Chapter 1

Doubt, Despair, Pain

 September 2008


Put on your uniform, Danger. Welcome to death row.

I was filled with regret. I wanted to escape from reality and go back in time to when I made the choices that led me here. If I got a chance to do it over, I promise I wouldn’t be here right now.

I looked over at my girlfriend, Joanna, and her eyes told me she was going through the same pain.

I began considering the fact that I couldn’t sit in the passenger seat forever. Mustering all the modest willpower I had, I got out of Joanna’s car and staggered over to her driver’s side window. Pulling the door open, Joanna leered up at me, knowing it was time to render her last goodbyes to her condemned boyfriend. I crouched down until we were at eye level, and we just stared at each other as tears flowed down our cheeks.

I leaned over and held her close to me, squeezing her as tightly as I did the night we first met. I could smell the faint scent of her vanilla perfume, which was now all-but-worn-off by the tears that trickled down her neck. I whispered to her words of hope, “It’s all temporary.”

But what if I’m wrong? I wondered. What if I was wrong all along?

“It’s all temporary,” I reasserted. “This pain, this suffering, it’s but a small blip on eternity, Joanna.”

What if I die? What if I misread the prophecy?

Joanna nodded with hopeful optimism.

No, God won’t allow me to die. He wouldn’t let that happen, not after everything He put me through already, not after what He told me. This isn’t how it ends.

I kissed Joanna one last kiss, clamped her hand with mine for a moment, and then backed away so she could drive out of my life.

As I watched her car disappear into the distance, the night sky clotted into one dense mass and, pressing down like a giant fist, crushed my soul to the ground. Obversely, my body stood tall and waved goodbye, refusing to show any sign of frailty.

After Joanna’s headlights vanished completely, I sauntered off to my parents’ car to be taken to my final destination.


I thought that when we arrived at the armory, the worst would have been over; I was confident that I wouldn’t cry again. And so, despite the knots in my stomach demanding more of an emotional response when I hugged and kissed my mom goodbye, I let a few tears roll down my cheek and nothing more.

An inaudible voice whispered hopelessness, “She could be holding her son for the last time. The next time she sees you, you’ll be dead, blown to tiny pieces. If she’s lucky, she’ll get to hold the hand of your pale corpse.”

Shut up! Shut up! You’re wrong. I’m making it back.

I gave my dad a flaccid embrace, too shaken to offer a substantial final hug. He picked up on this weakness and atoned for it by gripping me tighter than he ever had before, burying my head into his chest and cradling my back like I was still his baby. I tried turning my head to the side, but every tear I had been holding back seemed to find its way onto his shoulder. I broke down on him, having stayed strong for the two women in my life, but now powerless against this stinging grief I couldn’t suppress any longer.

My dad felt the immensity as well, spastically kissing my head as he enveloped me in his arms. He later told me that, during that final hug, he accepted that I would soon be dead. Every day from then on, he looked for that government car to pull up to our driveway to hand him a letter of lament. To him, this would be his last chance to tell me how much he loved me; the last hug he could give to a son that was as-good-as-dead.

“You are strong,” he whispered to me. “So strong.”

A minute later, I was staring at an empty spot where my parents’ car had been. By now, they were probably a couple of miles away, yet it was as if I could hear my mom wailing right next to me.

I peered past my shoulder to the structure towering over me. Tonight, it could pass as a dank dungeon instead of a military armory.

I nodded towards the sky, finally accepting my destiny: I was a soldier who was ordered to go to one of the most volatile areas in Afghanistan, and my journey began in the morning.

“Okay, God. This is it.”

I meandered towards the armory front door, weighed down by invisible shackles clamped all over my body. It was as if I was walking down the final hallway before my execution, and by sunrise, I’d be gone.

The armory was empty. It seemed the other soldiers had opted not to stay overnight, so it’d just be me tonight. I found a room that was full of boxes of pocket-sized Bibles and an arbitrary loveseat, and I rolled out my sleeping bag and tried getting some shuteye. It felt less like I was getting rest in a supply room and more like I was letting my condemned body bleed out in the basement of a morgue.

I was alone. And not just alone in the armory, but also in awareness. I was living with a knowledge that none of my family were afforded; a secret that only made this deployment all-the-more unbearable. If they knew what I knew, they would’ve never driven away.

I began to snivel again, overwhelmed with my fate and chained to my distress by indestructible handcuffs.

But this wasn’t the first time I cried myself to sleep in a foreign place. Oh, yes. I’ve been here once before, indeed.