He asked if he could bum or buy a cigarette, so after I bought a fresh pack I gave him two. He said his name was Daniel, “but most people call me Fish”, and that he was walking to Santa Cruz to attend the funeral of a close friend the next day. The friend had committed suicide, Daniel said. They had served together in the U.S. Army.
He didn’t mind being photographed. He laughed and said “I used to model for Lacoste before I had tattoos, if you can believe that.”
Daniel said he’d been in the Army for 2 1/2 years and served in Kandahar, Afghanistan “in a communications capacity”. He added that he “was fooling around off duty on base one day” and caused an accident (which he did not describe) that severely injured himself and two other soldiers.
“Because I got hurt too, they gave me an honorable discharge. If it hadn’t been for that I was fucked,” Daniel said.
The Army discharged him six years ago, and sends him disability checks twice a month. He also periodically visits a VA hospital for treatment of PTSD. Daniel said he “thanks God” for the disability income but dislikes the psychiatric methods the VA uses to treat discharged soldiers like him.
“They make you wear slippers, and those gowns, and tell you to relax. They treat you like a baby. Grown men, soldiers, and they treat you like a baby. And those drugs they want to give you, lithium, Mirtazapine, Lorazepam, they fuck up your liver, your kidneys, you have to get your salt levels checked constantly.
“If it wasn’t for weed and Coors, I’d have fucking blown my top years ago. Seriously, I would have lost it,” Daniel said.
Still, he was pretty upbeat despite the fact that he still had to walk another 70 miles to attend his Army buddy’s funeral. He said after he buries his friend, he’ll head back home to Massachusetts to marry a girl named Kelly. His face lit up when he said her name. Then we shook hands, and I gave him my email address and told him to be safe in his travels.
Daniel said “I’ll be fine, bro. I got family in Massachusetts and friends all over. I’m gonna be okay.”
(Midtown Market, Brisbane, California 2016)