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

Monday, January 23, 2012

"This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace on Earth." - translated from a plaque at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial

Before Shane deployed to Afghanistan, he began to cut back on his communication with our family. Phone calls became less frequent and went unanswered. Conversations were shorter. Darker. His voice tense. Always holding back and keeping conversation light. Speaking words, but not really talking.  

The day before Shane got on a plane with the rest of the men of Bravo Company, he called me. I was surprised to see his name appear on my phone screen. I was standing on my futon, overlooking my giant open window, and hanging paper cranes.  The sunlight was so beautiful that day. It bounced off of the windows across the street. It hit the paper cranes, many of which were made of reflective paper. There was a breeze that came in through the window that allowed me to wear a sweatshirt and not be too hot or too cold.  It was the sort of weather that happens only a few times a year in Michigan.

Hey Buddy. What’s up?

Hey Bethie.

What’s going on?

Nothing. Just packing. Hey – Johnson wants to know how to . . .

There we were, having a completely normal conversation, as if nothing big was happening. The phone call consisted of attempting to explain international cell phone data plans to Shane to relay to one of his friends. It ended abruptly. Shane rushed off of the phone, saying something about an inspection. And that was it.

I sat on my windowsill, honored and hurt at the same time. So I looked at the cranes, hung with fishing wire and tape, as the moved in the breeze.

And I thought about Sadako Sasaki.

When I was in grade school, I learned about Sadako Sasaki, the girl who attempted to fold one thousand paper cranes. Japanese legend holds that anyone who folds one thousand cranes will have a wish granted by the gods. Sadako lived in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped and was hospitalized due to the effects of the bomb. She attempted to fold one thousand cranes, but died from leukemia, caused by radiation exposure, before completing her goal.

Her friends completed the task and buried the cranes with her.

As I sat cross-legged on the windowsill, I realized that I was okay with that being my last conversation with Shane before he deployed. It was normal. It wasn’t forced. There wasn’t a painful goodbye. I knew in my heart that I would talk to him again. I just didn’t know how little time I had left.

So I went back to hanging my paper cranes. I never made one thousand of them. Never came close and never even tried.

Nowadays, the paper cranes are packed away in a storage container. Saved up, I suppose, for a time that I might need the gods to grant me a wish.