You were there, and we’ll always remember.
March 17, 2013
You were there.
You were there when the sun’s long lemony fingers stretched through the woods on the hillock above our house. You found your little toddler shadow and romped with it until you tired of the game. You could not catch your shadow, but it made you laugh when it stuck to the bottoms of your little shoes.
You were there when we walked to our neighbor’s pond where the dragonflies danced and the mist spiraled upward in diaphanous spirals, leaving vapory shadows on the still pane of sunstruck water. I picked out a spinner bait and attached it to the swivel on your line. You caught a bluegill and shrieked with joy at your first catch.
You were there when we walked home with stringers dripping with bigmouth bass and harlequin-scaled bluegills, as proud as a boy could be when you showed your catch to your mother.
You were there when we took our bows to hunt deer at Caney Mountain. A buck ran through our campsite and you winged your first arrow at the bounding deer. Your eyes lit up like dark wine in a glass filled with moonlight and jumped around in a tiny circle at the close encounter.
You were there when we kayaked the buffalo and left the canoes in our wake, running every riffle of fast water like a seasoned racer. You were there when we beached on a sandbar and waited for the canoers to catch up, drenched in sunlight and caressed by the warm breezes of summer.
You were there when the doctor and nurses questioned you about your broken arm, and you told them you had flown from a swing in the playground. They suspected child abuse and you told them exactly what had happened. You were brave and you were our hero.
You were there when the Marine barber shaved your head at Camp Pendleton. The photo you sent gave us all a shock. Your silky blond hair was shorn, but your grin was there, bright as ever.
You were there in Kandahar when they pinned a Purple Heart to your hospital gown after a firefight with the Taliban. Your grin was gone in the photo you sent back home.
You were there in that isolated outpost in Afghanistan when the Taliban rained mortars down on your position and rocket-propelled grenades left smoke trails before they struck the sandbags and your fellow Marines.
You were there when the AK-47 bullet struck you in the forehead as you dragged a fellow Marine to safety behind a mound of dirt that was pocked with bullet holes and smoking shrapnel. That Marine lived, you did not.
You were there in that flag-draped coffin when the plane landed in Dover. Your fellow Marines saluted and stood at attention when you were carried to a waiting hearse.
You were there when we buried you in the little cemetery near our home and we all wept when your coffin was lowered into the ground. Fingers of shade crept across the graves and dipped into yours. The shadows pooled up like dark water and a single beam of sunlight streaked across your coffin.
You were there when a retired Marine Corps veteran played taps and the color guard raised the American flag and the USMC flag on a pole and everyone there held their hands over their hearts until the last forlorn note faded into the Ozarks hills.
You were there.
You and your brief life are now in the dark and distant catacombs of memory.
And we remember.