Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Comfort Ink

I saw a man tonight who looked so much like my beloved Charles the Man, it almost knocked me flat.  Charlie was, for all intents and purposes, my stepfather for twenty-six years.  Mom started dating him when I was sixteen.  He passed away in 2006 at the age of 83.  It was a good death; he simply went to sleep and didn't wake up.  Charlie was the kindest, most thoughtful and bravest man I ever knew.  He was a Marine in the Third Marine Division during World War II, fighting in the Pacific on the islands of Bougainville, Guam and Iwo Jima.  My next project, which I've been researching for ten years, is a trilogy of books about his experiences during the war: one book for each island.  It initially started out as a single volume but Charlie remembered everything, even the serial number on his rifle, so we expanded it.  Our last Iwo Jima interview was two weeks before he died.  I had the honor of receiving the flag from his coffin and gave the eulogy at his funeral.  For weeks after, the grief over such a monumental loss was simply overwhelming.  I was lucky to know him, but such a gift makes a person greedy.  When they're gone, it leaves an almost unbearable hole.  So I got a tattoo with the Third Marine Division emblem on my left forearm, with his name above.  Such a strange comfort, inked skin, but it works.  I have him with me forever now.  Every time I see a veteran, I thank him or her for everything that I have.  Everything I own, everyone I know, exists the way they do because of the sacrifices of our military.  It's a universal truth that freedom is not free.  It's paid for in blood and most miraculously of all, voluntarily.  I've been so lucky with the people I've had the honor of writing about: my best friend Karen, a fourth stage cancer survivor, whose manuscript I've recently finished.  All those hundreds of hours of interviews with Charlie, where he trusted me enough to speak of the unspeakable. And FREAK, my own memoir, where I can show the world all the great people who've touched my life, who helped the broken mess that I was crawl back into the light.  I am, without a doubt, the luckiest person in the world.  I hope I have the proper gifts to tell these stories the right way, to show readers how extraordinary and magnificent people like Karen F. and my darling Charlie really are.  I'll give it my all.  They deserve nothing less.  So a toast, my friends, to the unsung heroes who pass by us every day.  May the best of their pasts be the worst of their futures from now on. 

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