Promises a Marine widow cannot bear to hear
Rachel Porto, 23, is the widow of Marine Corps Cpl. Jonathan D. Porto, 26, who was killed in Afghanistan on March 14. Together they have a three-month-old daughter, Ariana. Rachel, a native of Aberdeen, Md., graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 2008. She is currently living in North Carolina outside of the family's last duty station, Camp Lejeune. She blogs atA Little Pink in a Word of Camo.
A cassette tape is waiting for me. It sits in a small bubble mailer on my night table. It stares at me when I walk in the room; it beckons to me as I walk out. But still it sits there and waits. It is the last thing. The last thing he sent to me from "over there."
There is no note inside, just a regular old-school cassette tape. The outside of the envelope is addressed in his handwriting. "Love, Poppa Bear" is written on the back. I've opened it to look inside, but I haven't yet drawn up the courage to listen.
I know what I can expect to hear. The same things he always told me. He'll tell me how much he loves us and misses us. He'll sing to us--he always sang to us. Probably our favorite songs, maybe some new ones. He'll talk to the baby, he loved talking to her and she loves to listen to him. The first time I saw her smile was when he talked to her on the phone from "over there."
It will be filled with promises. He will promise us he's coming home, promise us everything is ok, promise that we're almost done and that we'll see each other soon. It's these promises I am most scared of, hearing them anew from lips that will never again utter them to me. Promises I held on to so tightly for the first three months of the deployment. Before... before the fateful ringing of my doorbell at 0530 on March 15. These promises have taken a completely new meaning for me since that morning. Promises to come home turn into, He's already home, just not the way I ever imagined. Promises of seeing each other soon have turned into, I've got a lifetime to wait. Promises of everything being ok have turned into, I am now in charge of making it ok.
As the days pass, more of his stuff trickles in. It started with the dog tags and the ring. The articles the military considers "sentimental," I received even before the funeral. The ring was one I'd given him when we first started dating, my birthstone cut in a heart shape. I told him "Here, I'm giving you my heart." He kept it safe all this time. Now it is back in my care, and it is again my responsibility to keep safe.
The stuff continued trickling in when two weeks ago, the articles that were "on him" at the time of death were given back to me. My Casualty Assistance Calls Officer - the man who delivers the bad news and then stays with you throughout the whole process -- inventoried each item with me. "One Identification card holder, black in color... Two Corporal chevrons, black in color, damaged" etc. etc., for each item, including the memory card. The memory card containing his photos from deployment -- all I have of the stories I'd been waiting to hear, and quite possibly the last things his eyes set on that fateful day. I studied each photo and wished upon everything I had that he could just show up and tell me what in the world some of the photos were of.
Sometimes, I expect to be able to talk to him. I'll tell a story and I'll forget the exact details. The first thought to cross my mind: "I'll have to ask Jonny when I talk to him." Then reality hits. All I have left are these memories and this 'stuff' that keeps coming back.
And the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps that was his and grew to be mine as well. The Marine Corps we both love. The Marine Corps that I trust will always keep my beloved Cpl. Porto's memory alive for me and my daughter.
The Marine Corps that continues to deliver the last tangible items, the last pieces of him left. And the tape. The last promises he left for us, the last words we can hear repeated to remember he is always with us, promises unbroken.
May 10, 2010; 9:14 AM ET
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