by Alex Azar
“I’m sorry Walter you’re…”
“Excuse me, I’m 77 years old, I have a son that’s 56 and a grandson that’s older than you. Only my family and friends call me Walter, you can call me Mr. Carter.”
“Very well, Mr. Carter, as I was saying, you’re going blind. You have some nerve damage in the cells located in the rear of…”
“It’s probably for the best. These eyes of mine have seen more than their share of tragedies, and not enough miracles. Well Dr. Musa, for how long does this old man have his dignity?”
“Actually Mr. Carter, you have several different options available. There is surgery, medications, or even laser treatments. All of which have made substantial advancements in the recent past. Your glaucoma is still in the early stages, I think medication would be your best option. However, if at anytime you feel the need to move on to a different treatment I will be more than happy to give you all the information to make the proper decision.”
“So long as you’re the one who gets paid”
“Nothing. One would think a man at my age would be through with all his important decisions. OK Dr. Musa, why don’t we go ahead with the medication for now and as for the other processes, we’ll cross the bridge when the water’s right”
“You’re the boss Mr. Carter, see Jackie at the desk and she’ll give you the prescription. Have a wonderful day Mr. Carter.”
“Thank you and the same for you Dr. Musa.”
At a local diner, where Mr. Carter has become a regular over the ages, he sits at the corner table, alone, as always. He mulls over his untouched tomato soup, fidgeting the prescription with his thumbs.
As a waitress passes by, she observes, “You OK Mr. Carter? You haven’t touched your soup yet, usually by now you’d have already been done and paid for.”
Not bothering to even look up from his soup, “Just another chapter in this old book we call life, Mrs. Johnson.”
“Now Mr. Carter, how many times do I have to tell you to call me Lucy?”
Responding as emotionless as ever, “I’ll call you Lucy when I think it’s proper for you to call me Walter.” Attributing his rudeness to his age, not to mention his sour mood, Lucy shrugs the comment off and continues with her duties. Finally ready to eat his rapidly cooling soup, Mr. Carter is interrupted, yet again.
“Hey Mister, how come you look so sad?”
Turning to see who this rude intruder is Mr. Carter turns to face a young boy no older than six. “I just received some very disturbing news, I’m going blind.”
“That’s not nice, you should be sad.”
Chuckling at the child’s innocence Mr. Carter responds, “You know child, you’re right, I am sad, but I also feel a sense of relief.”
“How come mister?”
“Even you can tell I’m old, and I’ve seen a lot in my time, and when you get older you’ll learn it’s not all good.”
As the child contemplates the old man’s words, Mr. Carter is again ready to dive into his soup, when he is yet again interrupted, “Hey, Lucy’s shift is done, I’ll be your waitress now. Walter was it?” Asks the new waitress, cracking her gum with her teeth.
Again shying from his soup, Mr. Carter’s demeanor is not that of a happy one, “Excuse Mrs. I am 77 years old, I have a son that is 56, and a grandson that is 38, my friends call me Walter, you may call me Mr. Carter. You may also leave me be, your tip shall be awaiting you when I leave.” Shocked, the waitress stammers off, leaving Mr. Carter to finally enjoy his now cold soup, under the unwavering gaze of the little boy.
Silent, the child just watches Mr. Carter eat, as he himself tries to understand the meaning of what the old man had told him. Just then the boy’s father vigorously grabs his arm. “Billy I told you to sit still while I went to the bathroom.” Turning to the old man, “I apologize for my son bothering you.”
Still concentrating on his soup, “No, it was no bother at all; children are the only people that don’t treat us old folks like children.” With that said he gives the father a crooked look.
Ashamed for being scolded, the father begins to shy away when he recognizes Mr. Carter, “Oh my God, you’re Walter, Walter Carter the famous journalist. Walter I’ve read…”
Cut off by his son, “Dad he’s 77 years old with a son that’s um… 56 and a grandkid your age, only his friends call him Walter…” Realizing he just called him Walter the boy covers his mouth with his hands.
Finishing for the boy, “That’s right, and you can call me Mr. Carter.”
At a complete loss for words, the father simply lowers his head and begins to walk away. “I was telling your son that not everything in this world is perfect and that me going blind could also be a blessing.”
"You’re going blind? That’s terrible, throughout your days and you experiences you must have seen more than most handful of people ever will.”
“That may be so, but I’ve seen more tragedies than miracles in my time.”
Refusing to accept Mr. Carter’s look on life, “But you did so much for this city as a cop, and even more for the country as a soldier, and all the wonders you must have seen as a journalist. You can’t truly mean to say that the negatives of the world outweigh the positives.”
Having given up on enjoying his soup, Mr. Carter sides the bowl away still holding the prescription, “Was there good in all that I saw? Sure, but were they more miraculous than the tragedies I experienced? Why don’t you be the judge? Sit down and listen.” With that the father takes the seat across from Mr. Carter, and places his son on his lap.
