The most obvious thing about his was that he didn’t have an arm. But you never talk about the obvious. I picked him up by a local college, so instead I asked him what he was majoring in. Geology, he replied, and then he told me he was going to the VA Hospital. So chances were, he lost his arm doing service. But as curious as I was, I wasn’t going to ask. He had to offer.
We chatted about rocks, what interested him about this area of study, and what it was like to be an older person going back to college. He obviously wasn’t a fresh faced kid anymore, so that was safe territory. Then later, he did offer something. That he was on a navy boat somewhere in Asia during the tsunami back in 2004/5. And when they got the distress call, his boat headed to Indonesia. He said first they saw palm fronds. Then they saw entire palm trees. Then they saw entire towns, cars, dead bodies until you couldn’t even see water anymore. I could see it so clearly through his eyes, the way he described that experience. Being on deck, leaning over the rail with thousands of your shipmates, the giddy chatter falling away into shocked silence.
His stop came up sooner than both of us expected. “Hey,” he asked, “I only have to be here 15 minutes, then I have some other errands I have to do if you want to drive me.”
“I would love to but unfortunately I have to be in Hollywood in 30 minutes.”
“Ok, well nice to meet you. Hope we run into each other again.”
I really wish I could have waited. I wanted to know about the elephant in the room and I could feel that he wanted to tell me. It was his story, a turning point, the kind of cataclysmic event that colors everything about a person. But when you only get 10 minutes with someone, chances are you don’t dive in that deep. You get a question but not the answer.