Monday, June 20, 2016

Tree Roots File for V A Disability


V. A. promised. 
Papers stack, lost, found, scatter…
Over the years, trips to the library…
Libraries no longer hold book shelves.
He has no access to internet.
He lives by mountains that touch Riverside
(there is no river; but that's another story.)

Documents due.
“Three hundred eleven pages, count them twice,” Dan asks the boy at Kinko’s.
Pay for copies (machine at the public library is broken.)
Boy says, “It’s cheaper to mail U S Post than Fed Ex.”
“No car,” he shakes his head.
Dan doesn’t explain license was lost driving his wife
to the doctor with expired tags in an off road car.

Duplicates mailed.
It takes three bus transfers and five miles walking on a swollen knee.
His ear rings with cicadas. Spinning to locate the buzz; there are no bugs, flies sit on hamburger wrappers. A Carl’s Jr ad logan reads: " Support Veterans. " The space on each side of the letters aches his bad teeth, as when biting into the paper wrapper. Greasy paper lacks the meat of burger.

Decembers counted. At the office in Long Beach in the spring, he inquires about the package. Interview set in three months. A Veteran’s Affairs intern decides his life.

Deliriums repeated.
That day, he’s up at 3:00 AM to ride the bus again. A familiar track keeps ghosts from muttering about Vietnam. These thoughts he sunk in a muddy puddle of his mind.
Three chairs are filled in the lobby of the V A office. Twenty one men wait in line.
In the interview room at a wooden table, a young woman looks over her computer.
“Have a seat. Please get out two forms of I.D.”
He shuffles for his California ID as she types.
“There are one hundred questions. Answer promptly to get the interview closed on time.”
He nods. She asks questions about years of service, employment and familial status.
“What is the one incident you recall as being traumatic?”
He thinks of hundreds jumbled together. He cannot pull one into a brief story.
“There are so many.”
“One please.” She says not looking at him.
He summarizes Chu Lai. Operation Starlight sounds cheerful in battle history but being shot, pulling a buddy, finding him missing legs doesn’t make him smile towards the end of the tale.
“Why did you not file before?”
“Shame,” his answer is one word.
After forty minutes she announces, “Thank you, that is all.”

Dismissals granted. 
As he closes the door behind, he wonders about the men lined up in the lobby. Useless almond trees become firewood. The image uproots his emotions. Now outside, a hot rush of tears waters his cheeks.
“Should have let her see…” He clears his face with his sleeve.
On the walk home there is a mirror balloon, now missing the helium, caught near the bus stop. He examines it hoping for a sign. A birthday wish sent to heaven, now fallen in his way. Objects foretell events, this is a good omen. Perhaps he passed the test. 

Tree roots photograph and poetry copyright Caroline Gerardo June 20, 2016

I've been thinking about Lt Col Ben Pollard. This story is not about him. I wore his Vietnam MIA silver bracelet in my High School years. After years of captivity and torture he did come home. He now lives in California. I often keep him in my prayers. To all those who serve for our freedom, thank you. Did you wear one of those? I lost mine long ago, but not the memory
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