It is hard to believe that I would befriend two men
whose life experiences and circumstances were very different from my own. Many years ago I was put in the unique position to help them. I did little more than listen to their stories about their struggles to cope when all hope seemed lost. Both were veterans of the Vietnam War and like all vets, they carried the memories of war with them throughout their lives.
One of the men is no longer alive, but his memory stays with me. Here is his story:
John: Even before he returned home from Vietnam, he was experimenting with drugs as a coping mechanism. I don’t know how long after he had been back stateside before he became an addict, spending all of his time looking for his next fix. Heroin left him penniless, unable to work, and living on the streets from time to time. I met him when he made a commitment to get clean. Through the non-profit where I worked, I was able to offer financial assistance for methadone treatment that might help him gradually get off his dependence on heroin. Even after I could no longer give him anymore assistance, John would come by to see me from time to time. Eventually he went cold turkey off drugs. As you can imagine, his withdrawal from heroin was an agonizing, painful experience, lasting days. After a time, John quit coming around to see me, and I wondered why. Not only did I miss him, I worried about his safety and well being. A year went by before I received a phone call out of the blue from John’s fiancé. She told me that he had been dead for several months. For a few days, John had been missing. Worried about him, the fiancé contacted police. Only then did she learned that his body was unclaimed in the morgue. He was found near railroad tracks where he liked to “walk the tracks.” It is believed that is where he suffered a fatal heart attack. A lowlife found his body and took his wallet, including his identification. The lady called to tell me that she felt I should know because every time she and John drove by where I worked, he would tell her, “That is where that nice lady works. The one that helped me.” I thanked her for letting me know. Although he is gone, his memory lingers. I feel blessed to have known him and witnessed his victory over a drug that had consumed his life.
Now on to Arthur’s story. Note: I have changed his name to protect his identity.
Arthur: I never ever met him. He found out about me through a counselor at a mental health clinic. At the time, I was one of a handful of people in the country who reached out to victims of abusive groups and their family members. At first, we only communicated through letters. Eventually when he felt I could be trusted, we exchanged phone numbers and he would call whenever his demons were back to haunt him. After returning from Vietnam, Arthur sought emotional healing by becoming involved in what he thought was a church. In reality, it was an abusive group led by a woman who controlled members and stole their money. In a group that uses emotional manipulation and mind control, recruits don’t ask questions; they do as they are told. Arthur ended up married to a woman in the group who had a little girl from another relationship. Every time he tried to leave the group, he was lured back in. Sadly, he was framed for the murder of the four-year-old girl and was sentenced to ten years in prison. He believed the leader of the group wanted him killed while in prison so she could get her hands on his veterans benefits. Despite his years locked up, Arthur said his experience in the abusive group was worse. When he was released, he stayed isolated, a recluse in his apartment, trusting no one. He had nightmares and many bad days. He blamed himself for all the terrible things that had happened to him. I told him he was a victim, and he had the right to be angry, anyone would if they had gone through what he had. Eventually, Arthur got better. He was able to leave his apartment, get a driver’s license, buy a truck, and meet a wonderful woman. After our three years of phone calls and letters, I lost touch with Arthur when he moved out of state. I think of him often and wonder how he is doing.
I feel blessed to have known these two men. It proves that reaching out to others different from ourselves can be an enriching experience. We never know the weight of pain and suffering someone is carrying around with them.