tagNon-EroticBandit - The Prequel

Bandit - The Prequel

byYouDidWhut©

Saddar City, Iraq

May, 2003

I remember the flash of light to the left side of our line, but I never heard a sound. Strange isn't it? How you can remember somethings about an event, but other memories are blacked out. I woke up the first time in a Blackhawk with a medic hovering over me yelling into my ear that I was going to be okay.

"Just hang on man. Hang the fuck on."

Those words were prophetic in so many ways over the next thirteen years that I still shake my head when I have that memory.

Just hang on man. Hang the fuck on.

February 2014

"Thank you, Reverend." I said as I hoisted my backpack to my shoulders and walked out of the church doors into the early morning light.

"You're welcome Sam. Will we see you tonight?" he asked as I turned to leave.

"Possibly. I'm not sure about anything these days." I replied.

"Sam, look, I know this is hard. I really do understand. I wasn't always a minister; forty-three years ago, I was in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam."

"Really?"

"Trust me Brother, you're not the first veteran I've dealt with. You have options, I can help if you let me."

"We'll see Preacher." I said, looking down at the ground.

"I'll be here Sam. Just let me know."

"Yeah." I said, looking up at the grey skies and wondering when the rain would start as I began to walk toward downtown Richmond. I thought that with any luck I could at least panhandle enough money to buy lunch and a fifth of whiskey before I wandered back here tonight to sleep off another drunk.

I was ashamed at how far I had fallen in the two years since my retirement form the Army. Three years ago, I had been a Master Sergeant, albeit a drunken mess of a Master Sergeant but I was still able to do my job. I had a wife and two children that I loved more than I loved life itself, unfortunately I loved a guy by the name of Jim Beam too and that ended my career and my marriage.

I lost my wife and children first. Shelby left me and took the kids with her to move back to her parent's home in Kansas. She left me a letter that basically said that she couldn't handle watching the man that she loved kill himself slowly by drinking his life away. She told me that she would rather take the kids across the country and take the heat for breaking up our family than to let them see a man they should idolize drink himself into a mindless oblivion each night.

Then the Army, more specifically, the anal-retentive Lieutenant Colonel we got as a new Battalion Commander, stripped me of the only thing I had left when I showed up for work five minutes late for a PT session. Okay, so I blew a .06 when they sent me for a Fit for Duty physical. I had been far more drunk on numerous runs over the years. They were decent enough to award me a Meritorious Service Medal when I "retired".

Fuck 'em. I could manage it on my own.

By two in the afternoon I had managed to collect about twenty dollars in change and small bills. The weight of the coins in my jacket pocket filled me with a sense of shame but I had to eat. According to the terms of my divorce, Shelby was getting almost all my retirement check for spousal and child support. I was left with crumbs and handouts and she was reaping the benefits and attention of being "that poor woman with two children whose husband went crazy after his last tour in Iraq".

I was bitter, I was angry, I was living in shelters and I had no hope of my situation improving. It had been over two years since I had even spoken to my son or daughter. Each time I tried to call, they were "busy" or "asleep" or I received a litany of other lame ass excuses from Shelby and her parents. So much of "until death us do part". Then again, I was already dead; I just didn't have the enough sense to lay down.

I wandered aimlessly around Richmond for an hour or so before I found myself standing by the James River at the Robert E. Lee Memorial Bridge. For lack of anything better to do, I started walking across it heading toward Belle Island. I had gotten halfway across when I stopped and began looking down at the water and thought to myself that all I had to do was jump and all this shit would end. The pack on my back would drag me under and the problems and pain would end. It was that simple I thought as I placed my right foot on the bottom of the safety railing.

"Hi." I heard a voice say quietly on my right side.

"Hey." I replied, not even bothering to look up.

"That water looks kinda cold." the voice said.

"Yeah." I replied, looking at the ice on the bank of the river.

"So, whatcha thinking about?" the voice asked.

"I have no fucking idea." I replied honestly, looking up to see a Richmond police officer straddling a bicycle.

"How long were you with the 10th Mountain?" he asked, nodding at the division patch on my shoulder as he slid off the bike and dropped the kickstand.

