I'm hoping to have a job offer here in the next few days, which is very good news. Very overdue. But, more to the point, my home town,* Covington, received some terrible news late last week. One of our local Marines, Lance Corporal Josh Witsman, was killed in action.
*The whole home town business can be awfully tricky. You can take that a few ways, and if your family moved a lot, it can get really murky. There are a few cities I feel some deeper bond with. Covington is where I grew up, and where I will typically tell you is my home town. I also feel a connection with Crawfordsville, as that's where I went to college and live now. I also feel that way about Lafayette, having lived there and spent significant time in. To a lesser degree, I feel that about Indianapolis, but I didn't really live there. I spent a summer with an uncle in Carmel, but that's about it. I've spent quite a bit of time there, sure, and it's where I'd consider myself from on a national stage, to put it as best I can. But, at the heart of it all, I'm a product of Covington.
I'm sure you will have no problem picking Josh out of that picture with his family. If you're curious, pictured there are Adam (his older brother), Kayla (his mom), and Tom (his dad). As a product of a small town*, I can certainly tell you there are some disadvantages. But, one of the nice things is the ability to know everybody. Almost everybody in town of a certain age has some sort of memory with Josh. When something like this happens, it really does make the community even more tightly knit. The town has really come together to mourn Josh and support the family. Which is great. But, there are some things I need to get off my chest.
*Covington was counted as 2,645 at the last census, which is a bit bigger than my heyday there. Not a much, but a couple hundred or so.
First off, let me reiterate this. This is a horrible tragedy. I can't say I was best friends with Josh, but I did know him fairly well. I knew Adam better, just being closer in age and having more similar interests. But, even better than that, I knew his parents. Kayla has been friends with my mom pretty well from the time she moved to Covington from Danville. I grew up around them and for longer than I probably should thought Kayla was my aunt by blood.* We camping with them, we spent quite a bit of time at their house and they spent quite a bit of time at ours growing up. I remember Josh being an awkward kid who spent a lot of his younger years being picked on. Then he grew into a strapping young man, as you can probably see, and that changed.
*Part of that is having a pretty big extended family. My mom has eight brothers, my dad has ten siblings. With that many aunts, uncles, and cousins, you just start assuming everybody is relation as a child.
Credibility established,* here's the first thing I need to get off my chest. I always meant to apologize for this to Josh's face, but now I'll never get that chance. Like I said, Josh spent a lot of time being awkward. But, being a family friend, my dad got him on our little league team, and that was fine for the most part. As good as Josh got to be at football and wrestling, though, baseball just wasn't his sport. I remember one instance where we were all warming up for a game, and Josh didn't have anybody to warm up with. I don't know how hard he asked around to join in and go three-way, but that's not the point. He just sort of milled around until Tom finally came down from the bleachers and played catch with him himself and chewed out the rest of us a little bit when he left.
*Trust me, that's going to be important.
I've felt bad about that pretty much since it happened. I know not everybody makes the most mature decisions at twelve or whatever I was at the time, but I was old enough and definitely knew Josh well enough I should have stepped up and had him warm up with us. The only excuse I might have had was I spent an entire season catching in little league, so I might have been warming up the pitcher. But, I don't think that was the case, at least not at that time. Because I remember feeling bad about it at the time. I think that was a life-changing moment, actually. I usually go out of my way to be inclusive now, and I think some of it is guilt over that incident. This will just amplify things.
As bad as I feel about that, it's still something that happened when I was twelve. A much more major issue is with the town itself. Like I've said a few times already, I love that the community is rallying around Kayla* and her family. The problem comes in when it comes off as so phony. I've watched as the entire town has fallen over itself to make a big deal over how close they were to Josh and his family. It's a little infuriating when you were close to Kayla before Josh ever considered the Marines. If you were involved in the discussions about joining the Marines, or when he decided to marry a girl pretty quickly, or when a surprise baby was born.** No, instead, so much of the mourning seems to be for appearances. You have to look good and look like you were close to the situation so you can feel good about yourself, feel included.
*Kayla was, by far, the most active in Covington, having coached youth soccer for years and working at the court house until just a year or two ago.
**I was not, but my mom sure was. And just to make it clear, I'm more pissed for her than I am for myself. Just in case the point became muddled. Ranting tends to do that.
There was a candlelight vigil for Josh last night. It was awfully touching, and thanks to Adam, I'll never be able to listen to Foo Fighter's "My Hero" the same way again. Kayla and Tom came back into town* in a bit of a surprise move. And they, especially Kayla, were mobbed after the vigil with people trying to get hugs. But, while we were waiting to get a turn with Kayla, all sorts of snide and "socialite" conversation going on, and so many people trying to get somebody to get a picture of them hugging Kayla. So much "mourning" all for show. When we finally got to her, our little group made a little circle around her so she could just get a break and finally take a few drinks of water, which she was still holding unopened. To many people barging in right after another so they could get their chance to make face.
Like I said, infuriating. We'll see who's still there in six months to listen to Kayla while she tries to piece her life back together. I'm sure we all know somebody who has lost a kid. Our family just went through this a year or so ago when I lost an actual cousin to cancer. It takes years to get back to something resembling normal. Who will still be there when the story goes cold?
Anyway, agree, disagree. I don't care. I had to get that out there. Now, for Josh.