As you may know if you read my previous column, last week I was traveling a lot. And as you may know if you are a regular reader of my column, I was taking a bus, as I often am forced to do because I have no car.
Thanks to years of riding the bus, I have routines. I sit in the front seat, to deal with my motion sickness. If the bus is not too full, I try to avoid having people sit with me, either by attempting to look mean, or pretending to be asleep. Sometimes both, although that’s very difficult. Still, after many years of this, I consider my self a veteran bus-rider.
What I am not, however, is a bus-riding veteran. While I respect the service of the men and women of our military, the extent of my own experience is owning a small knife that has three blades and a corkscrew, which I’m told was issued to members of the Swiss army.
On my bus ride to Boston, however, sitting just across from me was an army veteran. I know this because it was one of the first things he said as the bus started up. "I get nervous on buses," he explained, "so I talk a lot because it helps my anxiety. I have PTSD from when I was in the army." He went on to explain that he’d seen people die in buses, which didn’t help my anxiety, but I figured since I wasn’t a veteran with PTSD, I’d just be quiet and listen.
After we switched buses in Springfield, he sat next to a girl and again explained to her that talking helped his anxiety with buses. Listening to him was still more interesting than just staring out the window, so I got to hear him talk about his time as an army ranger, his injuries, the death of his friends, and how he wanted to add something to the world. He also offered to share his water and snacks with this random passenger he’d just met -- perhaps a small action, but one I noticed nonetheless.
We eventually arrived in Boston, where I got to see some old college friends, show off my card game at an independent game festival, and cook and eat tasty food.
At the bus station on the way home, I was in line for tickets behind a man in a camouflage jacket and pants. He started complaining about how everyone was gazing into their iPhones. "Everyone’s just staring at their Twitter," he said irritably. "They won’t even look up." "What can you do," I said. "People like their devices." "I just want to kill them all," he said, to my surprise. "And I’d get away with it too, because the army psychiatrist would just say I’m a psychopath. " "Perhaps a less drastic solution would be better," I suggested.
At that point it was his turn to buy a ticket, and I did not endeavor to continue our conversation. But it occurred to me, the vast difference between this fellow and the one I had met on my trip down. Both had obviously been through difficult experiences that had shaped them. When faced with suffering, why do some people resolve to help other people avoid the same, while some people just want to pass the suffering on to others? Alas, I don’t have an answer.
All I’ll say is this: They may have removed the physical uniforms, but mentally speaking, both of these guys were still fatigued.
Seth Brown is a humor writer, the author of "From God To Verse", and when it comes to writing, soldiers on. His work appears weekly in the North Adams Transcript, and weakly on RisingPun.com.