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Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Joseph L.

By Steven P. Velasquez
Jan. 2004

We responded to Joe's home today because he's vomiting blood. This is evident because his vomitus is a dark burgundy color. Joe is a tall fellow, stretched out in his bed. His bedroom is adorned with pictures of a young, strong soldier in a U.S. Army uniform. Cancer has damaged his internal organs causing him to have an iliostomy. A bag hangs from his abdomen catching his bodies' waste.

In 1942 however, something else hung before Joe's abdomen -- a mitt for catching would-be scoring runs! Joseph was part of the U.S. Army 30th Infantry, Battery C, Third Division. There were three divisions in the 30th I.D. At Camp Davis in North Carolina, Joe played shortstop for the Army's team. He was very proud of this and shared it openly with me.

Since the 1940's Joe and his wife (I'm assuming deceased) have had three children; two boys, Joey and Mickey both in Florida and one daughter. The daughter is local but unable to care for her father. Joseph, more fortunate than most, is cared for by a very loving daughter in-law with the brightest brown eyes I've ever seen. They look like she's wearing cosmetic contact lenses, though I doubt that's the case. She tells me her father died many years ago. Joe has done all the things a father does for her. For that she is eternally grateful - and unceasingly helpful.

I asked Joe: "If you had to do it all over again, would you?" Surprisingly, Joe said "no." It had been my experience with Veterans that they usually answer with a resounding "yes!" Joe continued: "I don't like to see men kill or be killed."

Rapidly Joe changed subjects to his favorite - his family. He mentioned that the "Garand" rifle he carried had his wife and newborn sons names inscribed into it. He described his weapon and some of the other devices he carried; bandoleer, white phosphorus grenade, regular grenades and a bazooka round in his back pack.

When asked about memorable moments, he cites being involved in the "Battle of the Bulge." 
He says this with pride and raises his voice. Apparently, Joseph's squad had General Sepp Deitrich, of Hitler's army, surrender to them at the Elbe River, one of the major waterways of central Europe, on May 8, 1945. While taking General Deitrich into captivity, Joe disarmed him. He removed a P38 from his holster and was about to take his belt too. Joe's CO (commanding officer) admonished him saying: "He has no weapon. What are you going to do have his pants fall down too?" Joe refrained from taking the General's belt but kept the handgun.

Later, Joe was firing the P38 to see how well it worked. "I fired it at the side of a boxcar. I think I missed!" He sold the weapon for $200.00. I replied "you could have made a lot more money had you kept it!" Joe said, "yeah, I know but they were such a pain in the ass to sneak home. Had it been a Luger, that would have been more of a souvenir."

I left Joe in the E.R. with the diagnoses of a GI bleed. He was stable and seemed comfortable with this new chapter in his history of diminishing health. Despite the diagnoses and knowing he would be there for quite some time. He thanked me with a hearty hand-shake and called me by name. I never recall having hugged or kissed a patient or their family member. Today, for some reason, I hugged and kissed his daughter-in-law and wished her strength.

I knew I was leaving the room and not likely to see his countenance again. I was leaving behind a living page in American history - a young, strong soldier in a U.S. Army uniform.


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Thursday, January 1, 2004

Alyssa's New Year

By Steven P. Velasquez
January 1, 2004

Written through eyes of an EMS worker and a Daddy

Alyssa G. is a nine year-old girl with a thin build and long, brown hair down to her mid-back. Wise beyond her years, she speaks with an uncommon level of maturity. She tells me Santa was good to her this year.

She is quite good at managing her little brother too. Though she’s only in fourth grade, she shows innate motherly skills already. Perhaps those skills are sharper than her peers because her parents are divorced and Daddy has custody. It appears Alyssa spends a great deal of time playing the role of “mommy” to her infant brother.

She balances the little tyke on her right hip like an old pro. When she changes his packed diaper, she shows the skill of a veteran, though her tender age and lack of experience become quite obvious in the category of finesse. Alyssa tends to be very rough and bounces her brother around a bit too much.

