There are plenty of veterans I could write about today, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about one in particular.
When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to take a few college classes for free during the summer. My speech class had kids my age, college students, and one older guy who always sat off by himself. His age made him more of an outsider than his scruffy hair and old clothes.
We had to do that lovely introduction thing teachers make you do, and though I don’t remember his name I do remember that he was a Vietnam veteran. Most of us didn’t particularly enjoy getting up to talk in front of the crowd, but it was especially hard for him. He’d freeze up and have to sit down, even though his speeches were interesting and well-prepared.
The one moment where he really shone was his demonstration speech. This guy was amazing with jewelry, making beautiful glass beads and wrapping them in twisted wire to create gorgeous pendants. He had the whole class crowded around a big table while he worked. He was in his element, and he was so proud when he was done. He gave a few of us the pendants he’d made, and I wore it all the time.
On his next speech, he froze up again. I could see how much it bothered him, and when I saw him outside I tried to encourage him. Now, I don’t see how a fifteen-year-old girl could possibly help a full grown man. It seemed right at the time, and I can only hope that he wasn’t offended.
But he never came to class again.
I still don’t know his name. At the time, I didn’t understand anything about PTSD or what it would be like to go back to school when you’re twice the age of everyone else there. Every now and then, he pops in my mind and I wonder what happened to him after that last unfinished speech.
And while I doubt he’d ever possibly read this, I hope he does and knows that someone is thinking about him on Veterans Day. (And I still have that pendant twenty years later!)
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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois. She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University. Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside Detective. Her short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Siren’s Call, and Subcutaneous. Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world. You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.