THE BLOG
11/11/2013 08:51 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Grateful for Jay on Veteran's Day

A few years ago, I wrote a piece about remembering Jay on Memorial Day. He wasn't a service member who'd died, but he was a person who came back from war a shell of who he used to be, who was physically living but emotionally, mentally, spiritually gone.

In the previous blog post, I mentioned:

Eventually, it was the guilt that separated us. He felt he didn't deserve anything good and he was racked with guilt that someone like me would invest time and energy into someone like him, so he disappeared.

Last week, I saw him for the first time since he disappeared over four years ago. I wasn't sure it was him because he'd lost some weight and there was another significant physical change, both which made me later realize that he had improved. I walked past the building he was in and my forehead wrinkled as I thought, Can that be him? I stopped mid-stride and quickly went back to check.

I was stunned. Was it really him? When I hesitantly said his name, "Jay?" and he said, "Hi" in that gravelly voice I used to drink up, I knew it was indeed him.

He was working and didn't seem like he wanted to talk, so after a hurried, "It's great to see you," I walked away from the store. Shaking, I turned around to explain the situation to my friends when I noticed he'd come outside and was coming toward me. It was such a flash that I don't know exactly how it transpired. One friend, a hopeless romantic, said, "It was like The Notebook! He ran toward you." She also said he pushed her and our other friend out of the way to get to me. I'm not sure that happened. What I do know is one moment he wasn't there and the next, he was in front of me. He held out his hand and assuming he wanted to give a "nice to see you" handshake, I put my hand in his, at which point he wrapped his arms around me, resting his hand on the back of my head and I rested my head on him. It felt like home. It'd been so long since he'd held me, and I wanted that moment to last forever.

It became rushed, though, because he said he had to go back to work. We had a quick exchange: "It's so good to see you." "You too." "How are you doing?" "I'm good. How are you?" "I'm good too." As he was about to leave, I hurriedly asked, "Do you want my number?" He said, "Yeah," so I gave it to him.

He hasn't called yet and I don't know if he will, but even if he doesn't, it's really okay. The important thing is that he's doing better. I know he's doing better -- it was unmistakable. If we do end up talking, I'll ask him what's helped him. Did he go to therapy? Develop a spiritual practice? Fall in love? Did time help heal his wounds? Whatever it is, it's working for him. That broken shell seemed somewhat repaired. That overwhelming weight of PTSD seemed at least a little lessened.

For over four years, I had been scared that he was dead. He'd told me that even though he hated the war, he might reenlist because he felt it's what he deserved. For a year or so after I last saw him, I used to go on a fallen hero website, agonizing, holding my breath as I scrolled through the names to see if he had died that month.

He's alive. And he's okay.

For the first time in years, I won't be mournfully remembering him on Memorial Day. Instead, I'll be grateful for him -- and his service -- on Veteran's Day.