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Rated: · Other · Emotional · #1577095
A young attorney reconnects with a long lost uncle and restores purpose to his life.
Sarge









I have lived a somewhat sheltered life. After high school I attended Penn State University and graduated cum laud with a major in criminal justice and a minor in philosophy. My dream, well maybe not so much my dream, but my destiny was to become an attorney in the footsteps of my father. I eventually graduated Law School with a Jurist Doctorate Degree from Penn State. I immediately went to work at Langley and Langley, Attorneys at Law in Philadelphia. Langley and Langley is the fifth largest legal firm in Philly, if you keep track of that sort of thing. Within six months I had passed the bar exam and was under the tutelage of Carl Winters, my father’s senior criminal attorney. The firm had been founded by my grandfather in 1955. At my grandfathers death the reins were passed to my father and his younger brother. My father came from a large family. He had three sisters, one had married a policeman who was now assistant Chief of Police, and the other two had married attorneys, one of which was now a judge. He also had two brothers, an older brother, Matthew, who had gone to Viet Nam and then disappeared shortly after his return home, his younger brother, Simon, followed him to law school and became his partner in the firm. My father, Joseph Langley, was a rigid, stoic individual that seemed to always get what he wanted, never one to tolerate insolence or disobedience.
My name is Greg Langley and I developed a “go along to get along” attitude early on in life. I wasn’t always like that though. I had my rebellious years, when I tried to buck my father at every turn. In the end it was just easier to change my life’s destination and follow my father into the Law. Deep down, I always knew that I had a different purpose in life. Not that I didn’t like being an attorney, it was great, the action of the court room the discovery of evidence and the ability to put the story together in a credible sequence that the jury would swallow hook line and sinker. I did believe that everyone was entitled to representation and due diligence by their attorney to keep them out of jail. It was the due diligence in evidentiary law that I sometimes had trouble with. Sometimes it crossed that fuzzy line between truth and a lie.
Carl had taken me under his wing with obvious reluctance. I guess he thought I was just another young attorney living and working under their father’s umbrella. I wanted to prove to him and everyone that I was Greg Langley, not just Joseph Langley’s son, but, my own man, that I was an individual. I put in more hours than any other junior attorney. I was billing eighty hours a week. I was becoming a ferocious defense attorney during our mock trial sessions. I was ready for the big leagues. Carl was still condescending to me though. He glossed over my obvious missteps and miscues during my cross examinations.
After putting up with Carl’s indifference to my success as an attorney for the past four months, I told Carl that we had to talk. We went into his private office, where I explained to Carl that if I was going to be an attorney I wanted to become the best and not just Joseph Langley’s attorney son. Carl studied me for about five minutes and then said, “Greg, maybe I miss judged you. I apologize. From now on you will stand on your own merits. You will receive no better or no worse treatment than the other junior attorneys. I stood and with my hand outstretched I thanked Carl and told him that he wouldn’t be sorry.”
From that day forward, I began to feel like an attorney. I was soon sitting second chair to Carl and some of the other Defense Attorney’s in the office. My career was back on track and even I had a hard time believing it, but, I was enjoying it. I soon became Lead Council on some of the minor cases. I was proving myself and the reports that my father was receiving were making him very happy, although he would never show that elation in front of me. He thought that it would weaken me as a man and as a Defense Attorney.
I was in a grove, I had a pattern to my life that I was finally comfortable with. I was approaching thirty and had been so busy with the law that I had neglected myself for the past few years. It was now time to get back in shape, so, I started going to the gym every morning at six. I would then walk the five blocks to the office, stopping, only, for my morning coffee on the way back. I was always at my desk by 8:00 am, at least an hour before everyone else. I loved the city life. Growing up in the Main Line Section of Philadelphia was not like growing up in the city.
My morning walks from the gym to the office produced a new awareness of the realities of life. I soon became friendly with the underbelly of the city. The homeless, lost, desolate souls, the street walkers still out looking for one more john before heading home, the shop owners cleaning the sidewalk in front of the shops in preparation for the business of the day. They all became familiar faces that deserved my acknowledgment. I soon learned to enjoy the early morning banter with the people of the street. It was different from my daily routine and seemed to ground me as a human being, keeping me in touch with the realities of life.
