Wednesday, January 11, 2012

something worth searching for

Settling for paper towels   “Here it is,” Mr. B., a Vietnam vet, said as he handed me a picture of his younger brother whose face seemed pained and angry, a mask, perhaps, for an underlying bewilderment. On the back of the picture, a handwritten note explained “9/11 Pentagon.”

That 9/11. Mr. B.’s brother, in uniform, a career soldier, had narrowly escaped the attack that day. When Mr. B. had told me about his brother and the picture, I’d asked for a copy.

“You think he’d like to speak to my class?”

“Probably,” answered Mr. B., soldier straight, as he touched his Vietnam Vets cap, zipped his faded Members Only jacket.

That was a month ago. At least twice a week since then, Mr. B. a former sergeant, I think, has visited my store. Always alert and engaging, he was especially intense today. “I couldn’t believe what she said, when I spoke to my neighbor about her nine year old son who was already starting to hang out with the hoodlums at the corner store.” He paused, shook his head.

“I offered to take her child to the Boy and Girls Club, to get him off the street so that he could have some clean fun...” He stopped, looked at me, shook his head again. “She asked what was in it for her!”

He was outraged. “I tried to explain that it was for him, not her. But she kept wanting to know what she was going to get out of it.”

I could feel his frustration. “Maybe I could talk to her,” I wanted to say. Or, “Try again, Mr. B. Maybe she’ll allow you if you’re persistent.” But I didn’t. It didn’t seem that he needed that. “Have you called Social Services?” I asked. Chances were that they might have suggestions, may have dealt with his neighbor before.

I’d learned to accept that not all good battles are mine to fight. This was Mr. B.’s. And I was being supportive. He’ll see the child again. And I’m sure I’ll hear about what happens.

Of course, I didn’t stop thinking about Mr. B.’s confrontation. How could I turn my back on what he had witnessed, the avoidable harm that may come to that nine year old boy? Was it better that I didn’t know or wouldn’t get to know that child?

Instead of finding answers, I found myself stumbling along aisles of CVS looking for a sale on paper towels. My Mom needed them. But I couldn’t locate those either. Perplexed, I asked for help.

“Sure,” said a manager guy, “I’ll take you to them.”

On the way, I noticed a young man whose face was familiar, but hard to identify and recall. I looked up; rain pummeled the roof.

“Mr. Koplen?”

I nodded.

“I was with your father...”

“In your hospice uniform.” I remembered his kind eyes. Taller and heavier than me, dressed in a sweat shirt and jeans, he looked like an ordinary twenty-something instead of an extraordinary hospice caregiver.

“How’s your Mom?” he asked.

I knew he probably knew more about her condition than I ever would. “It’s hard to tell,” I said. “Some days she amazes me.”

He seemed to understand. “Thanks for being with us that night,” I said. “I didn’t know what to do. None of us did. My brother was badly shaken.”

“That happens, very often.” He was reassuring. “But your Dad had left us, long before he passed away.” He spoke like an angel, a good angel who knew death all too well.

I wanted to ask how he was able to do such work. But my words didn’t match the question.

“Here’s my card,” he said. “I’m selling cars.” Toyotas, the card said. “And making music. That’s my first love.”

“What kind of music?” I asked. I was certain it was ethereal.

“Hard to categorize,” he answered.

“I know the feeling,” I wanted to say. I was tempted to tell him about Mr. B.’s dilemma. If I did, I was certain he would share some insight I had completely overlooked.

But he was off duty. And paper towels were at the top of Mom’s list.

Koplen  1/11/12

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