I am not exactly sure what made me start this blog. It could be because I’m feeling restless. Maybe it’s because I’ve realized that there’s people out there who are truly interested in knowing my story. Maybe God is telling me it’s time to start sharing my story because it could help someone. Maybe because I heard my pastor say that sharing your story can help you heal. Maybe all of the above. Mostly because I feel this is what God is leading me to do.
I guess I’ll start by answering the questions I’ve been asked the most over the past year and a half. “What was it like when you got the knock on the door? Did they come in uniform? Was it like the movies or that episode of Army Wives?” These are all things I would be wondering too if I didn’t already know the answers. These questions don’t bother me anymore. I am ready to answer them, in detail.
Let me give a little bit of background. My husband, SSgt. Javier Ortiz Rivera, deployed to Afghanistan on September 3, 2010 with 1st Batallion, 8th Marines out of Camp Lejeune, NC. He didn’t have internet access at his location, but he did his very best to call me via satellite phone. He would call me about once or twice a week at the most. On November 15th he called four times times throughout that day. We talked for fifty-six minutes the last time we spoke. He told me he would call me again the next day at around the same time. The last thing he said to me was, “I love you more.” When we hung up, I felt on top of the world. I was more in love with him than ever before. My heart was bursting with love and joy. I couldn’t wait for the next day. I couldn’t wait to hear his voice again. I couldn’t wait to tell him I loved him and hear him tell me, “I love you more.” Except that this time, I planned to say, “I love you times infinity. I win!” I pictured him smiling when I said that. And thinking of his smile melted my heart. I was extremely happy and so very proud to be his wife. I wanted the hours to hurry up and rush by so that I could hear his voice again, but, I never got the chance. The next day, at around the time he said he would call, my doorbell rang instead.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010…the day that changed my life forever. I woke up from a very deep sleep, at 5:28 AM. My first thought was Javier. I looked at my phone to see if I had missed his call. I hadn’t. I remember the exact hour and minute because I looked at the clock and told myself I still had an hour and half before I had to be up to get the kids ready for school. I went back to sleep and had the best sleep I’ve ever had. (I think God was giving me the rest I needed for what was to come). At 7 AM, I woke up with a lot of energy. I got dressed and went to have breakfast with my friends, Joann and Dominique. (We ate Dunkin Donuts. I ordered a bacon and egg sandwhich with no cheese. They put cheese in it! I remember scraping the cheese off in Joann’s office.) We talked about Javi, deployments, and ironically, we also talked about what happens when a marine is killed in action. I left Joann’s office and decided to go Christmas shopping at Kirklands Home Store. As I was in the store, it began to pour down sheets of rain. I’ll never forget how ugly it was outside. As I was driving home, I remember thinking to myself, “Man, if this was a movie or a book, this rain would foreshadow something awful.” I was quite proud that I was able to remember that term from my literature class. On my drive home, I called Javi’s cousin and had a hilarious, yet meaningless conversation with her about nothing. I texted with Javier’s sister. I checked my email at a red light. I told myself that I needed to text Javi’s brother to find out about the Christmas plans. I started a text to my sister to ask her what she wanted for Christmas, but I never finished sending that text. As I was entering the base, the song, “Que Precio Tiene El Cielo” by Marc Anthony came on. I sang really loud. I passed the C-Store and thought about how much I loved living on base. I turned into my street and thanked God that I didn’t live in the houses with the ugly orange or red siding. I was waiting for Javier’s phone call. That alone made my heart smile. Life was good. With the exception of Javier being deployed, life was just as it should be and better than ever. I was happy, happier than I had ever been in my life. I planned to tell Javier just that when he called me. I was sure his phone call would come at any minute.
I got home and it was still raining. I took my purchases in the house. I was determined to have a productive day. When I finished taking the stuff out of the car, I realized I had three boxes that needed to be shipped out to Afghanistan. They were Javier’s Christmas presents. I had just wrapped and packed them up the night before. So, I took those boxes out to my SUV and put them in the passenger seat. I still had a few presents to wrap and I wanted to send them out with the other boxes. I sat on the floor in my front living room and began to wrap what was left. I told myself to hurry and get to the post office because Javier would be calling me soon. I couldn’t wait to thell him that his Christmas presents were on their way. That is when my doorbell rang.
My first thought was, “Who in the world is that?” Without getting up, from the floor, I looked out the glass storm door and couldn’t see anyone. So, I ignored it. For some stupid reason, I thought it was a kid playing with the doorbell. The doorbell rang again. I still couldn’t see anyone, but this time, I got up and went to the door. When I walked to the door, I saw three men standing to the left of the door. Two of them were wearing a Marine green alpha uniform, one was wearing a Navy uniform. The guy in the Navy uniform was older. He had a cross on his uniform. I immediately recognized him as a Navy Chaplain. One Marine was tall and I could tell he was an officer, a captain. The other marine was not as tall as the officer and had staff sergeant chevrons sewn on his uniform. They were wearing those ugly, ridiculous, piss covers. I noticed all of this in about .2 seconds. I was very surprised to see them at my door. When I’d opened the door wide enough for them to talk to me, one of them said, “Mrs. Ortiz Rivera?” I said, “Yes…what are you doing here?” They said, “We need to speak with you regarding your husband. Can we come inside.” All at once, I felt my heart drop and all the blood in my body rush to my feet. I felt weak in my knees. I was starting to feel dizzy. I was scared. I was nervous. I wanted to slam the door in their face. I am pretty sure I shook my head no. They insisted on speaking with me inside. When I let them in, I noticed that the Navy chaplain had a look of pity and was on the verge of tears. It annoyed me. They followed me to my dining room. I don’t remember what they were saying. It sounded like echos. I felt really weak and dizzy. I stood between the kitchen and the dining room. I looked up, waved my hands in the air in defeat, and told them, “Just tell me, just fucking tell me.” I knew what they were going to tell me. I just needed them to hurry up and say it. I remember looking directly at the captain and ignoring the other marine and the chaplain. I looked him in the eyes. I told myself that if he was going to give me bad news, he would be forced to look me in the face as he broke my heart. I focused on his eyes. I could see sorrow and pity. I focused on his eyes so much so, that the color of his eyes is etched into my memory forever. As he began to speak, he took a deep breath and I could see a frown come over his face. He started by saying something about the department of defense and the president of the United States. Those words are a blur. I vaguely remember them. The only words I really heard, the words I remember word for word are, “Your husband passed away this morning.”
