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“It’s a small world,” at least that’s what they say. Seems pretty f***ing stupid to me. They always say it when some lame coincidence happens, like the barista at Starbucks knew a family friend of their uncle Charles, or something dumb like that. Then the pair of ‘em will grin-away, thinking that they own the world, that it’s their own godd*mn oyster, and they’ve got their finger on the pulse of everyone in it. Cuz to them, it’s not really that the world is “small,” it’s that they’re big, bigger than big, huge - a f***ing dynamo. And I bet it helps them sleep at night, knowing that if they were to die in some freak-show combustion accident the next day while talking on their Blackberry at the local fill-up station, the whole world would grind to a halt and fall to its knees in mourning. In their super-sized, jet puffed marshmallow head, life is a cheesy blockbuster movie, and they’re the star – the charismatic, striking, misunderstood, f***ing brilliant star. I used to be one of these people, self-righteously trying to prove that I was somebody - and not just somebody, somebody important - that on this monstrosity of a planet filled to the brim with humanity, I was special.

I came outa high school as cool and fresh as the first sip of a frosty can of Sprite. I was a hot shot quarterback with big dreams and the restraint of a little tike in a candy shop. Even had myself convinced I was gonna hit the big time – “college ball and then straight to the NFL” was what I told the gals from ‘round town; said it so much that it became just another fact of life in my mind, just like the sky was blue. It was God’s plan, nature’s gift to me. But somewhere along the way God must’ve stopped watching, or stopped caring, because come April every letter I got back from college began with the same two sour words: “We regret…” I stabbed my favorite pig-skin football to pieces with a bread knife when I opened that final letter, cursing those responsible for this heinous crime. The thought never entered my arrogant head that maybe, just maybe, I should’ve been pointing the finger right back at myself.

But like everything in life, I moved on. I convinced myself that my rejection was a blessing in disguise and that “college would’ve sucked anyway.” I had a bigger purpose in life, and it was one that didn’t require text books or calculators. With my inflated self image and confidence, I strolled down to the local recruiting office in my leather jacket and white-washed denims and enlisted in the military. And you should’ve seen the John Hancock I penned onto that enlistment form - a work of art - ending with a flourish and a smug grin. I figured, as an ex-footballer, I’d show those softies out in ‘Nam how a real man wins a war.

Its funny, the things you remember in life. I remember my first day of boot camp, during morning stretching, Sergeant told me to touch my toes, but I couldn’t do it. And God knows I tried; I stretched the tips of my fingers towards the soles of my muddy, black boots as far as they could go, and then a little farther, but no d*mn cigar. The guys, oh they thought it was just a stitch that a soldier like myself could do pushups from sunrise to sunset but couldn’t stretch as well as a school girl. I practiced in secret from then on, next to the splintered wood outhouse behind Camp Bravo. I remember, the day before we shipped off overseas, I nearly touched ‘em. Must’ve been less than an inch away. Next thing I remember: I’m lying in a ditch, face burned, eyes caked with ash, and ears ringing with a deafening, evil silence. Seconds later, the pain kicked in. I recall looking down at the bloody, mangled flesh and shards of crushed bone strewn in the general area where my lower body should have been and thinking to myself how I wasn’t ever gonna touch my toes now. And I laughed at the thought, but soon that laughter turned to tears, which stung my scorched, red cheeks like a swarm of angry hornets.

When I got back home, they told me I was one of the lucky ones, considering all the guys who’d kicked the bucket completely. Or, rather, some b****rd had kicked it for them. They’d lost it all, but I’d “only lost half,” they said to me - not my idea of luck. Maybe I’m just a pessimist, saying the glass is half empty, except I’m the glass; I’m the one that’s only half full, half alive – or is it half dead? I remember seeing that week’s death and casualty tolls scroll across the bottom of the nightly news from my stiff, rubbery hospital bed a few days later: 112 injured, 33 dead. Then those painful little numbers vanished into the side of the monitor, making way for the yen to dollar exchange rates and the top trading stocks on the S&P 500. I was just another number - not even a number, a part of a number - to be noted and then immediately forgotten. The world had swallowed me whole and s*** me out in bits and pieces, without bothering to notice.
So, you can go on pretending that it’s a small world and you’re special, but when you see me on your street corner, with a soggy cup full of small change in my scarred fingers and a desperate cardboard sign hanging from the tire of my chair, just know that we’re the same. You may turn up your nose or avert your gaze, but when the s*** hits the fan and your number is called, you’ll be just that, another number - another insignificant piece of meat in a huge, callous world where nobody can spare a minute to give a d*mn.





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