Pfc Shane M. Reifert

Pfc Shane M. Reifert
Shane during a sweep of the Shuryak Valley, approximately 3 weeks before he was killed. Photo Credit: PFC Sean Stromback

Friday, December 31, 2010

"Gifts" from Shane

From my mom: 

As I reflect during these days after the holidays, which were filled with so much love from family and friends, my mind keeps wandering back in time. It is after the holidays that this damp, dreariness creeps into my soul. Now I ask, what now? what am I supposed to do? is there a band aid big enough for this broken heart? Then I kick myself in the behind and just remember all the “gifts” that Shane has given to me and all those he loved.

When Shane came home in September for his mid tour deployment leave; it was a gift. Shane made sure that we all received our special day with him. My day was September 21st and we went to the Detroit Zoo. It was an especially warm day and the animals were all lazy – just trying to stay cool. We stayed in the butterfly house and watched the beautiful array of colors floating by, it was magical. Then off to the polar bears, and again we watched magnificent mammals swim over our heads and the sun creating prism sprays on the walls. We went and grabbed lunch and then a little shopping for a couple of new t-shirts. I remember the salesgirl hitting on my son. And then I chuckled knowing how handsome he was and how proudly he stood. Even though Shane wasn’t tall, he truly stood out in the crowd – I know the Bushmasters gave him that gift.

And then September 25th  rolled around, it was Shane’s day to head back to Afghanistan. Ah, that drive to the airport – really no one knowing what to say or how to act, so we listened to music. Music was so important to Shane, and I wish I could remember what songs were playing. We arrived at the airport and no one wanted to get out of the Jeep, but Shane got out and reached for his bags. I remember going to the counter at Delta. I don’t know if all airlines offer military escorts, but we were able to go to the gate with Shane. I gave the clerk my driver’s license as she asked Shane where he was going. He told her, “back to Afghanistan, ma’am,” and she looked me in the eyes. Yep, she must have been a mother because she knew, she knew what only a mother can feel at a time like that. She told Shane she would keep him in her prayers and then I noticed the tears glistening in her eyes.

So, now we are at the gate – just sitting and waiting. And Shane gave me another gift. Shane looked me in the eyes and said, “Mammy, let’s go get a Coke.” So, just the two of us went in search of a Coke. You see, in my world – it has to be a Coke. Shane “converted” to Pepsi while in college, but we shared a Coke. I remember walking to the counter with a Coke and a small bag of sourdough pretzels; the clerk gave Shane his military discount. And then we walked back – arm in arm, and I actually had a smile on my face because my heart was so full. I will never forget that very last face-to-face, “Love you, Mammy!” and my last, “Love you bunches and bunches, Buddy!”

And when the going gets tough – I cherish the words Shane told his father. Kurt once asked Shane, how do you do it? how do you keep going? how, when you are so tired or thirsty or hungry? how do you keep going? Shane’s response, so simple, but powerfully stated. “It is quite simple, Dad, you just put one foot in front of the other.” What a beautiful gift! A gift to help all of us on our damp, dreary days to mend our hearts and souls. One foot in front of the other!

Peace and Love,
Always and forever,
Shane’s mammy and Beth’s momma

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Well I survived Christmas. I didn't think that it would be as difficult as it was. I felt so much love during the time that I spent with my family and friends. And for some reason all of that love made everything that much more difficult. Maybe it's just because Shane wasn't here to feel it.

My mom and I were talking the other night about all of the wonderful people who have come into our lives since Shane's death. She said that, while we've met so many wonderful people, it's bittersweet because many of them we have only come into contact with because Shane is dead and he will never be able to share time with all of them.I guess that I choose to look at all of those people as gifts from Shane to help make things not quite so unbearable.

I think that with death, it's all about how your perspective on things. I could choose to stay in bed and mope all day and dwell on things that I cannot change. And some days I do that. But most days, I manage to make it out of bed, shower, and at least pretend to be a productive member of society. Sometimes I'm even happy. Because I know that what Shane wouldn't want is for everyone to sit around being sad all the time. So when I do get sad, I let the sadness linger for a few minutes. Sometimes I even cry. But then I make myself move on from it. Because I refuse to mourn for the rest of my life. I know that part of me will probably always be mourning Shane. And I know that I'll always miss him and that there's a hole in my heart that is never going to go away. But there's also enough love in my heart to keep the hole from seeming so big all the time.

S.W.A.T. Magazine

A big My Fallen Soldier thank you to Tony Albaceli. In the upcoming February issue of S.W.A.T. magazine, on newsstands January 15, 2011, Mr. Albaceli pays tribute to Shane. Pick up your copy soon.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas!

As you might guess, I'm not a religious person. Neither was Shane, for that matter. So while today does not hold a great deal of significance for me as the birth of Jesus, it does hold significance in that it is a time to spend with family and friends. 

Last night, we spent time with my dad's side of the family at one of my uncle's houses. We had great food, played board games, laughed, and hugged. It was a great night filled with lots of love. Today, we will spend time with my mom's side of the family and I'm sure there will be lots of love there as always. 

I've always thought that family isn't just the one you're born into. But since Shane's death, this has held especially true. I was lucky enough to be born into a family that I actually like. Even though I only got to have him for 23 years, I had a brother who was one of my best friends. I have parents whom I can talk with about anything. And I have an extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins whom I adore. But I was also lucky enough to go out into the world and make my own family. My parents can say what they want about how I might not be the best at picking boyfriends over the years, but I've managed to do a really great job at picking my friends. Or maybe they picked me. Either way, sometimes I get overwhelmed at how much I love my friends and how much they love me back. 

One of my best friends gave up days out of her life and time away from her family to come and be with my family right after Shane was killed. She shepherded us into the shower when all we had done was sit around and mope. She made she that we ate. She made sure we were where we needed to be. She let me just sit and be quiet when I needed to, and made me laugh, and didn't make me go to the funeral home when I didn't want to. And she poured me a glass of wine or two when I needed it. I really don't know what we would have done without her around during those really difficult days. I know I'll never be able to adequately thank her for doing all of those things, except that she knows in her heart that I would do the same things for her in a minute. Luckily, I'll get to see her today.

I'll be with some of my other friends who have become family today, and I'm excited that they'll get to spend time with my "real" family as well. 

