I sat at the dinner table, talking with Stephan's friends and family. I learned about his summer trips to Africa to hunt game with a family friend. I learned about how much he disliked Lola, but how much she loved him, screaming in her shockingly shrill bird voice until he'd visit her. I learned the family was still waiting for the military to give them Stephan's computer hard drive and camera, and how much they wanted to see the last photographs he'd shot with his new camera. I learned how much he loved life, and how much he was loved.
It was early afternoon and I was offered a beer. I don't really like beer, but I was nervous and accepted. I drank more than one, and late that night as I sat with one of the soldiers, Stephan's younger brother Chris asked how long it took for air support to arrive on the base.
"Forty minutes," I said.
"One hour and twenty minutes," the soldier corrected me. "The media got it wrong."
"I am the media," I said, feeling responsible for the inaccuracy, but clearly recalling my interview with the Apache pilots.
"An hour into the fight, I asked how long until we received support. I was told 20 minutes. I didn't think we had 20 minutes," the soldier explained.
I slept at Vanessa's house that night. A picture of Stephan was on the headboard of my bed. He's a handsome 21-year-old with bright blue eyes and an infectious smile.
I awoke around 5 a.m. to find Sophie the Mastiff thumping her tail against the bedroom wall. I sat with her in the hallway for about 20 minutes, petting her to sleep.
A few hours later, I interviewed Stephan's younger brothers Chris and Brad about their memorial tattoos. Chris, 18, is in the Army. He deploys for Afghanistan in a couple of weeks. He said he knows his family is worried about his deployment.