We lived on Kwajalein, a Marshall Island, for 19 months in 1977 and 1978 where life was slow, easy, and filled to the brim with all kinds of beach and water activities. In those days I liked to get up early and after Bob left for work and while the boys were still sleeping I began keeping a journal. That writing resulted in my first published piece – an article about our life on the island for my company magazine.
I’ve been thinking a lot about our Kwaj Kids lately. Five of the children we knew on the island are now no longer with us.
Bob asked last night if there could have been something in the water, something in the air, something about that life style. Who knows? None of them died very soon after leaving the island – each was well on their way in adulthood. Perhaps the deaths of Mark, our son Paul, and Danielle were the most curious. I believe Mark’s death was drug related, Paul’s was a suicide, and Danielle’s was a suicide of sorts – she was a homeless alcoholic. Do these deaths stem from the carefree time they had while living on an island in the middle of the South Pacific? I doubt it. They all swam, played t-ball, partied on the beach, snorkeled, fished, picked up shells and beach glass on the sand around the island lagoon, went to free movies on Saturday afternoons, and rode their two-wheel bikes without having to look where they were going. (Even Ben at age 3 could ride a two-wheeler.) They all went to an excellent American school. After all, we lived on a military base and the U.S. Government provided the children with the best.
I do know how much Paul missed the island once we returned home. Since Ben has no memories of his years or of his friends there, he never complained. Maybe had we stayed there Paul wouldn’t have had such difficulties and the stress that trigged his bipolar disorder, but I’ll never know about that either.
In the last six months two more of our Kwaj kids died. Mitch died suddenly of cancer and Stephanie died five months later during a gall bladder surgery. Both were in their late 30s. Mitch and Stephanie had reconnected after 30 years and were engaged to be married. They were definitely star crossed lovers.
We plan to attend Stephanie’s memorial service tomorrow. Bob and her dad – and Mitch and Mark’s dads all worked on the same project while we were on island. Danielle’s dad was one of the island doctors. He and his wife were our good friends.
The attached photos are just examples of one of the fun Kwaj kid days. Paul appears on the far right on the photo on the right. The little guy in the center of the photo on the left is Ben. I don’t think the others I've mentioned above are in these photos.
Here’s the poem I wrote after Danielle died in 2007:
I remember a wiry blonde girl,
about 5 years old
with big eyes wiser than her years.
She took my son, Ben,
by the hand and led him
to the rock-lined cliffs
at the lagoon’s edge
or to the park where
wasps hiding in trees
swarmed around them.
Screeching they ran to catch up
to their older brothers
all tan and freckled from the constant sun.
With them they stood
on the rocky cliff
lowering their baited hooks into
the warm Pacific,
and brought out little iridescent fish
in shades of blue and gold.
She left us this spring
like his older brother
many years before.
Both lost their souls
in that deep lagoon.
They never found such magicanywhere else.