by Pamela Onnen
Sacramento, California, USA
B.J. is a trucker. He owns and operates a reasonably successful business. He is a hard, unsentimental, no-nonsense man. In his 53 years he has survived a rough, abusive childhood, a tour in Vietnam as a machine-gunner and a 30-plus year battle with alcoholism. He has fought and survived his whole life, with the usual resulting scars, inside and out. He is a big, muscular guy with an intimidating face. He rarely smiles and has little patience for most people. People don’t mess with B.J. and that’s just the way he likes it. I’ve been married to him for 17 years.
B.J. parks his truck and trailers outside a small local airport. There is an old hanger there that has been converted into a workshop with an apartment on the upper floor inhabited by a young family. He was working on his trailer, crawling around underneath, when he noticed two little feet lurking near the side. He came out from under the truck to find a little boy standing there holding a small book. B.J. could see the boy’s mouth moving but, as he is hard of hearing, he said impatiently to the boy, “Speak up, son, I can’t hear you.”
“Will you sign my book?” a very tiny voice asked.
“What’s this for?” B.J. growled.
“It’s a project at school. I’m making a book of signatures of all my new friends,” the little boy said quietly.
B.J. paused for a minute, then with a sigh and a shrug of his big shoulders he said, “Well, OK, how about I give you one of my cards to put on a page and I’ll sign underneath it?” The little boy nodded enthusiastically.
“Okay, hand it over.” He took the book. “What’s your name?” he asked the boy.
Once again B.J. could see the boy’s lips move but couldn’t make out what he had said. “You’re really going to have to speak up. I don’t hear very well,” B.J. said.
“Matthew.” says the boy.
“OK, Matthew.” B.J. found a blank page, put his card in, signed the page, and handed the book back. “Here you go.”
Matthew grinned broadly, took the book and ran back to the apartment over the hangar.
Now and then, when B.J. is coming and going from the airport, there’s a small waving hand in the window of the apartment and a small smile escapes B.J.’s intimidating face. Just hearing about it keeps the image coming back to me: a little boy brave enough to reach into the scarred heart of an old warrior to find a new friend.