Rick didn’t have many possessions.
Among the items I sorted through that belonged to him were books, board games, a collection of wooden ducks, and photographs. Mice had found their way into the drawers containing his towels and bedding and chewed through the material. A landscape painting of a small town nestled in the trees at the base of a mountain rested against the wall. The walls of the camper where Rick lived for a short time weren’t big enough to hang the painting and so it rested in a corner waiting to be displayed. Tucked into the edge of the dusty frame was a picture of his youngest daughter Reba.
Although the temperature outside hovered somewhere in the eighties inside Rick’s modest home it was achingly cold. The uniforms he wore in Desert Shield and Desert Storm had been folded neatly and tucked inside two, oversized boxes the lids of which were tied to the bottoms with extra long shoelaces. He had two pairs of sneakers, a pair of loafers, and one military boot with a hole in the sole.
Rick kept his military ribbons, rank insignia, and bars in a weathered jewelry box. His passport, medical papers, and military ID were also in the box along with a photograph of his daughter Nickol. A handwritten note explaining what he would like done with his things in the event he never came home was mixed in among his personal papers. It simply read, “Whoever would like my belongings can have them.”
The idea that my brother’s meager possessions would no longer be in the camper parked in my parent’s backyard made my mother weep bitterly. “It was all I had of him,” she cried, “and now I’m losing that too.” No statement could ease her pain. This is a deep cut that will never rightly heal.
Less than five miles away, on the other side of the small, Midwestern town where my family lives sits Rick’s ex-wife and her husband. The pair reside in the home my brother purchased. The home that’s still in his name. Neither the ex-wife or her husband had good enough credit to get a loan in their own names. For awhile I was able to push the thought of my ex-sister-in-law and the man she had an affair with sitting around the family room where my brother once lived. For awhile I was able to busy myself enough that I didn’t remember him standing by one of the counters in the kitchen drinking coffee. I kept my mind focused on how to handle the items he left behind and tried not to imagine the marginal human beings across town taking turns using my brother’s coffee cup – the one with the ducks on it he liked so well.
And then I couldn’t think of anything but the cowards who took my brother’s life.
I remember my brother’s ex-wife’s smug face telling a courtroom of people that Rick had a dual personality and that his family didn’t know him like she did. How absurd that comment is now that we know she was sleeping with a man she was working with. Video cameras stationed in and around various buildings provided proof of the affair. Footage of the pair making out in my brother’s vehicle is especially chilling.
Child Protective Services in Clarksville, Tennessee, would also have found Rick’s ex-wife’s remarks comical. While my brother was overseas with the 320th Field Artillery Regiment fighting in Desert Shield and Desert Storm the neighbors next door to Rick’s ex-wife and her two children contacted CPS to investigate the way she was treating her daughter. What they overheard her doing prompted the called. I was made aware of those CPS investigations after contacting one of the men Rick served with. Rick left a few things for the men in his unit and when I phoned to ask where those items might be sent I was told about the CPS calls. Thanks to Sergeant First Class Carter, the Youngs, and Sergeant Rice for letting me know what Rick’s ex-wife was doing while he was serving his country.
None of the men Rick served with in the Gulf War were aware of what happened to him. And there wasn’t a single man in the regiment who didn’t offer to help clear his name. All of them spoke highly of Rick and shared stories of his kind heart, generous nature and keen sense of humor. The men in his regiment told me that a special book was put together by the officers in charge of the group and given to each soldier once they returned to the States. The book included pictures of the 320th Field Artillery during the Gulf War. Rick’s ex-wife refused to return that item to him. Someone from the regiment is going to work on putting together another copy for my mom to have. The men in the regiment are going to add personal messages about Rick in the book. They thought my mom would like to read how well thought of Rick was by his fellow soldiers.
I can’t help but think about those of us who have been killed by Rick’s murder and how all of us will die over and over and over again. Even now the people who took my brother’s life sip coffee from his cup and congratulate one another on a job well done.