The only certainty life offers is its end. Other than that, we can find no solace in knowing what life has to offer us. It is the mystery of life, then—the mystique—with which we are forced to cope, and for many adults, this uncertainty is discomforting. Considering the litany of responsibilities to be held and roles to be assumed by adults, it remains difficult for them to enjoy things without the overarching fear of when they will end or who they will affect. For children, however, all of life’s experiences are momentary. When children play in the grass, or splash about in puddles, or sift sand through their fists, or mark their territory in chalk, they do so for their own pure enjoyment, not in order to block out some undesirable reality. Children typically don’t demonstrate the foresight or contextual awareness necessary to predict when their lives will change, and this is one of the fundamental differences between children and adults.
Growing older is a journey, and it is impossible to predict where the meanders and branches of this journey will take us—whether they will bring us closer to or further from those we love. One anecdote I can provide about this journey is not very personal. In fact, with confidence, I’d guess millions upon millions around the world have faced similar experiences, and that may be just cause for deep reflection on behalf of humanity. This is a story of war, maturity, responsibility, love, family, trust, and distance. This story is about the concessions we make in battle—the prime concession being that battle changes us. Battle changes how we view the world in which we live, battle changes how the world in which we live views us, and simply put, battle changes how we live. This is a story chronicling this change.
The story begins with two mocha-skinned, adventurous little boys from the Phoenix/Tempe suburbs. Both boys, cousins, carried with them the inexhaustible humor, patented inquisition, and unrelenting energy one would expect of children; and these traits fared well for the boys on the sweltering days of Arizona summer, when the boys sought out ways to entertain themselves. As children, the boys basked in the beauty of simplicity; that was, days on which the most pressing concerns were how to make a fort stand upright or how long to wait until the hose water was cool enough to sip. Such simplicity, of course, prefaced the necessary evil that is aging—responsibility—adulthood—and the momentary, free-flowing bliss granted to children would soon give way to a more regimented lifestyle.
The two boys grew—never apart, but older and more mature. On the happiest of days, their bond was that of two friends, and on the most trying of days, their bond was that of two confidants, and these relationship dynamics never wavered. One of the signatures of growing older, however, is a need to find oneself—a need to identify how we each fit into the global puzzle. Alternative to the lacking contextual awareness of children is the development of contextual awareness in adults; accompanying the coming of age is a necessity to fit somewhere, and that necessity sends us all on a journey. This is the journey of adulthood. Neither of the boys was immune to this necessity, and as a result, each of them ventured to find themselves over the course of the next few years; again, never eroding their bond. Grades, birthdays, proms, concerts, athletic events, and more passed, each molding the boys into the men they were to become. In 2010, one of the boys fulfilled his dreams of going to college—attending a school for journalism, in fact; that same year, the other fulfilled his dreams of enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps, by that point, providing for a family of his own. To this point, this story is one of age, maturity, responsibility, love, and trust. Eventually, however, the story became one of distance and, quite literally, battle and war, as well. In December of 2011, the man who had enlisted in the Marine Corps was deployed to Afghanistan. By then, the other man became a freelance writer and multimedia journalist. And, perhaps, characteristic of their relationship since childhood, and demonstrative of their camaraderie—their love—their support, while one served in battle, the other wrote and reported to ensure the world never forgot. As it may seem, such a bond is deeper than the Atlantic Ocean is wide.