We were supposed to have coffee. I have screwed up our meeting that last few times- said yes when I was driving and couldn’t write it down, so they slipped my mind like a leaf in a the river that is a post menopausal brain. He would text to check if we were still on. He would greet me with a smile and a hug.
So, this time, I set my alarm. I got up early, had my coffee.
And text him. I was proud of myself for being on top of things. I asked if I should pick him up or meet him somewhere.
He didn’t answer. I text again a while later, wondering if perhaps he forgot. He doesn’t forget. I thought about military training and time. How the people in my life who served are also punctual. Punctuality has been my life’s challenge.
“I see you are running on Navy time.” The Army infantryman I interview would joke as I slid in just under the wire for our meeting.
But this is different. He would at least text me back and tell me he forgot. Nothing.
I sent another text telling him to call when he could and went about my day.
I read about the death of a young Army veteran in Idaho who has been missing for a several days. His family had been making frantic appeals on Facebook asking for help finding their loved one. He was missing. He had PTSD. He was in crisis.
The urgency was electric in the messages. Hope in the responses from people who thought they had seen him. It has been bouncing around for nearly a week.
Today- there was a simple prayer and an image of Erik Jorgenson in his Combat shirt and ACU pants looking softly at a puppy in his arms. Someone had photo shopped angels wings on him. Erik had taken his own life to end his pain. But like a horrible virus that just keep mutating, his pain was merely transformed into the heart broken grief of his sister, mother, friends and battle buddies. It was sad. I felt bad. I did what many others did, I wrote a thoughtful phrase on Facebook telling his family how sorry I was. And then I went on with my day.
But the universe has a way of shaking you awake.
At 1:42 pm I received a text from him.
“I had a rough night last night. One of my buddies I deployed with committed suicide and I found out last night. I didn’t fall asleep until 6am. I just woke up.”
My heart sank. I called. His voice broke my heart. He tells me he is going to go run as he fights the tears on the edge of his voice. He promises to call when he returns but he really just needs to go for a run right now.
I sit with the phone in my hand and think about how often he runs. He runs a lot. Five miles. Ten miles. In brutal heat, soft rain, doesn’t matter. He runs a lot.
Pushing his body to the point of screaming louder than the memories in his head, the pain in his heart and the loneliness that lives below that slow brilliant smile that fools everyone into thinking he is fine.
He isn’t fine.
There have been 7 suicides amongst the unit he deployed with.
Each death leaves another chink in his armor.
Each call puts another brick in his ruck that he silently shoulders alone.
His high school friends cannot understand.
He sees the fear in his father’s eyes. He can’t even look at his mother.
So, he runs. He runs and all of his battle buddies are there as he pushes through the heat and humidity, losing himself into the dust in the winds of Afghanistan as he mechanically runs through the streets of his hometown. He can’t run far enough or fast enough but for just a minute he is no longer alone.
And I wait. And I weep. And I pray.
Please. God. Help.
This has got to stop.