I heard him, but it felt like a dream. No, it felt more like a nightmare…surreal. I was in complete shock and disbelief. I couldn’t even cry. I know I must have said more, but what I remember saying is, “What?! No! I just talked to him. When? How?”
A million thoughts ran through my mind. “Javier couldn’t die. He promised me. He didn’t die. It’s a mistake. There is no way! He didn’t pass away. How could he pass away? He’s a SSgt. He told me SSgt’s are less likely to die. He told me he didn’t have to go on as many patrols. He said his job was to stay alive so he could lead his marines. He didn’t die! He’s too experienced to die. He is too motivated to die. His instincts are too good. He is a Marine grunt with good training. There is no way. He has too much life in him. Javi is not one of those people that dies!” All these thoughts ran through my mind in a milisecond.
The captain told me again that it was not a mistake and that Javier had passed away. His choice of words really made me mad. If it was true that my husband was dead, he certainly didn’t pass away. People pass away when they are sick, of old age, or in car accidents. My husband was killed by a faceless coward. I proceeded to correct him. He shook his head and told me that my husband was killed in action. My next question was, “How? What did those bastards do to him?” He replied in a broken voice, “IED” I began asking more questions. I wanted to know if anyone else had been killed or hurt. I asked about the condition of his body. The captain didn’t want to tell me the details. He wanted to spare me more heartache. At that point, I snatched the casualty report from his hand and read it myself. The casualty report had more details in it. The details made me feel sick to my stomach.
I felt as though someone had literally ripped my heart out of my chest, kicked me in the stomach, and shot me in the legs. I could no longer stand by this point. I sat on the stairs and started to cry. The men were silent. They didn’t know what to say or do. When they did speak, everything they said sounded like echos. Their faces were blurry from the tears in my eyes. All I wanted was a familiar face. I had just received the most devastaing news of my life and I was surrounded by strangers. The captain knelt down beside me. I think he was going to hug me, but my body language must have told him to stay the hell away. I wanted to punch him, slap the staff sergeant, and tell the chaplain he was useless. I wanted them out of my house. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. I was angry at them for ruining my life. I told them to leave. I just wanted to go upstairs to my room and scream and yell and cry until I could cry no more. They wouldn’t leave me home alone.
I was not allowed to call Javier’s family because they had not yet been notified. So, here I was, on my stairs, on the verge of passing out, had just received the worst news of my life and I couldn’t call the people that would have a clue what I might be feeling. I just had to sit there. My heart hurt. I felt alone. I felt nauseated. I felt dizzy and weak. I felt defeated. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. They still wouldn’t leave.
Since I couldn’t be left home alone, I called my friend, Eta. I asked her if she could come to my house because there were some strange men at my house who were telling me that Javi was dead. She got there in less than 5 minutes. She thought someone was playing an awful joke on me. I’ll never forget how she ran up the sidwalk, barged in, and stopped dead in her tracks when she saw the men in uniform. She grabbed me and hugged me. I hugged her back. When I opened my eyes, I noticed her pink sweater. I focused on how pretty that shade of pink was. Funny how something so simple as a shade of pink seemed so spectacular in the midst of a tragedy. I wanted to focus on anything other than what was happening to me at that moment.
The marines then proceeded to have me sign paperwork. Yes…paperwork! I couldn’t even begin tell you what I signed. I just signed so they would leave. I wanted my day to go back to being productive. I wanted to fold laundry like I had planned. Eta says that I was not so nice to them. I asked the chaplain and the staff sergeant, “Who are YOU? Why are YOU here?” Truth be told, I vaguely remember the face of the chaplain, and I don’t remember what the staff sergeant looks like at all. I only remember one face…the face of the man that told me the words that ripped my heart out of my chest and changed my life forever.
So, to answer the questions, yes they came in uniform. They didn’t knock; they rang the doorbell. No, it wasn’t like that episode of Army Wives. I was not as composed as the women on Army Wives. Those two marines and that Navy chaplain were the worst visitors I’ve ever allowed in my home. When they left, they took every ounce of hope and happiness with them.
That night, when I laid down to try and get some sleep, I thought about all that had happened…all that was about to happen. The ring of the doorbell echoed in my mind, “your husband passed away this morning” echoed in my mind, the captain’s face, Eta’s pink sweater, all the people that showed up at my house, my pastor’s hug, my sister’s screams of disbelief and heartache, the tears of Javi’s fellow marines, all the facebook RIP posts…it all played over and over in my head. Then, suddenly, I remembered, the casualty report. It said Javier’s time of death was 5:26 AM (EST). I woke up at 5:28 AM (EST). In that moment, I chose to believe that my husband’s spirit came to say goodbye to me on his way to heaven. That is when it truly hit me…Javier was no longer on earth. I would never see him again in this lifetime. My hopes and dreams were shattered. What would happen to me now? How would I survive without him? How would I face the rest of my life without the love of my life? How would I survive that night? Would I have the mental, emotional, and physical strength to get out of bed on November 17, 2010?