March 2012- Copperas Cove , Texas
As I sit on the porch of the beautiful log cabin house in which my buddy and his wife chose for its uniqueness, and in the house in which he made a permanent decision to end the pain, regret and agony from the numerous combat deployments. I find myself staring at the flag pole with the American flag waving so beautifully. It was only week ago that he was sitting here in the same chair drinking his favorite beer watching his son attempt to ride his bike for the first time. It was in this vary spot in which he and his wife would build their yard to such beauty that it truly belonged in a magazine.
But these temporary thoughts were oh so fleeting. I kept staring at that flag waving and placed my head in my hands once again and wondered how I can honor this man. This contemplation coupled with tears from a grown man crying over his friend was about to find a solution. As I leaned back in the wooden rocker chair, I glanced over at the table to my right. Standing tall and upright is one of the things that a soldier would always call his friend. Mr. Vodka, and lo and behold Mr. Cigarette. Not really the greatest choice of friends, but they will do. Mr. Vodka albeit the nasty orange flavored kind spoke to me in a way that no other inanimate object ever has spoken to me. It was as if I was Alice in Wonderland or Neo from the Matrix or pick whatever movie where the Protagonist has a decision to make that will affect the rest of their lives.
As I lit that cigarette I spun that cap off that bottle of vodka and put it to my lips. I only paused for 2 seconds and contemplated if I could polish off the rest of the bottle of vodka with about half left. I being a former soldier still had that mentality of Ill take that hill and see whats on the other side. I knew from my prior run-ins with getting smashed into the wall by alcohol. I calculated that I had about 6 minutes until I was fried. Now those 6 minutes I had were crucial and would lead me to make a vow and honor my friend in the process.
After downing that half a bottle of orange vodka I put the cigarette back in my mouth and stood up and made my way to the flag pole. No sooner have I stepped foot off the porch I started to cry so uncontrollably on this inside that my guts went into violent vibration mode. I felt like throwing up. Not yet because of the vodka but because doing this final task would signify that my friend is truly gone. I had to catch myself and lean against the pole for support. With the cigarette in my mouth I unhooked that flag lowering line and brought that flag which used to stand for freedom now stood for mourning as I lowered it to half-mast. I tied that line back to the pole and took 4 steps backward, took the cigarette out of my mouth with my left hand and raised my salute slowly and so perfectly with my right hand that my basic training drill sergeant would have been proud. I completed for the first time a perfect about face with military style and precision and went back to that !
I finished that cigarette and by the time that I found my pack of them I realized I have a few minutes before the bus would hit me. I lit another cigarette up and leaned back and made a vow to myself. That vow was and is as important to me as the Hippocratic Oath is to doctors. I vowed that no matter how bad things would ever get in my head, that I would never permanently erase with a bullet the agony, pain and regret from being a soldier.
After pausing to reflect on that commitment I knew I was already on my way to alcohol intoxication. I stumbled thru the doorway and up the stairs to where my buddy shot himself and wanted to take one last look at his shrine to the good times he and I had together. There we were in Colorado, training for combat and at the same time trying to grow a completely ridiculous bushy mustache. As my last nod to my friend I placed my head against that photo and cried out loud. I'm sorry I wasn't there for you, please forgive me! After a few moments of uncontrollable reflection I realized I couldn't stop sobbing and made my way to pray at the porcelain god we call a toilet. As I very clumsily collapsed on the floor and unintentionally banged my head on the throne, I knew I would not only purge myself of all the toxins from my physical body, I would also purge and clean out my mental bank account and declare bankruptcy so I could start anew.
Submitted By: A promise to my battle buddy to honor him with love and respect
This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by FamilyOfaVet.com to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit http://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html.