So hold your loved ones close today. Let them know that you love them, because you never know when it's going to be the last time. Laugh. Smile. Eat too much. Don't drink too much. And while you're sitting with your families, please remember the brave men and women who are sacrificing time with their loved ones so that the rest of us can be safe and sound.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Last Christmas Eve

Well, Buddy, it's going to be a rough next 48 hours. I've been awake for a little bit, just laying in bed, thinking about last year and trying to remember a time line of events for everything that happened exactly a year ago today. And I just don't remember. We went to Aunt Lori's house for dinner, I remember that. But I don't remember what we did all day on Christmas Eve. I'm assuming that we were at Mom and Dad's. That maybe you and Dad ate summer sausage sandwiches for lunch. That we played with Lola. We probably watched some bad TV. You probably were online for awhile. But that's all I can remember, and those memories are just vague assumptions of what we might have done. I don't remember specific conversations. 

What I do remember is being really happy on Christmas Eve at our aunt and uncle's. I remember playing Beatles Rock Band with our cousins. I remember singing and it being horrible. Looking over at you and laughing because it was so bad but everyone was having a good time so it didn't matter. Calling you "special boy." Playing ping pong. Laughing some more. Hugging everyone. I remember wearing gold snakeskin Mary Jane shoes that pinched my feet. I remember driving back toward Detroit. Trying to find a Taco Bell that was opened. Stopping at over half a dozen Taco Bells, only to discover that all of them were closed. Me being so mad at myself because I couldn't find you the one thing that you wanted at the moment. Calling A and asking her if she knew where an open Taco Bell might be. Her telling us that Dearborn was our logical best bet. Meeting her at the Dearborn Taco Bell. That one being closed, too. Realizing it must be a corporate decision to close all Taco Bells on Christmas Eve. Going to Ram's Horn in Dearborn, but not the Bellagio one. You and I both having Buffalo Chicken Caesar Salads. A having a garden salad with ranch and all of us sharing french fries. Having a perfect meal, even though it wasn't the Taco Bell that you wanted. Me being really happy that you finally met A, when you usually never agreed to meet my friends. Making you and A take a picture with me in the Ram's Horn, even though you both are funny about having your pictures taken, and both of you appeasing me. The busboy who took the photo being slightly annoyed at my request. 

And Buddy, I can't remember anything else after we took that picture. I know we would have gotten into our respective cars and A would've driven us to the expressway since we had driven around Dearborn and didn't know where we really were because it was night. I'm sure we listened to music in the car. I'm sure we probably talked for a while when we got home, or maybe watched a movie. But I can't remember. 

That's how all of my memories about you are getting. Holey. I remember bits and pieces when I want to remember entire days, entire conversations. Maybe it's because I didn't realize that those were going to be some of my "lasts" with you. That was our last Christmas Eve. We were really friends, Buddy. We were. And last Christmas Eve really reminds me of that. I know not everyone could be with a sibling for that long and just get along and not fight and have actual things to talk about. We listened to an old R. Kelly song when we were driving through Detroit and both laughed about it but mostly liked that we were listening to it. Thank you for all of my memories with you, Buddy. Thank you for letting me have a picture with you that night. I miss you so much that it physically hurts. I never knew that I loved you so much until you were gone. And I don't know I'm capable of ever loving anyone more than I love you.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fix You

I wish I knew what this song meant to you. It drives me insane that I don't know. Maybe I don't want to know. I hate Chris Martin's voice and think that Eric sang the song a million times better than he did. I don't understand why Coldplay is famous, really, because I dislike Chris Martin's voice that much. Maybe you didn't like Coldplay, maybe you just liked this one particular song. Sometimes I think that Mom must not have heard you correctly, that you must have wanted a different song played at your funeral. I look for meaning in the lyrics that will connect the song to you, but I can't find anything. Maybe it's because the part of you that connected to this song is a part of you that I didn't know. At least, that's what I've decided in my head.

"Fix You," by Coldplay. 

When you try your best, but you don't succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired, but you can't sleep
Stuck in reverse

And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can't replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

And high up above or down below
When you're too in love to let it go
But if you never try you'll never know
Just what you're worth

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

Tears stream down on your face
When you lose something you cannot replace
Tears stream down on your face
And on your face I...

Tears stream down on your face
I promise you I will learn from my mistakes
Tears stream down on your face
And on your face I...

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

A Letter to Shane

Hi Buddy,

I just finished watching the first season of Rescue Me. Now I know why you liked it so much. The characters are all real people and they have lots of problems with imperfect lives, just like the rest of us, but maybe with more drinking on the show. Maybe not, depending on whose lives we're talking about. 

I went shopping today for Mom and Dad's Christmas presents and I kind of pretended that you were with me today, but that maybe you just kept leaving the room that I was in a few seconds before I entered. You helped me pick out some good stuff, though, and I think Mom and Dad will like what we got for them. It was tough going Christmas shopping without you. I really wish you would have been there but I understand why you couldn't be. I guess that you were with me in spirit and that's what mattered. 

There are so many things that I wish I could tell you right now. Sometimes I feel like I'm walking around all filled up with secrets that I can only tell to you. And I guess I could write them to you in a letter or talk to you before I go to bed at night or something, but it's just not the same. I know that I'm surrounded by a bunch of people who love and care about me, but it's just not the same without you here. You knew me better than I knew myself most days, and I just want to talk to you and have you tell me things I might already know in my heart but am too afraid to admit to myself. 

Christmas is coming. I've been told that the holidays are going to be pretty rough from some reputable sources who have gone through things like this. Even if you were alive, you wouldn't be here, you'd be in Afghanistan. So maybe it won't be such a big deal. But that's probably just me kidding myself. 

I don't know where you are. Maybe you're nowhere. Maybe you're everywhere. I guess that I'm just trying to say that today was a rough day and that I miss you a lot right now. 

I love you, buddy. 


Donations Update

Just letting everyone know that we heard from the guys and they received their boots and Under Armour, just in time for Christmas and the cold Afghanistan winter weather! They're thankful and happy to have new gear.

So if you're one of the many people who have generously donated, from my family to yours, thank you very much. You've helped make a soldier's life a little bit better while he is busy keeping the rest of us safe. 

If you haven't donated but read this blog, please consider making a donation. Any amount is appreciated and put to good use. Everyone can manage to spare a few (or many) dollars by not buying a pack of cigarettes or a beer at the bar or a Starbucks coffee.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Shane's Last Christmas Present to Beth

The following was written by my mom, Kitty: 

Shane’s Last Christmas Present to Beth

I have started and stopped this write so many times, but I am compelled to write about last Christmas. It was just a year ago that Shane and I went shopping for his Christmas present to Beth.  Never in a million years would I ever allow myself to imagine that would be the last Christmas present he would ever purchase.  As a mother, I built this protective wall for my children that I felt would never be shattered.

I knew that this was a special moment because Shane asked me to go shopping with him for the perfect gift for Beth.  It had been quite awhile since Shane had asked me to go shopping with him because he preferred shopping with his sister.  

Shane wanted to purchase a gift that would not wear out or be out of fashion, but something that Beth would always have to remind her of how much love they shared.

