As a writer I write what I know. I draw from personal experiences, emotions and observations. On Friday, September 30th, the last time I blogged here, my brother received the worst possible news a parent can receive. His baby, the youngest of three, the golden son, had died in a head on collision.
Timothy was 22 years old. Six months older than my youngest son.
When I say Timmy was the golden son, I mean he was his mother and father’s bliss. Timothy was naughty, sweet, giving to a fault and the kid everyone wanted to be like. He was intelligent and had common sense. Not that he always used that common sense. He made mistakes. But they were never malicious, evil or criminal. Ok, maybe a few minor traffic violations here and there, but nothing out of the norm.
The day the towers fell in New York City, Timothy who was 12 years old at the time, told his mom and dad he was going into the Army to make sure they (his mom and dad) could safely fly on an airplane. He began the process when he was sixteen. The week after he graduated high school he took off for boot camp. He loved the Army.
Timothy served in Iraq. During his time there, he went on numerous missions. Too numerous to count. He and his platoon hung out with many of the local folks of one village. The particular village Tim’s company was stationed had about a half a dozen soccer teams. We’re talking 6 and 7 year olds. Off and on, for almost nine months, Timmy would fill in as goalie for one team or the other. The kids loved him. They loved wearing his helmet. He loved them. One of my nephew’s many outstanding qualities was his love for children. He adored his 5 year old nephew. He was the kiddie’s pal. So imagine his horror and sorrow when he was called out of a deep sleep after a particularly long mission, to muster. The bus that had taken the kids and their families to a neighboring village that day to play soccer had been bombed. Body parts littered the blood soaked ground. His kids had been killed simply because they allowed American soldiers like Timothy to play goalie, and because they got a kick out of wearing his helmet. My nephew was so shaken by the experience that when he had the opportunity to skype with his dad the next day, he had to type what happened. He couldn’t talk. And yet, he got up the next day and went on the next mission. He was that kind of person.
Tim loved the coolness of being and Army MP. He liked the uniform, the M16, getting to be a gunner on one of those Humvees or whatever they are. He dug it. He was a good soldier. But he came home from Iraq with some demons.
I had an opportunity last week when I went back for Tim’s funeral to meet his Chaplain, Captain R who served with Tim in Iraq as the company Chaplain. The Chaplain told us he had something like nine platoons he was in charge of, and often he couldn’t always be there for all of his soldiers. He felt comforted to know Timothy was leading the prayer service before every mission he couldn’t. And as Capt. R told us, “There were a lot of missions.”
I met another extraordinary soldier. Tim’s Sgt. I could not stop hugging that young man. He has an amazing light in his dark yes. A light that shines when he smiles. He is a humble hero. If I could have stowed him away in my suitcase, I would have brought him home with me. But I’m sure not only would the US Army have had a problem with that but his wife and his three kids would have something to say as well.
I did more than just meet these two men. I feel like I got to know Timothy better through them. They spent the entire day with me, my brother and my sister-in-law at the funeral home than at the cemetery. From the time I met those two men on Monday, we were in constant contact. I will stay in contact with them. I met many of the soldiers in Timothy’s unit. Great young men and women. Quiet (although they didn’t fool me, they get their party on) extremely respectful, and honorable. Being surrounded by all of them through what has been the most heartbreaking week of my life, made it bearable. I can never thank them enough. I will always be grateful and rest assured, the Captain and the Sergeant will have a book dedicated to them and they may even recognize themselves in a hero or two.
Through this terrible tragedy, there was so much love, hope, and respect around us, at times, the sorrow eased. Timothy was an organ donor. Of the nine organs they tested to donate, each one came back with a 100% seal of approval. The day after Timothy died; a very special person received the gift of life through the donation of Timothy’s heart. How fucking amazing is that? That is one lucky person. Timothy had a heart of gold, and the recipient is a better person for having received it. Timothy’s corneas gave a very lucky person the gift of sight. I’m not sure which other organs were donated, but in all nine of them, my nephew lives on.
Timothy liked the ladies. They liked him too. His girls were there. Most of them. The one that broke his heart when he was in Iraq was strongly discouraged from attending.
While Timothy was my nephew, because he lived on the east coast and I live on the west coast, we didn’t see each other as often as I would have liked. He had made plans several times to come visit his cousins out here. He was always welcome. Timothy and my youngest son William are only six months apart. And so much alike they could have been born twins. Both are too charming for their own good. Both have a killer smile that attracts the girls like bees to a flower. Both are intelligent, cock-sure young men, who don’t walk, they strut their stuff with a smile that screams confidence. Both chose the military, one Army (Will always gave Tim a hard time about that) one USMC. Both love music, to party, and both live life on the edge. Both of them never gave tomorrow a thought because they were going to live forever. But living on the edge caught up with Timothy. It almost caught up to my son a few times but Will managed to outrun the grim reaper.
Timothy was 22 years old. He had a crazy wonderful life ahead of him. And man did he love to live life to the fullest. lol except when he came across one of his aunt’s romance novels in a video store. I’ll let you figure out which book it was in which kind of video store. My nephew was mortified. When he was in Iraq, just to ruffle his conservative feathers, I’d threaten him with, “Timothy, if you don’t behave, I’m going to send my romance novels to your entire unit.” He swore he’d behave. I should have done it anyway. I met a bunch of those men and women this week. I don’t know if my brother and sister-in-law could have made it through the week had it not been for the Chaplain, Sgt and the rest of Timmy’s unit. I have always had a healthy respect for the military, it was bumped up a few notches when Will went into the Corps, but what the Army did for the family of one of their fallen warriors last week went beyond the call of duty. I pray I never have to walk in my brother’s shoes this way, but I pray, if it is my youngest son, the USMC steps up like the Army did for my nephew and family.
There is a reason so many heroes in fiction are military personnel. It’s because they are true heroes in real life. These men and women sacrifice so much of their lives so that you and I can live and speak freely in this amazing country of ours.
They are far from perfect, but they are brave. They are compassionate and they are selfless in their personal sacrifices. Their families sacrifice for us as well. As a Marine mom I am already feeling the bite of sacrifice. I wanted my son to attend his cousin’s funeral. I needed him there. For me. But because Timothy was not immediate family, Will could not get even a 24 hour leave. He was not permitted leave to fly home this past weekend for his eldest sister’s wedding. Even though he had a 72 hour leave because of the holiday weekend. They would not allow him to fly more than 640 miles from base. He was the only thing missing last Saturday night. I found myself looking for him at every turn. That is my sacrifice. It is his father’s and his siblings’. I gladly give it. How could I not? How could I not when so many families sacrifice more?
In happy remembrance of my nephew’s smile and zest for life, I don’t want to end this blog on a sad note, but a happy uplifting note. My eldest daughter was a beautiful bride this past Saturday (as you can see by her picture with her sister). The wedding was a blast. Sunday we’re taking all of the kids and their significant others to Kauai for ten days. I can’t wait to see my granddaughter dig her chubby little toes into the sand. I can’t wait to be surrounded by my kids as the sun sets and we all smile content just to be together.
So, on that note, let me ask you this: What was your best family vacation? Either as a kid or as a parent?