The Best Is Yet To Come
Let us remember our fallen heroes on this Memorial Day. Mine is Sergeant Joseph Tarajos.
That was Joe’s motto, and one of the last things he ever said to me while in his final trip to the VA in Temple, Texas. Joe was a retired Sargent Major, three bronze stars, a silver, and a purple heart, Vietnam. He was also married to my ex-wife, and I jokingly referred to him as my “husband in law.” Joe loved to work with wood. He built altars for the church, carved images in wood, and doubled the size of his house in Killeen, all by himself. He cooked,too. I think Joe could’ve cooked a combat boot and made it taste like prime rib.
He was married to his wife, Jackie, for forty-five years, and she finally died on him. He lived alone until he met my ex. She had a heart condition and no medical, so Joe fixed that. He married her and gave her his benefits. Literally saved her life. Life is never fair. As Joe tinkered in his wood shop, within his lungs Agent Orange was doing was it was always designed to do, and what the Viet Cong could not accomplish, his own government finished the job!
I came back from California, and he put me in his garage apartment as he worked on his old house, which was never done, and I watched over the property for him. At first Joe didn’t know how to take me. I was fresh out of California, pony tail down to my butt, setting up a full bar in my room, with an endless stream of visitors dropping by to have drinks, and discuss Texas politics. Being from Buffalo, New York, Joe didn’t even think Texas HAD politics, and any thought of secession was beyond him. A year or so later as he read the Dam Good Times, he began to understand more and more about the Texas situation.
As we talked over three years Joe developed a dream. As I told him tales of the California desert, he got a yearning to travel to Occatillo Wells. The last time he was there was in the 60s, and he drove a tank. He wanted to drive a dune buggy! But the clock was ticking for Joe. What began as what was thought to be Parkinson’s ended up being called Alzheimer’s, finally got called what it was . . . CANCER! Agent Orange had ravaged his whole body, and with each trip to the VA, a new diagnosis was developed, and Occatillo Wells drifted farther, and farther away. During this time he bought a home in Brigham City, Utah. He called it the big blue house, and it was. He shuffled between the VA in Salt Lake City, and Temple, trying to replace the blood that Agent Orange was slowly drinking.
The devastating CPS case that my grandchildren had endured had left them destitute. Well, the old sarge fixed that, too. Although too weak to walk into the court room, he hired lawyers and appeared in court via FaceTime, adopted his five little “buddies,” and set them up for life! New Baby became Joseph Steven Tarajos, and if you don’t believe that, just ask him, he’ll let you know!
From that point it was endless trips to the VA to get blood, and endless hours on the couch. He got a Hoveround, but couldn’t operate it until I showed him that it steered just like a tank. He could get to the car, but could not drive, and it humiliated him to have his “husband in law” load him up in the passenger’s seat for yet another trip to the hospital.
A week before he died Joe was looking for an RV to take to California. He knew better. It was for his little “buddies.” When I loaded him up for his last trip to the hospital he told me, “Men don’t cry.” He checked into the VA that Friday. He sunk lower and lower over the weekend, and on Monday he called me. He wanted an order of chicken wings and his chiuaua that we’d recently got for him to replace his beloved “Cleo” that died the year before. The nursing staff let the little dog in, and Joe fed it the wings.
He told the nurses that I was his best friend. When the priest came to administer the last rites Joe couldn’t come up with any sins to confess. He asked me which direction Ocatillo Wells was, and I pointed through the window toward the west. He turned his head that way and said, “The best is yet to come.” I took the little dog, and left to take it home.
They transferred Joe to ICU as I was driving home, and an hour later he looked at his wife, said, “Oh, baby,” and quietly slipped away. When I got home I got a single text, “He’s gone.” Over the next few days there was the usual rush to finalize all the paperwork. Joe wanted to be at Arlington. He got San Antonio. About a week later I was napping alone, and I heard his voice distinctly call my name, “W!” He always called me that as a kind of joke. Joe was a lifelong Democrat. Then, I clearly heard as I woke, “The best is yet to come!” I got up and walked to the front door and I looked to the west. I felt a great sadness as I realized Joe never got to Ocatillo Wells, but then it hit me . . . Maybe he did. The best is yet to come!