So off we went – headed out to the mall.  While driving to the mall we talked about life and music.  We talked about his new life at Fort Campbell and what it would be like to be part of the legacy of the 101st Airborne Division.  We talked about The Black Keys, Eminem, and Beck.

By the time we had arrived at the mall, Shane had decided he was going to purchase a necklace or ring for Beth.  I never realized how many independent jewelry stores were in the mall, let alone the jewelry departments in the anchor stores.  Yet, we managed to go to every store that carried fine jewelry – just to end up back at the first store and the very first showcase that Shane peered into. 

I remember perusing the showcases with Shane – a time or two pointing out a piece of jewelry, just to have him shake his head no.  Most of the time, I would pretend to look into the showcases, but all the while keeping my eyes on Shane. I would embrace the intensity of his search, his search for the perfect gift.

We stopped and had lunch before he made his final decision.  Again, talking about music and family and his passionate commitment to being Soldier.

Finally, we returned to that very first showcase.  I remember Shane examining the ring he selected, holding it up to look at it from all angles.  It is a ring that screamed – buy me, I am the perfect gift for Beth.  It is a citrine ring with black and white enamel.  It is not modern or antique, but it has “Beth” written all over it.

But it is more than just a ring; it is the last Christmas present that Shane ever purchased.  It is one of the endearing reminders of Shane.  It is a gift from the heart, a gift between a brother and sister. A gift of love that will help us over the sad and painful days.

My husband and I have been truly blest to be able to say that Elizabeth is our daughter and that Shane is/was our son.  As parents, are always grateful for the love of each of our children.

Beth’s momma and Shane’s mammy

Alternate Ways to Donate

My family and I truly appreciate the donations that we have received and the men who benefit from those donations are even more grateful. 

If you are interested in a more personal way to donate that would involve contact with an actual soldier, please consider adopting a soldier from Adopt a US Soldier. From their website: 

Thousands of miles away from home, many in combat zones, our soldiers need our support. You have no idea how treasured a single letter is! Adopt A US Soldier is dedicated to connecting supporters of our troops, just like you, with deployed soldiers the world over.
Staffed fully by volunteers, AAUSS has helped thousands of soldiers find friendship, support, and a much loved and much needed touch of home.
Adopt A US Soldier is active in over 100 Countries and has thousands of active volunteers supporting our troops by adopting one soldier, two soldiers, or even an entire platoon. Feel free to look around and see how you can get involved and easily adopt your own soldier. There are many other ways to get involved as well.

If you are considering adopting a soldier, know that:

Adopting a soldier is easy to do, won't take up much of your time, and there is not much financial obligation beyond the price of some stamps. You don't need to feel obligated to send gifts or packages, although they would be greatly appreciated by your soldier, A simple letter, even just once each week, means the entire world to our troops. 

If you have further questions, read here.

6 Men out of the 101st Killed by Suicide Bomber

Please keep the families and friends of the following brave men in your thoughts:

Sgt. Willie A. McLawhorn, Jr.
Spc. Derek T. Simonetta
Cpl. Sean M. Collins
Spc. Kenneth E. Necochea, Jr.
Spc. Jorge E. Villacis
Spc. Patrick D. Deans 

These 6 men were killed in the Kahdahar Province, Afghanistan on December 12. They were all based out of Fort Campbell and out of the 101st Airborne, serving in the 2nd Batallion, 502nd Infantry Division. They leave behind fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, wives, and children. They were killed by a suicide bomber while building a new base.

A Taliban suicide bomber killed six US soldiers and two Afghan troops in a suicide attack today that targeted a newly established outpost in a region of Kandahar known as the "heart of darkness." The Taliban claimed it carried out the attack.

The suicide bomber detonated a minibus packed with explosives at the gate of a small combat outpost manned by US and Afghan troops in the town of Sangsar in the district of Zhari in Kandahar province. The suicide bomber was able to get past Afghan soldiers who were manning the outer perimeter.

The blast leveled the wall of a mud-brick home where the US and Afghan troops were building a new base in the village, according to The New York Times. The building collapsed on the soldiers, killing them and wounding more than a dozen US and Afghan troops.

The Taliban claimed the attack on its website, Voice of Jihad. The Taliban said that the suicide bomber, who was identified as Ahmadullah, detonated more than two tons of explosives as the US and Afghan troops were fortifying their positions.

The attack was carried out by the Mullah Dadullah Mahaz, or Mullah Dadullah Front, a wing of the Taliban in the south that is closest to al Qaeda, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. The Mullah Dadullah Front is led by none other than Mullah Adbul Qayoum Zakir, the former Guantanamo Bay detainee who has since been promoted as the Taliban's top military commander. On Dec. 4, Coalition and Afghan special operations troops captured a senior Mullah Dadullah Front financier and weapons facilitator.

Today's suicide attack is the third such bombing in Kandahar in two days. Also today, a suicide bomber wounded eight Afghan troops after detonating his car bomb in Jalai. Yesterday, a suicide bomber wounded five policemen and a civilian in an attack in Kandahar city.

ISAF has launched major operations over the past several months in the Taliban stronghold districts of Arghandab, Panjwai, and Zhari. Prior to these operations, the Taliban had been in full control of these districts for the past several years.

ISAF believes that the operations, combined with its targeted campaign against mid- and top-level Taliban leaders, have put the Taliban in the south in disarray.

The Taliban have suffered heavy losses in a series of special operations nationwide. Over the past six months, more than 600 Taliban and allied terrorist groups' leaders have been killed or captured, 2,000 fighters have been killed, and another 4,100 have been captured [see LWJ report, Special operations forces deal blows to Taliban ranks].

Please visit this article on the New York Times to read more. 

Lux Aeterna

This is one of the most beautiful and haunting pieces of music I think I've ever heard -- "Lux Aeterna" (Latin for "the eternal light") composed by Clint Mansell. It's from the film Requiem for a Dream, adapted from Hubert Selby, Jr.'s novel by the same name. The book is difficult to read and the movie is difficult to watch. I went through a phase where I tried to watch the most disturbing movies I could find. At the time, I was having incredibly graphic nightmares, and while I now look back and realize that the films I watch probably just contributed to the images in my brain while I slept, I was trying to prove that other people had thought of terrible things, too, and the movies were evidence of this. 

Requiem for a Dream appears to be about drug addicts, but it's more about the human condition, how warped a conception of the American Dream can become, and how our desires for feeling, for a connection of any kind, often leave us completely and utterly alone.  The last scene of the film includes a very graphic sex scene, but is also one of the most beautiful pieces of film I've ever seen. The first time I watched it, I forgot to keep breathing because I was so captivated with what I was seeing, tears streaming down my face, my mouth partially agape as the film finally came to its end. It finds all four of the main characters alone, in the fetal position, having finally succumbed to their demons and delusions. 

