Ross and the Little Black Book
The Battle Within
The rain pelted Ross in the face jolting him from the sleep he fought so hard to get. As he rubbed his face, he was reminded of the grim reality of sleeping on the streets. He could feel the pain in his bones that sleeping on concrete brings. He was accustomed to sleeping in uncomfortable conditions as a soldier. He could sleep just about anywhere in any conditions. War does that to a person.
He looked around to see the same bleak surroundings he saw as he laid down the night before. It was a run-down part of town, abandoned by society as not worth the effort or money to repair. The various buildings were either boarded up or burned out. It looked like an urban combat zone. Maybe that is why Ross chose this area, it was similar to what he spent two tours defending. He somehow felt it needed him as much as he needed a place to sleep at night.
Like many soldiers who returned from war, Russ could not separate who he was in war from this peacetime world. He was still wondering if the noises he hears behind him are an enemy sneaking up on him. This heightened sense of awareness kept him alive in battle and stole his sleep at night. His lack of restful sleep was taking a toll on him. He had a wild look in his eyes. Wherever he was he had to be where he could keep an eye on his surroundings. He couldn’t turn his war persona off even though the threat of a wartime enemy was long gone.
He tried counseling with the Veterans Administration doctors. He attended group therapy sessions. He took their drugs. Nothing was helping him transition back to a world where someone wasn’t trying to kill him every day. His need to survive during war had changed him, deeply. Those he knew before he left no longer recognize who he is. His friends and family didn’t understand what happened to him. They no longer wanted to associate with him. In war he had a battle buddy, always. They had each other’s back. They knew that they would do whatever they could to protect each other. Now Ross, had only Ross.
He was alone in a society full of people. He had no battle buddy. He couldn’t bond with any of the other war-torn veterans in the group therapy sessions. They, like no other people could relate to what Ross had experienced. The problem is that war changes people in ways unique to the individual. Some lock their war experiences in a deep, dark place that they never visit. Others, like Ross, couldn’t put it away at all.
Ross had a difficult time holding a job. His paranoia was too much of a distraction to productive work. His lack of good sleep affected his judgement. He made poor choices and that led him to the street. He was getting a disability payment from the VA so he wasn’t starving. He just had no purpose. His day to day was spent merely surviving the war in his mind. Coping with the paranoia of a non-existent enemy in every shadow or sound. Ross was still at war.
He wandered the streets on a never-ending reconnoiter mission he assigned himself. Keeping track of the comings and goings of the other street people in the area. He kept notes in a little black notebook he kept squirreled away in the military jacket he wears every day. He assigned code names to the people and places in a military need for security in case the precious book was ever discovered by the enemy.
Ross knew who belonged in the area and quickly noticed any strangers who passed through. He was especially wary of any official-looking people who came by. They were the ones who were trying to help the street people by putting them in shelters or forcing them to go to counseling. They had no frame of reference to understand Ross and the battles he fought each day.
One such official-looking person came looking for Ross. He asked the street people where he was. They were all paranoid for their own reasons and very uncooperative when outsiders start asking questions. Ross knew he was there and from the shadows learned that this person was looking for him. It took a week before the lawyer finally found Ross. It was an uncomfortable encounter. The lawyer was more uncomfortable about the wild look in Ross’s eyes than Ross was about a lawyer looking for him.
The lawyer worked for the VA and had back payments to settle with Ross. There was a government mistake in calculating Ross’s disability payments. It wasn’t a huge amount each month but since it was discovered years later Ross was due $20,000. The lawyer was there to give Ross what he was due.
After delivering the check to Ross the lawyer asked if this would help him get off the streets. He did not understand why Ross was there and thought it was money. Ross felt no need to share any personal information with someone who had no idea what he had been through. He gave him a simple one-word answer; maybe.
After the lawyer had left the area, and Ross was safely back in his own world, he started thinking about a $20,000 windfall. His needs were not satisfied with money. The $20,000 could have been $20 million and it wouldn’t have made any more of an impact on him.
The next morning, Ross was back on his mission. Monitoring the comings and goings of the area. He put his next notes below the line marked with 1G21, his designation for a VA interloper. The money was far from his mind as he was making sure the enemy was not lurking about. Ross could understand that mission more than he could understand what to do with the $20,000 windfall he now had.