Monday, June 30, 2008
Remember the Alamo
Tonight I cried in a cab. It wasn't the normal soggy eye, look away and cover it up cry, but it was the tears-dripping-off-your -chin-I-wish-could-stop- but-since-I-can't-I-may-as-well- cry-with-dignity cry - all because of a cab driver named Jose. He drove a van-cab. I don't like vans and if it wasn't for a colleague who waved him down for me I would have instead called Badar, the kind Egyptian who picked me up at the airport and gave me his personal phone for all my travel needs. Moreover he is set on taking me to see "the real" San Antonio on my last day, which may or may not include belly dancing (who knew). But I digress. Anyway as soon as I jumped into the back of Jose's van he started spilling his guts. As a former reporter I, of course, started egging him on in his confessions. He started off by telling me that he used to be a welder in the Army and is now enjoying a healthy pension and other nice benefits from his days as a soldier. So I asked which war he fought in. "Vietnam ma'am." I might have known from his tone that we were about to go on an emotional ride but I was intrigued and his story could kick "Pearl Harbor's" cinematic ass. He was in Vietnam for four years straight, leaving a wife of 16 years-old and two children. He was injured by enemy fire and ended up being pronounced dead. But he wasn't dead, and it took the Army nearly a year to reverse his status. Meanwhile his wife received word of his death and ended up remarrying. He said he wrote letters all the time that never made it. He said he knew they wouldn't make it but he had to make the attempts, just for his own sanity, or lack thereof. Upon returning to the states he was pretty much crazy. Trained to kill anything that got in his way - his enemy was anyone that didn't have "round eyes." And while he wasn't dealing with hate and an instinct to annihilate he was fighting haunting memories of dead children, decapitated bodies and unspeakable carnage. The second he returned he searched out his wife, now in a different city, only to find that she was not only remarried but also had children with her new husband. He never did remarry. He tried. He wanted it more than anything but he couldn't fix his heart or his head to where he felt he could, and he claimed all subsequent girlfriends were only after money. He did fall in love with a Mexican woman years ago, gave her a ring and set a date. She got deported after being caught with drugs. And under the advice of his lawyer he refused to send her the money needed to come back for fear she would just use it for drugs. "I think I regret that. I can't forget the day I told her I wasn't sending money, so I guess that is regret." Then two years ago he fought cancer brought on from asbestos in the steel he had welded during the three decades while in the Army. Now, in remission he is a San Antonio cab driver who likes rainy days and curly hair that reminds him of his daughter. He's not sad. "The Army has treated me well ma'am, they bought my house, I have great benefits plus $700 a month - I can't complain." "My kids still remember me and I am so lucky they call me daddy, they didn't for years." My tears started around the description of the war but the hefty dose of perspective kept them going strong. When he pulled up to my hotel I paid the fare, gave him a healthy tip and fought the urge to hug him. "Have a good night ma'am" You do the same. "I certainly will."
I'll make sure I call Badar tomorrow. Belly dancing conversations don't ruin my mascara.