Today, as I sat in my little office, searching the internet instead of doing my work, I decided to Google Robert's name. This is something I do on a fairly regular basis when I'm bored. This time I clicked on the first link, his page on arlingtonnationalcemetery.net. The site had been updated quite a bit since I'd last checked it. I scrolled down to see how long it had gotten and then I went back to the top and started to read. I only got two sentences in before I was stopped cold by four words "Wise, 21, of Tallahassee."
The meaning of this hit me in a cold blast of obscene reality. Its been more than 2 years; I'm 23 now and Robert is still 21. Still 21 and he always will be. My eyes welled up and I felt goosebumps up and down my arms. This isn't the first time I've considered this but it's the kind of thing you forget about. It's the kind of thinking that stalks you, lurking in the back of your mind, waiting for moments of mental weakness. Waiting till your tired or stressed or just hung up on the past; it waits for the right trigger then strikes, cutting you down with a crippling wave of abstract regret and pointless sadness.
Wise, once five months my senior, is still just old enough to buy a drink. Not a huge difference now, but when I turn 30 or 40; when I have kids and a mortgage and I'm looking at saving for retirement, Robert will still be 21. When I'm an old man, carrying the wrinkles and scars of a lifetime, Robert will still have that same grinning baby face.
"Robert's life was too short but was well lived. . . . He touched many, many lives -- and we are all better for having known him."
-Tammy Wise, Robert's mother