Sunday, December 25, 2005
It all started about the same as any other year. Except for my youngest daughter, Jaime, calling to tell me that she was pregnant on the day after New Year's. That was quite a shocker because she was (and still is) single and very, very young to be a mom. At the time she was 18.
A few weeks later Maxx was finally able to find full-time employment after being laid off for nearly three years from a major oil company. After he was laid off we left Houston for the Hill Country of Texas where we tried to make a living. During the time we were there we survived a 500-year flood (FEMA didn't do much of anything then, either, except follow the TV cameras around). For him to finally be working again was a tremendous relief for both of us.
In February it was a year since Jeremy's death. We had turned the wheel and come full circle through one of the toughest years I can remember in my life. In a few weeks it will be two years. I can't say it's getting any easier because I miss him more and more each passing day, but I will say that I'm learning to live with the knowledge that I'll never see him again in this lifetime.
Love for another human being does not stop when they die. It continues for as long as there are people on this earth who remember those who have passed to the summerland before us.
Early on in the year I stumbled across Gold Star Families for Peace and started corresponding with several members. I cannot express what a relief it was to finally find people who felt the way about the war that I did at that time. Honestly, there were times when I did feel that I was being unpatriotic and selfish because I didn't agree with the war and hated George Bush. I don't feel that way anymore.
In April Maxx and I were blessed by the arrival of our second granddaughter, Logan Marie. She is a beautiful little blonde haired, hazel eyed Gerber baby. Logan is one of the happiest little ones I've ever had the pleasure of being around.
June came around and I had a breakdown of sorts. I got tired of reading the bumper sticker on the local bubba's trucks that said "Freedom Ain't Free", so I sat down and vented via my keyboard and computer. I sent my essay to Cindy Sheehan and she forwarded it on to several venues where she was being published on a regular basis. That was the start of my writing. Before then I had become involved quietly and behind the scenes with writing letters to politicians, local groups, Senators, Congressmen/women, television, radio and newspapers.
The month of August, it seems, was a vortex of craziness for me. I started a new job and Jaime's baby was due. I was planning to go to the Veteran's for Peace convention in Dallas, Texas and to meet Cindy Sheehan for the first time. A few days before leaving, Cindy called me and said she wanted to go to Crawford to protest George Bush because he said our sons and American's sons and daughters were dying for a noble cause in Iraq. So, I drove to Dallas on a Friday morning, met Cindy (she was in her pajamas finishing breakfast in the cafeteria), attended a few sessions of the convention and got to meet a lot of really neat people. That night Cindy, Dede, Margaret, Sherry and myself went out to dinner.
The next morning, Saturday, August 6, 2005 is a day that will go down in the history books. I boarded the White Rose with Cindy and the Vets and we led a caravan of cars from Dallas to Crawford. The rest, they say, is history!
I stayed in Crawford that first night, but had to go home Sunday afternoon. I went back the next weekend and was shocked/surprised at the chagnes that had taken place in the few days I had been gone. It was stunning! I was moved to tears. All week long I had been watching the news reports, but they just didn't do what was going on there justice at all.
On August 18 my grandson, Aiden Russell, came into the world. I was in the delivery room with Aiden's Mama. It was a real joy to see my first grandson come into the world. He is a good baby and I adore him with all my heart!
Since August I have gone completely public with my activism, though some interesting things have also happened. I come from a very disconnected family and so does my husband. I know both of our families have seen my face on TV and have read the interviews I've given to newspapers. I know they've seen my picture in newspapers (one very prominently used across the country from the Cheney/DeLay fundraiser and protest). Yet, not one of our parents have said one thing or asked one question about it.
I have written alot, done alot, learned alot and met a lot of very fine people. This year I have been so very blessed in my life. Sometimes I sit in wonder and awe and am so grateful for my good fortune in meeting so many good, likeminded people. I look forward to 2006 and all that it may have to offer, the new experiences and the people. I find myself hopeful that there will be some resolution of the war in Iraq and this corrupt, shameful, criminal administration that is running our country right now.
As Jeremy used to say: "It's All Good!"
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
This picture is the site of Jeremy's accident, taken about three days later. I have not ever been there and have no intention at this time of ever going there.
Below is a document I sent via email and fax to my Congressmen/women and Senators. It also is on www.afterdowningstreet.org and went out to numerous friends to encourage all to write our elected representatives, tell them to use Jeremy's example of bravery and courage to do what is right for this country and end this war.
Today I want to tell you the story of the death of my son, Jeremy. I want you to know of his courage and bravery, the honor he showed in the final moments of his life. I hope that, through hearing his story, you will find the honor and courage to do what is right for our country in these turbulent times.
Sgt. Jeremy Russell Smith died on February 13, 2004 around 9:00 a.m. just outside of Ft. Hood, Texas. He was only 22 years old.
