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I had an optometrist appointment the other day. This in its own right is not interesting, but if you avoid doctors like I do, it's actually an exciting accomplishment. So, feeling very smart and proud of myself, I finished up my exam and made my way to the lobby to choose new glasses. A bright red number dispenser beckoned me into the chaos that was this particular lobby---a cacophony of voices, second guessing frame choices and insurance coverage. 

Standing in front of the machine was a tall reed of a man---ancient and gray, his fragile body layered in flannels for warmth. He was topped with a grubby cap, once blue but now also a faded gray. "Korean War Veteran" flanked both sides, embroidered in blue. I don't know how long he had been there, but it became clear that he was trying to figure out what to do next. I slipped in front of him to grab a number. Eventually, he followed my lead and took a number, too. 

Is it possible to be a Korean War vet and still be alive?

My grandfather had served in Korea. Is it possible that my grandfather could still be alive? Maybe he didn't really die before I was born. My mind in its usual state of sliding doors, considered the alternatives. This could be our moment. I've always wanted a gentle and wise grandpa to call my own. We could catch up. I could share what has become of his family. He could tell me of his time traveling adventures. We could laugh at romance, newfangled fashions, and oppressive politics. Grandpa, could it be you? Waiting for me to be a friend. Waiting to tell me a story. Waiting to give me a side hug. Waiting for me. 

I quickly did the math.  Dammit. Not possible, even in my mind that is constantly tugging the edges of possibility. And with that, I lost my newfound grandpa in less than twenty seconds.  But this guy, holding car keys and trying to get help, he had to be in his nineties. Should he be driving? Who was waiting to be his friend? Waiting to hear his story? Waiting to give him a side hug? Waiting for him.

"498," bellowed a technician. 

"Here. You were here first."

I exchanged my 498 for his 499, gently transferring the number with my right hand while holding his arm steady with my left. 

He proclaimed with some effort that he hoped his glasses might be ready. The technician, impatient and busy, bristled answers to his questions, telling him they'll text him when his order is ready.

"Text?" he whispered, shaking his head, as his voice lost steam. 

"Have a great day," said the annoyed tech. He was dismissed. 

Maybe he frequents this place, standing at the entrance and asking the same question every day. Maybe they started off kind, but now days in, irritation levels have risen and it's best to bark the soundbyte and shoo him out the door. It's Salem, so there are often people waiting around, no matter the venue, taking up space and time, and not of clear mind. 

And then he unexpectedly turned to me, meeting my eyes, holding them with his gentle blue ones. "It's your turn now." 

It's my turn. 

In a split second, I willed all the warmth I could muster into the most gigantic smile I've ever smiled. So gigantic and toothy, my face hurt from the contortion. 

Here's to you, 498. 

What have you seen? 

Who sees you? 

I do. 


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