Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day


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

18 comments:

Judy Williams said...

I had forgotten about Tim. Shame on me. Your beautiful tribute left me weeping like a baby. I hope he is walking with his swagger and old bomber jacket somewhere in another dimension. If nothing else, his spirit lives on in a part of your heart that will forever stay young and un-jaded.

Here's to all the men and women whose service makes us sleep a little safer at night, and whose early end forever changed the lives of those they left behind.

Here Here!!

Dixie Jane said...

With bowed head and a heavy heart I am remembering my own husband who did make it home. But the impact on what he saw, experienced and those left behind he was never to forget. He has been gone now for almost nine years and he took with him remembrances we will never know.

I salute the fallen ones and their families and share in their pride and sorrow on this Memorial Day.

Mister Earl said...

Laurie, I recall you've mentioned Tim before, but never so beautifully. I can see him vividly. We can think in the abstract about all the Tims and all their families sacrifice, but your personal story brings it right home. You made me cry.

dbdubya said...

Thank you, Laurie, for the poignant reminder of what Memorial Day means with your beautiful tribute to Tim.

altadenahiker said...

I knew this was coming, but it made me love it more. I've always thought war should be fought by the old men who start it, and leave the beautiful Timothy's to discover their life.

San Diego Farmgirl said...

What Altadenahiker said. Beautiful tribute, Laurie!

Yakpate said...

I am covered with chills from head to toe.

That is a deeply moving tribute. Thank you for reminding us why we get to sleep late today... and for inspiring us to honor those who sacrifice for us.

Linda Dove said...

Lovely tribute, L.

pasadenaadjacent said...

I shared a downtown studio with JJ for eight years. JJ was also a marine (who shocked all who knew him when he joined up). He had a bed in those very same barracks of which you speak. At the front of the building if I recall. He couldn't sleep that night so he grabbed his guitar and went to the back of the building. Saved his life but he lost all his buddies in a flash. He may have known your friend and I'll ask him.
The army placed him on the work crew to remove their bodies out of the rubble. With no attention to the psychological damage he'd incurred through service, JJ would eventually go AWOL. Over the eight years of shared space I got to see to see first hand the effect of that event....disturbed sleep patterns, passive aggressive, alchoholism etc.

lifeinoleg said...

An appropriate post for the day.

I was engrossed by the story. Thank you.

Sharon said...

What a wonderful tribute! Perfect comments for today. I also love your photo! It reminds me of growing up in Illinois. It's such and All-American scene!

Susan C said...

Thanks for the memory and the reminder, Laurie.

Jean Spitzer said...

Very moving story. Thank you for sharing it.

-K- said...

Oh my god - as soon as I saw the word "Marines" I started to feel sick. Fate indeed....

Petrea said...

In the service of their countries, they die so young. Or, like JJ, in youth their lives are irrevocably changed.

What the Hiker said.

Laurie said...

Thank you all for such thoughtful comments. I really appreciate it.

Til tomorrow...

Virginia said...

Amen AH. Lovely lovely post Laurie.
V

Andrew said...

Really amazing...

Nice photo...wonderful thoughts....


Thanks for sharing...


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Andrew
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