"Four years." I said, suddenly feeling extremely drained.

"I was a Captain in the Marine Corps." he said, pausing before he added, "Military Police. You?"

"Master Sergeant; Infantry."

Grabbing his bike, he lifted the kickstand and began to walk further down the bridge. He glanced back over his shoulder looking at me and asked, "You coming, or what?"

"Yeah." I said, glancing down at the water and shifting the weight on my back I began to walk behind him listening to him talk about nothing. He stopped when I finally grew tired of it and asked him if he thought I was a jumper.

"Nah, I knew you were. That's why I stopped and started talking to you."

"Why?" I asked.

"I'm sorry, what is your name?" he asked me, holding out his hand.

"Sam, Sam Williams." I responded, as I offered mine as well.

"David Jensen. Nice to meet you Sam."

"Nice to meet you too. Now, why?" I asked again.

"Because you weren't going to be number twenty-two. At least not on my watch; which ended thirty minutes ago by the way." he said with such conviction that it rocked me back on my heels.

I stood there in stunned silence with David staring at me with a determined look on his face. He had mentioned the magic number for any veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan. Twenty-two; the daily number of veteran suicides across the US. Was it so obvious to a total stranger that I looked like I had reached the end of the line?

"Why?" I asked again.

"Because I can't fix the whole world Sam. All I can do is fix little pieces of mine. I help you out and you pay it forward when you see someone so down and out that they look like they have reached the end. In time, they will help someone out. That's how you fix the world, one person at a time, but first we need to get you to a better place than you are right now. Where are you living?"

"Shelters mostly. If they are full I find an overpass to crawl under."

"Don't freak out on me. I'm going to call a friend to come by and pick us up. He may or may not be driving an unmarked car. I don't know if he is on shift or not, so just relax. I'm taking you to a group home for vets. The guy that runs it is in my VA support group so I'm almost positive that they can find you a place to stay for a while." he said as he pulled his phone out of his pocket.

"Um." I began.

"Sam, I swear, I'm not even going to run your name to check for warrants. I just want to get you some place safe tonight. We can deal with the rest tomorrow."

"Again, why?"

"Like I said, you won't be number twenty-two. At least not today."

"This guy isn't a Bible thumper, is he?"

"Who? Tony? He has a strong faith in God but no, he isn't a Bible thumper. He and some of the guys have a morning prayer meeting, most of them don't attend; it's up to you." he answered.

We stood there talking while we waited for his friend to show up. I learned that he had been on the force there for three years, he had graduated from Purdue and had gone straight into the Marines after college. He was married to his high school sweetheart and they had a son who was one. He genuinely loved being a cop and missed being a Marine officer.

"You remind me a lot of a friend of mine, Bobby."

"Army buddy?" he responded.

"Kind of; we were in high school together before the Army. These days he's the county sheriff where we grew up." I said, remembering the good times that Bobby and I had shared as kids. God, he would be so ashamed of me now, I thought to myself.

"Where is that?"

"Nice try Dude." I said, smiling at him as a black Dodge slowed to a stop beside us.

Twenty minutes later I walked through the front door of the shelter that would, eventually turn my life around. Calling it a shelter is a misnomer; it eventually became my home and it was also a small old-fashioned motel with 10 rooms total. It was built in the 1940s and had been remodeled; recently from the looks of things. I was given a room that had a full-sized bed, a dresser, closet, a small fridge, a small TV that picked up the local stations, a couple of chairs and a small bathroom with a shower. The lobby served as a common area and dining room for us.

Tony explained the house rules, which were very simple. Show respect, help each other, no drugs and go to your counselling meetings. The last was made even easier because he had a shuttle van that ran to the VA hospital Monday through Friday. When I asked where the money came for all of this, Tony and David just looked at one another and smiled; then Tony said, "God has a wicked sense of humor."

"No. Seriously, where?"

"I opened about three years ago. Started small you know? I didn't have much so I could only help one or two vets at a time. God called me to do this, so I was doing what He wanted me to do. One of the guys I helped cleaned up, sobered up and straightened his life out to the point that he left with a decent chance of never coming back. On a whim one day, he bought a lottery ticket after work."

