I am suffering a batch of insomnia right now. Last night, I stopped tangling the sheets alone, and went to the kitchen around 1:50am. I poured a bowl of cereal and went to get the book I am reading. As I reached for the milk, I saw the M family photo on our fridge.
In the photo, Corey and Becky are standing behind a counter. Their son, Sam* and daughter Emma* are sitting on the counter. Emma is 7 months old, a shock of blonde hair capping her beautiful head. Sam is 2 years older than his sister, and looks like Corey already. Becky is still carrying her pregnancy weight, and this is not the best photo of her. Corey has a short haircut and is smiling.
This photo was taken in December, 1999. A family photo to send around for Christmas. I was visiting them in early January. I called around Christmas to wish everybody a good time.
On January 6, 2000, Corey was killed at Fort Bliss in El Paso.
The days after were a blur. The shock of everything. Becky was making him a birthday present when the soliders came to tell her. How Sam kept asking her was she okay. Her in-laws coming. The feuding over the burial. The complete lack of respect for her wishes. The luck that Corey had R-C put on his dogtags so Becky could at least have the funeral in her church, not his family’s.
The sadness of having to leave her with her parents. Having to leave everything in El Paso to move back to Buffalo. How to raise two small children alone? How to deal with the pain? The family? The greif?
I told Becky that I didn’t know how she did it. She replied the only sensible answer: She didn’t have a choice. She could either die too, or be there for the kids. I realize now what a stupid thing it was to say to her.
They never found his wedding ring for her.
At the funeral, they had a 7 gun salute. Half the shells were given to her, wrapped in the flag that covered his casket. The remaining 3 were given to his parents.
It was a closed casket. I think only Becky’s mom looked while in El Paso. She could do that. She had the stomach to handle these things. I nearly vomited getting the call.
Time moved forward, it always does. I went on trips with Jay, continued to work, continued to try to have a child. Becky used the life insurence to buy a car and a house. At least a mortgage would not be held over her.
She was pressured by his family to sue the railroad company. The family of the other solider killed did sue. She refused. It doesn’t matter what I thought at the time, I was there to support her choice.
I visited as often as I could. I’ve watched Emma and Sam grow up. They came out here when Soleil was a baby. Sam and Becky came out in 2005. We visit every Christmas.
Yet for Corey, time is frozen. He is always 29, less than a month from 30. He is always wearing that smile. He is always a few more exams from applying to officer school. He is always in Texas, away from the hockey that he loved.
All of this came to my thoughts last night as I looked at this photo on our fridge.
* I changed the kids names.