Crushed! The pain was extremely immense and hard to bare. It felt as if a knife was lodged in my heart. The tears rushed to the surface, but I had to fight them back. I felt an intense burning in my chest as if it had caught on fire. Who knew that the awful loss could even lead to the tremendous gain of another friendship?
Salty sweat dripped onto my upper lip that had trickled down from my brow. “Incoming! Incoming!” I could hear and feel the “Thud!” I thanked God that it was not near my location. As always, I would call my wife from the phone center upon returning safe from a mission. I had been on my way to the phones when the mortars struck. I prayed in my head that no one got hit. Anxiously, I dialed each number while fumbling the calling card. Impatiently waiting for the service to connect, I never imagined this call to have such an effect on my life.
Looking back, it’s no wonder I’m in the Boost Program. My friends and I would meet up at school only to take off on our own field trips. Ron Gill, one of my best buddies, had a big, four door, black clunker that could fit at least five or six of us piled in tightly. We always would head to the ninety-nine cent breakfast spot. Two freshly fried eggs; toast oozing with butter, crisp salty bacon, and seasoned home fries for ninety-nine cents. You can’t find deals like that anymore. Ron, Chris, Matt, Joe, Dustin, and I were an inseparable crew. A few others would also tag along on our daily adventures.
About five years had past, and the war in Iraq had begun. My friend Ron and I got that itch to join the military and be a part of America’s muscle. He joined the Coast Guard and I the Marines. We had seen each other only a handful of times, around the holidays, as the years passed. I can remember January 2007. The AFC Championship game with the Pats versus the Colts was on. Ron had gotten stationed at my base, Camp Lejeune, to train for an upcoming mission in Seattle. I was about to leave on my third pump to Iraq. We hung out whenever we had chances between training. Catching up on old times, I learned he was recently married and also expecting a child. I never would’ve imagined when we said, “See you later,” that it was up to God the next time we would.
Each ring took forever it seemed. My foot was tapping furiously on the deck; the stench of Iraq engulfed the air, and the indentation from my weapon sling stung my right trap. Finally! “Hello!” Oh, the moment I had been impatiently waiting for, the sweet, soft sound of my wife’s voice. It was different this time. I could sense some nervousness coming from the receiver, and I tried to predict that something was wrong. She asked how I was, like usual, and I gave her the roundabout answer. Then she paused, as if she had to tell me something important, but was unable to find the words.
Have you ever wished that you could call God up on the phone, and ask him for answers to life’s mysteries? Have you ever wanted to plead with him, over a disagreement, when a conflict arose? Why now, God? It just can’t be true? I was with my buddy Gill just a month ago. I envisioned his smile. He was young and married. He’s expecting his first baby. I felt helpless, and angry, a fear of the unknown came over me like a ton of bricks. Nausea engulfed me. Cold sweats surfaced. My lower lip quivered. I clenched my fists, as my hands trembled, like an old man’s.
Missing the funeral, fundraisers, memorial ceremonies and such, took a toll on me. I wanted to be there. I wanted to support the family. No way out! Finishing my duty was the first step, in order to return home. I vowed to go straight to the Gill’s residence and pay my respects. I met his parents through the years, but as a wild teenager I would evade parental encounters, probably due to guilt of some sort of mischief. This time was different. I was a man, a Marine. Inside I had felt like one of my brothers had passed. I even imagined myself in his shoes. It could have been me: in harms way, pushing my limits, teetering on danger’s edge. Value of life becomes priceless when you see the face of death.
To this day I feel as it is my duty to be a guardian of Gill’s family. I’m determined to visit his father every week, usually football Sundays. My wife and I contribute to the cornucopia of platters awaiting our weekly tailgating feasts. Papa Gill and I play golf, watch sports, and even just hang out on occasion. I envy the relationship Gill had with his father. My father passed when I was a little boy. Papa Gill’s son passed as a young man. I feel God created our friendship to help ease the pain, soothe our wounds, and help cope with loss. Ron’s essence is the very foundation that his father and I have a friendship based on. His character and personality radiates from his parents. I see his smile in his mother’s face, and his personality glowing from his father. When his father and I laugh, joke, and make wisecracks, it reminds me of the fun times with Ron. Although I will never fill Papa Gill’s void, I hope my presence helps his father, in a way, to teach, influence and bond with me, sort of like a father and son relationship.
I am honored to be a part of their family as a close friend. Though I lost one of my best friends, my friendship still continues, with his spirit, from his parents. August 9th 2008, was the Second Annual Ron Gill Scholarship Fundraiser. Golf was never a sport I played, but I was determined to learn, so I could play in the tournament. Papa Gill brought me to Mulligan’s Driving Range. He encouraged me throughout my learning process and was extremely patient with my mistakes. He resembled a father figure to me. Like a father teaching his son a sport for the first time, Papa Gill taught me to golf. I was ecstatic to be able to participate in the tournament. He inspired me to feel capable to play, even though I was an amateur. From the first ball I cranked off the tee, my self confidence rose. Enjoying Gill’s legacy through times of fun and friendship with many loved ones is the way Ron would have wanted his memory.