STORIES OF STRANGERS ON THE TRAIN: THE VETERAN

A man gets on the train at 5AM.

He’s drunk.

He’s loud.

He can’t sleep. In fact, he hasn’t slept in days.

He looks down at my sleeping body and wakes me up to say, “Hey, Girl. What’s up?”

I mumble that I’m sleeping, and he takes the cue to leave me alone. For now.

As I drift in and out of sleep, I can hear him telling his buddy that he doesn’t trust anyone.

No one came to see him while he was in prison.

He has a gun, and he’s not afraid to use it.

My imagination runs wild as to what this drunk, beligerant passenger will do, but he mostly doses in and out of consciousness, occassionally saying a crude remark about a female who walks by his seat or telling his buddy that he loves him like a brother.

When his buddy gets off the train, he turns to me to share his slurred, drunken life.

He tells me that he’s traveling to Seattle to see the daughters he abandoned over 20 years ago. He tells me that the mother of his children is in an unhappy marriage, but he doesn’t want to get involved. He tells me that he had to shoot women and children in South America for the U.S. Army. He tells me that he works for Veteran’s Affairs, that he travels to different hospitals trying to uplift vets. He tells me that the men and women who fought for our country get no respect.

He cries and cries. When he wipes his tears away, he reveals a rubber bracelet with the phone number to the Suicide Prevention Hotline.

He doesn’t bring up about being in prison, and I think that maybe I misheard him when he was talking to his buddy.

Because he is so unbelievably inebriated, he repeats himself. A lot. He tells me that I have to share the story about the horrible things that the U.S. Government is doing, but he’s afraid I will be killed. Sometimes he whispers, making gestures towards the young soldier in uniform sitting two rows in front of us. Sometimes he just stares at me with wild, animal-like eyes, waiting for me to affirm everything he is saying.

When I mention that I would like to go to the observation car to get some work done, he asks if he can join me. And because I’m a pushover, I say yes.

I watch as he buys a beer in the train cafe at 9AM, and I make a gesture to the attendant that he’s drunk. She tells me to run.

I politely tell him that I will see him later, and since he sits right in front of me in coach, that is the truth.

Later, I overhear him in the observation car telling another person that he just met a journalist from New York and that he’s working on a big, important story with her. Though only 53, he looks 15 years older, and has a voice made of pure whiskey.

As he stumble-exits the train hours later, he reminds me to share the story of what the U.S. Government does to veterans, and that if I do, the story will be big.

I couldn’t promise him a groundbreaking article in the New York Times, but this is the best I can do. And though it’s not the expose he was hoping for, it is an example of what can often happen to the hard-working individuals who sacrifice so much for this country. That’s of course if what he told me is true. Alcohol can make all stories dubious.

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