When Shane and I were both living at home, I came home from school one day to find him in the TV room. 

"I watched this movie today," he said, holding up the case to Requiem for a Dream. 

"Oh yeah," I replied, "And what did you think?" 

"It was pretty fucking sick. But ... it was good." 

"You liked it?"

"I'm not gonna want to watch it every day, but yeah, I liked it." 

I don't know why particular vignettes stick out in my memory. Why I remember that particular 30 seconds of my life but forget others entirely. Maybe it's because Shane and I didn't always agree on what movie to watch or what was good or what was bad. 

Shortly after he was killed, I was going through his iTunes library on his home computer, and I found multiple versions of Clint Mansell's "Lux Aeterna." It was a connection that I had with Shane that I never knew about until after his death, the sort of thing that makes me both happy and sad all at the same time. 

I had a nightmare last night. It was the kind where I feel like I haven't been breathing the entire time I've been asleep, my whole body is frozen and I can only open my eyes before regaining control of my limbs, which are all on pins and needles. I sucked in a gasp of air and while I did so thought about Shane, telling myself to not be afraid of some images in my mind when I know the nightmares that he has and lives are much worse, somehow forgetting that he was dead. By the time I exhaled I had succeeded in reminding myself of the events of the past 45 days. Right now, I've come to hate the moments where I fool myself into thinking that Shane is still alive, but just deployed, and that he'll be home in about 4-5 months. During the few couple weeks of Shane's death, I loved these moments. They made the rest of the day a little bit more bearable, knowing that I would have a brother who is alive and well for a few seconds each morning. But now, they're cruel little jokes that my mind plays on me, a nightmare in and of themselves.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Puzzle Pieces

I went to the mall today to do a small amount of Christmas shopping that couldn't be done online. I'm not doing much shopping to begin with this year. My brother has been dead for 41 days. The lives of my family members and myself have been forever changed because of his death, and it's just a little difficult to get into the Christmas spirit. 

But I went to the mall. It was a mall that Shane and I had gone to when he was home on leave. We had to leave after about 10 minutes because the mall is very open and he didn't feel safe. It was something that I will probably never understand because I have never been in a war zone. I've never had anyone shoot a gun at me. I've never had to look for cover. I've never had to think about the possibility of a hidden sniper. But Shane had, and even though we were in America, we had to leave the mall. I thought about that the entire time I was in the mall. I thought about how dangerous a place it would be if something bad were happening. Too much glass, nothing to hide behind, too many people, not enough exits, too many variables. 

I did my shopping. I eavesdropped on conversations. I stood in long lines. I was surrounded by normal people with normal lives and I was jealous of them. Yes, everyone has their own story. Everyone has tragic events in their lives. Fortunately, we aren't made to walk around wearing t-shirts that read "My Brother was Killed" or "I'm an Alcoholic Single Mother" or "When I was 10 I was Molested." So it's quite possible that everyone I was with while at the mall was also suffering through some sort of tragedy. Maybe they all were. But listening to such mundane conversations makes me feel as if they were all leading normal lives while I was being miserable. Maybe that's because today I chose to allow myself to feel miserable. Maybe that's what I needed. But going to the mall made me feel depressed and alone and gave me a sense of dread for the upcoming holidays. 

One thing I'm not dreading is that one of the men with whom Shane went to Basic is coming to visit my family and myself over Christmas. I'm glad he's brave enough to come stay with us during a time when many might not want to be around us. I'm excited to meet him and hear stories about Shane; for him to bring with him another piece of Shane.

I find pieces of Shane in so many different people and places. It's as if I'm building a puzzle that I cannot see. I have no idea how big the puzzle is or how many pieces it contains and I probably never will. But people keep bringing me pieces and the puzzle is gradually becoming more complete. When it's done, I will know Shane better than if he had lived to be 100, because I will know parts of him that he never would have shared with me in life. Of course, I'd rather have him alive. But since I cannot, I will continue to accept the pieces of Shane that everyone so generously gives to me. And it will be enough.

A Gay Soldier's Letter, Written Before He Deployed to Afghanistan

A couple of months ago in my 14th Amendment course, we discussed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and my professor asked me what actual soldiers in the Army thought of the policy. (I have the privilege of going to a law school where my professors care about us as human beings and take the time to get to know us). I had actually discussed the issue of gays in the military with Shane on a couple prior occasions. I told my professor that I could not speak for all soldiers, but that Shane had said he didn't have a problem serving with gay men. He had told me that he knew some of the men he served with or went to Basic with were gay, and so did the Army, and no one really cared. Shane said that just as long as they could shoot, they were fine by him. 

Shane was always a pretty open minded person. And even though we grew up in a small town where most everyone looks and acts the same way, someone's sexual orientation wasn't something that mattered to Shane. 

I can't imagine what it has to be like to be a soldier. And I further can't imagine what it has to be like to be a solider who is forced to hide his or her identity. 

I read this letter written by a gay soldier before he deployed to Afghanistan on Jezebel and thought it was very well written and poignant and gave me a slightly higher level of understanding on how "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" affects actual soldiers. I understand that this policy incites arguments and, like many constitutional issues, is a topic on which reasonable minds may differ. I do not mean to offend anyone with post, but merely wanted to present a point of view that many of us would not normally be privy to.

I'm writing letters to my loved ones in case I don't return from Afghanistan. I hope my partner never has to open his. If he does, it will ask him to tell who I was, because I couldn't.

I was a teenager when my brother came home with an American flag draped over his coffin, so I understand the fragility of life and the dangers of serving. And the additional burden of Don't Ask, Don't Tell is one I choose to carry. I volunteered for deployment, and I continue to serve. It's my deepest core value, whatever the cost.

The silence is the hardest part. I listen intently as my fellow soldiers talk about facing the reality of leaving their loved ones for a year and all the life events that will be missed. I don't talk about my own experience at all, because it's easier to come across as cold and removed than to risk slipping and mentioning that my loved one is of the same gender. For all I know, there are other gay soldiers in my unit, ones who understand what I'm going through. My gay friends in civilian life are supportive, but they don't often understand the military or soldiering. That camouflage is another burden I carry as I prepare to leave.

It's also difficult knowing that this policy is nothing more than politics. I try not to think too much about DADT and how destructive it is to peoples' lives, to military units, readiness, and to the progression of our country to a better place. But when I do let myself think about these things, I seethe with anger.

