I KILL RICH PEOPLE 2, page 5
“Tell me, Major, why don’t you talk about ‘us’ now? There are two and a half million of us who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. You tell me, you really think we need to ask for anything? All we need is to stay ‘WE’ and WE can take what WE earned.”
The major was standing up and puffing, with her giant boobs looking ready to burst the fabric barely holding them contained.
“Captain, we have a lot of material to cover in this section and you have been through the entire program before,” she told him, rigidly pressing herself to maintain her icy even tone, “so I’ll ask you to refrain from interrupting.” The man was an officer! What kind of officer crushes morale? His injuries didn’t alter his responsibility to offer leadership.
“Material. I’ve heard it, remember? This isn’t my first rodeo. Major, these men have all been in combat. I’ve been there, too. Have you? Tell me that. Where did you fight, Major?”
Major Davies glared at the captain; she kept steady and calm, but Spencer could see that the captain had struck a nerve. Major Davies sent a text. 9-1-1. Two orderlies rushed down the hallway trailed by a nurse who hustled to uncap a syringe.
Before they could inject the sedative, Spencer sprang to his feet and lifted the captain up off his seat.
“Major,” he told her, “I’ll take the captain out for a walk.” He put his body between the captain and the orderlies.
“Cap, I got you,” he whispered. “Come on. Now.”
He hooked his arm around the captain’s forearm and choreographed his movements. His body wasn’t fully there, not enough to be reliable. Not yet. Fighting two meant disabling blows, the sort of violence that they wouldn’t walk away from.
He stared at both orderlies, his eyes conveying that they were the ones in trouble.
“Do they have sedatives?” Captain Sam asked Spencer.
“Major, I’d like to take that walk,” Captain Sam told her. He told Spencer to “walk slowly until we get a pace together and try to tell me what’s coming up, stairs and curbs especially.”
Spencer did as ordered. The orderlies parted without intervening.
As they walked toward the double doors at the top of the ward, Spencer wondered what made him get involved. Why would he risk screwing up? He was onto the home stretch. Bagram to Landstuhl, Landstuhl to Madigan, Madigan to Walter Reed, Walter Reed-PEB-Afghanistan.
Group made the men feel small. None of them were small, but they went along. Only the captain didn’t go along. Before that, Spencer had added it up, but it was just like the captain said. The army was always about working together right from the first hour of basic training; now personal responsibility was all they ever talked about. Now they were making guys who are already down feel like they ought to be grateful for everything the military was doing for them and not the other way around. Captain Sam saw what was coming, how the MEB and PEB processes weren’t about a soldier’s future; this was all about pencil-pushing actuaries getting the grateful nation off the hook with the cheapest settlement they could get away with. Major Davies worked for that machine. Everything coming out from her mouth was filtered by it.
They took the elevator down to the ground floor without talking. They headed east out the rear entrance toward the flat grassy sport fields where Spencer thought the captain could walk on his own without any obstruction.
“Sergeant, I apologize for taking you away from therapy.” Those were the first words the captain ever spoke to him. It might have been the first time he had heard any captain apologize about anything.
“Not a problem, Sir,” Spencer replied, sounding upbeat. The reality was he’d take fresh air over Group any day. “I’m just killing time until they get me through Physical Exam Board and I get back to Afghanistan.”
They were coming to stairs; Spencer told the captain, who asked him to stop at the top of the stairs and then take them one at a time.
“Tell me when we’re on the last step before flat ground.”
Spencer felt the pressure on his shoulder increase and prepared himself to straight-arm the captain if he tripped going down, but they made it successfully without incident.
“I like what you said, Sir,” Spencer admitted, surprising himself when the words came out of his mouth. “About how we don’t need to ask for anything.”
“But you’re going back?” the captain questioned.
Captain Sam stopped and turned, squaring his shoulders toward Spencer. “You’ve been deployed. You know these wars are bullshit,” he said. “But you want to go back there?”
“Affirmative what, Sergeant? That the wars are bullshit or that you want to go back?”
Captain Sam raised his stumps as if his missing hands were still attached to help him get his mind around Spencer’s statement. “You’ve been there. You know we can’t win. We’re not accomplishing a damned thing. But you want to go back?”
In motion, his mind worked clearly. Standing there in one place his thinking was like digging a hole at the seashore, with every wave caving it in upon itself. Spencer started walking again.
Spencer assessed bluntly that “Out there I am an Olympic gold medalist and an astronaut. I know what I am supposed to do and I know how to do it, with precision. I know my job, I do my job, I get it done. There I am the real deal. Here… I’m nothing.”
Outside of the army what would he be doing? He had asked himself the question plenty of times. Not a single response painted a picture in his head.
“It won’t last forever, the war. You’re going to have to find a new normal sometime.”
