Sunday, June 28, 2015

This is who I am: Stranger, Yes. Offender, No

I'm recently back from a vacation to Philadelphia. Now, while on vacation I got in good exercise. I'd go walking for about 2 - 3 hours. New Jersey has these wonderful parks that encourage such efforts. Coming home I thought I'd continue the practice.

Now, I live next to the Middle & High School and behind the Elementary School. Kids by the dozens walk by my front door. Whenever I'm there I politely wave and give a short greeting and continue with my task. Almost ZERO interaction. However some of these kids are so appreciative of my service, I have a picture frame filled with a wonderful poem written by one of them on my living room wall.

So I had the practice of walking to one spot of High School grounds from my house. Measuring the distance, there and back was one mile. With my damaged equilibrium that would take me about 25 minutes to complete. I would do it NOT when the kids were going to school. No need to upset "normals" though I proudly wear my Desert Storm Veteran hat (with my airborne pin).

Having ended my vacation a day early I was sitting around the house and I realized that I could still do my vigorous walks. I walked to the High School, while passing the Middle School. My path took me out to a Greek Orthodox Church and to the local Fire Department. As I was heading back to Route 9 (my address) I went down Bartlett Ave.

As I walked down that way - I noticed a woman and kid having difficulty. I greeted them and asked if help would be appreciated. She turned and her face showed gratitude. I walked up and helped her empty the harvest bag from her lawnmower. The kid, and woman, just were not built in such a way to lift the bag to a proper position for easy emptying. (And it was heavy!!) Finishing up, and being thanked, I went to continue my walk and the kid started walking with me. I turned to him and asked him a question, "What's my name?"

"I don't know."

"Then I am a stranger! Now you go to Mommy or Daddy right now! Mommy or Daddy handle strangers, you do not!"

The Mom, who was looking a touch anxious, relaxed and waved thanks after listening to my lesson to the young man. The smile on her face, after helping and after teaching, was worth the experience. These are smiles that reach into my soul and tickle me. I am the oldest of six kids who grew up in a dangerous neighborhood. I know how parents worry and to make one smile in relief is joyful beyond words to describe.

I continued down Barlett with one of my hands smeared with grass cuttings and juices. As I walked I notice the Martin J. Flanigan Community Center was still open and I entered to wash my hand in the bathroom. I used to work at Flanigan. At the time of my accident, I was the Asst Spvr for Strafford County's Meals on Wheels program and that was the HQ for that activity.

So I knew where the bathroom was. Entering I passed the door to the gym while heading to the bathroom. Having some combat PTSD issues I always look and assess an area as I pass. So I glanced into the room to see what was going on. Some teenagers were at play and there was a Coach focusing their activity. I turned to continue to the bathroom when the Coach sounded off. "Who are you?!? What kid are you here to see?!?"

My aphasia kicked in with hostile verbal interaction suddenly in front of me. Stuttering I tried to talk but my talking was not fast enough for Coach. He approached me shouting at me and then I got worried that he might make the mistake of making physical contact with me. The Army taught me how to terminate such an attack and I got terrified that I'd fall back into habit and accidentally harming the dumb coach. I never even got to say my name. He didn't care: I was some perverted sex offender acting up on his watch!

Here I am, mentally disabled, walking into my old workplace, wearing a combat veteran hat, being accosted by a 6 foot PLUS overweight guy (which describes me as well) trying to figure out how to answer "ANSWER ME DAMMIT ANSWER ME DAMMIT". At my size and inability to speak, I'm a police shooting waiting to happen. Am I offended? Heck yeah. The picture frame with the poem inside it was handed to me by our Mayor. The honor of that still shivers in my spine.

Now, this is where people don't get this: I AM MENTALLY DISABLED. Not crazy, not perverse, not stupid. Just sideways in cognition. 2 plus 2 equals the same thing it always did. It just takes me longer to remember how to do math - math itself. Adding is easy for me, lickety split, but remembering and figuring out if math is appropriate at that moment... that takes longer.

It is moments like this that cause me great mental distress. I'm a member of Mensa (meaning I'm not dumb by far), I bled for the freedoms of my fellow citizens (Yes, purple heart-ed I am), I used to jump out of flying vehicles (planes mostly but sometimes helicopters), and I wielded death in my hands (M16 with an M203 attached).

So for a guy who got stabbed a couple of weeks after jumping out of an airplane to shoot bad guys and launch grenades at distant mortar emplacements to no longer be able to speak in the face of an a$$hole I could take out without building up sweat.... that is who I am now.

A Stranger, Yes. A heart broken one that can't always speak.

Offender, No. Even if you put your hands on me and I break your face/body for doing so.

PS: I'm realizing a trend here. Society does not know, or care to know, how to treat me. It seems that my being sideways is trouble for them. As such, when I was faced with the surprise question "Live or Die" why did I choose to continue living? Don't know but I endeavor to find out why.

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