Mike Smith, as common a name as there is. Mike and I meet every morning about nine for coffee. I’m retired and have nothing else to do and he has a window cleaning business. He’s a smart kid in his mid twenties, has both feet on the ground. I’ mean that literally; he only cleans ground floor windows and what he can reach from a ladder.
“Did you ever think about going to college?” I asked him one morning.
“I started cleaning windows right out of high school,” he said. “All my buddies went to college. They got out with enough dept to buy a house; I own a house. Their first jobs were as interns. Now they can’t find work because companies are hiring interns.” Then he laughed. “They can’t even afford me.”
Then he floored me when he said he made over $100,000 last year and doesn’t work on Mondays. I joked, “From now on you buy the coffee.”
There was something about him that went beyond a morning coffee and swapping stories; it was his eyes, I’d seen them before.
We must have met for a year and one morning it came to me. Mike came in with his left forearm bandaged.
“What happened?” I said nodding at his arm when he sat at the table with his coffee.
“Kind of one of the hazards of the job,” Mike said. “I lost my footing and my arm went through the window. It’s only a puncture wound. Funny they say that’s what happened to my Grandpa during the Vietnam War.”
“Those words,” I thought, “those dreadful words.” And I could not hide my emotions, although I arrested them with a deep breath.
“What’s wrong,” Mike said.
“What is today?” I said.
“The fourteenth,” Mike said.
“This is sort of hard to say and very strange and coincidental, but it was 50 years ago today I said those words to a man in Vietnam.”
I swallowed hard and wanted to restrain my words, but felt compelled to say what rushed though my thoughts like torrential downpour of repressed memories. “And he looked just like you. That’s it. You must look like your grandfather.”
“Are you sure?” Mike said.
“Small arms fire from everywhere,” I said. “I heard this guy say I’m hit. I crawled over to him. He had a hole in his gut as big as my fist, losing blood. He asked me how bad it was and I said it was only a puncture wound. He said that’s BS. He made me promise, that if made it back to tell his wife and son they were his last thoughts and he died in my arms. I swear not remembering that until right now. I remember telling him to tell them yourself and again I said it’s only a puncture wound, you’re going to make it.”
“That’s the story I heard,” Mike said.
“Now I remember,” I said. “Smith was on his name tag. I want to meet your Dad and Mom. I promised your grandpa I’d tell them his last thoughts.”
“Better yet,” Mike said, “why don’t you meet my grandpa? He made it and said he never would have if someone didn’t tell him it was only a puncture wound.”