Spencer shook his head, not that the captain could see. What would he do, pull Romex for Jack; maybe someday learn how to install a service panel?
“What’s happened to you?” Captain Sam asked, relieving him of the toxic thought process of writing out a new and lesser life.
“Green on blue, Sir. Got stabbed.” Spencer thought about additional details, but what he said was all that really mattered.
“And you’re OK now?”
Spencer took them between the buildings heading east toward the playfield. The captain moved easily; it seemed like everything that wasn’t missing was working fine.
“Yes Sir. Down a kidney, but you only need one. I’m lucky.” Spencer hesitated. “Sorry Sir, not meaning anything by that.” They were into a wide path now with no obstacles for a hundred feet. MSJS stopped and considered that there had to be an easier way to walk. He decided to try.
Reaching across his chest, he took the captain’s forearm and let it down to Captain Sam’s side. “Captain, we’re in a wide open spot. I’ll let you know different if anything comes up. You’re good to walk on your own.” Spencer sensed that the captain needed to be challenged.
Captain Sam hesitated, reluctant to try, but made four tentative steps before he was veering off at a forty-five degree angle, heading straight toward a maple tree. Spencer caught his shirt. He needed to rig up some type of harness to tie them together so the captain could correct himself if he started going in the wrong direction.
“Talk to me,” the captain said.
“Jesus, Sergeant, talk! You talk to me and I’ll know where you are.”
Spencer looked around for something to say. “We’re on grass now,” he told him. “It was just cut.”
Captain Sam smiled and agreed. He could smell it.
“Talk to me if we get near obstacles and we’re good, I think.” He used his forearm to brush off MSJS’s grip on his shirt.
“Family?” he asked Spencer.
“Just my dad. I’m not married. You, Sir?”
“Yes.” The captain was married. Kids, too. A couple of
“That’s good, Sir. You must be ready to get your PEB, too, and get home to them.”
“Would you saddle your wife and kids with me?” the captain responded. I’m a 200-pound infant who can’t ever be potty-trained.
Spencer had no reply. What can you say to that?
“I didn’t think so,” Captain Sam answered for him. “Not going to happen, Sergeant. I guarantee it.”
“Sir, can the Major do that, have you injected?” The captain was making trouble, no doubt about that, but sedating him like he was going nuts?
“The Major is doing precisely what her job description says to do, ticking every single box. She’s an idiot. She’s not helping these men.
Nobody is afraid of lost limbs. We can take that challenge just like taking the next hill. Those things go with the job.”
The look on the captain’s face said that Major Davies might as well have been spitting dog turds.
“I can hear it in their voices,” he continued. “Every minute they’ve lived as soldiers has been mapped out, morning to night. They knew who they were, where they were, what they were supposed to accomplish, and exactly how to do it. Just like you said. They don’t know anything now. They face a huge blank unknown.”
The captain was never going to pour maple syrup over a rock and call it breakfast, that was for certain. Respect.
“The Major knows what’s next. These men will get in front of a bunch of trained negotiators using actuarial tables saying just how little this grateful nation can get away with paying for a foot or a hand or an ear or an eye.”
Now is exactly the time for ‘we’ and ‘us’ and banding together and that’s the last thing they want us to do.”
“I’ll make you a deal, Sergeant,” Major Davies proposed. “You don’t want to attend Group and Captain Hall can’t seem to resist interfering. Captain Hall hangs onto being bitter. That’s poisonous here and I can’t allow it. Run it right out of him, Sergeant. Like my mother always said, ‘a tired mouth is slower to talk back.’ Everyone in this facility means to do well and we are doing our best. If you agree to be responsible for the captain rather than attending group time, barring any reason otherwise, I’ll agree to write a positive psych eval toward your PEB.”
Spencer was startled by the major’s outstretched hand. Major Davies’ tiny hand was tight, efficient, and shockingly firm. Spencer agreed to the deal not just to get out of Group and not to underscore a psych evaluation, either. On their walk, Captain Hall explained how he was never going to receive prosthetics. Walter Reed determined that without sightedness prosthetics could never function. But maybe, Spencer hoped, he could help Captain Sam get some hope, maybe, and maybe see his way to going home. That prospect gave him purpose, something more than killing time.
The following day, Spencer started by rigging a harness that allowed Captain Sam to trot and then jog on the flat east playing field. He was sprinting within a week, with Spencer dragging behind because he couldn’t keep up. Spencer was built for endurance, not long-legged flat-out speed. When he sprinted, Captain Sam kept his elbows in tight to his sides; his body moved in perfect synchronicity, like a well-oiled machine.
“You don’t just run, not like that,” Spencer panted, tugging at the captain to stop before he collapsed behind so the captain would have to tow him like an anchor.
