I always took Mass for granted. It was something the family did every Sunday morning until dad’s heart exploded. After that, mom could hardly get me and my little brother to attend school on a regular basis, never mind getting us to Sunday Mass. God knows she tried, but as far as I was concerned, Mass was for sissies. The last time mom got me inside a church, I made such a ruckus, talking and teasing my kid brother, that Father Puglio stopped his sermon and gave me one of those looks, like he might come down from the pulpit and kick my ass if I didn’t shut up. I buttoned my lip but after the way he stared at me, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a church. Besides, as a teenager, I had more important things to do. Staying out all night and partying with my buddies Charlie and Dave took center stage.
Mom made excuses for my behavior— poor attendance and bad grades got me an academic diploma from Riverside High. I think half my teachers felt sorry for me, with dad dying during my junior year, and the other half didn’t want me back the next year. After graduation, hanging out in Charlie’s basement got to be a drag. NAFTA made sure there weren’t any jobs in town; all the factories moved somewhere else in the nineties.
My pal Dave got arrested for breaking into a house. He caught a Judge with a bad temper. Dave got three to five for his first adult offense. I think the judge may have peeked at his juvenile record. About a week after Dave got sentenced, my Uncle Joe popped in. I mean out of thin air like some kind of magic genie, there he is in Charlie’s basement sitting in Charlie’s chair. He starts telling us how things were when he was our age and how bad he had it in Nam and all the bullshit he had to put up with. He goes on and on, I was getting embarrassed. Then he says we should do something with our lives, he tells us to go join the marines. I know it sounds crazy but that’s exactly what Charlie and I did.
Uncle Joe drove us to the recruiting station and the rest is history. Today, I’m a marine stationed in a little sweatbox of a town called Jordan Junction. After boot camp, Charlie and I got separated. Last I heard, his battalion got hit hard up north near Irbil.
This Jordan Junction place is a smuggling funnel for the bad guys. Al-Qaida uses this road to bring all sorts of contraband in from Syria. During the day hours it’s not too bad, but at night this place is like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. A huge caravan, three to four hundred Syrian cleared trucks come through every night. Big deal, so they got papers that say they were inspected by the Syrian border patrol, they’re as bad as their towel head brothers. Every once in a while a rogue truck will join the caravan. Last week one blew up, killed six marines at an inspection point and made five others invalids. Me, I’d rather be dead, saw a guy get both legs and some other stuff blown off in Nasiriyah. One minute he’s riding in the truck ahead of us, next thing you know he’s flying through the air like a scarecrow with no legs. Hit one of those Improvised Explosive Devices, poor bastard. A medical chopper flew him out, we heard he lived. Damn, if we were going a little faster that could have been me.
That’s when I found Jesus, not that he was lost but you know what I mean. I started going to services, made no difference who we had for a field Chaplain. If we had a Baptist Chaplain, I prayed with the Baptist. If we had a Methodist, Lutheran, Mormon, Born Again or whatever; that’s who I prayed with. Today, I pray when I wake up and I pray when I go to sleep. I pray when I walk over to inspect a truck and when I walk away from one. Yesterday they flew in a Priest to say mass and I couldn’t believe my eyes, standing before me in camouflage gear was Father Puglio. He said Mass right in the middle of camp, my entire platoon formed a half circle around him. After mass, he said he wanted to have a little chat with me. I figured I was in for a sermon about being a jerk a few years earlier but it took several minutes for his words to sink in when he said, “Charlie’s in a better place. His remains are on a plane to Dover.”