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Happy Birthday, Roger!

July 13th has become a favorite of mine when she enters the world dancing and celebrating. The date indicates the beginning of peace for me, and a termination of the seemingly eternal six-week period of time when memorable dates congest my breathing and weaken my body.

Also, during this long stretch of time, I feel the cloud around me, the one that places a haze over my individual self, violently stuffing me back into my blaring widow status. Any of my personal accomplishments, good moods, or peaceful days are to be set aside until the certain dates go by. The boys’ lives are paused as well. Another thing that makes these days heavier is being the “sad one” all the time. I am associated with bummer-like feelings, and July 13th brings me back.

As the years go by, people still celebrate him on all of the dates, and I pray it remains that way. If people forget him, I will lose a little of me, so I don’t want it to stop, but it takes work.

Memorial Day begins before the actual weekend with posts and photos, and I will always be grateful. We all dip into the tepid pool of memories and deliver them to each other in the form of Facebook posts, old, pixelated photos, and emails. This year was particularly peculiar with its lack of ceremony and personal connections, yet still it wedged its ghostly barbed form into our hearts.

After we memorialize our fallen, we celebrate Father’s Day which has become blurry with false cheers for the future which we don’t have with him. For some reason, the sun shows brightly each year attempting to heave up my pouty mood. Maybe she’s mocking my fake smiles and closeted crying with her cheerful rays.

After Father’s Day comes June 29th which marks the anniversary of Roger’s death. This year we acknowledged it for the eleventh time. As the years pass by in their modern vehicles, I become less confident in time’s ability to mute the sadness. I just willingly become tired because it’s easier.

The significant dates linger, too, by my own choice and fault, because I stay off social media on those days as much as I can. I respond the day after, which I suppose is counterproductive to condensing the feelings of all the special days.

Roger’s birthday is Sunday, July 12th.

He would have been forty-eight, with gray hair, maybe, otherwise the same. As always, I would have teased him because he is older than I am, and he would have crossed his eyes, scrunched up his nose, and made the most obnoxious face at me while he cackled.

There would have been pineapple upside-down cake as with any special Roger day, probably some type of cheeseburger, and so many fries, crinkle cut, with lots of Heinz ketchup and extra salt. I would not have given him grief about having too much Dr. Pepper, and Busch Light would have joined him to the end of his evening while we swam with the squeaking bats in our backyard pool.

The boys would give him gifts of heavy handfuls of dried clay shapes with gobs of primary colored paint placed carefully on their surface. They would look nervous when he opened their individual gift, making my heart stop for just long enough to reset me. I would have wrapped t-shirts with funny pictures on them, size large, a giant Zero bar, some router bits, and a book that he would love more than I thought he would.

I remember the first birthday of his after he died, the day we had his funeral, July 12, 2009, but a year after that leaves its spiny quill in me the most.

We made a pineapple upside-down cake, of course, and let the day pass. It was getting dark so the time came to light the candles. The kids were happy and giddy, I mean, it was a birthday. I stood on the back deck with my vodka drink and freshly lit Camel Crush after casually saying, “Go on without me.”

The lights in the kitchen turned off and I saw the cake through the back window, floating around on its own being held up by an orange halo of candles. He would have been thirty-eight.

I listened to them sing to him.

“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear dadddddddddyyyyyyyy. Happy birthday to you.”

I choked.

After that year, we quit doing anything traditional on his birthday. I don’t make a cake and we don’t look at photos. We just exist in the thickness of the date, waiting for the day to pass, longing for the arrival of July 13th so we can, without explanation, live as regularly as we can.

I don’t think there’s a right thing to do. We celebrate him every day and he’s never away from our minds. Sometimes, though, it’s just too much.

Happy birthday, hon.

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Southampton Town Meeting

I am Teresa Adams. My husband, Roger, was killed in Iraq in 2009. Roger and I both grew up in Massachusetts. He was born in Montague in 1972. He went to elementary school in Gill, Massachusetts, and graduated from Franklin Technical Vocational School in 1990. He loved the Boston Red Sox, a good ham grinder, and snow, yes, snow. After graduation, he moved to Kentucky to spend time with his mother.

He wasn’t there long when he decided to join the Marine Corps. The closest recruiting station was in Tennessee, so he signed his name and became a United States Marine, and was stationed in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He was an 0352; a grunt.

On leave he would come to Massachusetts to visit with his family. He spent the holidays, long weekends, and special occasions in Massachusetts.

Roger and I fell in love on Memorial Day weekend of 1995 and decided to get married. We obtained our marriage license here in Southampton when the town hall was on East Street. Our ceremony was at the gazebo in Easthampton, Massachusetts on a snowy night. We were surrounded by Christmas lights, family and friends, and a brand-new blanket of fresh snow. We spent Christmas with our families, said our gut-wrenching goodbyes, then I moved to North Carolina, where he was stationed.

We spent years through multiple deployments to Okinawa, Mediterranean Floats on Navy ships, his first tour in Iraq, and more. We had four sons and lived as a traditional military family. We missed him quite often, and worried constantly. On summers, holidays, and times when Roger was deployed, we would come to Mass to be with family, because it was home. Towards the end of our travels on 91 in Connecticut, we always tried to be the first one in the car to see the small blue sign “Welcome to Massachusetts.”

I was in Southampton when I found out Roger died. We just got to my parents’ hours earlier. Roger had been in Iraq for the second time. The National Guard came to my parents’ house near the Ponds accompanied by a police officer from Southampton. They told me Roger was driving a Humvee and ran over an IED. They also told me he died instantly, and I chose to believe them.

After a few years of trying to regain some sanity and figure out what to do, the boys and I decided to move back home to Massachusetts. I did the math and figured that with the tax break, we would be able to afford it, so I bought a house in Southampton on Wolcott Rd; one I used to drive by each morning on my way to Hampshire Regional High School (a very long time ago).

After we moved in and settled, I filled out the application for the tax break and was surprised when it was denied. The reason it was rejected was because Roger did not enlist in Massachusetts, but in Tennessee.

I have appealed that decision through Boston, and we went to court in Northampton. I have yet to receive an answer from them. This is not about my case, but it brought light to this issue. I speak now for the future homeowners in Southampton, Massachusetts who are disabled veterans or surviving families.

Veterans and surviving families should be able to come to Southampton and not worry about being denied their benefits. Reducing the two-year waiting period to one year for non-residents would greatly alleviate any financial hardships put on the military members. More than that, it would make them feel welcomed by this warm, loving town. It would make them feel like they’re home. It would make them feel safe and give them a better chance to have as normal of a life as they can.

Each situation is different. The fact remains, however, that no matter where a service member enlisted, they took an oath to serve the United States. They did not take an oath to serve solely Massachusetts, North Carolina, or Tennessee. There are pages of generous benefits that Massachusetts offers our veterans because there is appreciation and caring for their sacrifice and service. I cannot allow myself to think of a disabled veteran, or another surviving family, feeling a little less than, or not having that sense of belonging, because they are denied. We, as a town, should help them the same way they helped us. We should open our arms and welcome them home.