A good friend of mine who works over at Brook Army Medical Center here in San Antonio gave me a call tonight to make reservations for a just-returned from Afghanistan patient of his and the patient's girlfriend. He doesn't do it often, maybe 3 or 4 times a year, but it's with reason he does so. I asked him, 'bad one?' "Pretty bad. I'll pick up his tab." "You got the last one. My turn." "No Jeff, this one's special to me. It's going to be his first day out since he was injured, and he'll be back in until February after tomorrow. Take care of him for me will ya?" "Got ya covered. Any diet restrictions?" "No more than one drink, but he's good other than that. Can you put him in the banquet room? He needs to be away from bright lights." "Photo sensitivity from medication?" "PTSD. He's not alright, but he wants to get out." "No problem Pete, I'll do what we can." Around 8:30 a yellow cab van pulls up and they drop off the kid and his girlfriend. She holds the outer door as he wheels himself into the restaurant and I've got the inside glass doors. I tell him, we'll call him Tyson, "We've got a table set up for you in the banquet room tonight." Tyson, in a very short and curt manner, "I don't know what they told you, but I'm not going to be stuck in a corner somewhere so you can forget about me." His girlfriend, they're both about 22-23ish, gives me an apologetic look. Tyson has a small stump where his right leg used to be. His left leg is held together by a framework of cables, pins, and stainless steel that start at his upper thigh and end at each of his toes. I want to say he's got well over thirty insertions going to the outer frame. At least I quit counting at 30. "No sir, any table is yours this evening." The back of the restaurant is emptying out so he heads back there, but not before he pulls out a blanket and covers his leg that's resting up high on pillows on the extension of the wheel chair. As he's doing so, it flops over to the left at an angle that says he's got no control over it. He picks it back up, centers it, and his girlfriend helps him with the blanket. He wheels himself to a table facing the kitchen. We've got a "show" kitchen that's only separated from the patrons by a half wall and glass, but it's fairly dark compared to the main dining room. He wants a white wine since he's never had one. He tastes every white we have by the glass until he finds one he likes. About the fourth or fifth taster into the selection, one of the chef's fires up a veal picatta dish and it flames up pretty high when the hot oil hits the chilled veal. Tyson jumps like someone just poured cold water down his back. The look on his girlfriend's face says this isn't where he needs to be right now, but this is where he needs to be right now. I ask him if he'd like a different table a little quieter on the other side of the restaurant near the windows away from the kitchen. She answers for him, "No. We can't." They get their salads and as I'm heading back to the rear of the kitchen, I hear a plate shatter. All of our plates are glass, so when they hit the tile floor, they disintegrate into a thousand pieces and let the world know they did. I turn around and the bus boy comes up to tell me Tyson jumped and threw his plate against the wall. I take the broom and dust pan from my guy, and head over to the table. Sure enough, I can see where the salad hit the wood work. "Damn gravity, never takes the day off does it?" I said as I'm sweeping it up. "I'll get you another one chief." My busboy heads off and brings up another caesar in seconds flat. Tyson asks me, "Can I go outside on the patio for a few minutes?" I tell him sure, the patio is open. He pulls off from the table and wheels his way through the customers. I finish the clean-up and notice his girlfriend is quietly crying in her napkin. I tell her its okay, that his doctor called. He's among friends here. "Besides, not everyone has a great opinion of our salads and I like it when a customer tells me how they really feel about things." That at least gets a half-laugh out of her. I put a hold on their food for a few minutes, expecting him to come back in fairly soon. 10 minutes goes by, and she says I can bring everything out. I do so and head out to the patio to bring in Tyson. He's sitting there, wheelchair facing the wall, looking on the ground, with a cigarette in his mouth. His cigarette lighter is lying there, just inches out of his reach. "I got it." "Couldn't reach it." "Yeah. It happens." "No, I couldn't reach it. I tried though." Not too hard to read that he's going through things trying to cope that I can't imagine, and it's eating away at him. "Dinner's ready, I'll keep it hot until you're ready." A few minutes later the server I had stationed at the door lets him back in and he tears through his dinner. He seems to be in a better mood. A regular customer who served in Korea and Vietnam comes over to talk to him for awhile, gives Tyson his card. He sends over two glasses of champagne for them to celebrate the New Year that he'll spend in the hospital tomorrow night. They enjoy the heck out of that. I'm guessing Tyson might be on a painkiller or three and he seems to be smiling for the first time all night. I invite them both back and he says not soon, but they'll definitely be back. His girlfriend seems to be in a good mood as well. They're both surprised when I tell them the bill is taken care of. He says he would really prefer to pay for it himself. I tell him, "sorry bud, people in Hell want ice water and you're fourth in line. Doc Pete picked it up. If he didn't it was my treat, and if I didn't Mr. Gonzalez says he owes it to a fellow soldier to pick it up." Shake his hand, "better luck next time." Tyson kind of laughs at it, and they head outside. His girlfriend is holding the outer door and he asks one of my servers to take their picture outside if it's okay. I say yeah, no problem. As it would happen, the closest of my servers is Army ROTC, second generation Army brat. He fishes out his phone, sets it, and hands it to her to take their picture as his girlfriend leans against the right armrest of his wheelchair. I wish I would have known more about his condition at that point. The flash pops on the camera. He screams. I've never heard anything like that in my life. I hope to all that's Holy in this universe I never do again. He's trying to jump out of the wheelchair, trying to take cover from an attack that isn't happening but he's strapped in. He's screaming out names of people that had to have been with him or around him when he was injured. My server is helping Tyson's girlfriend hold his arms down while she's yelling at him that, "It's okay! Tyson, you're safe. It's okay baby! I'm here! You're not hurt!" over and over. She kneels down in front of him and keeps quietly talking to him for a few minutes after he calms down. Twice he yells out, "NO! I've got to go back! I can help!" and tries to turn the wheelchair around. Finally he stops and just slumps down in the chair. He's back from the war he was fighting for the last five minutes. She holds him, and he hugs her back. They load up in the taxi to go back to BAMC. As they leave, she gives me the saddest, forced smile. Folks, there's one place and one place only in the restaurant that I can't be bothered or reached and that's up on the roof. I've got the only key for the security ladder and there's no phone reception for whatever reason. I spent 30 minutes up there bawling. Any piss ant trouble I've got in my life is nothing compared to what that kid is fighting with inside of him. They may be thousands of miles from the battlefield; days, months, or years since their last active deployment, but the veterans of this country can still be fighting just to put on a facade of normalcy. Tell them you appreciate their service. It's the least we can do.