Tin Soldiers

“Live not as though there were a thousand years ahead of you. Fate is at your elbow; make yourself good while life and power are still yours.”

Marcus Aurelius

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.”

Robert Herrick

“Poetry begins with a lump in the throat.” Yet life, the reality, typically ends this way. And always alone.

Robert Frost (with an addition by me)

This week was a long week, and I had gotten up pretty early Friday morning. As with most days, I had all sorts of ideas of what I’d do in the moments between end of work and lights out. Yet by around eight-thirty or so the siren call of sleep overtook me and I went to bed. Sleep came quickly, but then so did the racket. A little after ten, I awoke to a loud crash. I think residual parental instincts kicked in, and clad only in my boxers, I hurried into the main room of the house, which was decidedly dark, to find a person lying on the floor. Sleep continued to befuddle me, and at first I thought it was my son. But as I approached the person, I realized it… he… was too much too large to be my son. I said, loudly, “who are you!” Simultaneously, my son came rushing in the front door and shouted, “who the f**k are you!” Now really confused, but clearer thoughts starting coalesce all instincts fled. Finally. I realized I had an intruder!

My son and I are continuing to ask who this person is, a mumbled response of something sounding like “I’m Thomas”. Finally I started to come alive and turned on an overhead light to find an elderly man, apparently stone cold drunk, lying on my floor.And looking around I realized what the crash was. I have two glass shelves on each side of a low entertainment center on which I have some memorabilia. One shelf was leaning precariously on the furniture piece, resting against my wall-mounted TV. The knick knacks scattered to hell and gone. A cantaloupe sized piece of antler coral was now about orange sized with the rather prickly shards scattered about.

My elderly ‘guest’ was slowly rolling around on the floor, but not making much noise. My son had had the wherewithal to call 911, and I heard the conversation. Confusing. I’ve always heard, via documentaries and such, that emergency call centers keep the caller on the line purposely. I think this is a way to keep some control over the situation. And probably try to assess the actual details of the situation. One-sided snippets of the conversation seemed to be leading nowhere, “no we don’t know him. No, he doesn’t live here. No, we don’t know who he is.” My eyes were on the fellow on the floor, but my ears perked up when my son said, “yes, he’s wearing a red polo shirt, how did you know that?” What the hell is going on I thought!

Finally a police officer showed up. A very professional fellow. Our ‘guest’ still hadn’t revealed much. The policeman started asking questions. Good questions. “Good evening sir. Do you know where you are? What is your name? Where do you live? What year is it? Do you know who the president is?” All I had been able to come up with was a repeated, “who are you.” Yet the man, without hesitation, reeled off the answers. Including his address. Not really a spoiler, but his home and current location sure didn’t match.

The police officer was handling things pretty well. Lots of communication, conversations with dispatch, question the person on the floor. All done expertly. At one point the policeman requested a “forty-seven”, which I came to understand was an ambulance, or paramedic request. Then he turned to us. Now I was hearing a bit more. With each revelation from my son, I recalled hearing it during his 911 call. My son had arrived home about ten minutes before the crash that woke me, but hadn’t come inside yet. Because he was outside trying to put together a puzzling collection of evidence. Firstly there was a Prius out front (across the street) brights on, windows rolled down but air conditioner running full blast, and the car was beeping to hell and gone. Then really puzzling items. One of the lights lining my short driveway was broken and in the yard. And there were some artifacts on our front step. A hat, and one shoe. “I heard a crash, and thought oh no, someone is in the house!” My son told the police officer. “I then added, and it was the crash that woke me and I came into the living room.” Putting the pieces together didn’t really begin to solve anything. A puzzling mess. But most puzzles finally reach a solution.

Come to find out the police had already gotten a 911 call from a person about ten minutes before my son came home. Someone had found this man lying in our front yard. The man told the person that he lived here. So the person, no fault to her own, helped him inside. Now here is where you, or any other sane person would stop me and say… “umm. Marv. Didn’t you lock the door?” To which I would sheepishly reply. “Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, yes. But apparently thinking my son would be home soon, and just being dog tired I neglected to lock the door.” So. Yeah.

There is a fire station less than a mile from my house, so the paramedics showed up rather quickly. The questions started again. Including the “have you been drinking” question. The man constantly replied that he did not drink. He reeled off his address, his name, his birthdate. But when asked recent things, like “how the hell did you get here!” (emphasis mine) he stammered and couldn’t reply. The man did state that he was eighty-five years old. And now I know exactly what you’re thinking. I was beginning to think this too. Stroke.

At this point, EMS arrived and started attending to him. This was officially the most people who’ve ever been in my house. The policeman kept asking him questions. Turns out, and now is where the story turns sad, he was eighty-five, and when asked if he lived with anyone he replied that his wife of sixty-one years had died just three weeks ago. His daughter had just gone back to her home out-of-state to return to school. This poor man was now, for the first time, alone.

A gurney was brought in, and one of the paramedics slowly, and letting the man know before each step, sat him up. One of the EMTs then said, “my god this man is burning up!” Hard to imagine but they all got even more serious at this point. They gently put him on the gurney, graciously putting his one shoe and hat underneath. With a farewell, “well you’ve had an exciting Friday night,” the paramedics and EMS took the man out.

A few minutes later, the policemen and another who had joined him, came back in to complete the story. First though, they said that the lead EMT reported that the man had a temperature of a hundred and three! For an adult, this is, as most know, life threatening.

Finally time for the damage report. My knick knacks on the toppled shelf were mostly sea shells, fossils and minerals. (“Jesus, Marie, they’re minerals!”) The antler coral, as I mentioned earlier was badly damaged, but the disheartening damage was to my beloved TV. I’m a movie junkie. I have a wonderful sixty-five inch LG TV. When the shelf fell over, it cracked the TV screen. Ruined.

But by this point I was more concerned by the gentleman who had been on my floor. See, I noticed something when he was there. A big fat gold ring on one of his fingers. I recognized that ring from a distance. A military academy ring. That stuck in my head.

After everyone was gone, as you can imagine, I couldn’t sleep.So I searched for our interloper on the internet, he had been kind enough to give us all three of his names. The first thing I found was the obituary of his late wife. She had died in late July. Her survivors included her husband. A retired Captain of the USN.

It is not inconceivable that I could have met this man when I was a young whippersnapper in the Navy. Unlikely, but the time frames could have matched. But no matter. He had been vibrant. He, and his late wife, were most like a force to have been reckoned with. And yet he wound up writhing on my living room floor.

Yeah, I’m sad for the loss of my really cool TV. But it was this fellow lying on the floor. Everyone thinking of him as a damn drunk at first. I think the proper word is perspective. It’s about life. And as someone who has intentionally tried to take the “local” train through life, avoiding the express, I am startled to see the culmination we all have in our futures. This man had a high-grade fever. This affects the brain. The brain is the kernel of who and what we are. Our perceptions of, and realization of… well, reality are seated in this lump of gray matter. I believe, in the end, it’s inside this windowless room which is our skull where we exit. And we do so alone.

We human beings are an enigma. We can stand strong for a season and then we wither.

Peace and Love
Marv

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