his name is mick. or mike. or mikey. or sergeant. or . . .
for me . . . tiger.
i don’t say it a lot.
i used to simply say it once when i would first see him . . . like . . .
i do get away with calling him mikey.
i’m sure he doesn’t care for it. but you’d never hear him say a word
to me against it. he puts up with it! he and i go a long way back.
he came into my life in the summer of 1975.
his poor little mother had a dangerous case of poison ivy.
she was really suffering with it.
can you imagine not even being able to pick up your new baby?
so . . .
i was allowed the privilege of caring for him for a few days until she
recovered enough. then later . . . when she returned to work
i was able to take care of him for a few weeks . . . before daycare.
and in those first weeks, i think a wonderful friendship took place
between him and me. a friendship that looks as if it will last all the
days of our lives.
number one. he’s the marine’s only son.
number two. he’s very like the marine in many ways . . . not to even
mention jim reed . . . the grandfather he never met.
he’s got their genes for sure. it’s in the way he stands and the things
he feels are important. like integrity. and courage. and just ‘getting
on with it.’ his whole demeanor. and the way he is with his troops.
he’s a leader. i think it’s born in you.
but i’m getting ahead of my story.
he single handedly helped me to ‘get on with it’ once. and he doesn’t
even remember it. he had just turned 4 years old.
when bob died . . . i moved to the town where the tiger and his family
lived. i wanted to be closer then to the only family i had left. so i moved
from tulsa the day after the funeral.
i got an apartment across from their block of apartments.
it was a big complex.
the two units were separated by a drive and parking.
i would look out my window and watch him come across.
she and i were both watching him. he didn’t know that.
his mom would allow him to come to ‘my house’ every afternoon after
i got home from work. he brought with him a little sack containing
two twinkies. i would supply the milk. we would have a party.
just the two of us.
and we visited about whatever his interest was that day.
we would sit at my round table and have discussions about life.
he liked dinosaurs.
he told me in a hushed awed little voice one day . . . in total seriousness
“tam. do you know what? a dinosaur breathed on my hand.”
i was properly awed too.
he went through a period of talking about “jim.”
jim was imaginary.
“jim” was his friend. and “jim” wore a badge. “jim” was tall.
my marine and i were amazed. we never used jim reed’s name.
it was either ‘dad’ for my brother . . . or ‘daddy’ for me. besides.
we never even talked about him that much.
that remained a mystery for some time.
one night in the darkest hour of my soul. the darkness got too dark.
i was beyond grief. my other half was gone. i had suffered right along
with every agonizing moment. months and months of it.
two years actually.
when it was finally over i had washed up on the desolate beach
that was my life.
i saw little in the way of that life ahead for me. i was just refuse.
i was at my weakest point.
it was simply that it had been a long long time that i hadn’t known a
normal existence. i know now that i was exhausted on every level.
i know that now. i didn’t know that then.
all i knew then was a continuation of the anguish.
one dark night i went into the kitchen of my apartment.
the little night light was on over the stove.
i had kept the bottle of bob’s last pain pills before he had to have
help that could only be supplied when we went to the hospital
for the last time. when the cancer came back . . . it came back into his
bones. and the liver and the stomach. the pain was excruciating.
the bottle in my hand was full of dilaudid . . . a derivative of morphine.
there was more than enough to do the job.
minimalist that i was and still am . . . i never put anything on my
refridgerator. not the magnets and snapshots and what-have-you’s
that most people do.
only i HAD put up a very important picture. and it turned out that
that picture saved my life.
tiger had drawn around his little hand. and his mom had helped him
write these words . . . i love you tam
i had emptied the bottle. the pills were in my hand.
the milk was in my glass.
i saw that picture.
i still have that picture.
only now . . . his little hand print has already faded away.
that note from my tiger that saved my life is 33 years old. the writing
is still strong. just as it was that dark night so long ago . . .
with big enough letters to be seen through the dark and pain.
he and i used to spend time in army-navy surplus stores.
it was his favorite thing in the whole world.
he knew what every medal meant. he knew which beret was for which
he said one day he would wear a beret for this country.
his dad refused to allow him to ‘buy’ any medals or a beret. it’s not
something to deal with lightly. those are things you “earn.”
so we would spend hours just ‘looking.’ absorbing.
he joined civil air patrol as soon as he was old enough.
he loved anything to do with airplanes.
i gave him his uncle bob’s log book.
he doesn’t remember bob. but bob adored him.
they were both star wars fans.
as a matter of fact . . . it was his first movie on the big screen.
we had asked permission. but i watch that now and i think . . .
“what were we thinking!!!” it’s so violent.
it is. but it’s also fantastical. and full of imagination. and he loved it.
he has done many things in his short life so far. too many to name.
there is a beautiful sterling silver buckle in colorado springs that was
a cowboy’s national award. it was totally engraved by the tiger.
it’s a work of art. if you’re ever at the biltmore there . . . check it out.
he went through a stage where he loved being a cowboy and around
horses. he worked for awhile at a dude outfit.
one day he was taking a group of “dudes” that all happened to be asian.
i think from japan. every single one of them had a camera.
they were lovely people. very interested in the handsome young cowboy
that was getting their group ready.
he mounted his horse and . . .
for whatever reason . . . the horse got spooked. it reared. again and again.
the tiger stayed with him. holding on. it was better than any rodeo.
the horse bolted through some low hanging brush. he turned. and
reared again. boy was that horse spooked!
tiger hung on for dear life. he finally gentled him enough to get control.
the horse relaxed. the cowboy had stayed on.
the asian people were delighted. they had been snapping away with their
cameras. almost in unison they said “do again! do again!”
they thought it was planned i guess! lol.
he married a beautiful blonde. she met him at work where they both
were doing the engraving of silver. the company is since gone.
but it achieved its purpose for young romance.
they married and later had two little boys.
the tiger joined the united states air force. he is military police.
i will never forget the first time i saw him in his beret.
he’s very, very good at what he does.
he’s pushing 6 feet tall. he has hair that’s almost black and eyes as
dark as night. he’s a handsome man.
but it’s very strange. i swear. there are times i look up at that guy
and all i can see is that 4 year old little boy who allowed a dinosaur
to breathe on his hand.
his mom and dad were always generous in sharing this son with me.
and now . . . i get to share his own sons. one is 8 and one is 13.
they think the same thing about their dad as the marine and i probably
thought about ours. “he’s so strict!”
but in the long run. those kinds of dads command a respect that never
he has that same respect from the men serving under him today.
as a matter of fact . . . the tiger just won the national police shooting
championship match 8. the 1500 semi automatic open class.
it was sponsored by the NRA.
he competed with law officers of every rank and kind from across
this entire nation.
he shot a perfect score.
jim reed would be pleased for that boy. the grandson he never met.
and he would be proud of that difficult accomplishment.
but he would be even more pleased that there is no swagger in this
young man. there is that same calm . . . confident . . . non-ego that
his own father has. and that jim reed had.
there is simply a difference in men.
some feel that they have to brag.
some feel that they have to swagger when they walk.
some men seem to feel they have to “work” at being men.
not my men.
yes they are proud. but it’s a pride in service. and therein lies the
maybe it starts when they’re just 4 and their dad says “no. you can’t
just buy that kind of thing. you have to earn it.”
that’s where it starts. and
that’s a good start.
getting ready to do a walkabout in iraq . . .
this young man. my tiger. has been deployed already four times.
i know he missed first words. and first steps.
but like so many others who serve this land . . .
it just goes with the job.
and he does that job well.
he’s got his own beret. he earned it.