That morning, after roll call, Jeremy and his unit where dismissed from the base for a final 48-hour leave of absence before they were to leave for duty in Iraq. Jeremy and several of his buddies took a shuttle of some kind and went to a car rental place at the airport (in Killeen, I believe). Jeremy rented a 2003 Honda Accord. He and one of his buddies were on their way back to the North gate of Ft. Hood, in Gatesville, when he died.
The story I have been told by Jeremy’s buddies is that he and one of his friends were driving on Highway 36 to the base, on a two lane road. Now, if you haven’t ever been in that part of Texas, let me describe it for you. It is in the Hill Country, which is filled with two lane twisting, turning, winding roads. The roadsides are full of trees and fields for as far as you can see. It is truly beautiful country.
Apparently Jeremy was in a hurry to get back to the base. His friend, who was in the car behind him, told me that Jeremy passed a car in a no-passing zone. There was an 18-wheeler coming from the opposite direction and Jeremy saw it too late. He couldn’t get back into his lane without causing an accident. The only choice he had, the only chance he had, was to go off the road.
In a split second decision, Jeremy went off the road. He hit a stand of trees going 80 miles an hour. The impact broke his car into pieces and took at least four trees out with him. At least one of the trees hit Jeremy in the head, killing him instantly. Jeremy was wearing his seatbelt at the time of the accident. No one else was hurt in the accident.
At his funeral, I was presented with an Army Commendation Medal for Jeremy’s bravery and courage.
The Army taught Jeremy three things. Honor. Duty. Country. On that cold morning in February these things came into play. The honor he learned from the Army told him he could harm no one else. Jeremy made a mistake, he took responsibility for his mistake and for this he paid with his life. He knew it was a possibility when he went off that road. Every day for the rest of my life I will wonder what went through his mind in those final moments of his life. At least I know that my son died with honor, showing courage and bravery and took responsibility for his actions. In this I have some sense of peace in my grief.
Now, I ask of you, the leaders of this country, the people who have the power to end this war, to learn from Jeremy. You called him to leave his home, his family and his school to serve his country, to put himself in harm’s way in a foreign country. He did so willingly and without question. Even though he was scared to death of going into the hostile environment of Iraq, he wanted to go and help the people of that country have a better life. He believed what he was told by you, the leaders of this country, and he wanted to do his part. He showed his Honor, his Courage and Bravery. He walked the walk.
If you are still sitting on the fence, undecided or fearful of the consequences of admitting that you were wrong in sending our sons and daughters to war, remember Jeremy. You can pay no higher price for a bad decision than he did. The American people are waiting for you to stand up and speak out against this war. We are waiting for you to come forward and show your Honor, your Courage and your Bravery the way Jeremy did and the way so many others have and will continue to do.
It is not a noble to continue this war just to justify the deaths of so many who have already died for the lies of this war. It is not honoring them to “stay the course” when we know we are there for all the wrong reasons.
Remember these three words: HONOR. DUTY. COUNTRY. They are on Jeremy’s headstone at the Houston National Cemetery. He lived by those words. It’s time you did so as well.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
24 years ago today my son, Sgt. Jeremy R. Smith, was born. Today, in honor of his birthday, I went to see my son and wish him a happy un-birthday. You see, Jeremy is dead, taken away from his family and friends nearly twenty months ago. He was in the Army Reserves and was called to active duty. Two years ago, two days after Thanksgiving (which was his birthday that year – and the last he was to ever celebrate), his stepfather, Maxx, and I took him to report for active duty in Huntsville, TX.
For my family, holidays and birthdays are now marred by sadness and a bittersweet sense of longing for and memories of our beloved son and brother. Besides his parents (both birth parents and step parents), Jeremy left behind two younger sisters, Danielle and Jaime, who loved him dearly, four younger stepbrothers, and a myriad of other family members who loved him. I heard that one of his step cousins, who has the same first name as Jeremy, recently joined the Army Reserves and asked to be in the same unit Jeremy was in.
This morning, instead of waking Jeremy up the way I almost always did every year when he was growing up, by going in his room, kissing his silly face all over and singing “Happy Birthday!” to Jeremy, instead of opening presents and eating cake, Maxx and I went to the cemetery with balloons, flowers, a beer and a cigarette for our beloved son.
The holiday season in America is now in full swing. But for us and 2100+ other American families, there will be little of the joy they brought in the past. Our lives are changed forever, our holidays tainted, our hearts left aching.
For them, we must stop this evil, hideous war. One more death, American or Iraqi, is one too many.
Today is Jeremy's 24th birthday. He was born at 1:50 a.m. on a snowy morning in Provo, UT. I was all of 19 years old and his father was 21. I went into labor with Jeremy Thanksgiving Day, so I didn't get to have any of the Thanksgiving feast that the rest of the family had.
Jeremy's changed my life more profoundly than anyone else has ever done. He did this once by his birth, plunging me into the world of motherhood for the first time. And he did it again with his death, taking me into the world of unthinkable sadness and grief.