Still toying around with the prescription in his hand, Mr. Carter begins, “When I was a cop, still walking the beat around 125th and 9th Ave, a little kid no older than your son here, came running up to me crying. He said his brother was in trouble and they needed help. Not knowing what was going to happen I called for backup, and went with the kid. What he didn’t tell me was that his brother was 19 years old and trying to get into this thug gang. His initiation was to rape and kill a senior citizen in front of all his loser thug friends. Here I am, a rookie cop on the beat charging into a small dark room with about a dozen thugs all of whom were more heavily armed than I was. They saw a ‘pig,’ and I saw my life flash before my eyes for the first time. The bullets started flying and the only casualty was the little kid who came and got me, the only one of them to do the right thing. Ballistics claimed it was one of the thug’s bullets but to this day I still feel like it was my own. In any case it was still my fault for charging in there without a handle on the situation, for not even knowing the situation.”
Almost too scared to ask the question, the father stammers “What about the senior citizen? Did she live?”
“The boy that died, was so worried about upsetting his brother, that he waited until they were almost done with her to come looking for help. She was dead for at least half an hour before I even showed up on the scene, at least that’s what forensics claimed. And this is the world so many of us refuse to see.” Mr. Carter intensely looks at the father, hoping that the story made his point. The father went into a slight depression, and a long silence ensued.
Breaking the silence, the son asks, “What’s a senior citizen?”
Again laughing at the child’s innocence, Mr. Carter light heartedly replies, “A senior citizen, is an old person like me.”
“Oh OK, so what did they do to the old person after you saved her?”
Unable to answer the child and scar him forever, “I think I’m done telling stories for today. If you and your son ever want to hear more, I’m here every Friday at the same time.”
Not willing to leave it at that, the father intervenes, “But what about that serial killer, the 2nd St. Strangler, a lot of good was brought about, right?”
“It’s hard to claim any good comes from a killer like the Strangler, but yes two rival gangs set aside their differences when members from both were killed by this psycho. Some black gang and a Spanish gang , they pulled together and actually inspired people to get out of their homes and do something about the killer. Word has it they still, to this day, have an agreement, a type of respectful parley. But it can’t be forgotten that the Strangler killed four females before he was stopped, also let it be known these people are still thugs and killers themselves. They terrorize the streets on a daily basis, and for a longer period of time than the serial killer. For whatever good they did, they should never be glorified.”
Somewhat content with this revelation the father replies, “I’ don’t think anyone is trying to glorify these gangs but they did bring the city closer in a time of desperation. So that should count as some good you’ve seen in your time.”
Frustrated at the man’s ignorance Mr. Carter retorts, “Some good? During my time as a soldier, not only was I captured and tortured for three months nonstop, upon my negotiated release I became over glorified. I was glorified for surviving three months of torture, but more so for enduring a life time of horrors that still follow me to this day. The demons in my closet aren’t of my own doing, but those forced upon me while serving for the good of my country. But after that, in a follow up tour, I had to witness three quarters of my platoon burnt to the ground with napalm, an act that was deemed a crime against humanity, and its use illegal during war. This for the same country that used not one but two nuclear bombs in a single war. Oh don’t for a second think the ‘good’ memories end there. Later yet, as a war journalist for the army, I did a joint reporting with a local news channel in the Middle East. While there, we had to drive by and watch a community wide killing of all women, while the men were away fighting a territorial war. Worse yet the children were forced to watch their mothers and sisters murdered. And what did we do as this was going on? We were given orders to stand down and not initiate, because we had the news crew with us, and couldn’t endanger innocent lives for a foreign war. All of which ignited a war that rages on today that we hear no word of because America is ‘the best country in the world’ and is so self absorbed that it’s blind to the truth outside it’s borders.” Slamming his cup of water on the table Mr. Carter stands with tears in his eyes, “That’s the good these eyes have seen, that’s the positive of this world!” Out of breath, Mr. Carter sits back down looking intently at the father.
Unsure of how to respond, the father feels it best to leave now, “I’m sorry we bothered and agitated you. You clearly have enough to deal with. We’ll leave you be. Have a good day Mr. Carter” With that the father stands up begins to lead his son out.
“Bye Mr. Carter, sorry you’re going blind.”
Patting the child on his head, “You’re my friend you can call me Walter.” As the two walk away Walter places the tip for the waitress on the table, still holding the prescription. Fumbling with it in his hand, deeply thinking about what just transpired and what’s going to happen from here. Walter still contemplating, pounds on the table unsure of what to do.As if on cue, the waitress passes by asking, “Was that your family Mr. Carter?” Walter tosses the prescription into the soup and walks away.
Now that you’ve read the story, let me tell you that I actually met Walter Carter. I was in the ER several years ago, I think for coughing up blood, anyway not relevant. What is, is the fact that I got bored waiting to be seen by the doctor after waiting to get a room for three hours, even though I worked at the hospital, so I started walking around. I passed an open curtain with an elderly black man sitting there talking to a nurse, and she called him Walter. He said the line that I used several times throughout the story verbatim, a line I’ll never forget. The nurse walked away upset, so I went over and started talking to him. He told me he was a former boxer that trained with Muhammad Ali when he was still Cassius Clay. I was enamored for the 20 or so minutes I talked to him until his doctor came back to him. I told Mr. Carter that I’ll leave him alone with the doctor, when he pointed at me, and said “You, you’re my friend, you can call me Walter.” It made me so proud, even more so when I heard the doctor call him Walter, and wasn’t met with the same kindness I got. When blindness came up as the topic, I knew I wanted to steer away from the extreme I went with in Anger Management, and as a result is the story you just read.