Posted by: Will | September 11, 2009

He Ran With Me

I believe in Heaven. I am not sure about the image of fluffy clouds and angelic babies but I believe in a place of peace and tranquility. There has to be because I have seen bits of Hell and if there is dark, there is sure to be light.

running2

My piece of Heaven currently is on a paved trail that is between Moscow, Idaho and Pullman, Washington, winding through the rolling wheat fields, paralleling I-95. It is a tough run in the heat of the day, beginning the 7.2 mile journey with a constant 15 mph wind at your front and returning with no shade on a  blazing black tar surface. I like to think of it as a gut check with an intrinsic value that is difficult to explain. It hurts and like my military training in the past has taught me, pain is the core of strength because after all, it is only weakness leaving the body.

Besides the occasional bicyclist that zooms by, there is rarely a person on the trail. At times when running through the rolling hills and the blue dome sky above, you have an isolated feeling much like being the last one on Earth. Sometimes the feeling of loneliness can spark conversations with one’s self out loud to shake those feelings of isolation. But I had one recently and I was not alone. He ran with me and though I may have looked alone, I was not. I also could not hear his words but I heard what he said.

It was a about a mile and a half down the trail and my mind fought hard to not think about a recent friend who had been mortally wounded in Afghanistan. But every step grew heavier as I fought harder and before long I was walking, hands on the hips and gasping as if I had sprinted five times the distance. The was no shaking the images of him. Of our buddies, my brothers, watching him die in front of them completely helpless to stop it. Of Carol, alone with little Zach, getting a knock at the door and her best friend and love is gone. The goddamned loneliness and dispar. The fucking agony. This senseless human bullshit we call war.

breathless

I sat down on the side of the road and bit hard on my thumb as I collected myself. An elderly couple rode by on their bicycles and I quickly masked my grief by pretending to lace my shoes. They said hello as I graced their friendly gesture with a smirk and a nod but as soon as they past I buried my face in my hands.

But then there was a strange feeling as if someone was standing above me. As if they were saying “get up troop and finish what you started”. So I got up and brushed the gravel off my butt and started walking towards Pullman. Soon the walk turned in to a light jog and then into a regular tempo. I felt the familiarity as if it was a few years ago, after evening chow around the airbase, talking about girls or Friday night plans for drinking at Jen’s Big Apple dance club with my buddy. He was running with me. But this time we were not running and making plans for the future. We ran and remembered. And then he was gone.

It wasn’t long into our run before I broke the silence.

“You know it was pretty shitty of you to go off and die like that, B. I thought we had a pact tha no one was allowed to check out unless you were ordered to. Did you piss off someone, man?”

It isn’t too hard to imagine the macabre sense of humor us Cavalry men have. I remember watching B joke about the most inappropriate topics and to be quite honest, most of us followed suit. One time in defiance over an order to stop mandatory Christian prayer time in the platoon area, B made all the newest privates stand on an ammo box and read from the Penthouse diaries as if preaching a sermon. All of the older cadre would act as the congregation shouting “praise the word!” and “alleluia!”. We were sight to see and B would have it no other way.

“Do remember that time we hit that MP in the face with the bag of vomit?”

It was a crazy night in Savannah with a long ride back to Ft. Stewart. Making the 2nd Lt. drive was a wonderful idea of B’s because even though he was technically a “sir” he was still a “shit” and B had a way of tactfully relaying that. Well, after a long night of shooting wild turkey and every other awful drink we could think of, we climbed into the Lt.’s ’96 Camero and took off for the 45 minute ride home. And at the check point I puked in a newspaper bag nearly filling it. The Lt. freaked as we pulled close to the gate and to the lone MP checking sobriety and I.D.’s. After we came clear of the check point, B grabbed my puck-bag and threw it at the MP, hitting him in the face and screamed at the lieutenant to drive. I can only partially remember it but we made it back and three days later we were boots on the ground in Tuzla. The LT never drank with us again.

“I won’t say this in front of Carol but what ever happened to B Co. Jenny? You still have never said anything about her.”

Usually in every company of an infantry unit there is a “well known” girl that hangs around. I our’s, we had Jenny. I guess she was a sweet girl but  then again, I was naive and 19. And I had a girlfriend who’s had parents that were a full bird colonel and a major. B, however took Jenny out for a date. Apparently they passed out together. He went home and she came banging on my door at 8 in the morning with quite the handlebar mustache drawn in permanent marker on her face. B never told us what happened stating, “a Southern gentleman never kisses and tells.” Pretty ironic, eh?

“I never did say thank you before we parted ways. I always figured there would be time that.”

