Real Good Friends

by Gabriel Urbina


Tyrone and Beatriz work at the same hospital. Their frienship started while both of them were still in the military. Beatriz introduced Tyrone to George, and they became friends, and pool hall buddies. All three of them are Vietnam veterans.

Beatriz met Tyrone in Vietnam, waiting their turn to be flown back to the United States. They had to wait for a week at a transit camp, near the airport. Beatriz was an Army nurse, and Tyrone was a Navy Hospital corpsman. They met in the mess hall, having breakfast. They recognized each other insignias, which were very similar. Beatriz struck a conversation with him, and learned that Tyrone had served two years in Vietnam, but he had never gone to another Asian country, for Rest and Recreation. She asked why. He said, "I wasn't interested. Going somewhere else was not going to help me. Travel does not solve problems."

Beatriz did not want to pry about what problems he was referring to, so she asked him, "But if you had to choose one place to visit, where would you go?"


"What? Why?"

"I would like to know how the other half lives."

"An interesting idea, but an impossibility, I'm afraid." Beatriz thought, "This is an interesting guy. He's different. He thinks differently." Beatriz did not mention to him that she never took time off either, while in Vietnam. She felt she just couldn't take time off, too many patients that needed her care. She had been previously stationed in Landstuhl, Germany. She was about an hour from Frankfurt. She loved to take the train to Heidelberg, a beautiful university town, and she went there many times. That was different; that was during peacetime.

Both of them had time remaining in the service. After a 30-day leave, Beatriz reported to an Army hospital in San Francisco, and Tyrone had orders to report to San Diego.

They kept in touch. Beatriz got out of the Army, and remained in San Francisco. Found work right away. With Tyrone was a different story. Beatriz told him to apply at her hospital. There were a few opening for orderlies, swing and night shifts. He was hired. That's how they became co-workers.

I did not know Tyrone. By then, I was living with Beatriz, and she was the one who introduced me to him. We hit it off for two reasons. First, I cannot speak. I'm his perfect companion when he's getting ready for another tough week at the hospital. He wants quietness, and with me there is no pressure to talk, to say anything. Second, we both like to play pool, which we do often.

Tyrone hails from Richmond, California, and I'm from San Leandro. These two towns are about 25 miles apart; but they are like two different worlds. Ty grew up in a tough neighborhood, while I spent my childhood in a rather peaceful town. In high school he never got in trouble, we was busy with school work, and a part-time job. The example of his parents shaped him as a hardworking young man. His dad was a custodian at a local school, and his mom worked as housekeeper at a motel, and she also cleaned houses and apartments on the side. They were poor, but with a strong work ethic, and a sense of dignity, which Ty also acquired from them.

Tyrone finished high school when he was still sixteen years-old. His grades were fair, but good enough to graduate. He was motivated to finish school early, so he could work full-time, so he could contribute to the household expenses. He detailed cars, he did janitorial work, he even painted a few houses. At one point, he had three part-time jobs.

Ty got married young, when he was still eighteen years-old. He married Carole, a girl he had known since elementary school. They were extremely happy, and very much in love. But happiness lasted a little bit over a year, because Carole died in a car accident. The problem was she died as a passenger in another man's car, and that man also died in the crash.

Tyrone grieved for a long time, and, in addition to his sorrow, his mind was constantly assaulted by nagging questions, and persistent doubts. Yet he knew very well he would never find any answers, and his doubts would never be cleared. He realized he needed to get away, and military service was the way to do it. He knew he didn't want to be in any kind of combat arms outfit. He thought that working in a hospital would be something worthwhile. So, when he was nineteen he joined the Navy, in order to become a medical corpsman. War was still a few months away. Little did he know that he would be assigned as a medic to a Marine outfit, and that he would be in the middle of the war, in Da Nang.

The three of us, Beatriz, Tyrone and I, get together once or twice a week, for coffee and a bite to eat. We usually do this at the hospital's cafeteria, or at a nearby coffee shop. I just sit there, listening and enjoying the give and take between them. There is no doubt they are very fond of each other.

One day, Bea came to meet us at the cafeteria. She was carrying a book with her. I went to get her a cup of coffee, and when I came back to the table, they were already at it.

"What are you reading, Bea?," he inquires, with an innocent look.

"The Sheltering Sky," she replies.

"What's the book about?"

"It's about Katherine. She and her husband are traveling in North Africa .Porter, her husband, gets diphtheria and dies. She is in pain, and she copes by joining a caravan. She basically changes cultures; she goes into another world."

"Oh, man!, this is too heavy for me. Pass the sugar," says Ty, disapprovingly. "Anyway, when do you find time to reading this stuff?"

"When you guys are hitting your balls with a stick," says Bea, smiling benignly.

"Ouch. Even the image hurts. I'll have you know that playing pool is a game of high skill, and thoughtful strategy. Anyway, what happens to this Katherine?"

"She becomes the lover of two Arab guys, and later she has an affair with a Sudanese."

With fake exasperation, Ty says, "That's a fine way to grieve her husband's death! Look, with everything that you go through everyday, you should be reading some escapist stuff, like those cheap romance novels."

"This is romantic. Imagine, a young woman, alone in an exotic land."

