There's a bit of foul language in this piece. The caution for violence is due to the story being about the effects of war.
Friday, July 5, 2013 7:15 PM The Brothers Soup Kitchen and Shelter next to St. Agnes Catholic Church, South Boston, MA, USA
I had just finished eating my meal, the meal today being a rather decent beef stew with some hefty dinner rolls when I noticed a woman standing in the entryway. She pulled something from her wallet, looked at it and then looked around the room.
I didn't pay her any more attention, so I was surprised when my left shoulder was gently tapped. I looked up and saw her, an American soldier wearing basic battle dress uniform. She pointed to the office, motioning that I should go with her there so that we could talk.
That was a surprise, Father Patrick Riordan only lets non-staff use the office if it's an emergency. Perhaps this was one.
Once we were in the office, she waved me toward the chairs against a wall, then sat on the edge of the priest's desk.
"So, Katie, I'm here to find out if you know someone by the name of Seamus Padraig O'Flynn?" she asked.
Yet another surprise, this woman obviously knew me by my name of choice, Katherine Siobhan O'Bannon. That hasn't always been the case, as I was born male and eventually named Keith Sean O'Bannon. I've known since I was four or five years old that I should have been female.
"Yeah, I know him. Why? What has happened? Wait a minute... why isn't he here himself?" I replied, my voice rising as I spoke.
The woman shook her head and sighed, "That's why I'm here, Katie. He died while we were on a mission Wednesday afternoon.
"We were on our way to deal with a group of terrorists who were using the people in a certain village in Iraq as their 'shield'. About two hours before we were due to arrive there, one of our people noticed a land mine lying in the middle of the road and warned the other vehicles.
"It seems your boy had sharp ears, he heard about there being a land mine in the road and jumped out of the vehicle while it was still moving. No one had a chance to grab him, he moved too fast. The next thing we knew, he was standing over that damn thing when it exploded.
"Your boy took almost the full brunt of the blast. Only a few small fragments went past him, resulting in some minor injuries.
"We did what we could for him and continued on our mission. That was a success, we caught the buggers completely unprepared."
"I'm here because he listed you as his next of kin and I am supposed to pass on his remains and his belongings to you."
At this point, I was a bloody mess, I had just heard that my best friend was dead, I broke down and bawled my eyes out in front of her. I cried steadily and hard for at least fifteen minutes. She sat there watching me, only offering the box of kleenex from the desk as I wound down.
She was about to say something else when there was a knock on the door, followed by Father Pat entering the office.
He noticed right away that I had been crying as he asked, "Do ye want me to do the funeral for him, girl?"
I looked up at him in shock. That was completely unexpected. "Why would you do that, father, he was only a street rat, no one important."
"Because ye, Jimmy, Pat, Liam, Brendan and Niall all helped out here now and then. The six of you could have just come here and gotten your meals or whatever else we offer, but no, even with your circumstances, all six of you helped here simply because you could."
"But, Father, we aren't members of your congregation; heck, if it weren't for the food and other things, we likely wouldn't come here at all."
He looked down at me and chuckled, saying, "Girl, you six have helped more than many folks in my congregation ever have, that's a fact. I choose to repay that help by doing the funeral for someone who served our country because he deserves more than a pauper's funeral."
"Th- thank you, Father, I would be happy to have you do that service for him," I stuttered briefly as I replied to him.
He turned to the woman in the BDUs, saying, "Now, Corporal, I know you gave her the news, but I'll bet you didn't introduce yourself."
The woman giggled, replying, "You're right, Father, I completely forgot. I guess I should take care of that right now, hadn't I? Katie, my name is Corporal Ellen Fitzhugh, I was one of the corporals in your friend's company, actually I'm a corporal in his platoon. He was a good man."
I nodded, remembering the young man who had charged off to war twenty months earlier.
She continued, "If you two could follow me, I'll pass on his remains and give you his belongings, Katie."
We followed her out through the rear exit of the church to a small four door sedan sitting in the church's parking lot. She used the remote to unlock the doors and the trunk, then pulled two duffle bags and an army style backpack from the trunk of the car and handed them to me. She opened one of the back doors, pulled out a box about the same size as a milk crate and handed it to me as well.
I had just managed to set the two duffle bags and the backpack on the ground when the box appeared over my hands.
"This box contains his remains, Katie. As I said earlier, he was a good man, I'm proud to have served with him."
That damn stutter reappeared as I replied, "Th- thank you, Corporal, for doing this. Jim- Jimmy was my best friend."
I guess you shouldn't be surprised that I started crying again, just trickles this time.
Corporal Fitzhugh gave me a quick but tight hug, then closed the doors and climbed into her car. "I'll be at the funeral, Katie," she said as she started the car's engine, then checked behind her before slowly backing up a bit and turning toward the exit to the street.
Father Pat helped me to carry Jimmy's belongings inside while I held on to that box holding his remains.
We returned to the office where we spent the next ninety minutes working out the plans for the funeral, which would be on Wednesday.
I left Jimmy's remains and his belongings with the priest, then headed off to our usual sleep location several blocks away.
I guess I should give you some history about Jimmy and I, oh, and about the other four that made up our group as well, I suppose.
I was born on March 5th of 1996 in the maternity ward of what is now known as Boston Medical Center. I weighed in at eight pounds, thirteen ounces, was just under 22 inches in length with green eyes and bits of dirty blonde hair that darkened to auburn as I grew older.
Apparently my mother had put me up for adoption, so I was claimed within a few hours and spent the next several months in a place that offered care for newborns. I wasn't in any particular danger, someone in social services decided I needed what that place provided.