I am angry at the politicians who have for several years talked the talk on the policy, heightening the awareness of homosexuality among military personnel, and then done little to nothing to actually change it. We gay soldiers are the ones who suffer but can't openly participate in the debate.
I am angry at certain senators -– John McCain comes to mind –- who have obviously lost touch with any understanding of the current generation of service men and women, who, as we all know, support repeal at overwhelming numbers. They hide behind a vitriolic rhetoric fraught with illogical arguments and innuendo, smothered by their obvious fear.

And so we wait to see what the Senate will do. In the meantime, I have to remind myself to look elsewhere for comfort, to remember the courage of people like Dan Choi and his consistent devotion to changing this policy, at a very personal cost. Or Katie Miller, who made public at West Point who she really is, but would seek return the moment the policy is overturned. I also remind myself of the moral courage of Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, thankful that some at the highest level of military leadership get it even as others call our plight a "distraction."

And I'm reminded of the moral courage of my partner, who encourages me everyday to continue to put on that uniform; who believes that some things are worthy of our energies; who quietly plods along and prepares for my deployment as I do the same. I know as a soldier, it is the people we leave behind who bear the real brunt of deployment, who hold it all together, who send the care packages and pray for our returns. He'll have to do it on his own though. There are no support groups for the gay partners left back home.

In the meantime, gay soldiers who are still serving in silence will continue to put on our rucksacks and do what our country asks of us –- and wait.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I was rereading some of my old messages with Shane and wanted to share this one from back in June.

To: Elizabeth Reifert
From: Shane Reifert
Date: June 24, 2010
Time: 2:46 p.m.

So I'm guessing you're pretty busy lately which is a good thing for you. You're always happier when you have just a little too much on your plate. I'm probably going to be out of touch for a little bit, we'll see. Its 2300 here, I can't sleep. I'm noticing its becoming a bit of a problem for 2 reasons. One, I simply need my sleep, and two, its the fastest time that passes here.

A memory resurfaced today. Me and you going to get a hot n ready from little caesars back at mom and dad's. I miss the simple times, and I think if I let myself I'd probably tear up typing that. I think its funny what we retain. But I do miss that kind of stuff, especially because then we'd usually watch a movie or do something together.

A different time.

My souls getting heavy. I think I'm telling you this because you know what its like to be weighed down on the inside. I love you Bethie.

To: Shane Reifert
From: Elizabeth Reifert
Date: June 24, 2010
Time: 2:56 p.m.

hey buddy,

it says that you're online but i don't think that you really are. i'm at work right now, reading about sex offenders. gwoss.

i was going to message you last night but my internet was down. we had a really bad storm.

i do know what it's like to be weighed down on the inside. you just have to remember that no matter how much you feel as if you are underneath a rock, eventually it will get better. you have to believe that, otherwise it's like the nothing in the neverending story.

i wish i had something to make you sleep. i'd send you some sleepy pills but i know you aren't allowed to have them.

you'll be home to have bad pizza with me soon enough.

i love you, shane michael.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Basic Training and My European Vacation

The day after Shane left for Basic, I left for Europe. I flew alone to The Netherlands and I could barely say "hello" in Dutch. I went to visit a dear friend. I went to runaway from something I could not escape. I went to prove something to myself. 

So I drank too much on a couple occasions, came down with a terrible cold, had my first energy drink, made some good/bad decisions, fought with my friend, spent a day walking around Amsterdam by myself, saw a woman touch one of VanGogh's self portraits, was moved to tears at the sight of a Rembrant I never imagined I would see anywhere but in a book, listened to conversations that I didn't understand, was left alone with my thoughts, took the wrong bus multiple times, ate a raw beef sandwich, bought European clothing and shoes, had the Dutch tell me their thoughts on President Obama and America, watched baseball games, and learned a lot about myself. 

It was everything I needed and didn't need all at the same time. I was selfish. I left my parents alone. I left myself, too, in a way. I wanted to avoid who I was and what Shane joining the Army would make me. I realize that now. I didn't realize any of it at the time. 

And while I was doing all of those things, while I was dancing in a nightclub, sweaty and intoxicated from too many bodies around me and too many draft Heinekens, the beat of the music pulsating through my body, Shane was going through his own version of hell. He told me about the first night at Basic. How they were all on a bus and driven into Fort Benning in the dead of night and how the drill sergeants stood at all exits of the bus with bright lights, screaming for the recruits to get off of the bus. But the problem, of course, was that they were blocking all of the exits. So none of the recruits could move. They just got screamed at. When they finally were allowed to get off of the bus, they had to sit on cold metal benches, with their feet both even on the ground and their hands on their laps with their backs straight. For hours. And I got to dance and have a hangover in the morning. I think about that often and I find myself feeling guilty because of it. I also know that it's because Shane and so many other men sat on a bus and were screamed at and deprived of sleep and had to sit on a cold metal bench in silence for hours on end that I was allowed to dance and have a hangover the next morning. 

At the time, I was angry at Shane for being one of those men. For making me run away to Europe and try to avoid the unavoidable. Now, I couldn't be more proud and more grateful that he was.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Last Christmas Present

The things that remind me of Shane always seem to surprise me. Yes, I think about him almost every minute of the day in one way or another. There are photographs of him all over where I live and I can't speak to either of my parents without thinking of him. Almost all music reminds me of him in one way or another. None of these things ever creep up on me; they're expected and so I deal with the emotions that they bring accordingly. 

It's the unexpected things that manage to take my breath away and choke me up. Today, I drove down Woodward Ave., passing the Detroit Artists Market. I drive past DAM at least a couple times a week. But today was the first day that there was snow on the ground. So it wasn't until today that I remembered that Shane and I had done Christmas shopping there for our parents last year. Shane and I visited the Market on a day much like today. Slush in the streets, a gray sky, biting cold air. I remember that I conscientiously didn't put enough money in the meter and left a ticket to chance. We spent about an hour in the Market, walking around, looking at all the art, most of which we couldn't afford. We purchased a handblown glass vase for our mother. We verbalized to one another that it was perfect for her because it was in shades of blue and reminded us of the water. And for our father, we got a painting of a lone wolf with its back to the viewer, staring off into the distance. Shane made a joke about a wolf pack and The Hangover, but from the amount of time that he spent looking at the painting, I know that there was a lot more going on behind his selection. 

After picking out gifts for our parents, I took our selections to the desk and realized that Shane wasn't with me. I went back onto the main floor of the Market, finding Shane staring, contemplating, at a photograph. It's entitled "Extraordinary Light" and was taken in Michigan Central Station. The photographer printed the photo on metallic paper, so it has an aged, almost magical quality to it. It's a beautiful photograph that I will not attempt to further describe with words because there are simply things that do not translate between mediums. I didn't say anything to Shane at first, instead watching him stare at the photograph. At the time in December 2009, Shane rarely did things like this. He didn't take quiet moments for himself to reflect, and I knew that I was lucky to be getting to see him like this. That was probably one of the last times I saw him like that -- contemplative, thoughtful, lost in his head. When I look back on it now, I feel like I stole a little piece of him that day. He didn't know how long I was standing behind him. Maybe a few minutes passed, but it felt like much longer. I asked him if he was ready to go and he said yes.