One morning, as I left the gym, there was a man in a wheel chair sitting near the building. He appeared to be waiting on me, but as I walked past him he just watched me walk by with what I detected as a smile in his eyes. I greeted the man, but, got only a nod in response. This went on for about a week, then for several days he was gone. One day I asked Diamond, one of the early morning street walkers, if she knew anything about the man in the wheelchair that sat outside of the gym. She told me that he had just started to come around recently, didn’t talk much; he was in some bad shit during the war, that’s all I know. Greg thanked Diamond and headed for his office. Diamond yelled to his back, “What’s your hurry, honey?”
I was in the middle of preparing for my first big trial as lead council. I was putting in sixteen hour days, so, I decided to forego the gym for a few days. The trial lasted two weeks and it was my first big win. Carl and some of the other attorneys wanted to take me out to celebrate. After imbibing a little too much bourbon, Carl called cabs for all of the attorneys. I was standing outside waiting for the cab, when I saw the man in the wheelchair rolling slowly down the sidewalk, appearing to be going no place in particular. As he passed me, he stopped and said, “You haven’t been to the gym lately. You need to keep your mind and body right.” and then he rolled on into the night. I just stood there and watched in wonderment as I studied his back as he disappeared into the darkness. There was something about this man that I couldn’t quite get a grip on.
I awoke the next morning and decided to follow the old man’s advice and go back to the gym. As I entered the gym the man was nowhere to be seen. When I came out I expected to see him sitting there, but, he wasn’t. I stopped for my morning coffee and proceeded to the office, greeting all of the familiar faces. I was beginning to feel something for these people. I could now put faces to the dregs of society and see them as human beings with feelings and aspirations. I saw the plight of the shop owners, struggling to stay open so that they could feed their families. I was beginning to understand and feel for the people that lived some place other than on the Main Line.
A week goes by; and still no man in the wheelchair. Then there he was again, sitting in his old wheel chair looking pathetic in his dirty army field jacket, his hair unkempt and his beard scraggly and turning gray. He looked like a used up human being. Even in his pathetic dirty state, there was something that intrigued me, something that kept drawing me to this derelict of a man. I was curious about this aloof stranger. I made up my mind to stop and talk to this man the next time I saw him.
A couple days later I was coming out of the coffee shop, walking at a brisk pace because I was late for work. My mind was on what was on my calendar for today, when I heard someone say, “What’s the rush, Gregory, your work will still be there when you get there. I stopped dead in my tracks, and with a look of bewilderment on my face thought, first of all no one has called me Gregory since I was a child and then only my parents and second how did he know my name. I walked over to where the old man was sitting in his wheelchair and asked him how he knew my name. The old man wouldn’t make eye contact with me, but, mumbled, “I don’t know, someone must have told me what it was.” “Well, now you know my name. What’s yours?” In a staccato voice he said, “They call me Sarge.” I extended my hand to Sarge and said, “Glad to meet you. I have to run now but I’d like to talk some more with you.” Sarge abruptly turned his chair around and started rolling down the sidewalk, over his shoulder he said, “I’ll be around, Gregory.” I watched in amusement as Sarge made his way down the sidewalk. I heard him talking, but, couldn’t hear or see who he was talking to, if anyone in particular.
I made my way to my office, but, was distracted all afternoon. I couldn’t get Sarge out of my mind. I remembered seeing homeless people before, but, my rich friends and I always looked right through them. They were just nonentities to me. But, Sarge had a story and I was going to find out what it was. I had to put Sarge on the back burner for awhile, so, that I could chase that almighty dollar or listen to Carl screaming about billable hours for days.
