He was dead. His friends paced the room, smoking cigarettes, sneaking glances at their fallen comrade. He died sitting in his favorite chair, or at least his most recent favorite. One of the smoking guys had let him stay with him these last few months, he had nowhere else to go. The doctors at the VA had given him six months to live a year ago, he was just holding on. One of the guys cooked a meal for him last night, a steak and macaroni and cheese. There was nothing left on the plate that sat empty in front of him.
We chatted for a while, the two guys, me and Brian. The dead guy may have been listening, some day we’ll find out for ourselves. He was a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and so were his friends. Hepititis C is what eventually did him in. He was a good guy I was told.
The police handle these things once we declare a person dead. We waited for them to show up. I asked if the rosary that was wrapped around the dead guys hands was of his own doing. One of the guys said that he put it there when he found him. We stood by, silently until the police showed up.
“I can’t breathe in here,” was the first thing he said. “Put out those cigarettes.”
The tranquil, respectful environment was instantly transformed. Now, I stood in a section eight apartment with three nearly homeless vets, run down, kind of grungy and oppressive. And one of them was dead. I wish I smoked, I would have sparked one up right then and there. I was in their house. If they wish to smoke, smoke away, especially at a time like this.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” I said and told the cop the official time of death. The two living combat vets stepped outside to finish their butts. I couldn’t help but think of this line as we drove away.
“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” William Shakespeare
Their friend was dead, and the government officials were assholes.