Chris and I became friends in November of 2000. We hung out all the time though we only had a few things in common. I loved sports, he hated them, except football. He liked art, literature and science. I didn’t. Chris was agnostic, almost an atheist and I am a Christian. Our beliefs caused many late night discussions and interesting opinions on heaven and hell, God and Satan, etc. He always respected my opinion and I continued to try and witness to him.
Chris was going to grad school to get his master’s in chemistry and later a master’s in business. He believed in science, the big bang theory etc. He already had a bachelor’s in chemistry and biology. He was very well read and extremely intelligent. He was also in a lot of debt from his college loans. So he went into the Army after finishing his degree to pay off his loans. He first went to Georgia for basic training and then was shipped to Germany at Wiesbaden.
He traveled every where and loved getting to see the world. He often sent me pictures, videos, books and trinkets from all over. He once sent me a rock that had a cross etched into it that he found backpacking across Australia when he was on leave. Ironic huh? We laughed about it, but he said “I saw it on the path and thought of you.” So our talks of Christianity had not been in vain and he recognized my faith and respected me for it. Unfortunately he still did not believe but I thought maybe I was planting a seed, so I continued to share with him.
We wrote back and forth, sent emails, talked on the phone when we could and kept in touch. He had been in the service for 2 years and I saw him maybe once a year, but we were still close though again we had very little in common. During this time, my mom had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and I was devastated. Chris encouraged me to keep praying and not lose my faith. Someone who didn’t believe in having a faith in God, kept me from losing my faith in God. Interesting huh? He told me once that one of the most special things about me was my faith and how it was such a big part of who I was. I never felt that, but he saw it.
In 2003 Chris was sent to Iraq near Tikrit. He hated it, and didn’t believe in being there, but he was there and fought to keep other soldiers safe and alive. He was a medic. He liked being a medic, but he hated being in a war and being in Iraq. His emails and letters became increasingly disheartening and he was getting depressed. But he didn’t have much longer to go before he was to get out. I sent care packages, videos, books, cards from the kids at school, candy, etc whatever I could to keep his spirits up. I even sent books about how to become a Christian that had actual scientific evidence that there is a God. Right up his alley. He was supposed to come home December 2005 and his emails and letters became fewer and far between.
We were both going through Hell. His was in Iraq and mine was at home because mom was dying of cancer. We lost her on December 18th, 2004. Chris called from Iraq using precious minutes that he didn’t have very often to call and tell me how sorry he was and that he would be thinking of me, whereas the guy I had been dating broke up with me the day we buried my mom (he was a real winner, NOT!).
Again Chris told me to keep faith and stay strong in my beliefs that my mom was in a better place. I don’t know if he just said those things because he thought that was what I wanted to hear, but it did help me to continue. After my mom died, I was depressed, rightly so. Mom was my best friend. Chris and I continued to talk occasionally, but not like before. It wasn’t that we weren’t friends anymore, it was just that we were losing touch because of time, distance and our circumstances. Anyways, Chris came home from the service in December 2005. That was probably the last time I heard from him. He had met someone after he got home and we drifted further apart. Like I said Chris and I were friends, good friends. We loved each other as friends do, but that was as far as it went. He was a good man.
So we lost touch and often times I have thought about him and how he was doing. Did he have kids, where was he living, had he written the great American novel that he talked about doing? Just the normal interest of wondering what had happened to my friend. Time went on and I met and married one of the most wonderful men in the world. Shawn was a gift from God and I couldn’t be happier. God placed Shawn in my life at exactly the right time, funny how He knows what we need more than we ever will.
Anyways, I digress. Last weekend I was cleaning out my closet trying to avoid doing homework and I came across a box of letters and stuff Chris had sent me over the years. I put it out in the garage thinking to save it, but to put it away. I didn’t want Shawn thinking that I was hanging on to love letters from another guy or something. It wasn’t like that. They were just letters from a friend. Anyways I decided to try and find an email address for Chris hoping to get in touch and see how he was doing. Facebook has spurred a reconnection of friends from childhood and through the years. As I was searching the net to try and find him, I came across an article. I had thought at first from reading it that maybe he had written it. He was a very good writer. So as I read, my heart slowly began to fall into my stomach. Here is the article that broke my heart:
Chris had indeed left the service only to come home and be diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia that he contracted while serving near the benzene plants and oil fields in Iraq. He was diagnosed in September of 2008. He died six weeks later on November 2nd, 2008. He is survived by a wife, Robyn and a 6 year old step son. Eight years after we had met, I didn’t know he was sick, I don’t know if he became a Christian, I didn’t even know where he was and now he is dead because he developed Leukemia almost 2 and a half years post service in the Army and they don’t recognize it as an illness contrived from the war.
My faith in our government to keep us safe and protect us is depleted. Our soldiers fight for our freedom, protect us, serve us and die for us, but yet when they are finally relieved from their duties our government and our people don’t want to recognize them for what they have done for us.