Remembering Tim

I have nothing but memories remaining of my youngest brother, Timothy Allan Guffey. It’s easy to drift back into these memories, as a part of every waking day has been spent thinking about my lost brother, for nearly eight years. I don’t need a holiday as a reason. I’d like to say the majority of these memories are happy ones, but they are not. Most remembrance comes with requisite pain and regret.

I was often a crappy older brother to him. I loved him, but I tormented him also, as older brothers are wont to do. I remember the discovery of his fear of the vacuum cleaner. I performed my house-cleaning chores one day when he was a baby boy, and I noticed he would scream when the vacuum approached him. Instead of pacifying my brother, I moved the vacuum closer to him, even lifting it up so he could see the undercarriage. It produced the most genuine show of terror, as Tim screamed loudly and trembled as his beloved older brother surely was about to suck him up. I recall the face he made even today. At the time, a wave of guilt washed over me. How could I experiment so cruelly with my baby brother’s frailties? I turned off the vacuum and picked him up to pacify him. He continued to scream until I assured him that I would never do such a thing again. I’ve never forgiven myself for causing Tim such fear, as the face he made still haunts me to this day.

I broke that promise to my baby brother, Tim. I neglected to address his terror a second time, when he was a soldier in our United States Army. I am complicit with the Army by allowing the terrifying machine of war to consume his life.

Tim was such a loving boy. He was so compassionate, kind, and loving. He would smile and cry, hug and squeeze, cuddle and cling, to the point where my teenage masculine side would unfairly cast him aside. I would make fun of him for being a girlie-man. He was Timmy to me, but he wanted to be Tim. He proved through his service that I was the “girlie-man,” and he was the alpha-male. Now, I regret my part for helping to destroy that boy’s wonderful personality, for supplanting that valuable happiness in him with adolescent challenge, authority, and bullying. I should have sheltered and protected my brother’s smile; instead, I scoffed at it.

I recall another face of Tim’s, the face he often made when he returned on leave from his two tours of duty in Iraq. His was a countenance of sheer depression, sadness, and frustration. As a member of the 101st Airborne Division, he was one of the first soldiers deployed to Iraq. I remember one conversation we had, after his first year of deployment, when he told me how right I was about the reason he was in Iraq: oil. I had told him before going that this was not a dignified war…that our President was lying…that the true reason we were sending our Army to Iraq was to secure foreign oil for domestic consumption. He was dubious before he arrived in Iraq—he wasn’t supposed to be talking about it and why couldn’t I be more supportive?—but he needed little time in Iraq to confirm that what I had said was absolutely true. After a year, his face stopped smiling as much as it once did when he was a teenager.

He suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Army knew about it. He was given psychological examinations, but with most medical care given to soldiers, it is given with the sole purpose of getting a soldier back to his unit. If it’s a physical wound, then it doesn’t need to be fully mended before sent back to fulfill one’s duty. If it’s a wound to the psyche, then it’s even easier for a doctor to push a wounded soldier back into the line of fire because there is no outwardly-appearing wound. Mental wounds can be more deadly than bullets, as many of our returning soldiers can testify. If my reader scoffs at the reality of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, then let me assure my reader that I am willing to engage in physical combat in order to convince him of this disease’s legitimacy. It’s real, and so very deadly in its consumption…

After two tours of duty, his face showed the wear and tear of the Iraqi War. He drank heavily. He never smiled. He did not want to talk about much of anything. I tried to cheer him up, but I was too immersed in my own agenda. Like most Americans, the war in Iraq was somewhere else. Those of us who did not have to be there were more concerned about what was happening here. I recognized there was something wrong with him, but I did not appreciate the magnitude of his depression…and that’s my sin of willful ignorance.

The last time I saw my brother on leave, he asked that I take him away to Canada. He didn’t care about procedures and dishonorable discharges; he just did not want to go back to Iraq. I dismissed it fairly quickly. He’d be okay. I told him just to finish his service and come back to us. He could attend college, like I was doing. I even told him that I couldn’t leave for Canada because I was in the middle of my college studies, and he didn’t want to interrupt those, did he?

I didn’t see my brother again. He committed suicide before he could be deployed again. He couldn’t see a way out of his dilemma, I chose not to assist him, and now I don’t get to enjoy his company anymore.

There’s so much more to his story. I can’t bring myself to share anymore details of our life together, other than to confess how his ghost still haunts me to this day. I fantasize about making a different choice and often think of the adventure we would have had avoiding the United States government in the wilds of Canada. I am often reminded of my brother in the literature that I teach in my classes. Several students have witnessed my inexplicable breaking-down in class because of a mention of Iraq, suicide, or PTSD…or even an explanation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The short story, “The Red Convertible” by Louise Erdrich, is the most explicit, translating my grief in a manner that is too spookily accurate. I often contemplate a visit to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to investigate his military life, to look for remnants of a noble soldier that shouldn’t be forgotten or left unappreciated. I often mean to read the book, Hidden Wounds: A Soldier’s Burden by Nate Brookshire and Marius Tecoanta, but I can never bring myself to open to the first page.

I blame the U.S. Army and George W. Bush for the death of my brother, but I reserve a fair share of culpability for myself. I blame myself for destroying my brother’s happiness and ignoring his immense sadness, and I will never reach the stage of loss known as “acceptance.” Memorial Day is intended to invoke memories of honor and respect, but I selfishly focus on my own dishonor and the disrespect I showed to my youngest brother in life. It’s small penance, but it is a necessary albatross, when remembering the service of Specialist Timothy Allan Guffey, my sweet, wounded soldier and precious little brother.

I miss him more than I can ever express. Thank you for your service and sacrifice, Tim.

{My brother, Tim, respected that I wanted to write for a living. I question whether to appeal for donations in this blog, and I wonder if Tim would mind. I can never really know.

If you appreciated this writing and want to help support the continuation of this blog, please consider sending a donation to:

Scott C. Guffey
P.O. Box 53
Michigan City, IN 46360

For a full explanation of author impetus, blog mission statement, and donations appeal, click About.}

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2 comments

  1. Beautifully written professor. On this day I will honor your brother and keep him in my thoughts.

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