I met the real life Captain America today without the super-soldier serum or star-spangled outfit but Captain America, nonetheless.
This happens to me a lot and it’s probably more in the vein of I put more significance on people more often than not rather being some mystical serendipity type thing. They confuse me, often anger me, and sometimes downright disappoint me but overall, I love them. Sometimes, because of my anxiety, PTSD, and depression, I don’t feel part of them and that’s not in a lofty kind of “I’m above them” way but more in a I feel so damn disconnected from humanity sometimes that I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. Then I meet people like Ken, and I realize there’s room for serendipity, too.
I was going to the VA, as I often do, for any number of things but today was to do a med check and get some prescription refills. I try to stay on top of it because a. It’s free and b. It’s free and c. I need the crap to keep my mind less foggy. I view it like someone taking heart medication – I need it and I take it to be in better health for myself and my family. I don’t view it as a negative stigma and I definitely don’t see it as something of which to be ashamed. I used to think that way but not anymore; I woke up one day and realized this is the reality of my life, that I need this stuff, and I will continue to take it to be the best version of myself until I need it no longer.
Back to Ken. Ken is an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair. He was sitting outside the VA when I was coming out, ready to go on about my day. He was sitting with his friend, who also had a service dog, basking in the sun.
You know how I said I love people? I love dogs more. I walked over to see if I could pet the dog because, as you can see, he’s a beauty. Ken told me that Max, the dog, is the smartest dog on the planet.
After a few brief demonstrations of Max’s mental acuity, I was convinced he was, indeed, a damn smart dog. He “put the lean on me” and made sure I was loving on him properly, which I was happy to do. He gave me kisses and cuddles and, kneeling on sidewalk in the sunny yet chilly morning at the VA in Anchorage, Alaska, I felt an immense amount of peace that I couldn’t achieve from anything in my prescription bottle (though a temporary thing and not indicative that I don’t need what was in the bottle, too). This is a huge reason I love dogs – they love you more than they love themselves and all they ask is for a slight bit of love in return for the massive amounts they give you. They seem to view the relationship as symbiotic, though it really isn’t since they give far more.
Ken said, “Well, I wanted to talk to you but everyone just wants to see the dog.”
I told him that I could happily do both and sat down on the concrete with Max, petting and loving on him while I talked to Ken and his “best friend in the world” (regrettably I didn’t get this nice man’s name – he’s a younger gentleman that drives around with Ken and hangs out with him and Max belongs to him as a service dog).
Ken is from Alaska and has lived here for 64 years. He served in World War Two. You want to know how he entered the military? He walked into a recruiting office at age 14 and told them, “Hey, I can shoot a gun.” They turned him away and he walked out, depressed. A man approached him outside and asked why he was so sad and he told the man that they wouldn’t take him for service because of his age. The man asked Ken how much money he had and Ken told him, “28 dollars.” The man offered to make Ken a birth certificate and just like that, Ken was enlisted for service in the United States Navy.
He shipped out when he was 15 years of age and resided and was stationed primarily in Italy. Since that was my main duty station, we talked about Italy and what it was like in WW2. I asked him what rate/job he held and his buddy told me that he was a lead rower on the first Viking ship and had, before that, carved his name in Noah’s ark. HA!
Ken told me, “See what I have to put up with? But he’s my best friend in the whole world.”
I asked his friend if he was in the military at all and his friend said he wasn’t because he was in a coma at age 17 from a motorcycle accident and the military wouldn’t take him. I often say the military isn’t for everyone but this guy had the most legit excuse on Earth for not enlisting. Instead he went on with his life and now cares for an elderly veteran so I’d consider that time served, in my mind.
I sat and petted Max, who was adopted at the pound in 2006 and about 10 years old. Ken and I swapped Navy stories. I told him my grandmother was a WAVE, and he told me about the time a retired woman colonel gave him a huge kiss on the lips at the VFW recently and told him he should have entered the Army where there was a “woman in every foxhole”.
He told me he was going to hit on me but I’m married, and to a Marine at that. I laughed when he said that and he said, “Everyone laughs when I say that but I’m serious!” I let him know I was laughing because I was so flattered and while I couldn’t date or marry him, I asked him if he would settle for a hug.
“Not too tight,” he cautioned and I gave him a firm yet gentle hug. He grinned from ear to ear and said that was an amazing hug and he would never forget it or me.
He also told me to have a great Easter weekend about 5 times so I don’t think he’ll remember me and that’s totally okay. I’ll remember him – he’s the cool one here. He spent his last remaining 28 dollars for a birth certificate so he could go fight for his country. He served in a brutal war at such a young age, survived and came out of it still smiling, joking and enjoying his life. He’s lived in Alaska before it became a state, for God sakes. He is a true pioneer and worthy of respect and admiration.
While I came into the VA, cursing that I had to drive 30 minutes across town to go get prescriptions and such, I came out with three new friends and a whole boatload of respect for others that go through much more than I do with a smile on their faces.
You meet people you’re supposed to meet. I might not ever see Ken, his buddy, and Max ever again or I might find myself in the area to go visit him at the “old folks home” in Chugach. Depends on where the wind and sea take us, I suppose.