finishing up at university / leaving the people you’ve grown up with and the faculty that have pulled and pushed and taught you is always hard, regardless. but i just saw the references i’ve received from various profs and now i’m in that weird emotional-happy-nostalgic-boundless-appreciation bubble and…, urgh. ok.
I’ve never even heard of Misrata before, but for your whole life it was there on a map for you to find and ponder and finally go to. All of us in the profession—the war profession, for lack of a better name—know about that town. It’s there waiting for all of us. But you went to yours, and it claimed you. You went in by boat because the city was besieged by forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi (another name you probably never gave much thought to during your life) and you must have known this was a bad one. Boat trips are usually such nice affairs, but not this one. How strange to be out on the water off a beautiful coastline with the salt smell and the wind in your face—except this time, you’re headed toward a place of violence and killing and destruction. You must have known that the unthinkable had to be considered. You must have known you might not ever get back on that boat alive.
You and I were always talking about risk because she was the beautiful woman we were both in love with, right? The one who made us feel the most special, the most alive? We were always trying to have one more dance with her without paying the price. All those quiet, huddled conversations we had in Afghanistan: Where to walk on the patrols, what to do if the outpost gets overrun, what kind of body armor to wear. You were so smart about it, too—so smart about it that I would actually tease you about being scared. Of course you were scared—you were terrified. We both were. We were terrified and we were in love, and in the end, you were the one she chose.
I’m in the truck with you. I’m imagining those last minutes. You’re on your back watching the tops of the buildings jolt by and the blue Mediterranean sky beyond them. I almost drowned once, and when I finally got back to the beach I was all alone and I just lay there watching the clouds go by. I’d never really thought about clouds before, but there they were, all for me, just glorious. Maybe you saw those clouds, too, but you weren’t out of it yet, and you probably knew it. I know what you were thinking: What a silly way to die. What a silly, selfish, ridiculous mistake to have made.
Don’t think that, brother. You had a very specific vision for your work and for your life, and that vision included your death. It didn’t have to, but that’s how it turned out.