I’ve recently taken up a new hobby – wheelchair basketball. One day not long ago I was down at the gym with a few friends, shooting some hoops for fun.
“Damn,” I said after Rick had missed his seventh consecutive shot. “You can’t put that in the bucket to save your life. Somethin on your mind, bud?”
Chagrined, he rolled over to the bench to grab his water bottle.
“I guess so,” he said, taking a drink. “You heard about the Army activating all those reservists recently?”
“Three years ago I was regular army,” Rick said, wiping the sweat from his brow. “Got out when my time was up, and they made me reserve. If I hadn’t been in that accident last year, they’d be activating me too.”
“So, that’s good, right? You can thank this chair of yours for keeping you home this time.”
He grimaced. I guessed wrong, apparently hitting a nerve.
“No man. You don’t get it. I got buddies going to Iraq now, and I’m not with them.”
A light went on in my head. He was so loyal to the men he served with that he would rather be with them than in this chair.
“You know Cole, there’s guys that are missing legs and are in chairs because they were wounded on the field. I never got wounded. I was in, did my time in the Army, and never even saw any action. And here I’m not going back because of some drunk idiot in a ski boat.”
“Rick, a purple heart is just a medal. You may not have been shot at, but you’ve done your time. You deserve as much respect as any other serviceman who has put their life on the line.”
Rick looked at me with hollow eyes. I knew he was inconsolable. He really didn’t want to feel better.
“You know some people say everything happens for a reason,” I continued, plowing on. “Maybe if you hadn’t been blindsided by that boat you’d be getting shot in Iraq right now. Maybe there’s something else you’re meant to do that this accident kept you here, kept you from getting shot.”
“Yeah. But maybe, just maybe, if I was healthy, I’d save a 19-year-old from getting shot.”
I turned around and rolled back on the court.
Someone tossed me the ball and I took a shot.
“That’s someone else’s job now, Rick. Now get over here and rebound for us.”
Later, after the game, Rick still seemed down, despite the fact that his shooting improved a little.
“Dude, you need to get out more,” I said to him. He just looked at me, too tired to respond. “I tell you what. I was thinking about calling up a girlfriend of mine and hitting some clubs tonight. Want to join us?”
“I’d just be a third wheel,” he said. “You go without me.”
“She’s got a roommate.”
“Is she cute?”
I grinned and popped a wheelie. “We’ll pick you up at eight, ok?”
As I went home I mentally went through the names in my rolodex. I had told Rick a small lie – there were no such plans – but I could make them! I had a few hours to come up with two women who weren’t busy. But that, my friends, is a whole new story. Buy me a drink, and maybe I’ll share it.
Catch Cole W. at the Online Forum.