Day after day the war on Iraq takes the lives of our young American troops. One of those has a name and face to me. Earlier tonight I found out that one of my former students, Kenny, died overseas in Iraq. I've had a lot of students join the military over the years, and there was a particular group of wild young'uns who made the decision to go not long after we went to war. They came to school their senior year and proclaimed they were all going. I was impressed with their maturity, duty, and sense of patriotism.
I can't say that I haven't been dreading the day that I found out that I lost "one of my kids" to the war. I have thought about it a lot because right now there are quite a few of them overseas. Half expecting that it was going to happen sooner or later doesn't make it feel any better, though. I'm heart-broken and weepy like he was more than just some kid who was in my class.
He was more than just some kid in my class. Before moving to the city, I lived in a teeny, tiny town and taught at a high school that only had about 200 students. I taught all of the students for first two years of their high school careers, but after that it wasn't like I forgot them. We teachers worked as a team to help raise these kids, and we were a constant presence in their lives. As the yearbook advisor, I was everywhere capturing everything on film. (My staff members were often also involved in the activities that needed photos taken.) I was there on the football field with them. I was on the dance floor at prom. I was there pinning on their flowers and straightening their caps at graduation. Sometimes I felt like a mom--or at least an auntie.
Kenny will forever be in my mind as that nice guy whom everyone liked. He was an average student, but a good athlete. He always had a smile, and the one I'll remember the most is the one with braces. And with freckles. And a ball cap that I'm sure I had to continually remind him to remove in class. I remember him in some sort of jersey or school athletic wear. Sports were a big deal at our school, and a lot of the students' wardrobes mainly consisted of black and gray clothing with our mascot and school name.
I had seen him since he went into the military. The first time I was so surprised that he was so fit and trim. I hadn't though of him as fat or even pudgy, but with some boot camp training, he came home for a visit standing tall and looking lean. He looked like a man. He acted like a man. How quickly the military matures them!
And I'm sure duty in Iraq matured him even more. There are some pictures of him on his Myspace page, all dressed in his gear, looking like the original bad-ass GI Joe. He looks serious, but healthy. And to me, he still looks young.
And he will always be young, as he was barely 21-years-old.
My heart is so full, yet so broken. Spilling. I'm so damn proud of the man he became, but just deeply saddened that he didn't live too many years walking as that brave, honorable man.