On Memorial Day, Here’s To My Friend I Truly Miss

This Memorial Day, I want to tell the story of my friend Kirby.

Kirby embodied humor. His life revolved around finding it in any situation. He wasn’t outspoken or much of a conversationalist, but he did everything he could to make you laugh. He loved giving people shit for their mistakes, but he never disrespected anyone. In fact, he was one of the most respectful people I ever knew. Some of my toughest times during my second tour, where I thought Iraq would get the best of me and break me finally, he would try to cheer me up by dancing like a maniac, arms pumping up and down in a mosh pit-like fashion.

Kirby was loyal. He had your back hundred percent no matter what. A good buddy of mine Erik told me how Kirby had helped him during his divorce. The divorce was destroying Erik and Kirby took him out every other night just to get his mind off of it. They’d spend hours on end discussing everything from the girls in the bar they were checking out to how awesome Alice in Chains sounded on the jukebox. They shared beers, moments, and thoughts those nights and when they weren’t at the bars, they would listen to Alice in Chains in the barracks. Alice in Chains was their connection; a bond that made any pain they had to disappear. It was these moments that when my friend felt all was lost, Kirby was there to make him feel like he had another chance at life.

Months after they had gotten back from their first deployment, Erik was promoted to Sergeant. It was one of the proudest moments in his life to be a Sergeant of Marines finally, but little did Erik know that it would be the end of their friendship. Marines were not allowed to hang out with other Marines who were not in the same rank structure. Kirby knew their friendship was over, but he was happy for Erik. Erik tried hard to keep their friendship strong, but the responsibilities of being a Sergeant were too much for him. The nights where they drank in the barracks, sharing stories while listening to Alice in Chains were few and far between.

When our unit came home from our second tour of duty, we celebrated for weeks binge drinking, partying. Everyone drank, celebrating a safe deployment. But Kirby took his partying to another level; drinking more staying out later, often unaccompanied. Soon, he started inhaling computer duster to the point where he would make himself unconscious. Erik, I and our friends, did what we could to help him but the closer we got, the farther he pushed us away. Weeks went by, and eventually, Kirby was put on suicide watch. A bunch of his friends took turns at night, and whenever it was my turn, it never felt like I was watching and preventing Kirby from harming himself. He was himself, the same guy who would twirl when caught in a small sand devil in the middle of a convoy laughing like a child. I didn’t have to take away any computer duster or alcohol from him or go searching for substances that could kill him. He was just Kirby, the same happy go lucky guy we all knew and loved. When I watched him, it was just like it was on restriction in Iraq where we ate cool ranch Doritos, binged watching hours of tv shows we bought from the PX.

Just two friends hanging out.

I never got to say bye to Kirby when he was kicked out of the military. The moment he got out, it was as he had disappeared off the face of the earth. There was one time we talked on the phone for a short while. He was living in Vegas or somewhere in the area. He was working a couple of jobs, told me life was getting better. He didn’t say that despite semi-landing on his two feet, that he was lost, isolated and no longer felt like the world was a place he wanted to be. I found out later Kirby had committed suicide.

I honor Kirby this weekend by remembering him and celebrating his life by rocking out and spending time with those closest to me. He reminds me daily that at any moment, life can be taken away from us. We don’t control when we leave this earth, but we do control how we spend our time here. His presence has always and forever will make an impact on me. I still feel the void he left when he passed. Some days I think about how much happiness he brought to people, the regret I have of not being there to keep him from hanging himself, and the guilt that I should have stopped him the first time he started using.

But the other days, I think about our time spent during his suicide watch, the times we hung outside the tents at Camp Al Taquddum smoking waiting for our next restriction check in. He always gave me a hang ten letting me know he was all good. I miss his subtle, smart ass remarks, the plethora of Cool Ranch Doritos he hoarded in his closet so he never had to fear he would run out. He used to have chips scattered all over the floor from his attempts to fit as many in his mouth as possible. He always to offer me some, and most of the time I said no.

Wish I would have said yes more often.

Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on May 28, 2017.

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