I do not know how to write about how you made me feel. I do not know how to write about how you will make me feel forever. What’s it like to love you? It’s like the rest of my life, but more. 10 years from now, I will sit on the couch and I will watch some soldier win a medal of honor on TV and I will remember you and the way you laughed from the deepest part of you. I will feel in my bones a hundred generations of war.
This is pain.
I once asked you in a letter if war was scary and you said it was no scarier than that fear you constantly feel throughout high school, when you turn every corner and of the hallway and fear someone will be there to throw his slushie on you for the millionth time. War just had different consequences. You spelled consequences wrong because that’s who you were and because spelling doesn’t matter when war doesn’t have an answer.
Tell me what the weather was like. Tell me if you killed people. Tell me the names of your friends’ girlfriends and how you passed the time and the color of the sky in the morning. Tell me all the things I never got to ask you, because I want to know. After all this time, I still want to know. Tell it all to me and I promise I will listen; this time I will listen. Tell it to me the way you used to tell me things, in hushed tones, so it feels like old times.
What’s it like to lose you? It’s like takeout for one and unreturned voicemails and the way an empty bed makes you feel when you see it out of the corner of your eye. It’s like the way that all those things make you ache, plus the smell of cigarettes and endless rust and all the things I never got to say to you.
Your first love is your first love and nothing can change that. But was that love? Sharing Chinese food and talking about our dreams at 3 in the morning — was that love? Did you ever feel those things or think those thoughts when you were over there? Or did you put it out of your mind, to forget it, to think about bigger things? If you didn’t think of me I forgive you. I forgive you because sometimes I want to forget you, and sometimes I don’t, and sometimes I just want to give it all up and move to where you are.
How and when did you die? Was it the moment you let go of my hand in the Georgia airport? The moment you stepped foot from the helicopter onto that hot, tortured Afghani sand? Did it burn the soles of your boots? Did you bleed onto it, and did it scorch your soul?
I could remember you forever in endless things. I could remember you by your favorite beer, the taste of mint, or all the songs we listened to on your record player. I could remember you by the smell of burnt toast, lightning storms, the feel of a hand below my bottom rib as we sleep. I could remember you in the way we quickly and clumsily grew up. But if all I really have to remember you by is the dust on your boots, some jumbled voicemails, and the letters that smell like metal, then I will accept it. I’ll take what I can get, even if these things do not free me from this feeling deep inside of me. I will accept them as if they do, as if they help me remember who you were or who you could have been.
We come into this world with nothing and we leave with nothing. But I like to think my heart holds more of you than Afghanistan does. I like to think you still think of me. And I like to think that you are the only person who has ever seen the deepest parts of me. I will never know any of this for sure. But because of this, because I like to think it’s true, it means you can never die. At least not in this war. At least not to me.