Perhaps her youth, and then again maybe the days events have taken their toll on young Alyssa – for today is New Years Day. It’s the first day of the fourth year in the twenty-first century. Last night while at Grandpa's house, she was together with her paternal grandparents, her favorite Daddy – who eerily is only 16 weeks older than I – and her infant brother, who poops his diapers.

Daddy and baby brother left at about nine to go home for a New Year’s rest. The night passed, the ball in Time's Square dropped and a new year was upon this beautiful young girl with fair skin, sparkling eyes, a room full of pictures and scattered toys and a good report card,  prominently displayed on Daddy’s fridge.

This new day promised to bring change into everyone’s life for it is customary to look forward to a new year. This would hold especially so for young Alyssa. For late this afternoon – and after many an unanswered phone-call – Alyssa and Grandpa came to check on her Daddy. “Why is he not answering our calls?” they may have asked. What they found became the keystone of Alyssa’s New Year and a fulfilled prophecy for Grandpa.
“I was supposed to call him when the ball dropped and I never did” he sobbed. “I knew this would happen. I knew he was dead!”

The two entered her Daddy’s apartment – one not unlike my own – small, humble, tidy - evidence of a divorced Daddy starting over again.

“Daddy?” “Daddy?”

Silence answered.

“Daddy what’s wrong?”

A baby's cry pierces the hall and punctuates the horror. Daddy was no more. Daddy had gone to be with the angels – years too soon if you were to ask Alyssa.

His body, now reduced to a lifeless mass, is kneeling in the kitchen – right arm extended up toward the sink. The dish drying rack lies half off the counter, the dishes scattered, offering silent testimony of Daddy's final moments.

Amidst the crackle of radio transmissions and the normal course of our investigation, my “inner-Daddy” tapped me on the shoulder. “Eh-hem” he said. I glanced quickly around the room, followed by the sudden realization of what was wrong. Quickly, I whisked the children from the kitchen to Daddy's bedroom. They have already seen too much and should see no more, I thought. There, I got to look into Alyssa's crying eyes and explain that her Daddy was dead. “You need to be a big girl now;” was my short-sighted, reflexive answer. How stupid of me! She's been a big girl all her life. This was just another day in Allysa's tragic existence. She told me she couldn't live with her mother. Mommy has a predilection for drugs over her babies. Daddy had his problems too according to Grandpa, but I guess he was the lesser of two evils in the eyes of the courts and DYFS.

Recomposing, I drew a deep breath and attempted a return to objectivity. There is no evidence here as to why he died and even if there was, it’s not my job to judge. I peered into Alyssa’s room and that -- was when this run of the mill DOA (Dead On Arrival) call got personal. My Achilles heel was now exposed. Like a scene from a movie,  I was now transferred into another dimension; I was now a witness at the scene of my own death.

Mentioned earlier were our (mine and her father's) proximal ages. Equally close are our daughters ages and, hauntingly so, their choice of bedroom décor. Alyssa’s room is a mirror image of my daughter Nikki's room; same toys, same Hillary Duff posters, same Scooby-Doo comforter -- on the same sized bed. I looked in the other direction and there was a bicycle in the corner, of the same color and size too. The sign on the front door of Steve's "Office of Objectivity" was suddenly flipped to read "CLOSED."  It’s too close. I can’t overcome the weight of these emotions. My instinct (my inner-Daddy) tells me to take Alyssa and bring her home. I’ll raise her myself! Perfect I am not, but I work hard and do the best I can with my own. I can’t bear the thought of a child without a parent. Or should I say a “good” parent. I left the scene and cried uncontrollably the rest of the day. I wanted to go home. I needed to see that my children were ok.

The unfortunate father's apartment, humble as it appeared, was a memorial to his children. You see, we Daddy's have some common denominators; we take lots of pictures, have rooms filled with scattered toys and good report cards prominently displayed on our refrigerators