That lasted until I was fourteen months old, at which point I was transferred to an orphanage for boys located in South Boston.
That orphanage was an utter hellhole. The woman who ran the joint was a total bitch, and that's being nice! If you ended up in trouble, you would be darn lucky if you managed to get away from her with just a tongue lashing; she was far more apt to reach for her weapon of choice, a solid ironwood ruler some friend of hers had sent to her as a gift many years before. That damn thing hurt like a son of a bitch.
Not only that, but she gave us barely enough to keep us from actual starvation, so we were all thin and gaunt while living there.
I was five-and-a-half when Jimmy arrived in the early fall of 2001. He was about two months short of his sixth birthday, he'd ended up in there because all of his close relatives, his parents, five aunts, three uncles, quite a few cousins and all three living grandparents were killed by a bomb thrown into the house while he and his parents were visiting relatives in Belfast, Northern Ireland in August.
No one ever took credit for the bombing, and the police there lost interest as other major crimes took place in that city. It's still unsolved.
One of the cousins still in the US, the lone survivor closely related to Jimmy, refused to take him, so Jimmy ended up in the hellhole.
Liam and Niall were brothers, six and five respectively when they arrived in June of 2002. Their parents had been out on a date, some idiot using a cell phone while driving back-ended them and they slammed into a bridge abutment, then ended up in the water and drowned.
Both of their parents had been single children, the grandparents were all ill or incapable, so they joined us in the orphanage.
Patrick and Brendan were also brothers, nine and seven respectively when they arrived in May of 2005. Their parents were in the midst of a nasty divorce in early 2003, social services decided they were more concerned with money and how they could get the most from the divorce rather than their two boys and pulled the boys from the home. They ended up in foster homes for a while, both boys acted out rather intensively, so the foster agency decided they would be placed in the orphanage after Pat broke a foster mother's arm during an argument.
We stuck it out for quite a while in that place. Eventually, though, the six of us became sick and tired of her rules and bullshit and decided that a life on the streets would be better than living there, so we bagged some clothes, a blanket or two each and some other items, and left in the middle of the night in May of 2006. I'd turned ten about two months earlier, Jimmy would be eleven that November, Liam had just turned ten a few days before, his brother Niall was nine, Patrick was ten and Brendan was eight. Yep, not a one of us over ten years old at that point.
To say that the next several years were a constant battle to survive would be a drastic understatement. We also had to watch out for police, truant officers and anyone else that thought they might be able to take advantage of a bunch of young kids out on the streets.
That is largely why we usually ran around as a pack. None of the other five made any fuss when I started living as a girl in 2008. They already knew about me from all the discussions we had had in the dorm at the orphanage and then on the streets after we left that awful place.
In 2010, I managed to be able to see a doctor, then was turned over to a psychiatrist at Boston Medical Center, Dr. Ryann Barrows; after several sessions with her, she decided that stopping my testosterone before I entered puberty was appropriate, so I ended up on blockers.
November 12, 2011
Then the day came that would change Jimmy's life and mine, and would eventually lead to that funeral I've mentioned.
I'd just returned to our little camp after panhandling for most of the afternoon, Liam had been with me in case people hassled me.
Jimmy walked into the camp, laughing as he made his over to my shoddy mattress under a highway overpass near the Bass River.
"Hey, Katie, I'm leaving tomorrow, the army accepted me, I'll be heading down to Georgia for basic training!" he yelled.
I shouted, "You're what?" as he handed me a form showing he had enlisted and another paper telling him to report to a base in Georgia.
"You son of a bitch!" I screamed, "Why are you doing this? You've been a big part of the six of us staying together, Jimmy!"
"Because I need to do this, Katie, I need to serve my country, and I decide what to do with my life, no one else!" he yelled back.
We talked about it for over an hour, he was adamant that he would do it, so I had him promise to keep in contact wth us.
He kept that promise, too. About a month after he enlisted, a package arrived with a cell phone in it, he was covering the payments. That phone got used a lot as we all would take the time to chat with him whenever he called, usually on Sunday evenings.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013, 9 AM Graveyard beside St. Agnes Catholic Church, South Boston, Maryland, USA
I stood there watching, tears streaming down my cheeks, as the coffin was lowered into the waiting grave, the American flag draped carefully over it. Corporal Ellen Fitzhugh was standing a few feet away from me, also watching the coffin being lowered.
The funeral was for my long time friend, Private First Class Seamus (Jimmy) Padraig O'Flynn of the US Army.
I'd spent a fair bit of time with Corporal Fitzhugh over the last few days, learning about Jimmy during his time of service in Iraq.
He had enlisted the day after Remembrance day in 2011, and had been shipped off somewhere for basic training starting the following Monday. I hadn't seen him since his last brief visit in March of this year, and the buzz cut made him look even younger than his seventeen years.
I'm not even sure how he had managed to enlist at the age of sixteen, all I know is that he did, he honestly wanted to serve his country.
As people began to make their way out of the graveyard, I could hear the sound of a harmonica starting up, then whoever was playing it shifted into a tune that most definitely fit the circumstances that had brought all of us here today. He or she eventually reached the chorus.
By that point, several people were quietly singing along, I found myself joining them. What better tribute could we give?
"All Gave Some, Some Gave All
Some stood through for the red, white and blue
And some had to fall
And if you ever think of me
Think of all your liberties and recall
Some Gave All"
Once again, the tears were flowing as I walked through the gate and headed toward our little camp on the streets of South Boston.
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