"I'm sorry. I don't approve," he takes a sip of coffee, and starts eating the piece of cheesecake in front of him.

Bea becomes very quiet for a moment, then she asks him, "So what do you read?"

"I read comic books. Duffy Duck and Bugs Bunny."

"Hard to believe, a grown man like you, reading comic books," says Bea, with exaggerated contempt.

"Well, you didn't know the true significance of playing pool, so, I'm not surprised you don't know that comic books are an art form."

"But, do you read anything more serious, Ty?"

"I sure do. Dick Tracy. I hate crime. That's why I have to be wheeling victims on a stretcher, bleeding profusely, to the emergency room."

"Let me ask you something else. May I have a little bit of that cheesecake?"

"Why don't you get your own?"

"Too many calories. I just need a taste."

"George, would you please get a clean fork for your lady, and be nice to her, bring her more coffee." I do so.

"Now, Bea, surgically remove a very small piece of cheesecake from the opposite side of the portion. The unexplored part."

Bea dutifully follows his instructions.

Ty exclaims, "I said a very small piece. You performed major surgery, for crying out loud!"

This is the way it was between them. Not all the time; there were occasions when very few words were exchanged, on particularly tough days at the hospital.

We became became real good friends. Beatriz was not only a good friend to Tyrone, but she also became a mentor to him. First, she convinced him, and help him, to get his license as a practical nurse; then she encouraged him to enroll in a two-year nursing program. She spent many hours with him, encouraging him, helping him with assignments, and going over the study materials, in preparation for major exams. This is how Tyrone became a nurse.

Tyrone didn't have a girlfriend for a long time. Beatriz didn't like the fact he had been alone for a long time. She ran out of girlfriends trying to fixing him up with. She also used to give him a scouting report about all the available female personnel at the hospital. He dated many of them, but he couldn't connect with any of them.

During one of our get-togethers, Ty was not his usual self. No joking around; no bantering with Beatriz. She said, "Out with it, pal. What's going on?"

"I'm very lonely, that's all. To concentrate only in my work, and in my studies, is not enough, anymore. I know what my problem is. I'm incapable of trusting women. I only trust you and my mother."

"Listen, Ty. Your mother and I are just the supporting cast. You need a female lead in your life. I know that the root of the problem has to do with the circumstances surrounding Carole's death. That happened nine years ago. You need to move on. At least you know you have trust issues. You know the problem, now it's time to do something about it."

"Thanks for the pep talk."

"You're welcome. We knew something was happening with you. You were too quiet, and you didn't play pool with George last week. Those were the two signs of you having problems."

"I promise you guys I'm going to take care of the situation."

"We are very glad to hear it."

A few months passed. One day, when the three of them met for coffee, Tyrone was back to his old self. He was relaxed and smiling. He was quiet while he drank his coffee. Beatriz and George looked at each other, drank some of their coffee, and patiently waited. Ty finally spoke.

"I have some good news for you guys."

"We are all ears."

"Several weeks ago I went to the mall in the East Bay, after visiting my parents. I went to a department store to buy a pair of comfortable shoes, suitable for us nurses. I found what I was looking for. I bought two pairs. Then I went to the department where the cooking utensils were. I wanted to buy some kitchenware, and a big pot, a good one. A saleslady, very attractive, approached me, and we had a nice conversation."

Tyrone had a long sip of coffee. Beatriz and George were in suspense. They knew he was doing it on purpose, and he was enjoying it. Ty finally continued.

"Are you planning to cook some spaghetti?, the saleslady said.

"How did you know? Are you a mind reader?"

"Oh, no, I'm not," she said in her soothing voice. "It easy to figure it out. That's our best seller. A lot of single guys buy them. College students mainly. Most definitively to cook some spaghetti. Inexpensive and easy to cook."

"You look familiar."

"We went to the same schools. I'm Elaine. You never noticed me very much. You were going with Carole."

"Yes, I do remember you."

"And what happened to Carole?"

"I married her. She died in a car accident a long time ago. I'm still getting over it."

"I understand. I'm very sorry. She was so nice. Well, should you need more kitchen utensils, you know where to find me. Or you can consult with me over the phone."

Tyrone sat back, like a storyteller needing some rest, very pleased with himself, after having successfully entertained an enthralled audience. Then he said, "that's about it."

"Oh no," said Beatriz," there is more, you teaser. Tell us more about Elaine."

"Well, she's very nice. She's my age and she is a widow. Her husband was killed in Vietnam."

"Does she have any kids?" Tyrone said she didn't.

"Are you going out with her?"

"As often as we can."

"Do you think you can trust Elaine?"

"I believe I can."

Beatriz hugged him and said, "I believe your problems are over. I'm happy for you." I was happy for him too. I shook hands with him. I went to get us more coffee, and I bought tree pieces of cheesecake. It was our way of celebrating the good news. Tyrone had finally found a girlfriend.

Tyrone finished his two-year nursing program. He married Elaine. They have one of the best equipped kitchens in the city. They cook meals together, as part of their quality time. It is their gentle way of moving on with their lives.

Beatriz and I got married before a justice of the peace. Tyrone and Elaine served as witnesses. All four of us are still real good friends.

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