"No shit?"

"Like I said, God has a wicked sense of humor."

"So where is he now?"

"When I spoke to him yesterday, he was in Alaska on a cruise."

"So now what?" I asked.

"Get a good night's sleep, wake up, eat breakfast and we run you to the hospital tomorrow to start that process." David stated.

"Awesome. I hate the VA." I responded, before I added, "And what is this we stuff?"

"I volunteer here a couple of times each month. Tomorrow is my turn to drive the van."

"Oh." I responded as they turned and walked toward the door.

"Hey guys." I said before they could leave, "Thank you both, I appreciate it."

"Not a problem Brother. Try and get some sleep." Tony said, smiling as he closed the door.

The next morning found me sitting in a waiting room, thoroughly depressed by the sea of broken humanity around me and filling out government form after government form that asked the same stupid fucking questions. An hour into the process I stood up and stretched then sighed and sat back down. David looked at me and laughed, then asked me if I needed to go for a walk or something.

"Or something? If it weren't ten in the morning I would dive into a bottle of Jim Beam and try to drown myself. God Almighty this place is depressing as fuck!"

"Yeah, I know, I've dealt with it for so long that I cringe at the mention of it."

"Yeah. The one in North Carolina is so bad that I only went there three times and each time I felt worse than I did when I went in. It is almost like they intentionally try to break you more, so you won't come back."

"What I would love to do is get a law passed that say the members of Congress and their families are required to use the VA system. We would see some changes then."

"Hell naw!" I said laughing, "It's bad enough that those asshats get involved in this. I can't imagine what a goat screw it would turn into if they showed up here. It would start a riot!"

It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. It only took the VA four months to deny my claim and another four months to decide that my appeal was denied as well. The second appeal took another six but that one got me classified as 80% disabled. I could have appealed that, but I didn't have the fight in me. Besides, the disability was retroactive from the day I filed my first claim. I had fourteen months of disability pay going into my old credit union account.

Hopefully it would be enough to let me buy an old beater to get back and forth to my part time job in. It wasn't much. I worked in the yard of a small hardware store, stocking and pulling lumber orders for customers. The owner paid me weekly and it gave me enough money that I could go to dinner and rent a movie every now and then. The disability would be great because at least now I could afford a cheap apartment instead of taking up a bed at the shelter. It was time to move on and let Tony and David help some other guy out.

"I need to order some checks and get a new ATM card." I said to the teller.

"If you can just sign in sir, a Customer Service Rep will be with you in a few minutes."

I was at the credit union to make sure everything was set up correctly when my disability check finally went into my account. I glanced nervously at my watch because I only had two hours to get this taken care of and make it back to the shelter in order to make my A.A. meeting. I was getting my One Year award tonight and I was really looking forward to it.

Twenty minutes later, I got the biggest shock of my life when the CSR slid my new ATM card across her desk and asked me if I wanted to transfer anything into savings because the interest rate was much higher there.

"Really? How much interest could a couple of dollars accrue?"

"Well, in your case, quite a bit Mister Williams. Do you need to see your current balance?" she asked with a perplexed look on her face.

"Please?" I asked, beginning to wonder what she was looking at.

She took a sticky note and scribbled a figure on it then handed it to me. $132,359.29

"There has to be a mistake." I said, turning pale as I looked down at the note.

"No Sir. That's your balance." she replied confidently.

"Have there been any garnishments on a court order?"

"Child support or something like that?"

"Yes."

"None that I can see, and it looks like this all came from the Department of Defense, they would have garnished it there before they released anything into your account."

"Transfer all but two thousand into my Savings. I need to make a phone call or two." I said, hoping that what I thought was happening wasn't or hadn't happened.

I hopped on the bus and headed back to the shelter. Walking into the office I found Tony and explained what had happened at the credit union and then asked to borrow his cell phone. I had a burner phone for emergencies, but I didn't want Shelby having that number just yet.

I was honestly shocked when Shelby answered.

"Hello?"

"Shelby?"

"Yes?"

"It's me, Sam."

"Sam?"

"Yeah, how are you?" I asked.

