Monday, May 28, 2012

Remembering Travis

Travis with his aunt Jenny (I never had the chance to take a photo with him)
This past Friday night, I was casually strolling through my facebook when I saw a photo someone posted of my friend, Travis Morgado. I stopped to look at the photo and noticed that the caption read R.I.P. My mind raced and I frantically scrolled through his page. I noticed comment after comment giving condolences and R.I.P's. The word 'no' was screaming through my brain as it sunk in. My worst fears had come true, and the person I had hoped would come back from Afghanistan safely was now gone forever. We had e-mailed each other only two weeks before and now he was gone. He was only 25 years old.

That hurts. Writing that hurts. I met Travis not that long ago. I was coming back from DC after my amazing experience lobbying Capitol Hill with my fellow NAPAWF sisters and was boarding my flight when I noticed a young man in fatigues headed towards my seat. I had noticed him earlier, and his uniform piqued my curiosity. For some reason, I felt like I wanted to know his story. Maybe it was because I was an Army brat for the first ten years of my life (a fact that most people don't know about me),with my Bangladeshi immigrant father serving both in the US Army and National Guard reserve. Or maybe it's because my boyfriend, Roberto and my mentor Anthony are also ex-Marines. These people are some of the most important and maybe THE most important people in my life and with that, the military also became a part of my life story, intermingled in my history and in the history of people I love.

I think I spoke to Travis first, and true to my nature (and the name of this blog), I didn't shut up; neither of us did. We talked the during the ENTIRE five hour flight to SF. I don't think I ever spoke to a complete stranger for that long, let alone on a plane. But it was so easy, he was a great listener, and I was so interested in his decision to join the military and where he would be going.  I have strong views against militarism and war, so talking to him was a fascinating insight into why he was enlisted and how he felt about being shipped to Afghanistan. I told him that if he was to go Afghanistan, he should learn about the people, their customs and maintain his humanity the best he could. With this in mind, I promised to send him the book, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, a book about an American who went to Pakistan and Afghanistan to build schools for girls, and how he did it by being respectful and open to the cultures of the communities he was working with.

Travis on the right, just as I remember him on the plane wearing his fatigues. You aren't supposed to wear fatigues on a plane, but he told me all of his clothes had already been sent home so he had no choice ;-)
Photo by: Army OCS 006-11 2nd Platoon Black Hearts
The plane landed, we exchanged information and went down the terminal together. At the door, I introduced him to my boyfriend, and waved good bye...that was the last time I ever physically saw him.

Yet not the last time I heard from him. I sent him my copy of the book and wrote a note for him in the inside cover. We sent e-mails back and forth. He emailed me about his crazy time in Vegas and I emailed him about my plans to go to Vietnam. A week after I met him, he donated $100 to my cause (which I mentioned in an earlier blog post). That act of kindness brought me to tears when I saw the donation pull up. I had just met him and was overwhelmed by his quick generosity. I knew this guy was special.

He was deployed to Afghanistan on March 20. In Afghanistan we continue to email each other. He told me how he was so nervous to be coming in from the outside and commanding men, he didn't know if he could do it right. I sent words of encouragement and told him to watch out for camel spiders. I sent him another book to read. I knew he was glad to have someone to talk to while he was deployed. I always told him to be safe. I wrote it to him, emailed it to him and texted to him. I always wished for his safety.

When I found out about his death from a roadside bomb, I was hysterical. I then saw articles of him posted. It is so weird to see your friend as an article. I felt so sad for his parents and family, I could not imagine what they were going through. I called my boyfriend because he knew what it was like to lose his comrades in war. I called him so angry. I was always angry about the wars, but now war seemed even more meaningless and senseless. Who wins a war? Who ever truly wins a war? The innocent civilians who are murdered ruthlessly as collateral damage? The young men in their prime who are buried by their parents? The politicians making the decisions without facing any of the consequences? Who EVER WINS a war? I ranted these things to Roberto, who had lost many men in his unit, though he himself was never deployed.

I somehow went to sleep that night, with a dose of Tylenol PM and chamomile tea. When I woke up the next morning, I felt like my face had been hit by a truck. The crying and tears had drained me, but I picked myself up and went to an event to meet Congresswoman Barbara Lee, an amazing woman who was one of the few representatives who voted against the Iraq war from the very beginning, and has been a great leader. I knew that Travis would have wanted me to attend this event, to keep following my dreams, to fight the good fight, make connections and change the world. He was excited for me when I was elected to be a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. He told me that I would probably end up all famous and successful one day and forget about the little people like him. That one day when he would tell people that he knew me, they would laugh him off as a crazy old lieutenant.

With Rep. Lee...this one was for you, Travis
I knew back then that I would never forget him. I told him so, but now with everything that has happened, his memory is seared into my heart and mind forever.

I have never lost a friend or family member who was a soldier in a war. Yet I always stopped to look and acknowledged memorials of the thousands of young men and women who lost their lives. In Vietnam. In Iraq. In Afghanistan.  Now I know someone and it has changed me, death always changes the living.

It is Memorial Day today, memorial day will never be the same for me. I think about Travis all the time, the shock has worn off but I am still in disbelief.  Sometimes I fantasize that he will come back and we could continue our friendship, finally get to hang out again. But it's just a fantasy, something that makes me smile and saddens me at the same time.

I wanted to sign this post off with one of the last things Travis wrote to me via e-mail. It was something poignant that stuck with me...

"I think that at one point not even that long ago I was a lot different of a person than I am now. Don't you ever think about how your life would have been different had you just done a couple of things another way? I think that regret is a feeling that can consume a person. It's the difference between a happy person and a sad one, every local I meet here show no signs of regret, they all seem happy with their lives. Complete opposite of most of the soldiers I've met here. I have always believed that there has to be something mentally wrong with a person to pick my job, especially since every other job in the army is more practical, and less dangerous. And the longer I'm in the more I believe that I am right. We are fighting without a purpose, you cannot kill an idea, and yet everyone here is still willing to fight, and just waiting to get shot at." - Travis Morgado

I hope that in the end Travis, you did not have regrets. I know you chose your path, and knew the dangers. Neither of us knows the purpose of war, and it makes me wonder how you felt being over there with this realization. But I will not regret for you, I will always remember you with love and happy memories. I will be that happy person who does not regret. I am grateful that you were in my life.

R.I.P Lt. Travis Morgado, my friend