Before we left for combat there was a nervousness that permitted the air. But even through that nervous waiting there was still the familiar boredom most grunts can relate too. So there was a lot of card games, combat drills, napping and B’s favorite; embarrassing picture-taking. He must have taken hundreds of them and before we boarded the plane, most of us wanted to throw the camera on the pavement.

A few weeks later we finally received mail from the home front. My parents sent me a letter and in a p.s. they wanted me to thank B for sending them a letter with my picture stating ,”Don’t worry about Billy. He is with me and nothing bad will happen. I promise.” I didn’t know he had done that and I never thanked him. I didn’t know how.

“I really felt like I abandoned you guys when I got hurt. I know we went our separate ways and you left for Special Forces but I didn’t want to leave the troops. It’s funny, but just a little while ago I had a dream about you.”

I did. We were getting ready to board the plane in full gear to go off to some unknown hell. There was the familiar fear and excitement, like it was our turn to take the field. But I couldn’t find my rifle. I panicked and searched while my brothers in arms and B stood staring from the door of the plane. I told them to wait but they smiled as if to say, “we’ll be back for you”. And the door closed.

I woke up not thinking much of it. I mean, I recently had a dream I lived in Bikini Bottom with SpongeBob so the dream did not hold much weight. But I think I understand it a little more now.

The wind really picked up and we plowed a head, straight into the gust. I felt the familiar comradary as I kept the pace and tried not to let my running partner down. But I felt this chest tightening feeling as I reminded myself, B is here but not the same. My eyes began to run hot and my mouth tightened.

“You know this is going to be really hard on your little brother. I saw the way he looked up to you. And Carol…I don’t know what to say. I will work really hard to make sure that she and Zach do fine. But nobody is ready for this.”

The wind got pretty heavy and I could feel cool streams running down my cheeks as the dry air eveaporated my tears in the heavy gust. I could taste salt in my mouth and I stopped running.

“I hope it didn’t hurt when you died. I hope you are in a place where there is none of this…this…bullshit we find so important here. You let me know, somehow, what Heaven is like. I hope that I will be able to see you soon and thank you for coming here now.”

I wouldn’t believe it if I wasn’t there but after that the wind died down. That never happens there. Not over those wheat fields. There was a definite feeling that I was once again running by myself but I swear I could hear the word “ever” in my mind.

It must have been a funny sight to see me talking like a babbling idiot, alone on a trail in the middle of no where. You would probably assume I have suffered some sort of heat injury or dementia. I don’t really recall the journey home. Just remembered the times I had with B, my brothers in arms, the terrifically fun times and the terrifically terrible times. I am glad I had a chance to say goodbye. Even if this was all in my mind.

Later on that evening I googled “ever” and “heaven” in a coffee shop downtown.

Heaven.

Oh who will show me those delights on high?

Echo                                                                  I

Thou Echo, thou art mortall, all men know.

Echo                                                                  No.

Wert thou not born among the trees and leaves?

Echo                                                                   Leaves.

And are there any leaves, that still abide?

Echo                                                                    Bide

What leaves are they? impart the matter wholly.

Echo                                                                      Holly

Are holy leaves the Echo then of blisse?

Echo                                                                        Yes.

Then tell me, what is that supreme delight?

Echo                                                                         Light.

Light in the mind: what shall the will enjoy?

Echo                                                                          Joy.

But are there cares and businesse with the pleasure.

Echo                                                                           Leisure.

Light, joy and leisure; but shall they perserve?

Echo                                                                            Ever.

-George Herbert

Ever….

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Responses

  1. Okay first you made me laugh on your other site and now you brought some tears to my eyes. This was a beautiful piece of writing and a really soulful tribute!

    • Thank you, Romi. I am glad you could stop by to learn a bit about him.

  2. […] https://macabrefitness.wordpress.com/2009/09/11/he-ran-with-me/ […]

  3. This is an absolutely beautiful and touching memorial piece for your friend. Thanks so much for sharing.

  4. It’s terribly hard to lose someone like that.
    I hope you have made your peace and it’s interesting to read someone vocalizing their emotions on a situation like that.

  5. I’m speechless, Will…

    You’re one in a billion.

  6. Decided to sit down and catch up on blogs this morning before heading off to work. I’m so glad I started here. This really is a great tribute and a good way to start my morning. I’ve been kind of bummed out lately because I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my best friends, Laura, who passed away about a year ago. I had a dream about her shortly after she passed where she basically just told me that she was fine and everything was alright. It’s always nice to relate to someone whose gone through something similar, although I can’t imagine would it would be like to lose someone to war. You, and all the rest of those guys, have my immense respect and gratitude for serving for the rest of us. I’m sure he was a standup guy.


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