I won't ask myself why, because I know why. I know better than his family, and I can read it in the dozen pages he left on his desk better than they ever will. He talked about it, in his final words, in ways that must seem as alien to them as if he'd composed his suicide note in Linear B.

He talked about the winters in the mountains, and about how he left pieces of himself up there. There was the obvious, of course - most of one leg and a good chunk of the other, some pieces of his left arm - but he wrote about the empty spaces in his soul and how they tugged at him, an unfailing compass pointing back to the 'stan.

He'd taken his blood money grudgingly, after they wouldn't let him go back no matter how hard he tried. He put his medals away and raised his daughters, and the letters grew dark and infrequent. We knew he was around, but the phone calls stopped, then emails trickled off. He became another "I wonder how..." among the dozens of "remember when..."s, a ghost three years gone off anyone's radar.

Even I can't know how it ate at him, the everyday pain of brutalized limbs, of deafness and ringing, of awkward stares and days where the spasms are so bad you shit yourself. He chose to finish what they started, believing from the bottom of his pit that he could never reach out again, believing that he was worse than a failure - a burden.

Who dug that pit? Who pulled up his ladder? Who let him lay there, watching the sunset sky darken through that tiny aperture, who let him put out his last candle and go into the dark on his own? Who forgot to check on him, to be sure the light of the moon was enough to keep the whispering damp at bay?

Who lived with him, who talked to him, who prescribed to him?

A week ago, he washed the car, cleaned the house, cooked and refrigerated enough food for a week, drafted a dozen pages in looping, blue ballpoint and then took enough of his bottomless supply of VA morphine to kill a horse.

Today, an email from his widow to tell me, and to ask me if I could help them understand his note. The handwriting wasn't the problem, of course - he had beautiful handwriting.

They wanted to understand the war.

Now that he's dead they've finally realized that there might have been something to it after all. That maybe they ought've talked to him about it years ago, instead of walling themselves away from it until now. Now that it's too late to do anything but ask someone they barely know outside of an address book and some old photos what the problem was.

--------, you magnificent human, godspeed to wherever it takes you. You gave them 25 lbs of flesh and it despaired you when they wouldn't take the rest back again. You didn't give up until it was clear that everyone else had.

I'm sorry for what I might have done, I'm sorry for what your family didn't. I'm sorry your country didn't value you enough to do more than throw pills at you.

This is the closest thing to a eulogy I can give you. Your family is keeping the ashes against your will.

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