I think about Danny every single day, but I try not to think about the day I found out he was killed. I am only 28 years old and I have already experienced the worst day of my entire life. Who really wants to revisit that? The one day I wish I could wash from my brain, is the only day I can actually remember, in detail, from the past 15 months.
15 months ago, to this day, I found out my husband was never coming home: Monday, December 23rd, 2013. Like an addict, I have triggers that can be set off; anywhere, at any time, and completely unexpected. When I hear a gunshot, I go back to that day. Rain. Big white vans. The kitchen counter. Things that are normal to other people, to me- are reminders of my husband dying. Going to work on Monday always sucks, so trust me, I knew today was Monday. I asked my brother in law the simple question, “what’s the date?” He responded “the 23rd.” Monday the 23rd. Trigger.
Danny and I got married December 19, 2009, both 23 years old, and I moved to Hawaii, where he was stationed with 2nd battalion 3rd Marines, on January 12th, 2010. A year-long honeymoon in paradise? Yes puh-lease. I’m listening to a Jack Johnson playlist as I write this and it instantly brings me back. If we could only turn back time! Gorgeous beaches with crystal clear water…sunshine everyday…palm trees…I’m getting side tracked. 20 degrees and snow in March… Ok I’m back.
After two deployments, Danny was out of Hawaii (which he was totally fine with) and moving on to Quantico, Virginia, where he became a combat instructor at TBS. He reassured me that he wouldn’t deploy again for a while, if ever. We were lucky to have lived together for 3 years without any deployments getting in the way. Trust me, that is rare for newlyweds in the military. I was lucky. Fast forward…luck ran out and he got orders to 1/9 at Camp Lejeune and would be deploying to Afghanistan again. Since this was happening quickly, we decided it would be easiest, and best for me to live at home with family while he was away. There was no point in moving to North Carolina to be by myself, not knowing anyone and having to find a temporary job while he was constantly training and leaving a couple months later. So come September, off he went, and I would be here in Massachusetts waiting for him.
I started working at Starbucks when I moved to Hawaii, and it turned out to be really convenient for when we had to up and move, because I could easily transfer to another store. I worked in Virginia, and was able to pick up shifts in Mass for the short time I’d be here. The morning of December 23, I was scheduled to work at 6am. My internal alarm clock went off at about 3:00am and I panicked thinking I was late for work. I have to open today..shit! I got up, got ready and got to work prepared to open at 4am. They let me know I was way early (the worst) so I stayed and hung out in the back room until 6:00 instead of driving home just to turn around and go back. It was a normal day, kind of slow, and I ended up getting out an hour early. This made my day because I had a ton of Christmas shopping left to do…procrastination at its finest. I got home (my parent’s house) and ran inside and went upstairs to change. I remember coming down the stairs, standing in the kitchen and glancing out the window at the rain. Right as I looked out the window, I saw two Marines walking up the front lawn. Blue pants, tan coats and covers. I knew why they were here. No, God please no. After that moment it became a complete out of body experience. I ran out the front door to meet them by the side, standing in the rain. I think I asked “Is Danny ok?” three or four times before they even spoke. “Mrs. Vasselian?” “Yes, is Danny ok?” They said “That’s why we’re here… can we go inside?” Why the fuck aren’t they answering my question. I brought them inside and told them I needed to put my dogs away and to hold on. I brought my two dogs into the basement and put them in their crates. I remember squatting in front of the two crates, holding on to the metal latch. I didn’t want to get up…I didn’t want to go back upstairs. This can’t be happening. This isn’t fucking happening. Maybe if I stayed down here they would just go away and I would wake up. They called for me and I remember just looking at them, waiting for them to say something. Praying they would not say what I knew they were going to say. The details of their wording at this point is a little foggy, but they informed me that early that morning, Danny had been shot and they were not able to save him. I remember thinking ‘I can’t go back from this moment. This happened. It can’t be undone. This is happening. Oh my god.’ That morning, as I was waking up for work, my husband was dying.
One thing I am grateful for that day is the shock my body underwent. My casualty officer, later on, told me that my face just went pale and I had no expression. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t feel anything. I was completely numb. It felt like someone stabbed me in the lungs and it was really hard to breathe. I was standing by the counter when they told me, and I just leaned over the counter trying to catch my breath and stop shaking. One of them was rubbing my back. They told me to take a seat, so I sat down for a second, and stood back up. I could literally see this happening to myself, but it wasn’t me. “Why am I not crying?” He said, “I think you are in shock.” I just kept looking at them, still waiting for them to take it back…to tell me Danny was hurt but he would be ok, and that they were here to bring me to him. I asked if Danny’s mother knew and they said that there were two other officers at her house. I asked if they could drive me over there, so we went outside and I got in the big white van. I sat in the front seat and had my head in between my legs, trying to catch my breath. We pulled up to Danny’s house and I ran inside and made my way passed the Marine standing in the hallway. Besides him, the first person I saw was Danny’s younger sister, Julianne, who happened to be one of my best friends. I think I just fell into her arms and my tears rushed out. “Oh, Erin I’m so sorry” she managed to get out through her own sobs. Seeing her made it real.
Time doesn’t heal all wounds. My heart hurts just as much today as it did that day. Can shock last this long? Some days I still have to convince myself that this really happened; my brain just won’t accept it. Other days, I find myself crying on the kitchen floor. I guess it’s all part of the process. I do know that no matter how hard it is, I will come out stronger. I refuse to be stuck in the rain.
Erin Vasselian Proud Military Widow of SGT Danny Vasselian