A dozen men and one woman sat in a circle, some in wheelchairs, some on crutches, several were amputees, all were soldiers in various stages of treatment. Some faced forward, making eye contact with each other. A few looked down; others looked away, refusing to make any kind of eye contact.
There was also a tall, thin man in his sixties sitting quietly. He had the dark skin of a man who worked outside. Across from him was the 'hard case' of the crew. Bearded and shaggy-haired Sergeant 'Tag' McTaggart wore old jeans and an Army t-shirt, what he lacked in grooming, he made up for in attitude.
McTaggart understood those reluctant to participate. He understood the despairing ones, too. Out on his own for six months he'd been back twice, once in a coma, once in a straight jacket. The condition for his release included that he come to this group without fail.
"What a crock of shit," the speaker was in a wheelchair. "I'm supposed to LIKE the fact that my career is dead and that the Army that I served life and limb thinks I'm a helpless cripple?"
"Acceptance doesn't mean that you like it." The councilor, a woman in her sixties was a civilian. "You just get on with your life."
"Bullshit," McTaggart said. "I'm going stir crazy. The days drag and the nights are… horrible."
"Then get a job." One of the other men in the circle, named Smith, said. "Stop sitting on your ass. Find something to do."
Smith was dressed in new jeans and a polo shirt. He had been "out in the world" for a year, and they all knew that he was playing stay-at-home Dad for his three pre-school kids. His jeans hid the fact that he was missing a leg.
"Right," McTaggart sneered. "I've spent the last ten years learning how to kill people. That would look great on a resume" He looked around at the group. "Anybody know a Mafia boss who wants a one-legged hit man?"
A couple of the guys snickered.
"You can come over and help me with the kids, anytime." Smith grinned. "You can chase the youngest. She hasn't learned to walk yet, but she can scoot."
"A female that can't outrun him," Rodriguez snickered.
"Smart ass, you find a job," McTaggart flipped him the bird.
The councilor held up her hand, stopping the others from commenting.
"It doesn't have to be a job as a hit man, or the president of some company. Just find something to do."
"How did you survive when you first got out?" McTaggart asked the tall thin man across the circle. "You had a long time in service. There was none of this bullshit back in your day, eh?"
The guys respected the Vietnam Veteran. He'd told his story – Green Beret, POW, married to the same woman since the 1970's, with two daughters. He had no treatment for his PTSD until a year ago. He'd nearly killed two men with his bare hands because of it.
"I did 30 years in the Army, so it was tough," retired Colonel Jim Bennett looked McTaggart straight in the eye. "It got worse after 9-11. I lost my son-in-law at the Pentagon then my retirement money when the market crashed. My pension isn't enough to cover the wife's maintenance." They laughed.
"So I got off my ass. You know, 'suck it up and drive on.'" Bennett showed his teeth in a smile. "Now I work with my daughter. I have a market garden, two acres that I work every day. I'm up before dawn and I work outside, sometimes until dark."
"Sounds like hard work," one of the men said.
"I can take my time," Bennett shrugged. "I tried an office job. I hated it."
"Maybe you can put McTaggart to work." Rodriguez was in a mood for trouble. "I don't think Smith should trust him with his daughter."
They all sat back, inhaling sharply at the insult.
McTaggart stared Rodriguez down, until the other man dropped his eyes, muttering under his breath.
"Hey, I was just messing around."
"How about it, McTaggart?" Bennett broke the silence. "I could use some help."
"Doing what?" McTaggart was curious. "What can I do?"
"Help me plant, help me harvest," Bennett grinned. "It's not rocket science, just gardening."
"What's the matter, afraid to get your hands dirty?"
"I used to work in my Uncle Ray's garden," a double amputee in a wheelchair who hadn't spoken in weeks looked at McTaggart. "I liked it."
Everyone in the group looked from him to McTaggart.
McTaggart took a deep breath then nodded.
"Okay. I'll think about it."
Rodriguez had to get the last word, but he said it under his breath so only McTaggart heard him.
"Lay a hand on one of Bennett's daughters and you'll take a long dirt nap."
McTaggart snorted - messing with women was the last thing on his mind.