A letter to Keith on Old Tannehill
A day like any other in the life a newly married private in the Army. I had just gone the gym with a buddy of mine, and all of a sudden I thought of you. My heart skipped a beat, and I asked my friend to drive me to the corner gas station to buy that Street Fighter poster I saw. That was your favorite video game.
I was stationed at Ft. Sam Houston, so your momma decided to move from Killeen to San Antonio to be close to me. It all made sense, and I was excited. We were going to live together as a family. Your momma and I just got married in March, and I couldn't wait to play you in the Street Fighter arcade game. I had been practicing so I could beat you in the game at least once. Keith, you would have liked San Antonio; there are a lot of cute girls here! They would have fallen in love with you because of your blue eyes and how you were so sweet and friendly.
I was living in the barracks at the time, and the desk runner working for the CQ desk (overnight call desk) ran up to find me. He told me I needed to come downstairs it was an emergency. I got my uniform on and rushed down. On the phone was a member of the Red Cross telling me that you had been in a terrible accident, and that I would be granted leave and money to get to Temple Texas. I had no car, so my platoon sergeant offered to drive me the two hours to Scott and White hospital. During the trip down, and in the parking lot as I arrived at the hospital I was numb. I was still trying to comprehend what was happening, and didn’t know how your momma was doing. As I walked through the doors, your great uncle Lou and great aunt Anita were there. I have never met them before, but they knew me. They greeted me and told me where you and your momma was.
As I walked through the doors your momma was sitting by your side weeping. You had tubes and wires all over your body. The officer outside the room told me you had been struck by a car while trying to cross the highway. In emotionally charged times, sometimes you fixate on the weirdest things. I remember becoming angry that you tried to cross the highway; why would you do that? The officer kept talking, telling me that you were with another boy who also got killed. Your momma saw me in the door, and rushed to embrace me, asking me why isn’t the hospital trying to do more for you? She was hysterical, and I had no answers. I never felt so overwhelmed before in my life. I spoke to the physician on duty, and he informed me that you were brain dead. The only reason you looked like you were alive was because of the machines. The doctor, who had no compassion, asked about donating your organs. He proceeded to tell me the procedure of rushing cold water through the organs in order to preserve them and I was horrified. I told him not tell your momma the process, and that I would ask her if she wanted to donate. What’s the first thing that asshole does? Tells your momma the process, and she lost it. I told him to get the fuck out.
Eventually, crushed by the realization that you are gone, your momma consents to the donation. I hold her and take her to a local hotel. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. I can’t breathe. I don’t know what to do. After meeting with the insurance company ten we begin the procedure of planning for your funeral. We drove your body to a funeral home in Mcallister Oklahoma, and the burial would be at Tannehill Cemetery. I had to get with the make up artist who was working on your face for the open casket. She was sad, seeing such a handsome young man pass so young. I told her how you looked the last time I saw you, and she worked to make you look that way. As I watched her trying to put life into your face, I remembered the time when Cherub, my terrier poodle mutt, stole the steak off your plate in the living room and quickly ran off and ate it. You were mad at her, but she loved you. She sat at the window everyday waiting for you to come home until she died.
Old Tannehill Cemetery is very peaceful, nestled out in the country near Mcallister. Your brother gave a speech that was heartfelt, and your cousins were crying. Your mom was gone emotionally and mentally; your were the sweet and loving son who did no harm, loved everyone, and everything. I remember you bringing stray dogs to the house all the time wanting to keep them. When your friend was bullied at home by his dad, you kept asking your mom if he could move in with us. You had plans to join the Air force, become an attorney so you could manage your brothers musical career. You were supposed to grow up tall and handsome with a loving wife and a bunch of kids that we could babysit and spoil. Not lying lifeless in a coffin waiting to be lowered into the ground.
In the days following your death, life got hard for those still alive. Your brother lost his mind, had kids with another person who was mentally ill. Your momma and I raised Skylar and Shiloh, but Zecheria was kept away from us. We miss him so much. It’s been 24 years since you went away, but your momma still cries like it happened yesterday. She struggles with losing you, and time has healed the wounds. But the scars are still painful to the touch. Life goes on, but it’s not as beautiful as it was when you were still alive.
I never had a moment to grieve during your passing, since I was so young and was the only one who could take care of everyone. I had to maintain and be strong while your mom slipped away and your brother became crazy. I waited for a moment of peace to come to me, but it didn’t happen until I penned this letter. I’m not sure what the afterlife will be like for me, but I have faith that when the time comes you will finally get to see everyone who has loved and missed you all this time. I carried this burden around for a long time, and now I can finally release and tell you how much I miss and love you. I can now move on.
© 2017 Augustine A. Zavala