Monday, September 25, 2006

Former navy man, lost friend, dies

Jim Chard, 50, of Monmouth, IL has died at home. Beyond that, there is no information from the local press sources.

Jim was a lost friend in a number of ways. Most importantly, he was one I let be nearly forgotten. Jim lived less than a mile from me, and I only saw him twice in five years. But also, he seemed to be lost to this world, some years back.

I don't know what, specifically, took Jim's life. He seemed, to me, a pretty decent guy, who'd spent all his life trying to live down a particularly rotten lot handed to him at birth. His dad, according to several sources I'd heard even when I was little, was apt to drink and take out his problems on the smaller, less spectacular of his sons. That would be Jim. I do remember he took a lot of crap from his brother, out in front of the rest of us kids, though, too.

The funny thing is, I never knew Jim to take out his pain on anybody else. I remember his brother, Tom, a contemporary of my own brother, and I recall my impression of Tom was that he would do just about anything, if he felt like doing it, and others' rules, others' opinions, others' feelings be hanged. There were all sorts of unpleasant stories about Tom, and many of them I didn't think were past him. But Jim worked hard to be liked by everybody. He worked hard to get away from the pain of being who he was. He wasn't tall and flashy; he was, in fact, sort of funny-looking. He had this half-grin, a lopsided way of looking at you , that made you pay attention even when you didn't think you were doing so. I liked him. He made me smile -- no mean feat in those days.

Jim was far too old for me to consider dating him, back then... gosh, he was four years my senior. By the time I reached high school, he had moved out (I was told he had been sent to Boys Town, per his own request). But he did come back a couple of times over the next few years, and he seemed to be constantly apologizing for things the rest of his family did... too often, the harm was to himself.

Jim eventually joined the US Navy. After a term and change, mostly, he said, as a submariner, he got out on medical discharge. His departure from the service came in the 1990s, and he returned at long last to Monmouth. He still had a hard time fitting in -- he lived in a battered trailer owned by his dad, often had difficulties, he admitted, getting together enough cash to pay his utilities. He tended to drink and smoke too much, by the prim standards of local society. It's possible that he did, indeed have problems with Demon Rum or some such other sin, but it's equally possible that the town's tongue-cluckers saw what they wanted to see in "a Chard boy".

I don't know specifics of his troubles -- all I had of him was what he told me in a couple of conversations out in parking lots shortly after I moved back to town. He seemed to me to be still a very troubled man, in his late forties. His conversations swung about among flirtations, reminiscences of those days in the 1980s when we had gone out a couple of times with "the pack" (I think he remembered that differently from the way I remembered, but it was still not unpleasant), and angry, bitter rants about the way the government was screwing disabled vets. I must admit, this was not the first time I'd heard horror stories... he told me he'd been fighting for help since the day he left the navy -- and they still didn't medicate him for his emotional problems. Or, if they did, it wasn't sufficient. Jim was very troubled. And Jim, on those days I saw him, was also in considerable pain.

It's funny, now that I think back on it, the first time we met again, after I moved back to town. Jim recognized me instantly, even though I am more than a hundred pounds heavier than I was when I last lived here, even though I had cut my hair very short, from the waist-length braid I had always had before (and what was left was decidedly more grey), even though I now walked with a cane. At first, I thought this man who approached me in the parking lot was a stranger, offering to compare notes on the quality of our canes -- his had a brass handle, mine looked like it could do damage in a battle. But he started to speak and I knew him. Jim's voice and manner were, after all, distinctive.

The last time I saw Jim, he seemed decidedly more frail, even desperately pained (I later heard that Jim's health -- both physical and mental -- had been, as it was described, "kinda iffy" for a while. I don't know if rumors of substance abuse were true, but they were certainly possible, all things considered). After we chatted for the better part of an hour in the drizzling rain, and he suggested we go for a cup of coffee, I realized I had been late for an interview, and I was going to catch hell for it. I apologized for begging off on the coffee, gave him my new phone number, and made a dash for it, hoping to undo the damage (I deservedly failed to get the job, of course).

Jim never called me.

I wonder if he even tried?

Now I will never know.

But I hope he was called to find peace, at last.

1 comment:

DocL said...

Jim was my friend as well.

I was sorry to hear of his passing.