****** lived in my childhood neighborhood.
He was Pakistani and more intelligent
in areas where I floundered.
Frankly, looking back, there are ways
in which I envied him:
Two years older;
better at math;
an unquestioned knowledge of reproduction;
and the best dirty joke in town
at a time when very few of us
knew how sex smelled.

I was eleven
equally dark, but naive
and ****** seemed to have most of the answers.
Laughing last is laughing longest
but I am doing neither.
I learned last night that he's been dead
for seven years now.
There's an article on a local newspaper's website
on his life and death
with a photo of him in uniform
standing in front of our flag.

Left college to enlist
four days after 9-11;
was ridiculed by drill sergeants
due to his foreign name;
served his country
as a soldier of Muslim faith
like my German grandfather
who fought in WWII
since he was spat on in school during WWI;
earned a master's degree at RIT
after his deployment to Iraq;
gave his dog tags to his little brother
after getting married;
returned to active duty in Afghanistan
as a second lieutenant and translator;
was blown to patriotic pieces
by a roadside bomb with the four men
in his patrol--
a martyr, buried in Albany
too young to be over
and too old for dirty jokes.

The boys in our development
used to laugh at the way
he'd wear his bicycle helmet
even after reaching his destination--
sometimes inside a condo
while we played video games
and tried to muffle the cursing
from our parents in the next room.
We even had a name for his condition:

I wish his Kevlar helmet
had saved him in 2008
but explosions aren't like bike wrecks
or ridiculing kids.

Currently reading:
"The Zombie Survival Guide" by Max Brooks.

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