This is the only picture I have of my best friend in high school. His name was Eddie. He served in the U.S. Army for many years. When he got out, he found it difficult adjusting to civilian life. Like many who serve, he had many challenges growing up as a child of divorce and as an African-American kid in a small, largely Caucasian rural town. Through the years, we lost touch and every so often we would reconnect and it was as if a day had not passed by.
Like many of the kids in my hometown, he would party, drink, and engage in whatever illicit drugs were handy for a bored teenager in a small town. But he was treated differently than the white kids. He was harassed and sanctioned harshly in ways that the rest of us kids were able to avoid.
While my juvenile record was sealed, his only grew into adulthood and it made it nearly impossible for him to reenlist in the Army and bring some stability back in his life. So he took his own life.
Eddie was my first friend when I moved into town. I can still picture the confident way he carried himself when walked right up and introduced himself. We were close from that day forward. We spent countless hours, locked in my bedroom, playing video games. I was frequently bullied as a child, but he always defended me, even without me knowing about it. Many of the things he did for me I can’t really describe in words. It just wouldn’t make sense. These are the things that true brothers share. He was smart, well-read, jovial, and surprising. He was one of the few people in my life that offered complete acceptance of the person that I was.
In another world, he would have went to college, had the support from family and friends, had a successful career, and been given the opportunities that many of us take for granted. In this world, he is a daily voice in the back of my mind and the first person I honor on Memorial Day.
This holiday is complicated and messy and misunderstood by most Americans. We can only absorb so much, so we sometimes just take a second and send out that old picture of our dad, mom, or grandparent that served with distinction then move onto the barbecue. For many, the transitions don’t come so easily. Too much was lost. Before our service, during, and for a long time after.
So I hope folks understand that when you help an organization that supports the homeless, you are helping veterans. If you volunteer your time at a local crisis line, you are helping veterans. If you speak out against racism, which is just the right thing to do, you are helping veterans and all those voices that get lost and marginalized.
There are many ways to do it, but do it. Maybe some act of kindness on your part will mean there will be one less soldier to mourn on Memorial Day.
Edward Gregoire, rest in peace brother.