My neighbor and new friend, Kyle. Kyle is a native of Bentonville, Arkansas, the son of a Pentacostal preacher, a rabid Razorbacks fan, an avid golfer, a graduate of the University of Arkansas and a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
Kyle moved in across the hall from me about 8 months ago. He lives alone and has few guests. We’ve exchanged pleasantries and talked about golf, baseball, football and holiday plans in the hall as one or both of us were on our way in or out. Kyle walks with a slight limp and had mentioned that he was going to the VA (Veterans’ Administration – government support for former US servicemen and women) a couple of times. He said he’d caught a piece of shrapnel from the teddy bear (Taliban) in Afghanistan, but not much more than that.
He spends much of his days and nights alone, watching football either live or recorded. His living room window looks out over the parking lot and he leaves his window open. I can almost always hear announcers and whistles and crowd noise coming from his apartment.
Yesterday was Veterans Day here in the States. When I got home from work I invited him out to dinner to hang out. I didn’t want him to have to spend Veterans Day alone. I’m so glad I did.
Kyle was a student at the University of Arkansas and Air National Guardsman in September of 2001. He recounted where he was on the morning of September 11th, that he remembered watching the second plane crash into the World Trade Center and trying to wrap his head around what was happening. When it became clear that this was an attack, Kyle told his frat house ‘house mother’ that his room would be available pretty soon as his unit would probably be activated. He was right.
There wasn’t much talk about his deployment and I didn’t ask.
After his service time had ended, Kyle came out west rather than return to Bentonville. He then spent the better part of two years trying to navigate the system while waiting for his government disability claim to be processed. During this time, he lived in government short-term housing in squalid conditions in Hunter’s Point, Bayview and the Tenderloin. He worked in food service and as a temp off and on, paying his own way and renting his own places in Pacifica and in Chinatown and the Tenderloin in San Francisco. When the work dried up, so would his ability to rent his own place and he reluctantly returned to government housing facilities, where his roommates/bunkmates included ex-convicts, mentally ill people, bedbugs and rats.
When his claim was finally approved, Kyle was able to get his own place again just across the hall from me. He keeps his home spotless, cleaning and mopping ‘just once a day.’ He has a new car that he calls Vicky, also immaculately clean.
We had dinner at a place here in Oakland where we both happen to know the manager: me from being a regular, Kyle from having worked with him in San Francisco in food service during his transition back to civilian life. Rob (the manager) pointed out Kyle as a Vet to a very nice woman who came by the table to thank Kyle for his service and to shake his hand. He was gracious and appreciative, but later said that that sort of thing makes him feel embarrassed and self-conscious because he didn’t really do anything worth a thank you.
I disagree. Thank you, Kyle.