Several days go by and I haven’t seen Sarge. I was working late one evening getting ready for a big drug trial. The guy was guilty as sin, which made it that much harder to defend him, but, that was his right and that’s what Langley and Langley did. I was hoping the D.A. would make my client a reasonable deal and we could all go home, except my client, of course. As I was walking towards the parking garage I passed a group of homeless people. Sarge was, sitting quietly, on the edge of the group. I walked over and said, “Hey, Sarge, How are you doing?” “Sarge looked up in a stupor and said, “Who the hell are you?” I said, “It’s me Greg, It’s Gregory” Through bloodshot eyes a glimmer of recognition appeared. Sarge slurred, “Oh yeah, Gregory the big shot lawyer. How ya doin?” I said, “Hey Sarge, how about meeting me for lunch tomorrow. I’d like to talk to you.” Sarge responded in as a haughty a voice as he could muster, “I’ll have to check my calendar; Sarge might have an important meeting.” He ended the sentence with a smug chuckle. I told him that if he was free for lunch, to meet me at the Deli across the street at noon. With a wave of dismissal, Sarge said, “We’ll see, Gregory.” I turned and headed for my car with a smile on my face over Sarge’s perfunctory tone.
The next day I was walking over to the Deli to meet Sarge, not knowing if he’d even be there. As I turned the corner I saw Sarge sitting in his chair about fifty feet from the Deli. He looked up as I neared. I said, “I’m glad you made it.” Sarge retorted, “Yeah, Yeah, let’s make it snappy. I have places to go.” “Well, let’s go inside” Sarge put his head down and with a mix of shame and insolence in his voice said, “I like to eat out doors.” I said, “Okay, I’ll be right back.” I soon came back out with two ham and cheese sandwiches and two sodas and said, “Where too?” Sarge wheeled around and with a wave of his arm said, “Follow me.” We went about two blocks when we came to a bench sitting under a huge Elm tree. Sarge rolled his wheel chair up beside the bench and put the brake on. I took that as my cue to sit on the bench. Sarge was quiet as he devoured the sandwich. I just let him eat. I wanted Sarge to be comfortable around me before I started digging into his past. What brought him here? What was his story? I asked him where he lived. Sarge said, “Nearby” The rest of my questions were answered with the same amount of ambiguity and in one or two word answers. We sat quietly for a few minutes enjoying the sunny day. I looked down at Sarge and for the first time I noticed a medal that Sarge wore on his old Army field jacket. I remarked about the medal and Sarge just shrugged the comment off by saying, “Ah, it’s nothing, just something the army gave me.” I said, “Were you in Viet Nam?” Sarge got that distant stare that so many Viet Nam veterans had and said, “That was another life, another time. No one cares about that no more.” I said, “I’d like to hear about it.” Sarge just stared at him and with a lot of anger in his voice said, “What do you care about it, son, that was then this is now, this is the present.” Sarge abruptly wheeled around and rolled off shouting, “Go chase the dollar, like the rest of them.” I yelled after him, “The rest of who?” but got no response.
As I made my way back to the corporate world, I kept thinking about what Sarge had said and it bothered me but not more than what he meant by the statement. It seemed personal to him. The big trial was to start the next day and I had to get my mind around how I was going to defend this two time loser client. I spent the rest of the
afternoon working on my opening statement. That night I went to bed with the trial on my mind, but, always in the back was Sarge’s comment echoing around my brain.
The next day I was in trial mode and was totally consumed with the defense of my client. The trial was in its sixth day, when I was summoned by the D.A. I knew what he wanted, so I wasted no time responding. The D.A. as I suspected was willing to make an offer to end the trial. If convicted, my client was facing twenty to life, so, when the D.A. offered five to ten for a guilty plea, I told him that I would present it to my client. I was sure that he would accept the deal. I went directly to the jail to discuss the offer with my client. My client was so scared of getting twenty years that he jumped at the offer. I notified the D.A. and the next day the trial ended with my client going off to serve his five to ten year sentence and me off to contemplate my future.
The next day, I went back to the deli across the street and ordered a sandwich and soda to go and then strolled to the bench under the huge Elm tree. As I sat there enjoying the pleasant day eating my lunch, my mind drifted to Sarge. What was he up to today? Where did he sleep last night? Did he have something to eat? Who was this stranger that had invaded my mind with such haunting force?
