Thursday, March 28, 2013
March 28, 2013
I was the smallest kid in my class in grade school. I was so small that I was given the nickname of pixie. But, there was also a young man who was not much bigger than me. We went through school together and even though he actually graduated in Bend, he is and always was considered a classmate by the others in my graduating class.
My memories of him go to things such as the sit up competition in the 4th grade or so that he beat me in. I think we had an advantage over others in our smaller size but Paul was stronger and beat me by a few reps. Why do I remember that? Who knows. Maybe because I came so close to winning something that was based on strength since I was so small.
Paul was never outspoken. I don't recall him ever standing out, for that matter. But, he was always around and everyone liked him. He was one of the more 'popular' guys in the class.
As was with all school classes, we all went our way after graduation. Paul joined the military along with his friend, Bill. And went off...to Vietnam. And this changed his life forever. Like so many others, war had changed my old friend and classmate.
I saw him sometime in the 80's and thought he was leaving the area. But, sometime in the 90's as I was stopped at a light on Division street, a knock came on my window and there was Paul. We greeted each other as long as one can while waiting for a stoplight and it was so good to see the new Paul. But, he did not look anything like the short stocky guy that I had recalled from school. He now was much slimmer with long hair.
It was years later that I bumped into Paul yet again. This time, he was painting part of the factory outlet mall on Bend's southside. And again shortly afterward, I ran into him painting yet another building close to the old truck stop.
Paul had become just a quiet guy who did his job and...got by. Another classmate, Randy, actually lived across from him for a while and did not realize that he was there.
The last time that I saw Paul was in 2005, shortly after we reopened in our new building. Paul came in for breakfast one morning and I was able to talk with him at the counter. He said that he had a condo on the west side and he pretty much stayed to himself. He said that was just the way he liked it.
With the advent of Facebook, I have been able to reconnect with many of these old schoolmates. I have been asked more about Paul than any other classmate. He was the one who they all knew and liked and who had just disappeared. It had been so long since I saw him, I figured that he must have just left the area.
Yesterday, as I pulled out of my son, Casey's, house and looked to merge into traffic on Galveston, a man on his bike came around the corner. I waited as he drove in front of my bumper, looked my way, smiled briefly, and nodded his head. At first, I wondered if I knew the man.....and then the memories flooded in. It was Paul! I turned his direction, drove alongside, and rolled down my window. "Paul?", I asked? He smiled and nodded his head. "Pull over", I yelled out and drove up to the next place that could park.
I watched as he rode my way. While his eyes still spoke his name, he was now much older with his skin much leathery. His smile showed me my old friend who had now been beaten up a little with life. I told him that more people had asked about him that any other classmate that I had known. That knowledge did seem to brighten his smile but he remained that same quiet guy.
He told me that he had followed me on the news and thanked me for my support of vets. There is a bond that people have after sharing an experience. Paul and I had shared two......school and Vietnam. I felt that bond as we talked. I also felt something else....his PTSD. We talked about life and what he was doing. "How are you, Paul?", I asked. He shared how he no longer was in the condo and now lived in a small apartment. "I get by", Paul said, "I have been able to pick up another job that has helped me get through the winter and I have a landlord who trusts me and that helps".
I asked him if had ever heard of the Band of Brothers and he said he had. I invited him over and he said that he probably would not make it as his bike was now his transportation. We talked for a while about old friends and I told him that it was so good to see him again and that I hoped that our paths would cross again soon. I stuck out my hand to shake his.
Then...he pushed my hand to the side and gave me a bear hug. This came from the quiet guy who did not show emotion. I hugged him back, said my goodbyes, and drove down the street back to the diner.
Almost immediately, I kicked myself. There were so many things I should have said. Like get his number, find out where he now lives, or invite him to the Vet Center. Forty years ago, the war changed his life and in a way....he still lives it.
I made two phone calls. One to another old classmate Larry and the other to my Vietnam brother, Zin. I left a message with Larry and ended up waking up Zin. I apologized for waking him from his nap and we discussed Paul and his needs for a bit. I thanked Zin for helping me get it off my chest.
After leaving the diner, I drove home and took a nap of my own. I put my phone on vibrate and awoke to a call from Larry. I smiled at the irony of it all as I saw his name on my phone. After all, I had waken Zin and now I was getting woke for the same thing.
Larry told me that he would be in town on Wednesday and would join me for lunch. We talked of Paul and he informed me that he wanted to try and find him. That actually would be a good thing if we can find him.
If only I had gotten his number.....or his address....