I wanted to take a moment today to tell you of someone special in my heart. I picked today because today marks a 3rd anniversary. Unlike most 'anniversaries' which usually are symbolic of celebration, today's anniversary marks that of a void in many peoples lives. It was 3 years ago today that I lost a very important figure in my life. My young cousin TJ, only 19 years old had his precious life taken away by a misled soul in Iraq. I think the sad irony in this was that 2 people who both were doing what they each believed to be right, crossed paths 3 years ago today. Both fighting for a cause. One man there only to free a man...that man killing him, for doing so. It never has made sense to me and probably never will. I think that it reinforces that realistic fact that there is both good, and evil in this world. 3 Years ago today, evil won.
Let me share with you a little bit of my cousin. I first met TJ when he was a baby, 2 years old I believe. His mom, sister and he came out from Indiana to start new lives in the central valley where most of our large Italian family lived. The first time I met him he did nothing but cry!! I thought to myself....what! I watched this 2 year old over the years through many....and I mean many family get togethers, grow up to be a spunky, bright young man. I remember how excited he used to get when "cousin Greg" pulled up in his Chevelle and he would always be out the door to show me something or to share a 'kids' story of what was new at that moment in his life. Always well behaved, at least when I was there ;) , and well mannered. I would always address him as 'mister T'! TJ by no means had an easy raising as his dad was absent most of his life. Fortunately he was surrounded by several friends of the family as well as a couple family members who served as male roll models. I just know that TJ always had a special place in my heart, maybe because I watched him grow from what I remembered him as a baby to the bright young man I was seeing before me, maybe it was his personality which definitely was unique. Maybe I knew him in some other life, I really don't know. I just know that I was drawn to TJ. Fortunately I have many memories of some times we shared. One in particular was the Friday night ritual. Every Friday night without fail, I would go over to their apartment to watch the Ren And Stimpy Show with him and his family! I mean this was an important deal with this kid! After we moved up to Arnold, we only saw each other at family get togethers, but he would occasionally hitch a ride with me back up to Arnold to stay for a couple days, and then I would drive him back down to Stockton. In later years when he got his license and a truck, he would come up to see us on his own. Did I mention that he was an honorary graduate of 'Camp Greg'? This kid worked harder and with more motivation than any young man I had seen up to that point of my life. He took great pride in holding a job while going to high school, and the ability to buy his truck as a result of his hard earned efforts. This truck was a Dodge if I remember correct. Nothing special only that it had a 'Tommy Lift'. TJ was always talking about his 'Tommy Lift'. He loved the fact that his truck had one. As he grew up he began to serve as a very important roll model in my son Johns' life. John looked up to him. When TJ was at family functions John gravitated around him always. And when he would drive up to stay with us in Dorrington and work with me, John was always excited like no other to spend time with him. In fact John has a few pretty memorable times with TJ in Dorrington. Maryann and I do as well, and we all 3 feel blessed that he spent the time with us that he did.
You know, it is true sadly that you always seem to learn so much about someone after they are gone. I know that we can brag about TJ from our own experiences, but at his funeral we learned from many of his friends and the people in his life of how incredibly remarkable he was. He touched so many people and was such a loving and gentle soul. It made me feel proud even more so, to know that I grew up with him.
The last time I saw TJ was at my parents' house at Christmas Eve. He arrived in uniform and was very stoic, and looked so mature. A very handsome guy. He told John and I of some stories from boot camp and of what his current duties were. I remember him telling me that night that he wanted to go into combat because the pay was so much better. I literally told him he was crazy. Maybe because I loved him and who wants somebody they love to go into combat. That was the last time I saw him. I did speak to him by phone a couple times after that night while he was stationed in Germany. I was always confused with the time difference and would call him around 9:30PM our time in the states....which was roughly 8:00 AM or so there. I woke him up! I mean he was asleep and I would wake him up!!!! This is the Army??!! Incredible! Those calls stopped probably about the time they began to move him into Iraq.
He wanted to go. He truly believed in what he was doing, and like so many others of that time felt the calling after the 9/11 incident. He wanted to put down terrorism. He believed in the people he was being sent to free from the tyrant who ruled over them. How can you not respect someone for what they want, even though in your heart you wished they didn't. I thought like many, "it could never happen to him". The odds played me a fool 3 years ago today. And now every time I hear on the news of another casualty, I feel all of the pain I experienced, roll through me again, as I know that somewhere, somebody is going through what I and my family experienced.
I am in Alaska now, and won't be able to visit his mom today as she sits weeping at his grave. I have been there each year since....but not today. Does it hurt....yes, it does. Maybe that is why I wanted to take a little time today an share who TJ was, and what he is even today. He is an inspiration to me. I look up to him for his courage, and his determination throughout his short life to do what he wanted to do, and the responsibilities that he continually took so seriously. I once told Maryann that I believe he has been here before. For as young as he was, his wisdom seemed to span a longer life than that of a 19 year old. I do believe he has been here before, and I am proud to say that I knew him and loved him the time that I was able to spend. If you are reading this today, do me a favor. Remember whom I have shared with you today. Remember those of us who were so blessed to have known him. Remember what he stood for and despite the obstacles in his life how he overcame and succeeded at everything he set out to do. Remember. Lets share some peace today.