Dec 10th 2005, Maine
We were slowly recovering, Dani and I, painstakingly putting back together the shattered pieces of our life, trying to somehow work out a way to go on. It was at eight a.m. on December 10th, a cold bleak Maine morning, when the final blow hit, the eerie, tinny ringing of the hall phone heralding the news we'd been fearing since he'd left.
An agonizingly painful and slow death of a wife and mother, a vicious rape of a kind but innocent virgin, and now this, a valiant boy struck down, an innocent claimed by warring factions, a pawn in some bizarre, international dance of death.
"Oh Daddy, I need you. He's dead Daddy, Johnnie's dead," I heard, a forlorn wail of sadness leaking from the phone into my ear, "They blew him up Daddy, some arab"
"Honey, I'm so sorry," I started, such inadequate words, I thought, surely a Father, even a grieving Father, should be able to do better than this, should somehow be able to protect his loved ones... not just let them die and suffer. 'Fuck you God', I screamed internally as I tried to offer solace to my lovely daughter miles away on some forlorn Marine base.
"I'm on my way darling," I finally told my nineteen year old daughter, mother of a three month old son, and now suddenly a widow. "Do you have someone with you? I'll be there tonight Jacqui; we'll call you from the road... it'll be alright, I promise," I ended.
Turning, the phone dead in my hands, I saw Danielle, my youngest, only eighteen and already twice this year she'd been smashed by fate. "Johnnie?" she whispered, new lines of grief already etched on her young face.
"It's not fair Daddy, it's just not fair," she sobbed, leaning listlessly against me, and every tremor that shook her body was a silent accusation that reverberated through me.
We were on the road in minutes, and silence reigned in my old Accord as we headed south, close to 850 miles away from our destination, the grim, barracked world of Camp Lejeune and the U.S. Marine Corps.
Jacqui, or Jacqueline Ann, as her Mom and I had baptized her nineteen and a half years ago, had married her high school beau, John Alex Brown, Johnnie, the day after they both graduated from Sanford High, and after returning from their two-week Hawaiian honeymoon he had left for boot camp, excited at the prospect of serving his country.
Neither his father nor I could dissuade him from the Corps, he had always wanted to join the Marines, serve his country, be a man..."I've got to go Mr. Scouries," he'd argued with a young man's uncomplicated view of the world, "Somebody's got to defend us Sir, we can't just let them insult us, bomb us, kill us."
And now he's dead, I thought sadly, the final tragedy in a year of sadness for the Scouries family.
In February, my wife of twenty-two years had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, a forty-eight year old woman struck brutally before her time. 'If only we had caught it earlier' her Doctor told me, 'then maybe we could have done something, ' he had added. 'Fuck you too Doc' I had thought as I watched Julie fade before my eyes, months of pain finally culminating in a horrible death, her youngest daughter, a high school senior, suffering silently as her Mom slowly disappeared.
John Jr.'s birth in August had lifted us all, given us a reprieve from our sorrow, an opportunity to believe in life again. But his Dad had already left for Iraq before his son's birth and the nightly visions of death and mayhem we saw on CNN gave us all a forbidding chill.
And then Dani! She'd always been the true innocent, someone who was always happy and smiling and kind and helpful and sweet; simply put she was the best of us, the person we all tried to secretly emulate. Just seeing her smile of approval, or her happy laugh produced by something we did, was enough to make your day, and even though the youngest in the family, somehow it was she who was its essence.
Her cell phone was still working when she came-to that night, moaning from the black eyes, the broken tooth, the pair of cracked ribs, and as she struggled to call her Father, to call me, she had felt the blood seeping from her shattered cunt, her savagely split rectum.
"Daddy, please I need you, they hurt me Daddy," were the words I awoke to, and Dani's sobs and moans still haunt me months later, and I know that nightmare is still her true reality, the wound reopened again by Johnnie's stupid death.
That night she had insisted that I bring her home, 'no police Daddy, no hospital', she'd cried, only finally agreeing to let her aunt, a nurse, come and see to her. The body mends of course, and slowly she recovered, but it was obvious something had dramatically altered within her and as the weeks passed, I feared I'd never find the old Dani again.
