. Going back on his own was the hard part.
When he left his marriage, he was already suffering debilitating pain, and it was negatively affecting his quality of life, yet he'd rather deal with the pain than continue to live with a miserable woman.
When he reached his apartment he stopped his chair and strained to stand up. He put the grocery bags on the seat and noticed a single rose with a note attached was hanging from the door. He took the rose, sniffed it adoringly, then opened the note. The note simply stated, "Please come to apartment 108. I need your help."
"Hmmm. What could it be? I don't even know this person," he wondered. "Well, first I have to get these groceries in the fridge," he whispered. After unlocking and opening the door, there was Pookie eagerly greeting him "Hi, girl! Okay. Daddy's home. Now, back away so I can bring my chair in." As if she understood every word, Pookie turned and moved away from the door.
The old man put the bags back in his lap and drove the chair into the living room. He was sure Pookie wouldn't run out to the street, but just to make sure he hurried to close the door. Pookie was never an outdoor cat. Ever since she was three-months-old she lived indoors with her daddy, as the old man like to call himself. She was a domestic, medium-hair tabby cat, and so beautiful!
After putting the food away, he said, "It's been a darn long time since anyone has given me a flower. I hope I can make it last for a while."
Grabbing his cane, he limped to apartment 108 and rang the doorbell. It wasn't long before a young pretty brunette opened the door.
"Hello, Mr. Benito. I'm Diane. I guess you got my note."
"Yes, I did. The rose was such a nice gesture. Thank you! How can I help you, Diane?"
"Please come in," she invited. The old man shyly stepped into her apartment and followed her into the living room where he was surprised by a small group of young adults waiting for him. One young man in the front of the group offered his hand.
"Mr. Benito, it my pleasure to meet you," the young man said as they shook hands. "We all wanted to take this opportunity this Valentine's Day to thank you for your service to our country and apologize for not doing so sooner. We are grateful for the freedoms you and other men and women protected with your patriotic service."
The old man was visibly moved and nodded. Diana used a finger to wipe away a tear from the old man's cheek.