Mike and I worked together in the Call Center.
I was one of his supervisors, amongst several – and we all loved him.
Mike H. was a veteran who had lost a leg in the rotten Vietnam War (I say ‘rotten’ as a euphemism. Forty years on from the war, the perpetrators of the war – especially Robert McNamara – who all made money from it, said in his book, “I’m sorry. We lied. Sorry your loved ones died.” I’m paraphrasing just a bit, but the truth is in those words. He had ‘apologized.’)
Mike played baseball – really well! You should have seen him round those bases! He loved sports! Some he could no longer play, but in what he could play, he excelled.
Mike was a decent man as well. If he could help someone he would – didn’t even have to really know them. He was great with the folks calling in for road service on their vehicles, as well. No one ever seemed to rattle him – even the jerks. There were challenges though, personally. In addition to the physical scars, he had PTSD.
One of the challenges was that he had a little girl who lived with his ex-wife in another state, so he rarely saw her; and it bothered him. He talked with her as much as he could, and sent her as much money as he could, given that living in California is really expensive. He kept pictures of her on the wall of his cubicle. You could feel the blend of happiness, love, and sadness. Sometimes he’d cry; a silent sob, tears streaming down his handsome face.
Mike lived with an inner sadness, though – and not just about his child. The war had changed him. He knew it, and tried hard to work it through. The doctors at the VA – good people, mostly – were overworked, and held to the confines and dictates of the political class and their appointees over the system that was charged with helping him and so many others. Sometimes he felt it was quite pointless to even go. PTSD was, then, akin to what ‘malingering’ was in the World War I my husband’s dad was in.
The war never left my husband’s dad. It never left my father, either. A decorated World War II veteran, he saw two of his best buddies blown apart before his eyes, missing him only because he had moved just moments before to relieve himself quickly. War never leaves anyone. But Mike tried hard to send those feelings packing.
Trying hard doesn’t always cut it, though; even when you fall in love. Mike was extra happy these days. He was training youngsters in baseball; work was good; and he had a new love – a divorcee who seemed to be the perfect fit for him. He spoke about how vulnerable she was after her divorce; how intelligent she was; and how she could tell what people were like almost instantly. She gave him something he had been missing…companionship…love…laughter…value. They had fun together. She told him she loved him and wanted them to get married – an idea that was already forming in Mike’s head and heart – and when he realized she loved him the same way, he was ecstatic. I had never seen him so happy and so animated. He had a future that looked grand, and the dark days of Vietnam seemed to be fading from his shadows.
But War remains; always lurking in the shadows, waiting…with its mental weapon cocked, to pull its emotional trigger…and the trigger was pulled one Friday evening in Spring.
Baseball was just starting up again. Wedding plans were being made; and Mike and his fiancée were looking at places to live – together. We talked about his plans, as he was preparing to leave work that Friday. I hugged him and let him know I couldn’t be happier for him and to make sure I got an invitation to the wedding! He laughed, reassured me jokingly, and beat feet to pick her up.
Mike arrived to pick her up, but they never went anywhere. In the middle of all this happiness, the shadows arose. Sitting down, she told him that, yes, she loved him; but, she was going back to her ex-husband, whom she loved as well. He wanted to try again, and she believed him. She just wanted to give it one more shot, Mike, just to be sure. If it didn’t work, then…Mike left. He called several of us to tell us he wouldn’t be at work the next day; that he would be going back to her house tomorrow and gathering up all his belongings he had there, including all his stuff he had stored there from Vietnam…scrapbooks, tags, odds and ends, and a couple of weapons. We were all concerned. Mike didn’t sound himself…and he talked about how he should have re-enlisted; gone back; that he wasn’t worth much to any woman, with his body shot up like it was. He was only good for war. We reminded him of what a good man he truly was, and everything he did for others – especially the kids – and that his daughter would miss him if he went away. A couple of the guys offered to go get the stuff, or at least go with him. He hugged them, but declined. I asked him to call me in the morning, to let me know how he was doing, and if he needed someone, he had all our phone numbers. He agreed, told me how grateful he was, and hung up in my ear.
As you must have figured out by now, the story does not end well. Mike never called. We tried calling him repeatedly to no avail. Finally, one of us found the number to Mike’s now ex-fiancée. Someone else picked up the phone. It was the police. Mike had gone to her house to make a plea for her to change her mind. She didn’t. He apologized for being less of a man after coming back from the War and he’d get his things and be out of her life. He went into the bedroom, took his gun, and blew his brains out.
War was the murderer…the political class a co-conspirator. Mike H. was a sweet, gentle man; but the War wanted his life, and it finally got it.
I love you, Mike. Veterans deserve so much better. This is simply a synopsis of what happened. Those who don’t serve, send others’ loved ones to fight and die for their wet dreams of power and control. Democracy, my left foot.