"I'm doing okay, how are you?

"Alive. Better. Sober. I need to talk to you."

"You drop off the face of the Earth for three years and now you need to talk to me?"

"Why aren't you taking the child support payments?"

"I went back to court two years ago, after you disappeared, and asked them for full custody. The court granted it to me on the condition that you no longer had to pay support because you were obviously mentally incapable of supporting yourself, let alone your children. I gave up the money but at least I can protect our children from seeing the homeless wreck their father has become." she said bitterly.

"So much for until Death us do part."

"You did die Sam. You were just too damn drunk to lay down."

"I've been sober, for a year now." I said softly and remembering my thoughts on this subject from a year or so ago.

"Really?"

"Yes." I said, looking down at my chip and turning it over in the palm of my hand.

"I've been remarried for eighteen months." she retorted in a sarcastic tone.

"I'm not doing this Shelby, not tonight. I'm not going to get into a fight. I'll call you later and we can talk but at least I know why I my checking account is where it is. Goodbye."

"Goodbye Sam. Call again when you can't talk as long." she said bitterly as she disconnected the call.

I handed Tony his phone and stood there silently for a moment collecting my thoughts. I had learned a lot over the past year about disappointment and failure and I knew better than to react to news like this without rationally thinking about what the ramifications would be. Then I cut loose with a thirty second string of obscenities, blasphemies and profanity. Tony waited for a good five seconds after I finished before he finally spoke.

"Anything I can do?" he asked, with a sincere tone of concern in his voice.

"No." I said, still seething.

"At least now you know."

"Yeah, now I know."

"You're not going to do anything stupid when I leave are you?"

"You mean get drunk or do a Swan Dive off a bridge?"

"Or both." he said as his eyes searched my face.

"Nah, I'm just going to sit here and cuss a lot."

"Let's go for a walk. It will help clear your head. Besides, I have some news for you."

"I'm not sure me being in public is a good idea man."

"Come on Sam, I'll buy you a drink." he said, grinning at me.

"So long as it's a Sprite."

"Oh Lord! You're going for the clear stuff right off the bat? That is never a good sign."

"Be careful! I might even mix it up and switch to Dr. Pepper later." I said with a grin.

"God help us!"

The news was this. Apparently, way back when, on the day that I met David and this odyssey of recovery had begun for me, I had screwed up. I mentioned that one of my oldest friends was a sheriff and I had given David his name. David, being a cop, had started doing some research and when he found out where I was born he put two and two together and made a phone call to Bobby. Not only that, he had been keeping Bobby informed on my progress. I was already pissed off; when Tony dropped this on my lap, I exploded.

"Why the fuck would he do that?" I asked, stopping at the door to the office and turning on Tony so abruptly that he took a step back.

"Sam, relax. Look, he and I both knew that you would eventually need more support and Bobby and his wife are more than willing to help you once you leave. You even mentioned last month that you were moving back to your hometown. Why not have a support system in place that knew you were coming?"

"That's for me to decide, damn it!"

"You really are a stupid bastard sometimes! Has anyone ever told you that?" Sam responded angrily, stopping me in my tracks and leaving me staring at him for calling me a stupid bastard. I had known him for over a year and the strongest word I had ever heard him use was "fudge".

"Um."

"You can't do this alone Sam. You know that. Just stop and look at how far you've come. A year ago, the news that you got today would have set off a round of binge drinking that would have left you comatose and tonight you took it standing up and moving forward. Why? Because you knew you weren't alone."

"I can't do anything about it." I offered weakly.

"No. You can't do anything about it right away. In a year or two maybe, it might take longer because you are going to have to prove to the courts that you can care for your children and that you have turned your life around, but that will take time."

"True." I mumbled, stunned by the matter of fact tone that Tony was taking with me. He had once again gone from friend to mentor at the drop of a hat, just when I needed it the most.

"Good God Sam. You have me, you have David, you have Sam and his wife on your side. Stop and think about how that will play out in court one day. You just have to be patient a little longer. You can't fix someone as broken as you were in a matter of weeks or months and the courts know that. And besides, I have something else to tell you."

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