I returned the next day and purchased "Extraordinary Light" for him. That was my last Christmas present to my brother, and I just now realized that. I'm looking at the photograph right now. It resides on top of a chest of drawers in my bedroom, across from my bed. It's one of the first things I see when I wake up in the morning and one of the last I see when I go to sleep at night. Shane was supposed to take it with him to Fort Campbell, but he left it at home, claiming that it would only get damaged with moving around. And he was probably right. So I ended up keeping his last Christmas present for safekeeping, until he would return from his deployment. 

And I suppose that I will continue to hold on to it for safekeeping. That's one of the only pieces of comfort I take from Shane being killed in action. For me, I think he will always be deployed. He will never age and we will never grow apart. We just won't have spoken for awhile because, in my mind, I can allow him to just be out on a mission, unable to write or call. Maybe that's all the afterlife is, just not speaking to the ones we love for an extended period of time. Maybe they're always there, always right around a corner, just out of earshot. Maybe they're in our dreams, residing in that thin veil between reality and the unknown. I suppose that, for right now, while the rest of us are still living, they can live where ever we imagine them. Every time I look at photographs from Afghanistan, I imagine that Shane has somehow evaded the camera. That he is right outside of the frame, with his brothers, in his uniform, slightly slouched, making a half smile or grimacing his eyebrows, depending upon his mood. That's where Shane lives for me.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

ACTS Match; Donations Update

From my dad:

"Home from an amazing day spent with 60+ motivated shooters that showed up to support the PFC Shane M. Reifert Memorial ACTS Match. Thanks to all who came out to support this cause. This match was to support Shane's brothers of the 2nd Platoon, Bravo Co. 1/327 1BCT 101st ABN Bushmasters! 

Thanks to USMC Veteran Jon Cross and Barb Stockford, Navy Mom, and all the fine folks that helped to make this match happen!" 

My dad was truly impressed with everyone who showed up and all of the money that was raised. 

Shipments of top quality all-terrain boots were sent off to Shane's brothers. We ordered them each a pair of Asolo TPS 520 GV hiking boots from REI.

They will also be receiving sets of Under Armour to protect them from the upcoming cold winter weather in Afghanistan. We're hoping that these things will reach them before Christmas, but it's tough to tell how long it will take for everything to get to them. 

I am privileged to communicate with some of Shane's brothers in Bravo Company online. They are humble, kind, gracious men. They never ask for anything; there's never anything that they want or need, even though I tell them that, legally, the money we have raised cannot be spent on anyone but them. I'm sure it cannot be easy for them to contact my family and me, but they do. They check in and ask if we're doing okay and genuinely care about my response. They are planning trips to Michigan to visit after they come home from deployment. I'm honored that they spend some of their precious time speaking with me, when they could be speaking with family or friends instead. Each one of them holds a special place in my heart and I'm glad that I am able to get to know them. I'm even more glad that we're able to help them. 

If anyone is interested in seeing some of the men with whom Shane fought, please watch this YouTube video of Operation Bulldog


"What you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way. Is it possible that there are no coincidences?"
-- Signs

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pearl Harbor

Today is the 69th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Please take a moment out of your day to remember those who died in the attack and the many others who were left with holes in their hearts as a result of the attack. 

If you're interested in learning more, National Geographic has a comprehensive page dedicated to Pearl Harbor. 

Thank you to everyone who died on that fateful day 69 years ago. Thank you to those who keep their memories alive. 

Because They Don't Make Hallmark Cards for This

Attempting to learn from every experience that comes my way, I will take this much from Anonymous -- to be more openly thankful and grateful to those who love and care for me. So I'm going to thank 5 people today on my blog, because they are the 5 people in my head right now, regardless of whether I think they will actually be reading.

Thank you to Julianne, who was at school studying on November 6. Thank you for being at school, for allowing me to get us Starbucks, for sitting in that classroom with horrible temperature control, for that conversation we had about your moot court problem right before I got a phone call that would change both of our lives. Thank you for being there and for allowing me to be there with you when I got that phone call. A side thank you to whatever in the universe made me go to school that day so that I wouldn't be alone when I got that phone call. Thank you for pulling me to the ground and holding me when I started shaking and kept asking you, "what are we going to do" and repeating "no." Thank you for being strong for both of us that day.

Thank you to Scott Ramon Seguro Mescudi, a/k/a Kid Cudi, whom I will probably never meet in my real life and who most certainly will never read this. Your music has given me wonderful moments with Shane during his life and his death. Your new album was the only music that I could listen to after Shane was killed. I know you never met Shane and you couldn't have known that your music would speak to me so much, but I will always feel like you wrote that album for me to help me get through all of this. I do know that you know grief and loss and I hear that every time I listen to your music. Thank you for writing the line "birds seen flying around, you never see them too long on the ground," because I keep that in my heart and say it everyday.

Kid Cudi's "Mr. Rager"

Thank you to Patty, the director at Gendernalik Funeral Home in New Baltimore, Michigan. Thank you for knowing when I needed a hug and when I did not. Thank you for being magical, in that you are a strong woman and a kind woman at the same time. Thank you for making a really shitty time in my family's life as not shitty as possible. Thank you for allowing us to play rap music during Shane's viewing. I told you that I hoped I never had to see you again, and I mean that in the best way possible. But if I ever do have to be at a funeral home again, I wouldn't mind being around you, because you care and you take care of people and I wish that I could be more like you.

Thank you to my big brother, Garrett. I know that you didn't have to do anything that you have done for my family. You didn't know if we would love you or hate you, but you were there, anyways. You didn't have to be at the funeral home every day, all day. You didn't have to be at the funeral. You didn't have to stick around afterward for my family and me. I know that you don't have to be my new big brother but I'm so glad that you are. You remind me that family isn't just the one into which you are born, but the one you make yourself. Thank you for making me happy and sad at the same time when you talk about the Army and war and life, because sometimes I allow myself to pretend that I'm listening to Shane instead of you. You were the source material for many of Shane's opinions on those topics, and I'm so glad that he learned from you and that I get to have you in my life if I can't have Shane. My mom says that she can see how good of a soul you have. I don't have the ability to see that, but I feel it every time you check on me and make sure that I'm doing okay and studying and not falling off the face of the planet. I hope that I'm as decent of a little sister as I was of a big sister, because you're going to be stuck with me for awhile. 

