One morning in late June, I received a phone call from Vondran. I couldn’t answer, and he left a voicemail, frantic and shaken.
“Dude,” he said, “what… what the hell happened to Vance?”
It had been my second week on the job, in the new career, and in an environment where my past was virtually unknown. It seemed like a fresh start, that finally, I could be someone other than what I had been. And so I continued working, bothered by the voicemail, but determined to be that hard worker, that rule follower—the new member of the team.
A few minutes later, I stepped out of the office and called him back, remembering the old team and the old days.
For as long as I’ve known him, Vondran has always been the cool head, the witty and snarky sham-shielder that always knew how to brighten the mood. But in that moment, on the phone, he was restless and scared, and I could tell that something had hit him a little too close to home.
“Hey—hey man,” he stuttered. “Have you seen Vance’s Facebook page? Did something happen?”
When I returned to my desk, I logged into Facebook and stalked Vance’s wall. Several dozen friends and family had left condolences and well-wishings for his family, and my heart sank. It sank like it did when I heard about Brian, and I remembered all the family drama that Vance had recently posted.
He was frustrated, and hurt, and tired of all the usual bullshit, and I wondered, had the support network, the brothers—had I—had we failed again?
I knew Jason Jermi Vance as SGT Vance, along with SGT Bazaldua and SGT Brantley, the first NCO’s I met in the real Army. As the quiet private in the platoon, it was fun for me to watch the other guys rag on Vance. He was a little goofy, most of the time broken down, but always, he took a beating and dished ‘em out with the best of ‘em. But aside from that, he was loved, and respected by all who knew him.
One of the last and best memories I have of Vance is the time we were racing in some abandoned and unfinished business area off Exit 1 (Tiny Town Road) near the Tennessee and Kentucky border at Interstate 24. I was driving around one day, looking for new roads, with the windows down and radio blasting. The area was private, but with open gates, no guards, and nothing around for miles, and my curiosity got the best of me. So, I called up Dex and Wiley and Stupid Kory and Mac and Ray, and they all brought their cars down for some quarter-mile fun.
Vance was driving a second-generation Eclipse with a V6 and automatic; Ray had a new V6 Tiburon; Stupid Kory had an F-150; Wiley had an early 90’s Corvette, and Dex had a Celica GT-S. Good ole Wiley crashed into the fence at the end of the run, scratching the shit out of his hood and putting a damper on future runs. Ray’s Tiburon, even with the V6 and better 6-speed transmission, failed to pull on my non-VTEC Prelude, and Dex with his GT-S and 6-speed, started pulling on me as we up-shifted into third. But Vance, that fucker’s Eclipse was slow, and we never let him hear the end of it.
A few months later, when Vance medically retired, he blew his severance pay on a yellow Lancer Evolution with pink graphics. He swore it came that way from the dealership, proud that he finally had the car to blow us all away, but we just laughed. That was our Vance, that dumb big-eared fucker, and we loved him like a brother.
In the years that followed, through girl problems and custody battles, Vance drove his yellow and pink Evo through Tennessee and Kentucky and Louisiana, back and forth between home and family, visiting his children and others. I didn’t talk to him as often as I should, though I was trying to raise my own family while finishing school. But through all the Facebook drama, Vance endured and persisted. No matter how dramatic his status updates became, they always ended with determination.
He wasn’t dealt the best cards, but he’d be damned if he wasn’t going to better his situation.
(SGT) Jason Jermi Vance died on 27 June 2011 in a head-on collision. I never did get the details on passengers, or even what had happened. Since it was my second week of work, I couldn’t get time off for the memorial, held a few days later.
“You know, Vance was to me, what Brian was to you,” Vondran later told me.
I nodded, thinking that some unspeakable force was slowly having its way with my brothers. And I remembered telling Baz in a hotel room the night before Brian’s memorial how I felt like I didn’t think Brian’s death was going to be the last.
That morning at work, I contemplated walking out of the office. For three hours, I couldn’t concentrate on my work; I couldn’t think of anything but trying to hold in my emotions. I didn’t know Vance as close as Vondran did, but he was no less a brother, a man I fought with, and worked guard duty with, and walked with, humping rucksacks in the suck. In war, it doesn’t matter what each person carried; what matters is what they shared, and SGT Vance was among the best at taking care of his soldiers, of any soldier, brother, or friend.
I couldn’t leave work that morning. I felt like I couldn’t just walk into the new boss’ office and tell him that I was weak, that I had PTSD, or that because of it, that I was in and out of constant depression and mood swings triggered by flashbacks and sounds and smells. I wanted to curl into a ball; instead, I walked to the restroom and splashed water onto my face and eyes.
And so I grieved at my cubicle, silent and alone, staring at the blinking cursor on a blank Word document on my desktop.