My Hero. My Love. Lance Corporal Eric A. Palmisano

I Lost My Life on April 2, 2006. 

On that day the man I loved, the man I planned to marry and grow old with, died in Iraq. Seven marines and one sailor died in the same accident. Who knows how many of us back home lost our lives that day? Most of us are still here, breathing and going through the motions of living. But we'll never be the same.

Every morning I wake up to the hope that it's all a bad dream, that somehow, somehow… I've conjured up a thousand different scenarios with ultimately happy endings. But I cling to hope less and less as time passes, as the terrible reality of "never again" cuts deeper into what's left of me.

Lance Corporal Eric A. Palmisano was a marine for less than a year. He enlisted in the corps because it was the toughest and he wanted to be the best. He was. In boot camp he was Scribe and Squad Leader, and within a few weeks of deployment to Iraq he was up for a meritorious commendation. He wore the uniform with pride and determination and the same courageous spirit I'd fallen in love with 8 years before. Unlike me, Eric never thought about avoiding confrontation. He was outspoken, outrageously funny and childishly optimistic, even when everything seemed to be working against him.

Eric read voraciously, and he had a mind that retained all the details for later reference. He was a man who loved words, and used them cleverly, like an artist painting his quirky view of the world in ways that filled me with laughter. No one saw things the way Eric did. His head was perpetually filled with humor and irony. On the rare occasions when I said something funny, he would put on a stern face and remind me, "I'm in charge of jokes in this relationship."

There was never a boring moment when Eric was around. He would start games on a moment's notice, making up the rules as he went along, "Okay, you have to bounce the ball, jump over the couch, and make the basket standing on the coffee table…." Since we were both fierce competitors, I would actually score at times. Then he'd change the rules. Every time we played Scrabble, he'd go to great lengths defending a word that wasn't a word.

Eric was the only person I've ever known who looked forward to growing old. "We'll sit on the front porch, side by side in our rocking chairs," he'd say, "watching the grandchildren…" Over and over he wrote to me about the wonderful life God was planning for us… someday.

The last time I saw him, over Christmas, 2005, we talked about the house we were going to buy – not a mansion, just a cute little house with a basement and a yard for the kids. "We don't need to worry about furniture," he told me. "All we need is a bed where we can sleep, eat, play Scrabble, and watch movies. Just a big, comfortable bed. …And a grill." That was our American dream.

Eric's love spilled over me with the flowers he always gave me – many of them plucked from a neighbor's yard – with notes that made me laugh and cards that made me cry, with a diamond necklace and an air hockey table, both of which were far beyond his means.

I loved him back with high tech gadgets he delighted in, but could rarely afford for himself, admonitions on eating right and not smoking, and a fiscally responsible plan for our future. Eric was the impulsive romantic, I was the planner. We were a perfect match. As ridiculous as it sounds now, I took for granted that we had all the time in the world to plan our future, and do it right.

I've heard that people die of broken hearts. They're the lucky ones. I've gone on living but I've lost the life I was supposed to have, a life filled with dreams, and love, and laughter.

It's been two years and four months. I made it through my birthday, his birthday, Christmas, and Valentine's Day, trying to pretend they were just ordinary days, all the while feeling a vital part of myself slipping away. Joy was real when Eric was my future.

People assure me that I'll "move on," that I'm young, and I'll "find someone else." They don't understand that Eric and I were pieces of the same puzzle, locking together to complete the panorama of life as it was meant to be, body and soul, heart and mind.

I'm not afraid of never finding a replacement. I'm afraid of forgetting the sound of his voice, and the feelings I had when he held me in his arms, or simply looked at me, and I knew the miracle of his love, sweet, boundless, and tender. I'm afraid of growing old without joy, pretending that I'm looking forward to tomorrow.

I lost my life on April 2, 2006. I'm not alone. I'm just one of countless casualties of war.

By Eric's fiancé Claire Kohake