Thank you to my mom's cousin, Peggy. Thank you for sitting with me before the funeral started, even though we didn't know one another. Thank you for not being religious and for not telling me that Shane was in a better place and for not telling me that you were praying for my family and me. Thank you for being a real person and for understanding without me having to say much. Thank you for being one of the few people that I could talk to inside of the church and for finding me where I was hiding and for just sitting with me.

Moving On

When I woke up yesterday, I thought that I was going to have a productive day. I headed to the gym and worked out with my trainer. I showered. I put on something that resembled an outfit, even though I wasn't leaving the house. I put my books out on my table and was prepared to study. I decided that I'd write a blog entry because I had a mild case of the mean reds and then I even allowed myself to take a nap since sometimes seemingly lazy activities like writing take a lot out of me. 

I woke up from my nap with way too many messages on my phone and a rude and inconsiderate comment on a blog post. And it ruined the rest of my day. I'd like to be able to say that the person who commented did not have an effect on me, but then I would be a liar. I resigned myself to bed for the rest of the day. I allowed myself to be weak and to feel sorry for myself. I couldn't eat. I felt like vomiting. I wanted to sleep but could not. I couldn't watch anything, listen to anything, or read anything, because everything reminded me of Shane and how I was probably letting him down at the moment by just moping around.

Some people will probably think that I'm a little foolish for acting in such a manner, or for letting Anonymous know that I allowed him/her to get into my head. And depending on the moment, I might be included in that group of people. But at this moment, it feels like the right thing to do. I want Anonymous to know that I was hurt by a stranger's words because all too often the person committing a hurtful act is unaware that he or she is being hurtful. Maybe Anonymous was being nice, in his/her mind. But "nice" is a relative term, and I want Anonymous to know that he/she was being hurtful and cruel and disrespectful and a genuinely awful person. Since Anonymous and I are allegedly Facebook friends, I hope that he/she deletes me as a friend, since we are obviously not. That way I don't appear ignorant or misguided and he/she doesn't have to read anything I ever write again.

Being a person who doesn't care what others think is something that I'm constantly striving for, but something I never achieve. Sometimes I present myself as the type of person who doesn't care what others think. But deep down, it hurts my feelings. Sometimes others' words can devastate me. As tough as I can appear, I can be rather squishy on the inside, to borrow a phrase that was once said to me.

The only person who I know didn't often allow others' opinions of him sway his thoughts was Shane. And he would always tell me that I needed to do the same. Since we didn't share the same brain or anything, I don't know if he was actually able to block out hurtful things or if he had created some sort of defensive mechanism against it or if he was just lying and going the "fake it 'til you make it route" when it came to allowing others to bother him. And I won't ever know. But in my mind, Shane had just found a way to not let others in. 

Shane was a physically small person, especially when he was a kid. He got picked on and got sad about it. Mean boys at school got into his head. He used to not be able to order at restaurants because he didn't like confrontation. When he got older, Shane spent much of him time hiding behind a computer screen in a world of gaming -- it was only after his death that I realized he had an entire network of friends in that world and that he hadn't become some sort of scary recluse. If Shane was alive right now, he'd find a way to fly back to Michigan to kill me himself for letting other people know these things. 

What's the point of all of this? Well, somewhere along the line, Shane bootstrapped himself. He joined the Army. He literally left a boy and came home a man, there is photographic evidence of this. Maybe it's something he was taught during Basic. Maybe it was something he taught himself. But I know that when Shane came home, he didn't allow other people to get inside of his head. 

I wish that I could have been like that yesterday, but I wasn't strong enough. Today, however, I am ridding Anonymous from my mind. Yesterday, I told my mom that I never wanted to set foot in my law school again, knowing there was some jerk thinking nasty things about me, but that was just the mean reds talking. I yet again received an outpouring of kind words and texts and emails and phone calls and comments from my actual friends. So today, I am allowing the words that warm my heart to permeate my brain, instead of cruel and ignorant words. I have finals for which I need to study and a chocolate chip waffle to eat and music to hear and friends to sit near to while I study. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

In Re: Jerky, Anonymous Individual Who Commented on my Latest Post

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you so much for not feeling "bad" for me. If I wanted anyone to feel BADLY for me (you see what I did there? I used the English language properly, unlike yourself), I certainly wouldn't be asking anyone at law school. You are a coward and the type of person who gives lawyers a bad name.

You claim to have been around me "enough to have a pretty good sense of the kind of person you are." Yet, we're clearly not friends. My friends know that I'm NEVER looking for anyone to feel badly for me. They know that sometimes I need a hug and sometimes I need them to tell me a story and sometimes I need them to just sit with me in silence so that I have someone to be near me when the giant hole that has been ripped into my heart starts hurting. They're also not cowards like you, a person hiding behind anonymity to write hurtful things. And I'm woman enough to admit that your words were hurtful. If they had a problem with me, they would tell me to my face because I don't associate myself with sniveling, insensitive assholes like yourself. And if you're actually around me enough at school, you would notice that I've been absent from the building since Shane died. I don't go to school because I don't want pity from anyone. I want my space and to be left alone when I'm at school because it's school and I'm still attempting to become a kick ass lawyer. I don't want to talk to anyone about Shane or how I'm feeling. The times I am at school, I surround myself with my close friends or talk with professors whose opinions matter to me. If I happen to catch myself alone, I keep my head down and pretend to be on my phone so that I don't have to talk to anyone.

You tell me that I should feel grateful and thankful. THANK YOU!!! Your words are just so appreciated and I'm so glad that someone who obviously knows nothing about death or grief or sacrifice told me how I should feel! That's exactly what I needed today and you've just really cleared up so much for me.

You've also probably never had an actual conversation with anyone who is actively serving in our military, or else you wouldn't make such asinine comments about how there isn't a draft right now and how I'm "misguided" at my best and "ignorant" at my worst for calling Afghanistan a shit hole. The reason we aren't in a draft situation is because there are brave men and women who VOLUNTEER to give up their lives, their friends, their family, their freedom, so that some whiner like you doesn't have to get drafted. If you'd like to have a conversation with a brave man or woman, please let me know and I will make sure that one of them contacts you when they aren't busy risking their lives in some shit hole so that some asshole like yourself can hide behind a computer screen.

I started this blog as a place for people to donate money that goes directly to Shane's brothers who are still fighting in Afghanistan. The amount of money that we've raised is amazing and is going to help over 30 men during the upcoming cold Afghan winter, as we are able to supply them with the best boots that money can buy so that they might better navigate the rough terrain in which they are often fighting, along with cold weather gear for when they are out on long missions.

I'm guessing that you haven't donated anything. If you're so grateful for Shane's death, put your money where your big mouth is and make a donation.