That was the first time Spencer ever really saw the captain smile. “400 meter high-hurdler, Cornell,” he said. He was like that, always talking about politics and people in general and hardly ever letting on about himself. Cornell. ROTC took him to college. Economics and History.
“Here,” Captain Sam told Spencer. “I’ve got us something.”
He reached into a bag slung over his shoulder and came back up with a newspaper clamped between both his wrists.
“Washington Post,” he said. “Let’s read it.”
“Let’s find a cool place to sit down and read the paper.”
Spencer went to the front section and looked over the headlines.
“What do you want me to read?” He was reluctant at first, but it wasn’t too bad once he got going. Back in school he had been a good reader.
They moved through the paper fast. Most of the time, Captain Sam seemed to be satisfied by the first couple lines from most of the articles. Sometimes he would paraphrase the whole piece just from the headline and then have Spencer read it out loud. He was always right, too, calling it “predictable filler.”
“Skip to the editorials,” he asked Spencer.
After reading the titles, Captain Sam asked Spencer to read the whole editorial out loud. He read it. The words weren’t especially challenging.
“What do you think?” Captain Sam asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean what do you think of what she’s saying?”
Spencer hesitated. “I thought you wanted me to read it to you,” he finally responded.
“You read it to me. Thanks. So what do you think? Do you agree? Do you disagree?”
Spencer protested. “I didn’t think there was going to be a test.”
“What test? I’m interested in your opinion. What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” Spencer grumbled. “Let me read it again.”
He started rereading aloud when Captain Sam cut him off. “You can read silently.”
When he was done reading, the captain listened to Spencer’s opinion, but it didn’t stop there. That was where it began.
“Why do you say that?” the captain wanted to know. “That writer has a Ph.D. Do you know something she doesn’t?”
“Don’t be sorry! She’s a total ass!”
Spencer breathed a sigh of relief and laughed.
“Why do you think she’d write something like that?” Captain Sam asked him.
“It’s her job, I guess.”
Now the captain laughed. “Yup. She’s syndicated in something like 200 papers across the country. For that crap!”
After that, they started reading the paper every day. Right after their runs. They listened to news programs, too. Fox. CNN. MSNBC. They talked about what was in the news and even what wasn’t there, too. Captain Sam asked a lot of questions about what Spencer thought that the news channels were trying to say. “Why do you think they chose that story? Was it fair? Did it make you think about all sides of the story?”
He would go further. Deeper. “Do you think the writer, or the newspaper, or maybe the company that owns the newspaper wants you to think a certain way? Do they want you to think at all? What are you seeing on the screen? Are there differences between reading a story and hearing it on the radio and seeing it on TV? What do you think about that?”
“Captain,” Spencer said one time, “Enough already. There’s all these agendas out there. I get that. But it’s tiring always questioning everything. Captain, you can’t question everything and run an army. I’m getting through my Physical Exam Board, I’m going back, and I’m going to do what I get ordered to do. Chain of command.”
“So if they tell you, you just go and do it. Jesus! ‘Mine is not to reason why, mine is but to do or die.’ Jonathan, you weren’t even twenty when you went in. How was your mind even formed? Listen to me!” the captain said. “It’s not OK to be this empty vessel and leave it to the army to fill you up. That’s not OK! You build a life by questions, by opening up to ideas and opening up to people. Don’t take other people’s ideas. Not mine, not anybody’s! Question! Challenge them! Formulate your own opinions.”
Spencer threw himself into improving every tiny factor in the captain’s daily functions. The captain had
“What if you had a bidet,” Spencer asked the captain. “You sit down on the toilet, do your thing, and go through a quick car wash and blow dry. No need to find somebody to help, you just go like everybody else.”
“Sergeant, just because something exists and makes sense has nothing to do with the army. You know that.”
“It doesn’t hurt to try,” Spencer told him. He already had the information for a bidet downloaded and printed out. $400 on Amazon.
Spencer was already used to Captain Sam’s knee-jerk negative reactions. But the idea had Captain Sam thinking. Spencer could see it on his face; the deep lines were standing out on his forehead. They were making progress.
Spencer approached the major with the idea for Captain Sam’s bidet. She provided him with the forms to put the request into writing. He looked at the sheaf of paperwork; it looked like enough work to fill a week.
“Major, how long will it take to get a special requisition through approval?”
“There are five toilets servicing eighty men on the ward. That is already beyond capacity. It won’t get approved, Sergeant, but it is your right to submit the request.”
Spencer kept his cool. “Adding the bidet seat allows Captain Sam to use the toilet by himself, but it won’t stop the rest of us from using the toilet. A grown man deserves to be able to take a crap without calling somebody to help. Right at the very top of the Patient’s Bill of Rights it says we have the right to respect and dignity. Can’t you cut the red tape?”