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A Message of Gratitude
By Dan New
My wife and I arrived at dusk. I carried the luggage into the condo. Sue cracked opened the blinds to let the light in. I went back down to the car. As I reached for the front door's handle, something papery and sticky touched my fingertips. I wasn't sure what to make of the two-inch-square yellow note.
My first thought was, not another scolding from that always disgruntled guy downstairs? Had I not parked between the fading white lines that marked the spaces in the parking lot? Perhaps condensation from our air-conditioner had leaked onto his precious deck again. I was tired from the four-hour drive to Cape Cod, a little cranky on an empty stomach.
I scrunched down into the driver's seat, unfolded the note and turned on the overhead lamp. I was already planning a response to the complaint when I got a glimpse of the delicious handwriting, the kind where the dots on the "i's" are heart-shaped and the letters of each word have their own distinctive curlicue. The two sentences were punctuated with a tiny circle rather than a solid period. The space was completely filled with a beautiful, thoughtful structure, no wasted space, lines straight on an unlined plane.
The note read, "Thank you for your service. I appreciate the sacrifice that you made for our country." My mind started reframing. There were other cars parked close by. I wondered if one belonged to this note-leaving person. I looked around for clues. The effect of the note's content had yet to reach my heart.
"How did they know?" I asked myself silently. Then I remembered my license plates bear the word Veteran. It was not my intention to advertise, at least that was not something I would care to admit. The plates are simple reminders of some facts in my life about which I have rarely spoken. I had internalized what I thought was public opinion into my own private guilt, a byproduct of my PTSD. Occasionally, a passing motorist might give me a thumbs-up and I would dismiss the gesture with an indifference to protect my vulnerability. Now this anonymous person had taken notice and performed a little intervention. Slowly, I felt the message sink into a deep wounded part of my being that had nursed an emotion without a name, hidden for far too long. I heard a sigh escape my lips. I felt the tears well up, brimming tiny puddles pooling beneath my lower lids. If I had tilted my head forward, the tears would have streaked down my cheeks. I had heard these words before but never so personally directed. Their power had always been blocked by my fear of long-ago memories. They came to me now in flashes of sight and sound and smell that took me from my place on earth in that moment and transported my soul back to where the terror and grief still lived.
The passenger-side door squeaked open, and the spell started to unwind. Images and odors and sounds faded quickly but left a recognizable residue. My wife sat down.
"Honey, are you OK?"
I could only hand her the note for fear that anything else might expel a potent sob. Sue took my hand gently, then rubbed my forearm reassuringly. I suppose she silently thanked this anonymous angel for this gift to us. I felt my heart expand and embraced the connectedness I sensed with her and the world.
"Do you still feel hungry?" she asked.
I nodded and took the note from her hand. I folded it neatly. I opened the glove compartment and placed the yellow remnant in with the other stuff collecting there. With the engine started and the car in reverse, I twisted my body and glanced back for safety's sake. On the rear panel behind the backseat, I saw that forgotten sun-weathered baseball cap with the words, Vietnam Vet, stitched above the replica of old campaign ribbons. With the danger of some unseen hazard behind the car avoided, I threw it into drive and moved forward again.
After all these years of searching and probing, a simple act by an unknown had pierced my being and opened my soul to the world about me. What I had searched for in the years since my return from war became abundantly available when clarity dawned through the welcoming extended in that short note.
Dan New is a Vietnam Veteran (1967-1968). He is an artist/writer living in retirement in Upstate New York. He can be reached at Dnew1@nycap.rr.com.