The Veteran Hitchhiker

Greetings y’all,

It’s been a while since my last post! I’ve started my MS in Counseling Psychology, with the hopes of helping fellow vets as well as supporting the LGBT and Poly communities. I got lost for a bit following Afghanistan, and my life has taken many turns. I’m not going to bury my head in the sand anymore, though. I’m committed to personal growth and assisting others in theirs.

It’s a steep climb, this life of mine; but the flatlands would flatline my heart.

So, even though I’ve only JUST begun this journey of intention, I was called upon to try and help someone:

I was driving late between a local rural community and the city. It’s about 2130 at this point, so not too late yet. I’m not too surprised to see a hitchhiker, in the dark, walking dangerously close to the highway.

I have picked up people before. Students live in the area, but there aren’t any regular bus lines between the rural community and the university in the city, so the hippies that they are choose to bike or hitchhike. I was tempted to keep going, but it wasn’t too late yet – plus it looked like he had a limp or might be injured. I stopped to check on him, coming to a stop about 1000 ft in front of him. I couldn’t make him out because of the lights and sounds of traffic passing on the Highway. Soon, there was a break in cars, and I beheld an incredibly drunk man in his early to mid-twenties. Maybe he was just a drunk student? But who in the PNW wears a NASCAR jacket and hat? Maybe a vet???….

I began to hear “Left, left, left right left” through slurred speech. At this point I’m starting to think this was a bad idea, that maybe I should hop in my SUV and take off. I’m a recovering alcoholic myself though, and with his cadence calling (even with “wastey face” voice) became confident that this was a vet. I felt like he wouldn’t harm me. However, I scanned him for weapons, bags, etc to make sure I wasn’t in risk as much as possible and put on my sergeant hat (figuratively speaking) and proclaimed in command voice: “Soldier, calm down! I stopped, I’m here, you can put that thumb down and can stop calling cadence. Just tell me where you want to go and I’ll get you there…Soldier?…..Uhhh…..PRIVATE, AT EASE.” Finally, he hears and snaps to parade rest (close enough). Instead of giving me the normal hitchhikers 10 second spiel, he looked at my car confusedly for a few seconds and asked me where I want him to sit. I tell him this is just a soldier giving another soldier a ride, not a Uber or Lyft (plus common sense dictated I shouldn’t have this person sitting behind me). We get settled after I spend a minute helping him put his seatbelt on…

I exchange vet greetings with him…if you’re a vet you will totally get this: name, branch of service, number of years served, where served, which wars, and maybe disability %. Needless to say, I had everything I needed to relate to him. Because of my counseling coursework as well as sobriety skills that have been taught to me during intensive outpatient treatment and during my time in rehab, I was able to get him to open up…to get him to speak openly as a battle buddy.

We vets see and do a lot, and we are scarred people. We go in thinking that serving our country should be “happily ever after” because for many of us, it’s the only dream we’ve ever had. Well, this was one of those vets. But his dream was crushed in the 2 yrs and 9 mos of service in the Corps when they broke him, and then medically discharged him….

He no longer saw any hope. I tried to give him some. He no longer cared, I saw myself in the not too distant past and wanted to show him that if it is possible for me, it is possible for him. He wouldn’t listen. I spent every measure of empathy, reasoning, logic, and charisma to try and convince my fellow vet that there is still hope. Not only just because he is a vet, but because if light was coming from me, darkness was emanating (nay, radiating) from him. Counseling is big on this piece: counselors don’t change people, they just just assist an individual realize their autonomy and help give them tools in changing themselves. If someone doesn’t want to change, they wont.

He told me he is under charges for 4th degree assault, a gross misdemeanor, for hitting his brothers girlfriend while intoxicated when recently camping. She was criticizing him and trying to get him to change. Then, he begins to unload on me that his life is over and since there is no hope he is going to go to her house and “kill that bitch, or at least permanently fuck her up.”

I go quiet…. my. heart. sinks… I realize that you can’t save someone if they don’t want to be saved. I am no savior, just a scarred human who stinks a little bit of the pit himself and can therefore relate. But good choices still need to be made; DO, don’t just hope, or you may find yourself locked in a glass house: great views of the goal you hope to attain one day, but too far off to inspire you to move. We humans are animalistic in this, we do a primal cost/benefit analysis. And so we stay inside instead of following the breadcrumb trail, taking those little steps at a time. Growth means growing pains. It isn’t easy or comfortable.

I “accidentally” drove past his turn, and when it became obvious I wasn’t turning around, he said he would jump out of the car if I didn’t stop right then. I believed him, but I braked really slowly. I reckoned I was about 1/2 mile away from where he wanted to go, and unless he were to run, it would give the cops enough time to get there before him. I let him out. I watched the direction(s) that he started stumbling toward. I pretended to drive off but turned around ASAP as I called 911. 1 cop got there within 5 minutes and scouted it out but didn’t want to knock on the door before his partner arrived. I informed him of everything I’ve told you, from his dress to me casing him for weapons when I picked him up, his military training (but current physical limitations), and so on…

When the other cop gets there a few minutes later, they knocked on the door. A woman answered, and nodded her head frantically for the cops to get involved STAT. I identified the drunk vet, they told me to not be so stupidly kind, that the DA may contact me (they got my info), but that the 911 call I made covered pretty much everything, down to the apartment he was going to and the color of his clothes (and they found him so fast because they could look up who was related to a 4th degree assault charge in the area). His brother’s girlfriend is safe, and the troubled vet has made his choice…

I’d have preferred a different outcome. I don’t feel like any kind of hero or perhaps I could have got through to him. I feel no joy in sharing this with you. Lots of veterans are broken, and in many ways don’t know how to take care of themselves or readjust to “normal” life. Don’t let your family member or friend fall through the cracks if he is a vet. Pursue real community, recommend reintegration counseling, create a safe environment, and try to live with empathy and understanding. By doing this, together we can overcome the affliction known as PTSD and face the shattered expectations for what our military and country should have been and how they should have treated us. In this way, our sojourn can be a step “further up and further in” to truth and real life, not toward the edge of a cliff from which few can climb back out.

Since we are talking about a Marine vet, I’ll end on this: SEMPER FI. Take it to heart. ALWAYS be faithful!

Jeremy

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