A Quieted Mind

“They don’t get it.” he thought. “Hell, I don’t get it.” He stood up and shuffled around the tiny living room, taking it all in. Even at ten feet by twelve feet, the tiny room seemed large and vacant. It held a folding chair and a wooden crate. The crate turned upside down to make a table. An ash tray sat on it, butts and ashes overflowing. An empty plastic cup sat there too, its straw sticking up like a third graders hand in a classroom.  A sheet covered the sole window. It was yellowed and tinged with gray, the colors of cigarette smoke and dust. In the next room was his kitchen. A skinny ice box and a warped counter, its linoleum cover rippled as if were a rolling lake surface. A sink sat in the middle, seeing better times quite a while back, now it was yellowed by rust and pitted from years of use. The floor was linoleum tiles, some cracked and some missing, allowing a glimpse of the plywood flooring.

His bedroom had no door, sitting in the living room one could look in at the mattress laying on the floor, rumpled sheets and a blanket thin enough to see through haphazardly spread. In the ceiling a bare bulb hung down, at night it accentuated the jaundice colored walls. His bathroom, if you could call it that, was a rusted shower the size of a phone booth, mineral stains draping beneath the dull metal faucet handles. The ancient shower head dripped a pendulum beat that echoed in the tiny steel cavern. A pedestal sink was obviously related by family to the one in the kitchen, it kept company with the toilet’s cracked seat and consistent water flow of a flushing system in disrepair.

The apartment was certainly nothing to brag about, but at least it was a home, and that’s more than he could say about other men like him. He’d returned from four tours in Iraq to hear again and again from prospective employers about how bad the economy was. They couldn’t use him. Months ago he’d said goodbye to his dignity, having to go to a veteran outreach center to ask for food. His unemployment, based on his military pay only barely covered the cost of his pitiful apartment. He used to have it better. He had a little color television and a boombox to listen to music with. But they’d been stolen when his apartment was burglarized.

“What’s the fuckin’ point?” he asked himself. It was a question he asked with greater and greater frequency as the days dragged by. Days that ran one into another in a tedious sameness. On Sunday he would wash his few clothing items in the kitchen sink. He made due with the small plastic bottle of dish soap. He used it in the shower as well. He would clean his clothes and then hang them from a string between two nails in his living room.

He shuffled into the bedroom and dropped onto the mattress. He could smell his own body odor in the sheets, the product of night sweats. Nightmares frequented his sleep, rousing him awake, drenched in the perspiration of fear and shaking with fear and loathing. He wished he could talk with someone. Maybe anyone. But he had no friends, his interaction with people was saying hello to other applicants like he, looking for some kind of work to make ends meet. During the waking hours he would sometimes daydream, seeing the same horrors that interrupted the nights, causing him to startle. He legs and hands would shake as he tried to sweep the visions and memories from his mind’s eye. On the floor next to the bed was his notice from Veterans Affairs. He’d asked for help even though it made him cringe. He wasn’t a weak man. He had strength and dignity. But he wasn’t strong enough to push the thoughts he’d been having from his mind. Thoughts that frightened him. He questioned his value. He questioned the purpose of his life. He questioned whether he might be better off dead.

The VA embraced him with reassuring promises. A lot of promises. But not much action. The sheet of paper told of his appointment, a mere four months away. If he could only hold out. If he could just go that distance, maybe it would be okay. But he obviously wasn’t a priority. His service apparently meant nothing. He picked up the prepaid cell phone the veterans outreach center had given him. He had no way to reach anyone and so they gave him the phone. He picked it up and looked at it. Maybe he should call them at the VA and tell them never mind. Tell them to help other guys. Tell them he understood that he wasn’t worth shit to himself or anyone else.

He thought about the roof, just two floors above him and the door to it that was never locked. Just two flights of stairs and he could be in the open, fresh air. Then just a few more steps and …oblivion. No more worries of how to feed himself. How to keep clean. How to matter. He shook his head. No. He’d get some help instead. He would call them and beg for help. Better than the alternative, right? Sure it was. He opened the phone and dialed the number. The phone rang and a voice said “Hello! And welcome to the VA Medical Center.” He said hello back, then realized it was a recording. The voice droned on and on about pressing this number for that department, or that number for this department. Then at last it told him that if he had thoughts of harming himself, he should call someone else. Call who? What was the number? What did they say?

He slammed the phone shut and threw it across the room. It hit the wall and showered onto the floor in a cloud of parts and pieces. He stood and hauled himself up to his full height and walked out his front door. “Fuck it.” he said to himself. He took the stairs up.

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