Today, instead of birthday presents, cake, ice cream and sharing a beer with my only son, the firstborn of my womb, my husband and I will be going to the cemetery where we will leave roses, smoke a cigarette and drink part of a beer to remember Jeremy.
That's really all we have left now, is our memories. I have pictures of him, pieces of his artwork from when he was a little boy, his computer, some of his clothes. Jeremy really didn't have very much in the way of possessions. For a long time I couldn't look at pictures of my handsome boy because they broke my heart and I would cry for hours, missing that face. I knew I would never be able to caress that face the way I had always done throughout his life. I knew that I would never again look into his dark, expressive eyes and I would never again see his smile.
Today I mourn my son, the loss of that life so precious to me and my family. But I also honor the birth of a baby boy who made my life so complete, so right. The little boy who sat in the rocking chair with me and watched Big Bird on Sesame Street, who loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Smurfs, and most of the rest of the kid-related shows on TV in the 80's when he was little.
I cannot talk about Jeremy's life without including his sisters. Eleven months after Jeremy was born, I gave birth to a little girl, Danielle. Jeremy and Danielle were very close growing up, almost like twins. From the day I brought Danielle home from the hospital Jeremy loved her. He would walk up to her crib and put his arm in through the bars to pat her on the head. As soon as he could figure it out, he started calling her "Sissy", a name that stuck with her for years. The two of them were inseperable for most of their lives. They had most of the same friends until they were in high school. They were competitive and what one didn't think of doing the other did, constantly keeping me on my toes. The two of them were constantly in trouble!
Jeremy and Danielle develed their own language when they were little, a language that only the two of the understood most of the time, though their dad and I could understand some of it. It took a couple of years of speech therapy to work all of that out, but they eventually did.
The funny thing was, Jeremy was honest to a fault as a little boy. So honest, in fact, that he often ended up tattling on himself! I knew I could trust him because he would end up telling me if he did something he shouldn't have.
When Jeremy was five years old, his baby sister, Jaime, was born. Again, he loved her instantly and there was never even so much as a moment of jealous when she was little.
One time our family took a vacation to California so we could go to Disneyland and the beach. Jaime was about five or six at the time. She was playing in the water close to the waterline and Jeremy was a little bit further out. Jaime started calling for help as she got caught in a rip tide and couldn't get a footing in the same, so Jeremy went running to her and caught her as she went under the water and brought her out of the water. She was scared and clinging to her big brother. They both talked about how Jeremy saved Jaime's life for years (Jaime still does). That was a proud moment for Jeremy. He was only 12.
Looking back, that was pretty characteristic for my son, although I didn't realize until his death and other family events came to light that I had been kept in the dark about. Jeremy always felt he was the protector in our family and it was his responsibility to take care of me and his sisters. He and I butted heads constantly over this. But he didn't think his dad was doing a good enough job (rightly so) and so he took it upon himself to be the man in the family.
I even miss the things about Jeremy that I found extremely annoying and obnoxious about him. Things like the fact that he would wear a pair of pants or a shift until it fell off of him before he'd wash it. But he'd shower and shave every day. I couldn't understand that. He could make the most annoying sounds when I wanted him to be quiet. He was stubborn as hell and equally smart. In the ninth grade he had to write a paper for an English class, which he did. He had me check it over for spelling and punctuation and that was all the help he had. I watched him do the research and write the paper. But his teacher didn't want to accept the paper because she thought he had plaigerized and there was no way any student at this level could write something so good. I had to go to the school and vouch for him.
Jeremy's teenage years were full of a lot of angst and trials. He did his time with drugs and had run ins with gangs. We lived in a tough part of the Dallas area. He spent time in rehab and in counselling. Eventually he refused to go to school and locked himself in his room, refusing to leave the house or have anything to do with his friends.
The year after he graduated from high school, we moved to Houston. Ten months later his dad and I split up and divorced. Jeremy was angry about that for a long time. He and I really experienced some trials throughout the next couple of years and didn't get along well at all. When I remarried Jeremy threatened his stepdad and caused a lot of problems, which I won't get into. Eventually he came around and realized that my new husband only wanted for me what Jeremy had wanted all along and they became the best of friends.
Jeremy joined the Army in January or February 2001, months before 9/11. He was in the Reserves. The Army was good for him and I am glad for it and what it did to help him mature and change into the amazing young man he eventually became. I saw the most dramatic difference in the months after he was called to active duty until his death. Facing the prospect of going to a war zone, Jeremy let his walls crumble and his love for his family show.
I miss my son. I wonder what he would be doing today if he were still alive. He would have finished his degree at ITT and be working. Maybe he'd be married or at least have a girlfriend.
The baby picture at the top of this entry is the first picture I can remember that was taken of Jeremy. All I have left is my memories, my pictures, a few of his possessions and one dirty old shirt that still smells like him.
Love never dies.