I Love a Dead Kid Whom I’ve Never Met

I have been going through a quarter life crisis since I turned 20, almost eight years ago.  Unfortunately, my quarter life crisis has not included cool cars, hot 18 year olds with six packs or new hair-cuts.  My crisis has been a whirlwind of self-doubt, an anesthetized heart, and an overall identity crisis.  In other words, middle class white girl problems.  So, what did I do instead of the hot 18-year-old?  I signed up to volunteer and I got a tattoo to commemorate a dead kid I’ve never met.  When I got the tattoo, it was during a time that I was having very high anxiety.  I don’t think that anything we do is truly altruistic.  Even the acts we label as “selfless,” we still do as a way to make ourselves feel good about ourselves.  It’s a bonus that someone or something else is also benefiting.  Volunteering is a perfect example.  My distracted point is however, that I suppose one could say that I’m exploiting the boy whose name is now tattooed on my leg, but I’m perfectly comfortable with that accusation because I don’t feel that I am.

Years after Nick’s first deployment, the boy I speak about in Aristotle and a Story of Love, a book was written about his unit titled, “They Fought for Each Other: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Hardest Hit Unit in Iraq” written by Kelly Kennedy.  It is an excellent book.  I fancied myself some sort of anti-war advocate back then.  I thought that because I KNEW that this war was wrong, and that I could back up my statement with fancy political terminology and passionate rhetoric on foreign policy, that that meant something.  God was I naive.  This book provides unexpected perspective, and gives a face to what the war truly is to the troops; just a bunch of kids fighting for one another.  Without a cause, these soldiers only have one another to fight for and they can’t abandon that.  That’s their true call of duty.  Each other.  I better stop myself now, before I go on a rant about this imperialist war that was created through ignorance.

I had no idea that Nick’s unit was the hardest hit until he told me about this book and suggested that I read it.  Of course I did, and it was a strange experience because as I was reading these accounts of woeful events, I could remember hearing about them when they actually occurred.  Nick didn’t talk too much about the war, but when he was able to call from Iraq, and when he felt like sharing, there were a few stories that stuck out in my mind.  For example, one I remember him telling me happened when he was out on patrol.  One of the sergeants just got out of the Humvee saying, “fuck this,” walked a few yards away, and shot himself.  It made me sick to my stomach when he told me.  That awful event was recounted in the book, so it was a strange thing reading about these accounts that I actually remembered happening.

One of the guys that was often brought up in the book was Sgt. Ryan Wood.  Obviously, a lot of soldiers were discussed, but whenever the author wrote about Ryan Wood, I couldn’t help but think, I really like this guy.  As I kept reading, this feeling grew.  He wanted to go to art school after he was done with the Army, and they described him as being the one who, “often served as the conscience of the second platoon.”   He kept his morals intact, at a time when I can only imagine it would be far easier to let go of moral principles.  He was quoted as saying, “we can’t be like them,” during times when most other soldiers were revenge thirsty and simply wanted to murder every Iraqi because their best friend was just killed by some stupid fucking IED buried under some trash on the side of the road.  I can’t say that I blame them.  Hating is easy.  It helps to make sense of things that don’t make sense… like war.  But Ryan Wood saw the “enemies” as humans when no one else could.  When you’re fighting for your life everyday, to save your mind from yourself, I’d imagine that you’d have to create an enemy  monster in order to attempt to keep yourself at least mildly sane.  But Ryan Wood was strong.  Throughout the book, I developed a crush on this kid.  He seemed funny and smart and just someone who I would get along with and should be friends with.

As I was in the process of reading the book, I found myself wondering what he was doing now.  Was he at art school?  Did he have PTSD?  Is he married now?  Is he happy?  It was strange that I felt close to a guy that I didn’t know.  At the end of the book, you find out that Ryan Wood died in Iraq.  I literally cried.  Cried for a boy that I will never know.

It’s been years since I completed the book, but I still find myself thinking about Ryan Wood from time to time.  Not a lot, but every couple of months or so, he’ll just pop into my mind.  I never told anyone this because it seemed like a deranged fixation, but I began to embrace the idea.  I love the idea of remembering people you will never knew.  People whom most of the world will never know.  We remember grand heroes and legends, but people who you see in antique photographs, and people whose handwriting you find on vintage postcards, and people who are buried at the pretty cemeteries I visit, all with small gravestones from 1879 who no one in this living world probably remembers anymore…  I like remembering those people.  And I like remembering Sgt. Ryan Wood.  The boy whom I love, but will never know.

