The life of Nick as told through the eyes of his younger sister
Nick was the firstborn and the leader of the sibling pack. He was born August 14, 1981 in Des Moines, Iowa. My parents had a place in Polk City and, from what I know, the neighbors helped watch Nick whenever my parents needed to work or go somewhere. The neighbor, Willie, was involved in the community, so she took Nick to many different places. My dad said whenever they would go somewhere, everyone knew Nick. At such a young age, Nick already loved being around people and was making lasting impressions on those that met him.
My parents moved with Nick to Garland, Texas when my mom was pregnant with the second-born (that’d be me- Bri). On June 24, 1984, Nick obtained the highly privileged title of big brother. I like to think he was ecstatic to welcome a baby sister. On December 21, 1986, Nick and I both became “big” siblings as we welcomed Brady to the pack. From then on, we had a childhood full of fun. Now, we did fight and we did blame things on each other and we did tattle, but overall we had a blast. We loved having slumber parties in Brady’s room since he had the bunk beds. A time or twenty, Nick would fill the top bunk with rotten, silent farts, and then tell Brady or me we could have the top bunk. Once one of us arrived to the horror of the stench, he would laugh hysterically. If you knew Nick at all, you know how contagious that laugh was!
My Uncle Jim, mom’s brother, was around quite a bit growing up. He enjoyed being around us kiddos, especially Nick, and we naturally bonded with him. Uncle Jim would come to all of our birthday parties and take us to Dairy Queen in his big white van. Nick ALWAYS got the front seat. Brady and I usually had to sit on buckets in between the two front seats until my uncle finally bought seats for the back. We didn’t mind really- it was kinda fun living on the edge with no seat belt. That was back in the day when I don’t think we even had seat belt laws! Anyway, Nick LOVED my Uncle Jim. He went on trips with him, played ball with him, and you name it. On June 16, 1995, our world came crashing down. Uncle Jim was in a fatal car accident in Dallas. Nick was 14 years old at the time and had an extremely hard time dealing with his death.
We lived in Garland, TX until Nick was about to be a Senior in High School. He was at Rowlett High School (if I remember right he started there the first year it opened). Unfortunately, the school found out we no longer lived in Garland, and they kicked him out so Nick spent the second half of Senior year at Rockwall High School. He had to drive his little sister to school too since I was a freshman at Rockwall High School at the time. All I can say is, “No limit soldier, I thought I told ya…” (yes, we listened to a lot of rap, and I can still hear the song in my head with him singing along.) Such good memories!
After graduating, Nick went off to join the Army. I don’t know where all he got to go, but I know for sure he saw Korea and Germany. Nick was in the 507th Maintenance Company, and unfortunately they got called to war in March 2003. I still remember praying daily for his safe return. I was a freshman in college at the time. When we finally got to hear from Nick after an ambush that we knew 507th Maintenance Company was involved in, we were so glad (and blessed) that he was safe. 11 Soldiers in the 507th Maintenance Company were killed in combat and 7 others taken as prisoners of war. My brother was one of 16 that made it back to friendly forces. Easter weekend in 2003 he got to come home. I will never forget driving to El Paso with my dad to greet Nick as he came off that plane. Of course, if my memory serves me well, Nick was poking his head out of the plane as it pulled in. And, oh the crowd! We were all cheering them home, and I can’t tell you how comforting it was when I saw my big brother for the first time. I gave him the biggest hug of his life! I will never forget our reunion for as long as I live. Side note memory, that same weekend we thought we definitely needed to give glory to God for bringing Nick home safe so we went to church. Only, none of us had any church-appropriate clothes for Easter. We decided God didn’t mind, and we showed up to the Easter service in sweat pants that we bought from Wal-Mart. This must have been before SuperCenters, because the options were slim at the El Paso Wal-Mart at the time. We followed our sweat pant church service up with a brunch at Denny’s. Honestly, it was perfect to me, my brother, and my dad. We felt on top of the world since Nick was now safe and back on American soil.
Nick had survivor’s guilt after the ambush. Some of his buddies were dead. He struggled off and on with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) like many Soldiers do after battle. Despite his struggles, he would spend the next decade spending as much time as he could with those he loved most. Nick has many friends, but he also could easily make new friends. I admired him so much for that. He didn’t mind going to the movies alone or sitting at a coffee shop talking to someone new. I think Nick knew the secret to life was LOVE, and connecting with others was his way of sharing love with the world.
I’ve always thought of Nick as a hero, even before he became a Soldier. He paved a way for Brady and me. Nick wasn’t afraid to make mistakes or to take risks. I joked in high school that he made the mistakes so Brady and I didn’t have to. And honestly if you asked him, he would take it that way any day. He would rather take the heat than have any guilt fall on Brady or me. He was also a great listener, and I think saved lives in a sense by just being there. Nick was always my rock and a huge support to me during my toughest times. We could share anything and everything without judgment, and I know I am not the only one who thinks this. His heart is so big and full, and those in his inner circle reaped the reward.
My dad told me that the VA is going to make my brother’s tombstone, and the occupation will say Soldier. I love that. My brother was a true Soldier. He was a Soldier in battle, but he was also a Soldier of life. He was the guy taking the long way home to enjoy more sunshine, or perhaps he would stop for barbecue on the way home because it smelt so good. Life should be savored, and he did that. Nick also lived life fearlessly. In fact, I am so grateful I found a few of his notebooks, because in one he actually wrote the phrase, “Don’t be afraid to die.” He didn’t want to let the fear of death keep him from reaching his next goal or enjoying a certain hobby or moment in time.
My brother had a love for travel and spontaneity. His goals were always changing and one of the greatest lessons he taught me was to live life on your own terms. The Western culture is all about working more, having more, and sometimes forgetting the core of your being in the process. Nick didn’t care about having the next big thing or even working for the “man.” He would have loved to be out all day on the land if he could, and money was not a motivator for him. Nick was very spiritual and some could even say a philosopher of sorts. He had ideas about anything and everything, and most of the time it was fun to listen to. In fact, I learned a lot from our talks, and I would give anything to sit outside with him for a coffee talk right about now.
I strongly believe my Uncle Jim greeted Nick home, and I feel peace knowing this. I also feel peace knowing that Heaven is probably more magical than we could ever imagine. My brother now gets to be a Soldier of Heaven. While us left behind would rather have more time with him here, I know we will meet again. When that time comes, I will give him an even bigger hug than I did after Iraq. Nick will be deeply missed. His love and laughter made the world a better place, and I hope we all honor him by loving BIG. Nick lives on in all of us and he will never be forgotten.