I was well on my way up the corporate ladder at Langley & Langley. I had more than proven myself to Carl Winters, the Senior Attorney at the firm. My father and uncle had commented on my performance in passing, never in front of the other attorney’s and it was never more than mere observation. I decided, long ago, that this was the closest that my father and uncle could come to delivering praise and appreciation. That was the way of the men of the Langley family. I figured that as long as I was pleased and comfortable with my performance that was enough, but, down deep I always sought their approval only to be disappointed at their display of compassion and gratitude. At every success and milestone that I ever reached their reaction was that they always had expected more. I had rebelled at this treatment in my youth. Then I decided to prove myself to them, at all cost. The cost was proving to be expensive. It was costing me my independence and weakening my moral fiber just to pursue financial gain.
I was thinking about Sarge and the medal that he wore. Since Sarge treated the medal with such indifference on the outside, yet, still displayed it on his chest, that medal must mean something to him. I decided to look on the internet to see if I could find out what the medal was for. Since Sarge wore an Army field jacket, I checked under Army decorations. It didn’t take me long to find the medal and to find out that the medal was the Bronze Star, given for bravery in combat, above and beyond the call of duty at serious risk to one’s self. I thought, how about that, old Sarge was a war hero.
I often had lunch on that same bench under the Elm tree in the hopes of running into Sarge. About a week after I found the medal on the internet, I was going to lunch and as I approached the bench under the Elm tree I saw Sarge in his wheel chair parked beside it. I was glad to see him. I could not help but feel the connection between me and this wretched old man.
As I sat on the bench I said hello to Sarge, only to receive a semi-conscious grunt from the man whose life seemed so spent and used up. I offered half of my lunch to Sarge. He accepted and afterwards tried to have a conversation with him. Sarge was in one of his more sullen moods and not too communicative. I said, “Sarge, tell me about that Bronze Star on your jacket. Did you win that?” At the comment Sarge seemed to come alive. He sat up in his chair and gazed off into the distance. Shortly, he turned to me and said, “No son, I didn’t win this medal, I earned it.” And then he fell quiet again. I said, “I’d like to hear about it.” Sarge turned and gave me a quizzical look and asked, “Why are you interested? It was a long time ago.” I noticed the edge in Sarge’s voice, and carefully said, “I’m interested in hearing your story.” Sarge, confused by my interest, with a guarded tone in his voice responded that it was given to him when he was young and foolish. I said, “I don’t think bravery is ever foolish.” Sarge looked at me with a renewed fascination and then he told me how his platoon was pinned down for several days in a lonely valley in the jungles of Viet Nam. Running low on food and ammunition, he was tired of seeing his friends die and didn’t want to be next. Out of anger at the loss of so many lives and the concern that he may be next, he gathered up all of the grenades from the dead bodies of his friends and went off by himself. He slipped behind the enemy position and lobbed the grenades at their machine gun positions, killing all of the gunners and taking the remaining soldiers prisoners. When it was all over there were five men, besides him, left in his platoon. That was six more people alive because of his actions. He said it wasn’t bravery that made him do it; it was the fear of dying.
I just looked at this decrepit, broken old man with renewed appreciation and wanted to find out more about him. Why had he ended up this way? Why was he so angry with himself and society? I had the feeling that it was a sad story of loss and defeat. I asked Sarge what happened to him after the war. Sarge sat there as the events of his youth played out in his mind. The family that wanted to pretend that the war hadn’t happened to him and had expected him to forget all that he had done and resume his life in the footsteps of his father. Never understanding or caring about the pain that he experienced or the nightmares that plagued his sleep. The unending embarrassment he gave the family because he came back a cripple. How he became the black sheep of the family, the family disappointment. How his pain and misery were eased only when he was in a drug or alcohol induced stupor. Sarge looked up at me and said, “Ask your father.” And then he rolled himself away. I was so stunned by this remark that I found myself speechless. What did my father know? Did my father know Sarge? I have to find out.
