“He served in Iraq. Three years.” The pudgy man pointed to his friend next to him, and the friend nodded over his beer.
“Cheers,” I said, and clinked bottles with him. A subtle motion, completely ineffectual.
The pudgy man continued talking to me, as if the veteran wasn’t there. “He has…what do you call it? PTD?”
“Yeah, that’s it. So we take him out once in awhile, get him drunk. Try to help take his mind off it.”
I looked at the veteran and he smiled. “You could try something else,” I said to the pudgy man. “For your friend.”
He might have heard this before, and raised his eyebrows. “Like talk to him?”
“He doesn’t talk.”
I looked back to the veteran and noticed he was popping his jaw side to side, over and over. An anxious habit, maybe, or coke.
“I wouldn’t mind helping other vets,” he said. “I’d like to get involved in something like that. If there was a program. But I don’t want to talk about me.”
“I suppose helping other vets could help you as well.”
He shrugged. “Lots of things happen in three years. I lived it. I don’t want to talk about it. I’d rather…” He made a motion with his hands of pushing down from his chest to his stomach. “I just can’t think about it anymore. I’m here. I don’t want to think about there.”
“But maybe if you talked about it, it would leave you. At least a little. Bit by bit would leave you.”
I knew I was being naïve, and probably sounded ridiculous. That the problem was too big for a conversation with a stranger over a beer.
His chin rested on his chest for a moment, then he wiped at his eye with his thumb. His jaw popped.
He nodded at my beer. “You alright?”
When he left with his friend to get another drink, a man approached. “That guy’s a druggie,” he said. “I saw him here last week all coked up. Watch out.”