Story by Jaye Lewis
I was feeling my age, that morning as I limped from the parking lot up to the Physical Therapy Building. I was pushing fifty. I was crippled, and I was feeling like a failure. Thankfully, I was happily married; however health problems had cut short my dreams of finishing my education. Gloomily, I couldn’t recall a thing that I had ever done that was important.
My thoughts became more disheartened when I noticed the middle aged man limping in front of me, his long, gray hair blowing in the wind. I just knew I’d be stuck in the waiting room with him. I was in no mood for a conversation. I knew I was in for a long and painful wait.
By the time I reached the hallway, one of the two chairs available was occupied by the gray-haired man. Reluctantly, I took my seat next to him, hoping that I could bury myself within the pages of an outdated magazine. My bubble of protection was immediately interrupted by his curious stare. I looked up with a sigh. He gave me an uncertain smile as our eyes met.
“I know you.” He said.
“No you don’t.”
“Yes, I’m certain I know you.”
“I’m not from here.” I insisted.
“No. I’ve met you someplace before.”
“That’s impossible. I’m certain we’ve never met.”
“I feel that I know you from long ago.” he said, with conviction.
In spite of myself, I was intrigued. We played “twenty questions,” and we finally got around to the Vietnam War and San Francisco. He had served in the Army. He’d been wounded in battle, and he was darned proud of it.
“I didn’t do anything important,” I said. “I served stateside, as a U.S. Navy WAVE, at San Francisco International Airport. I married way too soon, and I was discharged when I became pregnant.” my voice trailed off.
Suddenly, the man became very excited. “I remember receiving help from a young WAVE,” he grinned, “with red hair just like yours! It was in the spring of ’67, when I came back wounded from Vietnam.”
“I’ve never seen anyone like her, before or since. She moved heaven and earth to make sure that I was well taken care of. She was a tiger, all right. I was badly wounded, barely dragging on crutches. She got me into a wheelchair, and she, literally, ran after a local bus, making them stop. Then she nearly carried me on board, giving the driver careful instructions to make sure that I arrived at the hospital, safe and sound. And then she called to see how I was!”
“I didn’t see her, again, until four months later, when I was heading home, still on crutches. All I saw was this WAVE fighting like a wildcat, trying to get away from some drunken sailor.” Chills crept up my spine as I remembered the wounded soldier who had rescued me.
“I just couldn’t let that girl be ill-treated, after all she had done for me. I threatened that sailor with one of my crutches, and he finally put her down. I escorted her back to her desk..”
“And then you went and got the sailor,” I choked on the words, “and you made him apologize to me.” Tears streamed down my cheeks, as I remembered that day, and him.
How could this happen? My rescuer from 1967 was sitting next to me, twenty-five years later and half a continent away. Our lives had come full circle, and there we sat, thanking each other for a mutual kindness, long ago. We talked for a long time, and then we parted.
I learned some important truths that day. First, people are seldom what they seem to be, at first glance. Second, kindness is its own reward. It changes the lives of both parties. Last, I learned that though my time was short, I had served my country, simply by serving those who had sacrificed everything. I continued that day a happier woman, because I understood that a kindness given will often return to bless you again.