She saw me cleaning the rifle one night, surprising me when I thought she was asleep and simply sat opposite me and said, "I want to be there Daddy, when you do it." Two nights later two boys, eighteen and twenty, died, and as I dropped their weighted bodies into Benjamin's swamp, I felt no hate for them, just a sad remorse at the waste they'd made of their short existence.
Three weeks after the rape Dani announced one night, in a cold and completely disinterested voice, "I'm not going back to school Daddy, I'm finished. Finished with school and men and... Can I stay with you Daddy, always?"
In the weeks since, she had improved somewhat, and slowly I was trying to nurse her back to happiness, but it was only the stream of pictures that arrived from her sister, pictures of her new born nephew, that awakened her broken soul.
I often woke up in the mornings to find Dani wrapped around me, the nightmares of the darkness having driven her to her fathers bed, reliving the days of her childhood when she'd race fearful to her parent's bed at the first roar of the thunderstorm.
Strangely, none of us had ever thought of Dani as a sexual creature, she had always been the shy tomboy to her sister's 'high school queen' vivaciousness. But having bathed and comforted her during her convalescence, I knew every inch of her body and had, even then, recognized her incredible, heretofore unrecognized, beauty.
Taller than her sister by two inches, at 5'8", she had become a woman while no one was looking. Under those smelly sweat shirts and dirty jeans I found a ripe, lush woman and was determined she'd find a man and lover for her life.
Often in the mornings I'd watch her wake, hoping to catch the old Dani for those few seconds between sleep and arousal, to see the young girl again before the veil of sadness slipped film like over her eyes.
I had made some small progress, and although she absolutely refused to see professional help, as the days and weeks sped by, I was able to get her out more and more, for shopping, meals, errands etc., and had felt that with the imminent arrival of Jacqui for Christmas that the worst was over.
And now this, I thought, as I wrenched my mind back to the road taking us south, not for a happy Christmas reunion, but to a funeral for a boy we had all come to love.
As we crossed into Virginia, Dani spoke, some of her first words since we had left the farm in Maine, asking a question impossible for any American to easily answer, "Why are we over there anyway Daddy? Why are we fighting in Iraq?"
"Its complicated honey," I started, unsure myself, "But the President, his advisors, believe that for democracy, for freedom to"
"But they lied Daddy," Dani interrupted, "About the nuclear weapons, the chemical weapons"
"He's trying to do his best," I offered lamely.
We were quiet most of the rest of the way, both of us wondering how we'd find Jacqui and how we could help her in her time of need.
Johnnie was buried in a small, white picket fence surrounded cemetery, set gently in a little woods just outside his hometown in Maine on December 17th, 2005, a nineteen year old boy who had proudly served his country.
It had been an almost impossible week for all of us, from the second we knocked on the door of Jacqui's small, rundown apartment in Jacksonville, North Carolina until the first shovel full of dirt was tossed on Johnnie's casket and a spit and polish Marine handed Jacqui the folded up flag of the country her husband had fought for.
We had cried and talked, filled out endless military and government forms, driven a thousand miles, had a wake in both North Carolina and Maine, buried a husband; and during this nightmare the only thing that kept us going was John Jr.
I'd walk in on Dani playing on the floor with her nephew and see a light in her eyes I hadn't seen in over a year, and she'd simply explain to me, "He senses how we feel Daddy; you've got to be happy, truly happy, when you're here with John."
And we all were, the three of us always turning to John when we needed a lift, and I loved watching Jacqui feed her son, his eager lips stretching to catch his Mommies teat. And strangely, when we got back to the farm, we were happy, the three of us spending our evenings alone together, and finally free of the constant visits and condolences we'd received during the day, we drew sustenance from each others presence.
"What's wrong with Dani Dad?" Jacqui asked when she caught me alone, two days after the funeral.
"What do you mean sweetie?"
"Something's wrong with her Dad," she insisted.
"Well first Mom, and now Johnnie... she's"
"There's something else Daddy. Why isn't she in school anyway? She's supposed to be at college. She started in September."
.... There is more of this story ...