|Tipp: The Only True Story I'll Ever Tell submitted 2009.06.17 04:34 PM by Flack viewed 3279 times|
|During my time in the military, I met people from all sorts of different walks of life. The vast multi-cultural landscape that is today's Army was something that I had never experienced. The squad (smallest personnel element in the army) that I served in was made up of myself, a young city-kid from mid-Michigan; an 18 year old know it all from Alabama that wished he was Japanese; 2 Puerto Ricans that spoke barely any English; a female soldier of Cherokee decent, an import racing Ex-Marine; a mid-20's black guy from the rougher parts of Houston and a SoCal burb-kid as our leader. And that was just my squad.|
But it was one individual whom I met that stood in the squad in front of mine during company formation. A young, tough-as-nails, East Texas good ol' boy named Robert Tipp.
Robert was one of the first real friends I made in the Army. The first time we hung out was by pure coincidence as one night we had a mutual objective: scoring beer. Both of us being underage, we knocked on doors of the barracks until we found someone that would buy us beer. Since we were both drinking that night, it only seemed logical to drink together. That night was the beginning of a strong friendship that would end up carrying us through a year of
combat in Iraq.
Being from two completely different worlds, a northern social liberal Michigander and a semi-rural Texas conservative, our friendship seemed odd to other people. Most people in the military tend to hang out with people of similar interests and values, though the common bond of soldiering still presents a strong appreciation for one another. But Tipp and I saw past these differences and were able to form a mutual respect for each other and our scruples. In fact, we prided ourselves on being so open minded towards one another, though we rarely agreed on many political, social, or religious issues.
Long conversations we would have about all sorts of things:
Abortion: Tipp was pro-life and I am pro-choice.
Religion: Tipp was a committed Christian whereas I felt religion in itself was irrelevant.
Homosexuality: Tipp found it immoral and I didn't really
give a damn either way.
But we did find common ground on some issues. We both believed in Gun rights, thought taxes sucked, and agreed that import racing idiots are complete fags.
Our differences in opinion only grew as we got to know each other, but our friendship also grew as we became more interested in each other's lives and hobbies. I played guitar and Tipp introduced me to country music. Not that modern-pop country crap, but real country music like Merle Haggard and David Allan Coe.
Tipp enjoyed hunting and I convinced him to join me in the cold of Northern Michigan for deer camp when we redeployed back home.
We played video games, sang songs, drank bootleg liquor, played pranks on one another, and developed a kinship unmatched by few others. We talked about beer, guns, pussy, and the failings of our NCO support channel with great enthusiasm.
I spent Christmas Day of 2004 with Tipp and another friend of ours. We hung out in the room, opened presents we bought for each other, watched movies, pigged out on chips and soda, and generally felt a semblance of family that I don't think anyone else in our Company felt hat day.
And then we came home, though I wish the story ended happily at that point.
I left for Fort Hood early, leaving Tipp to stay later to complete a detail he had been given in Kuwait. He arrived about a month after me. Our friend, Bryan, came to my new apartment and told me Tipp was back and asked if I wanted to go meet him at the parade grounds before he went to Lake Jackson, TX with his family for a few days. I was incredibly sick at the time and said, "Nah. Tell him I'll see him after his pass is over."
The next time I saw him, he was dead.
On Easter morning of 2005, three days after his return to the US from Iraq, Tipp went for a ride on his newly purchased ATV. After making an incredibly sharp turn, Tipp was ejected from his ATV and landed head first into a concrete driveway. He died a few hours later at a hospital in Houston.
I was one of the first guys to learn of Tipp's death. I immediately hung the phone up on the Master Sergeant that called me and balled my eyes out. I called our friends, and we went to McDonalds to grab an early morning bite and talk about what happened. We had work the next day, but it didn't stop me from drowning myself in a bottle of Hennesey and calling my Dad, asking him for some kind of solace.
Later that week, I spoke at his Military memorial service. I had prepared a speech, but ended up just rambling about how he once tried to make a huge puddle of Copehagen spit in front of the driver's hatch of a tank so the driver had to crawl all over it. It got a few laughs, and a couple of dirty looks form the Tankers in our battalion, but that was Tipp. Always looking for some way to piss someone off so he could have a raucous laugh about it later.
Looking back, I wish I would have said something more profound, but what else could I say. I could have said that he loved America so much he wouldn't buy a damn toothbrush if it didn't say "Made in The USA" on it. Or the fact that he spent a ridiculous amount of money to make sure his truck contained nothing but American made parts, except the Sony CD player, which I found hilarious. Or maybe the fact that he truly believed in the principles that the United States was founded on and felt strongly that it's every citizen's duty to contribute in some kind of meaningful way.
A few days later, I finally saw him. It was the first time I had seen him since I had left Baghdad, and now, one of my closest and dearest friends, was dead.
I had lost a lot of people in my life up to that point. Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, a high school friend to suicide, but I had not mourned any death before, or since, like I mourned Tipp's.
A part of my soul went missing that day, and I don't ever think it will fully come back.
It was at his funeral where I finally met his family, a genuine working class family that loved Texas, Football, Harley's, and the Army. They immediately accepted me and later became as close to me as Tipp was in the first place. I became great friends with his sister and her fiancÚ, coming down to their house to stay with them when I needed to get away from the bullshit of the modern NCO corps for a weekend.
I was never the same after losing Tipp. I started down a dark path, drinking heavily and doing massive amounts of cocaine. You read stories about how people lose somebody and then hit a bottom, and you think, "Man, what a fucking pussy."
I became that pussy.
I knew its not what my friend wanted for me, and I didn't realize it until a few weeks after his funeral when, drunk as hell, I packed up a bag and made my way to Michigan. I was leaving it all behind: The Army, Iraq, Tipp, everything.
I got as far as Waco, Tx when I pulled over into a field, got out of my truck, and screamed. I cursed God, I cursed Tipp, I cursed myself.
"Fuck You! Why did you leave me?"
"You're a fucking asshole, God!"
"Somebody Help Me!!!!!"
I broke down, fell to my knees, and sobbed uncontrollably. And then I passed out.
When I woke up, something was different. Maybe it was because I was sobering up, but still, something felt just, different. Like some weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
I'm not a very religious man, but I like to think that that night, maybe, just maybe, Tipp gave me back some of that piece of my soul I had lost when he passed.
I don't do cocaine anymore. I drink responsibly. I've made my peace with God.
But more importantly, I don't mourn Tipp anymore. Instead, I celebrate him. I celebrate the impact he made on my life. I celebrate his sense of humor. I celebrate his dirty jokes and pussy stories, and I am always so eager to tell some yarn about us getting into trouble and laughing like hyenas about how we weaseled out of whatever shit we got ourselves into.
I'm certain that everyone has a story like this. But what's great about this story is that it's not just mine, but it's a story that belongs to several people that knew and loved Tipp as much as I did. And I like to think that every time I tell it, it closes that hole in my soul just a tiny bit more.
Left to right: Tipp, myself, Bryan.
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