” … and then it hit me … the boots weren’t his.” An encounter with the Boston Marathon hero Carlos Arredondo, five years earlier, tells a story of love and grief.
It was near the end of the day, most of the booths and conference rooms were empty as I made my way back into the heart of the convention to look for a friend. Only a few people remained in the cluttered hallway … one man was alone in the middle of the hallway. He was a tall man, taller than me at least, with curly black hair and an anguished smile on his face. A pair of desert boots dangled from his right hand. That’s odd, I thought. Many of us wore our desert boonie cap or DCU cut off shorts, but this was the first man I had seen carrying around his boots.
Our eyes met and … and I took a couple more steps in his direction before he grabbed me and pulled me close in his arms. He was hugging me like he never wanted to let go; I could feel the boots bouncing on my back as he pat my back and repeated the words “Thank you” it seemed like a hundred times. The whole thing was overwhelming. The musk of his cologne was almost as strong as his embrace; the strength of his embrace contrasted with the weakness in his breathless, sad, Latino voice. He pulled away and told me how happy he was that I was alive. I can’t even tell you how I replied; I don’t know. I just remember looking at those boots, and then it hit me… the boots weren’t his.
Alexander Arredondo, 25, was killed by enemy fire three years ago today, August 25, 2004. The man that still had one hand on my shoulder was Carlos Arredondo, Alexander’s still-grieving father. Suddenly, it all seemed so obvious to me; a tribute to Alexander adorned Carlos’ shirt, but in my haste, I had overlooked it when I first saw the man with the curly hair and desert boots.
The next time I saw Carlos, he was giving a speech to the hundreds of people gathered at the Gateway Arch. He was still carrying his son’s boots, the same boots that I felt on my back, the same boots that his son wore the day he died. A great sadness came over me as I thought about how poor Carlos must have reacted when he learned of his son’s death. I made a mental note to Google Mr. Arredondo when I returned to Oklahoma; perhaps he had a website. Maybe I could find his email and shoot him an encouraging word or two about the power of our first meeting.
When I got home, I did Google Carlos Arredondo. While I didn’t find an email address or a website, what I did find took my breath away. I don’t know what it is like to have a son, and I of course don’t know what it’s like to lose one. After reading this article, however, I think I may have a small idea.
(CNN) — After being informed that his 20-year-old son was killed while serving in Iraq, a Florida man doused a U.S. government van with gasoline and set it on fire while sitting inside. Carlos Arredondo, 44, was severely burned and rushed to Hollywood Regional Hospital in Florida after learning that Pfc. Alexander Arredondo had died, police said.
“He suffered serious burns,” said Detective Carlos Negron.
Negron said the young man was killed in Iraq Tuesday.
I read that with a knot in my stomach that could only be described as what I would imagine it would feel like to not eat for several weeks. It felt as if my body was eating itself, a feeling only eclipsed by the lump in my throat that seemed to hinder my breathing and make time stop. I thought to myself how much worse it must have been for Carlos, how much worse it is for Carlos and his family everyday.
As an Iraq War veteran, I sometimes get a little high and mighty, like I am the face of the war. No, the face of the Iraq War is the pain and anguish of the tortured smile on the face of Carlos Arredondo, a man I will never, ever forget. I hope that you find some peace in this world, Mr. Arredondo; I hope you know how much you touched the people at the Veterans for Peace Convention, and I hope I never feel the pain that you did on that fateful day three years ago.
Rest in Peace, Alexander.
Read more about Carlos Arredondo, one of the heroes of the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013.
This essay appears in the book anthology “Warrior Writers: ReMaking Sense” and is reprinted from the Warrior Writers website with permission from the author.
Image credit: soundfromwayout/Flickr