There was never a moment in the last twelve years when I thought I wasn't going to eventually publish this book.
On September 28, 2004 my best friend Tyler Prewitt was killed while serving in Iraq. I felt the loss the same way I describe Kate as feeling the loss of Ethan. It went through my heart to someplace deeper. My soul. And, like so many of life's precious gifts, it wasn't until I'd lost him that I realized how much I loved him.
For the sake of transparency, I will say that Tyler and I were not like Kate and Ethan. We met when were 15 and 14. We were instant friends, but the romance aspect of us was rocky at best. We were young, immature, and fueled by hormones and confusion. We did dumb things to hurt each other. Even through all the juvenile behavior, our friendship was solid. And I needed that more than romance. I was new in school and terrified of being myself.
Four years later Tyler would tell me of his decision to join the Army. And me, still dumb and naive, didn't fully comprehend the danger he was going to face. He left, and we talked through email and phone calls. He would visit on r&r's, and it was like he never left. He matured faster than I. Either I was very immature, or the military made him a man quickly, or some combination of both. His final trip home was confusing. I stopped looking at him like he was just my best friend. My heart beat faster when I thought of him, and I recognized what was happening. I'd dated enough to know I was attracted to the person who'd held my hand through so many painful moments in my life.
I wrote him an email, telling him how I felt. He was happy, to say the least. He'd loved me for years. That part of the story is the truth. Ethan loved Kate and Tyler loved me. Tyler wrote me a beautiful letter, which I received after he died. That's another little nugget of truth in the book. His words were different than Ethan's, however. Some things are too personal to share.
When Tyler was killed, it profoundly changed me. I didn't know love and loss could be felt in my bones. I had a lot of emotions, but one of the strongest feelings was fury at my younger self. Twelve years later my fury has changed to disappointment. I won't get into the why's or how's of my disappointment, but it resulted in one of many lessons learned from losing Tyler.
Another part of The Day He Went Away that's true is the character of Nick. Nick is real. But his name is Luke, and he's my husband. Next summer we will celebrate our ten year wedding anniversary. Luke and Tyler met when they served in the Army together, and they were best friends. When Tyler died Luke came to Phoenix for the funeral and we met. This is another place where The Day He Went Away takes on its own life. Luke was still in the military and we emailed frequently. At first we talked about Tyler, shared our funny stories about him, and leaned on each other in moments of pain that were too much for one person to bear. Nine months later, Luke used his leave to come to Phoenix and establish residency. Tyler had convinced Luke to move here, and he wanted to follow through, even though he would be alone in the move.
In the interest of privacy, I'll save the details. The point is this: the grief process has a way of cutting to the quick and eliminating the face we present to the world. Luke and I never had to sift through superficial layers because we were broken when we met each other. Our cores were fused together by our love for Tyler and our brokenness over his death. We remember and honor Tyler and his sacrifice every day. Our son's middle name is Tyler. The American flag that was flown on post in Iraq after Tyler was killed is framed and hangs in our home. If you look closely, you can see where it's tinged with Iraqi dust.
I wrote The Day He Went Away because it's a story that deserves telling. It's a way to honor my best friend and every other man and woman who serves and has served in the Armed Forces. Behind every soldier are people who love them. Every soldier has a history, a personal story to tell, loved ones they've left behind so they can keep us all safe. The Day He Went Away is fiction, but its heart is based in reality.