I would like to conclude this with a very profound statement: Fuck war.

 

Not a very clear picture, but it's a day of the dead skeleton holding a medic symbol with, "R. Wood" inscribed in it.

Not a very clear picture, but it’s a day of the dead skeleton holding a medic symbol with, “R. Wood” inscribed in it.

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26 thoughts on “I Love a Dead Kid Whom I’ve Never Met

  1. I agree, fuck war!

    Both sides have lost terribly.

  2. Candice Bunce says:

    This is my brother! Sgt Ryan M. Wood and he was very easy to love. This was amazing to read….. Thank you!

  3. grunt says:

    If you could have only met him when he was alive! Best man I have ever known or will ever know he is missed terribly

  4. D Reed says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, and for loving Ryan. I only met him just after he passed, hours after the two uniformed men left his family’s home. I sat in my driveway, heavy hearted. He wanted me to let them know he was there surrounding them with his strength and honor and most of all, love. I have come to know and love his family! They are an amazing, close family. Just recently, driving home from work he sent a message. He needed to hug his mom, I went immediately to her with a wonderful delivery. We hugged, cried, and smiled!

  5. Rick says:

    Thank you for that. I was with Ryan in Adhamiyah, and he truly was a great guy. It is nice to hear heverything will be remembered by others outside his family and brothers. Thank you. By the way he would have agreed with you on that final statement.

    Blue Spaders

  6. Dan says:

    Thank you for sharing!

  7. Kevin says:

    War is a tough thing to understand on all sides. I served with the soldiers and unit on that deployment and think often of them along with those days. Glad the book \ story connected with you.

  8. Anka says:

    Ryan was a very dear friend of mine and he was my husband’s best friend. I LOVED reading this. I wish you could have met him. You would not have been disappointed. He was all those wonderful things you said and so much more. Candice is right, he was very easy to love. Thank you for sharing and remembering.

  9. saeed karjoo says:

    wars never have winners , nothing but destructions of countries & life . for each soldier has a family regardless of sides. Ryan was a great guy and great people never die !!!!

  10. Annie says:

    I was part of a festival in which I ended up exploring the writings of soldiers in war in order to write a song for the stage. This was over 5 or 6 years ago….. I forget the article now, but there was a New York Times piece which highlighted Ryan’s writings. I was taken right away with his writing and thoughts. I delved into more of his writings, fell in love with this kid, well, Man, so young and wise. I couldn’t get him out of my head, ended up contacting his mother, got some of his art and writings and did my best to honor such a good spirit at that festival. I still play his song out at shows and think of the magical Sgt. Wood a lot. Glad he has impacted so many people in life and after this life on Earth. Magic.

  11. nancyfrancis says:

    Best reason ever to get a tattoo is something that is meaningful to you, lovely to see that your gut feelings about this life lost too young are shared by those that knew him 🙂

  12. Richard Nolf says:

    Ryan was my best friend and like a brother. When on leave he and I would sit around, have a few beers, and inevitably we would start drawing. After his death I went through my art books to see if I could find any of his artwork for his family. Inside I found a quote written by him “I still believe that is something in the fiber of America worth saving. And that the fate of America may well ride on the shoulders of young Americans, in old America…. gone mad” I know have this quote tattooed on my arm. Ryan loved tattoos and I find it fitting that you chose to honor him that way. Thank you for sharing this.

  13. Scott says:

    It’s very touching to see this again……read it……..remember. I wanted to tell you thank you. So, thank you.

    • C. Pendola says:

      Hello. Did we speak before? When I wrote this, I had a few people contact me, but it’s been a while so names are slipping my mind. I’m assuming you were related or friends with Ryan. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but a book with a revised version of this story will be coming out October 26th! It’s basically an anthology about the effects of the Iraq war on soldiers and civilians. I was approached by the editor, asking if he could include this piece. It’s a little different in the book than it is here, but same tale, just a bit longer and more professional. 🙂 If you’re interested at all, you can email me at caitlinpendola@gmail.com and I’ll give you more details. Thanks again! Always great to hear from his friends and family. Hope you’re well.

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