I also started the blog so that everyone who knew and loved Shane could easily find funeral information and could share memories about Shane with one another.

I've kept writing because I am a writer and my words touch people. I'm not patting myself on the back, but after having 100s of people tell me how much they enjoy reading this blog, I've started to believe them. This blog keeps Shane's memory alive for me and for others. And it's therapeutic for me to write. I write in a stream of consciousness style intentionally. Since you're an idiot, I'll explain and let you know that means that I write whatever is in my head at the time. I don't want my writing to be too edited or too nice. I want it to be real. And if I'm doing my job properly, that means that the reader might gain a small sense of what I feel. Obviously, this entry wasn't one of my best since it produced such a cruel comment from you. My choice in writing style also means that I don't write about every thought and feeling that comes into my head, or I'd be on the computer all day. So if you read through my entries, you won't find any posts really expressing how grateful and thankful I am for everyone who has been so kind to my family and me in the past 30 days. My reason? Not like you deserve to know, but for the other people who read this blog, it's because there are simply not words in the English language that express exactly how grateful and thankful I am. Shane was loved by so many and his death affected so many. And I feel that love on a daily basis. I wish that I had the words to adequately express how grateful I am, but I don't have those today. Today, I felt angry at Shane for being dead, so that's what I wrote about. It's something that I know other people who have gone through what I'm experiencing have probably felt. It's honest. It's real. It's not a pretty emotion and I feel sick to my stomach for feeling this way. But it's what I feel. And I made myself a promise when I began writing here that I would write what I felt in my heart, no matter how ugly that feeling.

I'm going to leave your comment, Anonymous. I knew when I started writing that there would be comments that I might not like. Thanks for being my first! We'll always have this special memory together. It is a free country after all, and according to some stuff I've learned at the law school we allegedly both attend, the First Amendment allows assholes like you the freedom to make ignorant comments.

So thanks so much for your words. They've just really been so helpful to me today. Oops, there I go getting all pissy. "My bad."


Elizabeth Reifert

Because "Happy One Month of Being Dead" Just Doesn't Sound Proper

It's snowing, and everything always seems so much bleaker when there are white flecks of frozen ice streaming across a window pane.  

Shane died one month ago today. And life is still happening all around me. I had it in my head that today wouldn't effect me. It's just a date on a calendar, after all. 

I should be studying. I have finals. I'm in law school. I need to finish law school. I need to keep living. I need to be pretending to be happy until I actually start being happy. I keep telling myself that. I know Shane wouldn't want me to just give up after I've worked so hard over the past 2 and a half years of my life. Submission is easy. It doesn't take much to just give up. People give up all the time. Because other people tell them they can't do something. Because life gets in the way. Because actually following through with a plan is easier said than done. 

Shane would always tell me that unless you were shot directly in the heart, you died because you gave up wanting to live. That you didn't want to fight anymore and let death take you. He was so adamant about this. And I think about that all the time. And it makes me furious at my dead brother. Because he wasn't shot directly in the heart. 

According to his logic, he should be alive right now. He should have had some serious internal bleeding and should have been flown to Germany for medical care and then Walter Reed and he should have been in a hospital bed for a while and we should have visited him while he was in that hospital bed and yelled at him for giving us such a scare but really have just been grateful that he was in a hospital bed and not a box in the ground and he should have had some sarcastic retort and given the halfway smile that we both use all the time and he should have started to heal and then he should have gone back to Fort Campbell, where he would be right now, doing some POG work that he would hate, biding his time before he got to go back and fight some more. That's what should have happened. But that's not what actually happened. He shouldn't be in a box in the ground, rotting, or maybe frozen, but he is.

Sometimes I yell at him for having given up. I yell at him for not paying more attention and for not being more aware of his surroundings. For not wanting to live enough to keep fighting against death. For letting death win. For not choosing life. I get mad at my dead brother. And then I get mad at myself. It's a disgusting thing to admit, that I get mad at a dead person. It's selfish. It's gross. But it's honest. It's what I feel. It's not what anyone is telling me to feel. 

Shane, I get so mad at you for not living. For leaving me. For leaving mom and dad. For leaving your brothers. For leaving all of us. For being the first one to die. I know you would have wanted it that way. I can picture it in my head -- 

God or whomever is allegedly in charge of things up there getting off of his fat ass and coming down here to lowly Earth, and walking up to you saying, "Well Shane, I know that this might not be the best time. I know you're here because some assholes have declared jihad in my name against America and then some American bureaucrat who doesn't know anything about anything made a decision to put you in a shit hole for 12 months. And I know you've had a rough go of things while you've been here. But someone has to go today." 

You would have become solemn and purse your lips and look down at the ground, maybe kick some rocks with your boot. You'd look God in the eyes, even though most people probably wouldn't be able to do that. God would say, "I already know what you're going to choose, because I am God, after all, and even though I let you think you have free will, I'm still omniscient and all powerful. But I need to ask you anyways, Shane. Someone has to go today. Who is it going to be? Is it going to be one of them?," as God would wave his arm, pointing toward other soldiers, "Is it going to be one of your brothers, Shane? Or is it going to be you?" 

And Shane would have taken a deep breath and replied, "It's gonna be me." 

And that would've been the end of it. God would have given him a somewhat quick death for making such a selfless decision, allowing a stray bullet to hit Shane when he was least expecting it, and then allowing Death to slip in to take Shane's soul to where ever souls go and then the rest of the story would unfold. Not that Shane was some sort of constantly self-sacrificing lamb. But I know in my heart that he would have given his life for his brothers. Because that's really what infantrymen fight for -- one another. Not America. Not the Constitution. Not the president. Not the government. But for their brothers. Yes, they sign paperwork and recite oaths to protect America and the Constitution and the president and the government. But, from everything Shane ever told me about war, those things become intangibles. Concepts. Far away thoughts. President Obama isn't going to swoop in and kill all of the bad guys when they have their sights on you. The Constitution isn't going to give you water when you've consumed all of your own and there isn't more coming for 48 hours. The government won't tell you a joke to make you crack a smile when you need it the most, when you're at your lowest because you've been out in the field for over a week without a shower or a change of clothes or a reminder of home or a moment without having to be alert to the fact that someone is attempting to kill you. But your brothers will do all of those things for you and more. Because they know what it's like. Because they're the only people in the world who really have any idea of what you're going through. And Shane knew all of those things, which is why I have a 5% understanding of those things and why I know that I shouldn't be mad at him for being dead. I should be happy that he lived. That he loved. That he was doing what he wanted to do with his life.

But knowing all of this leaves me with no catharsis. It leaves me staring out a window, watching white flecks of frozen ice blur together.