Monday, May 25, 2009
When I was a freshman in high school back in Austin, Texas, I fell madly in love with the boy who sat behind me in my English class. His name was Tim. He had dark brown hair that fell across his forehead and dark blue eyes that sparkled every time I turned around to tell him to stop kicking my chair. He wore a beat-up, 40s-era bomber jacket and could make archaic slang words like "swell" sound effortlessly new. If someone insulted him -- you know, with one of those classic high school put-downs that usually involved unspeakable acts with farm animals or insinuations about inbreeding -- Tim would pause, slowly nod his head, smile and say, "oh yeah?" He was ridiculously handsome, even at 15, and managed to carry it off with a goodhearted sheepishness that made teachers look the other way when he ambled into class late -- and convinced me (to the depths of my very soul!) that he was the most exceptional creature on planet earth and if I lived to be a hundred I'd never be able to express the extent of my feelings for him.
Instead, I played it cool. We talked about Shakespeare and The Clash when we bumped into each other at our lockers. I tried not to stutter when we split a beer together at a party -- the one where he confessed that he believed in fate and that was why he didn't worry about things. I told him that I thought fate needed a good kick in the ass most of the time. He laughed and said it was more fun to go with the flow than to fight.
In fact, the only time I ever saw Tim get into a fight was when one of the football players picked on a nerdy drama kid at an outdoor concert in the park. I wish I could say Tim pummelled the bully in a scene worthy of Clint Eastwood. It wasn't quite like that. But after an inelegant scuffle of a few thudding punches, Tim walked away with the grace of a triumphant samurai.
Tim and I never became real sweethearts, but we remained good friends throughout high school. Whenever my boyfriend broke my heart, Tim let me cry on his shoulder and flirted with me just enough to make my boyfriend jealous. At graduation, Tim was the first person I hugged. Tim was also the last person I ever expected to tell me he was joining the Marines.
"I'll see the world and do some good," he said. And then he laughed and said, "Or knowing me, maybe I'll just get in all kinds of trouble."
He was killed the following year in the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. He was 19.
It's Memorial Day here in the United States. A time for most people to sleep late and linger over coffee before applying sunscreen, stocking the cooler and tossing the steaks on the grill. Those are all good things. In fact, they're the kind of good things that most of the members of our armed forces think about when they're stationed around the planet seeing the world, doing some good and, too often, getting in all kinds of trouble.
Lets take a moment to remember the ones who never made it home.
In remembrance of Timothy McMahon, 1964-1983