That afternoon, I went to my father’s office and asked him if he had a moment. My father feigned annoyance, but, told me to come in. When I sat down my father asked me what I wanted, that he was very busy. I thought you’re always busy when it comes to time for me, but I related my experience with meeting Sarge, an Army veteran in a wheelchair. I told him the story of the Bronze Star and about when I asked Sarge what happened to him after the war his response was to ask my father. I said, “Do you know this man?” My father got a look of apprehension on his face and retorted, almost too quickly to be believable, “How should I know who this street person is? I looked at him, not really believing him, but, knew that I would never get confirmation that he knew him, but, I believed that he did somehow. I thanked my father for his time and left his office.
The next day, I left for lunch early, in hopes of running into Sarge again. As I left the Deli with a couple of sandwiches I met Sarge rolling down the sidewalk. I invited him to the bench under the Elm tree to share a sandwich with me. After eating in silence, I looked at Sarge and said, “Sarge, I did what you said, I ask my father.” ‘What did he say?” I told him about my father’s response and that I didn’t believe him. Sarge said, “Your father was always a good liar, that’s what made him a good attorney. You must be a better attorney than he is to see through his lies. Greg, I’m only going to tell you this because I have been watching you from afar for a long time now. Do you think our meeting was a coincidence? It wasn’t. I wanted to get to know you better. I saw something in you that gave me renewed hope in my family.” I asked, “Your family? Sarge said, “Yes, my family. Greg did your father or uncle ever tell you about their older brother?” I said that I had an Uncle Matthew that had disappeared a long time ago, but, I really didn’t know him. Sarge looked at me and said, “Meet your Uncle Matthew, the black sheep of the family.”
I was so stunned at this revelation that I choked up and couldn’t think of anything to say and for an attorney that was something. I finally said, “I can’t believe this. You live so close to your family, but, you are an outcast, why? Sarge said, “Greg I live wherever I fall asleep. I have lived on the street and in shelters for the past twenty years. Oh, I started out by attending college, but, the war left me with so much pain and misery that I resorted to the security of drugs and alcohol. I couldn’t face reality by myself and the family got tired of sending me to re-hab, so, I just drifted away. They never tried to find me and I gave up on them. Then I saw you. I could see a lot of myself in you. You were rebellious like I was, but, you gave in to your father’s wishes and followed in his footsteps. I was disappointed in this, at the beginning, until I realized that you were just trying to prove that you were a better attorney and a better man than your father was. You did slow down on the booze and the drugs. I was glad to see that. I could tell that the pressures of trying to outdo your father would be your downfall some day and I didn’t want you to resort back to the false comfort of the drugs and alcohol as an escape from him as I had done with my father and my family.” You gave me a reason to go on, a reason to be of some use to someone, even if it was as an example of what not to be like. All I could say was, “It’s a pleasure to meet you Uncle Matt. “After I gathered my composure I said, “I have an idea, why don’t you come home with me? I have my own place now and I want to know all about you.” Sarge said, “Greg, what you see is what I am.” I said, “No Uncle Matt, I believe that you are a lot more than that.”
Over the next several years Uncle Matt lived with me as he worked on becoming clean and sober once again and in return Uncle Matt taught me to be a more considerate and thoughtful person. I continued my law career, but, soon began to detest defending the criminal element that had become my clients. After a couple of years I opened my own office, devoting much of my time as a homeless advocate and pro bono work.
With Uncle Matt’s assistance I started a foundation to feed and clothe the homeless. I soon realized that as long as the food and clothing were free for the asking the homeless people would never be self sufficient. Uncle Matt and I started a training program for the homeless and with the support of a few corporate sponsors, created The Philadelphia Homeless Training Program. Matt was still in a wheelchair, but, it was a motorized chair now and he wore nice suits every day. He projected the appearance of success as an example to other homeless people. Uncle Matt became a motivational speaker so that he could tell his story every chance he got to impress on the homeless that if he could overcome, so could they. Sarge was a productive member of society again.
© Copyright 2009 R.E.Boyd (russ at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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