He was a very old man but still had a full head of hair. It was as white as the fluorescent light shining from the ceiling.
“How you doin’, Sir? Can I get you some ice cream,” the sergeant asked.
“Yes.” He said softly, smiling.
“Vanilla or chocolate?”
“You got it. I’ll be right back.”
As the sergeant went to the serving line, a young soldier was helping an elderly lady back to her room. He overheard her telling him about her husband.
“I was the nurse who took care of him after his plane crashed. He couldn’t move so he was stuck with me until he got better. That’s how we met.”
The sergeant smiled and put his hand on her shoulder, knowing that they, that everyone wants to be touched. “Oh! Say no more! I know what you did! You took advantage of him in his weakened state, didn’t you? You put the moves on him when he couldn’t run!”
She looked up at him, smiling and holding onto her walker with one hand while the other took hold of his. He thought of how warm his hand must feel to hers. Hers was cold, thin and frail.
“You bet I did! I took care of him first, then he took care of me for fifty-two years until he died.”
“What a lucky man!” He said and left to get the ice cream.
“Here you are, Sir,” he said, offering the bowl. The old man could barely speak, and his hands shook, but his eyes and smile showed both dignity and humbleness.
“Were you in the Army, Sir?”
“No, I was in the Navy during the war.”
He didn’t need to ask which war the old man was talking about.
“Thank you for your service, Sir. I’m honored to meet you,” the sergeant said as he shook his hand with both of his.
The sergeant left the man to eat his ice cream and stood against the wall watching the other soldiers who were all just kids in camouflage, really, as they spoke with all the elderly people in the VA hospital. He saw how the eyes lit up on the veterans, and how pleased the young soldiers were to be talking to them.
A very sick old lady was wheeled into the room on a bed. Her face was gaunt, her hair was sparse, and her mouth hung open. The Sergeant couldn’t figure out how to approach her. She was ugly, and couldn’t speak. Her presence made those who noticed uncomfortable. One old man made a joke hoping to ease the situation.
“Look at how skinny she is. She must be starving! I hope you guys have a lot of ice cream!”
Some of the young soldiers laughed, some raised eyebrows. Some walked away.
The Sergeant did not laugh. He thought of how pitiful the lady was, and how even a lifetime of life had not made the old man compassionate. People are people, young or old, he thought. He realized that even he was not compassionate enough to go and speak to the wretched old woman. In his mind she was unapproachable.
He thought of how alone she was now. Someone used to love her. Someone loved her deeply. Someone loved her like he loved someone. She was a friend, a daughter, a mother. She was once the star in someone’s eyes. But now she was the object of an old man’s joke.
The Sergeant left the room with a tear running down his cheek. He didn’t touch her; she touched him.

One Response to “Touch”
  1. Laura says:

    Wow. Very touching. Absolutely beautiful. Thanks.


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