In the day room of the Men’s Unit my first day, there sat a man who was an absolute shambles. The small table in front of him which appeared to be his personal domain, was a basic garbage heap of food and filth. Wearing a hospital robe, he was unshaven and his grey hair was hanging in his face. And his mouth. It had been a long time since I’d heard that kind of language – since my first husband. He seemed to talk to himself a lot, occasionally sounding off in worse than profanity to someone. I sat down a few feet away and watched. Somehow I struck up a conversation with him. He didn’t change his vocabulary. I ignored the particular words, concentrated on the ideas and charged right ahead.
He talked about 20 years in the Marines and I had to ask, “If you’re a veteran, what are you doing here?” Underneath all that flagrant hostility I could see so much pain. A comb was lying on his table. I asked, “Do you mind if I comb your hair?” He answered with an obscene neutral comment.
I started combing his hair. As I combed we were carrying on more and more of a conversation. He talked about having been on Guadalcanal and suffering a severe wound that still bothered him.
I sat down and I don’t remember how long it was or what I said but I looked back around to see that he had lowered his head ever so slightly and put one hand up in front of his face. Beside his hand, I saw tears running down his cheeks. I was stunned but I went over, put my arms around him and said, “I thought Marines weren’t supposed to cry.”
Before the day was over he had cleaned up his table. I never saw him again uncombed or unshaven. Clothes were found for him to wear and his vocabulary changed. Someone started proceedings to send him to the VA hospital. He called me Florence Nightingale till he left a few days later.