The young men stood in the funeral home parking lot, telling tales.
Ill at ease in their shirts and ties, they smoked and laughed, recounting a series of remember-that-time stories set in the streets and backyards of Milford. But the main character of each story, Jordan C. Pierson, wasn't out there to embellish his friends' accounts.
He was inside.
The Marine corporal was in an open casket while the eyes of hundreds drifted, in turns, across the chest of his dress uniform and to his face -- like Jordan but unlike him, as if molded from clay.
For hours during the Sunday wake, his tribe of friends manned the parking lot while much of the town shuffled past the impossibility in the casket. Impossible that this is the Jordan who was once a center for the wild energies of his friends. Impossible that the 21-year-old could take a form that didn't feature the mischief of his toothy smile.
For years, Jordan's room in a detached garage outside his family's Milford home was often a hub of wild nights for unruly teens. But Jordan and his room were also a refuge, especially for friends who were more lost than others.
In the parking lot, the friends didn't talk about what lay inside the funeral home that caused people to leave with reddened faces and tear-dampened tissues. They talked about Jordan's room and how they had all learned to sneak through the yard and into it without waking the parents.
They talked of Jordan's much-abused Honda CRX and his need to please people. And they talked about Jordan's love of guns and the military, even when it came to the video games he wanted to play.
``He was a warrior, man,'' said Michael Amendola, one of Jordan's oldest friends.
Two of the friends wore Marine uniforms. Cpl. Mike Brennan had signed up about the same time as Jordan. As for Lance Cpl. Mark Vargo, it was Jordan's influence that got him into the Marines.
For Jordan, the Marines held an answer. The routinely defiant youth found a higher meaning there, and a greater discipline. And if Jordan could find that, his friend thought he might, too.
``I was in a pretty rough spot,'' Vargo said. ``My life wasn't really going anywhere.'' So he said he wasn't hard to convince, and Jordan gave him a ride to the recruiter's office.
Vargo ended up with Jordan in Plainville's Charlie Company, part of the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, which is known as ``New England's Own.''
Vargo was getting ready to go to Iraq with them when he was diagnosed with a disease. So he stayed home and watched Jordan leave for Fallujah, where he was shot to death on Aug. 25.
``A lot of guilt there,'' Vargo said.
The day after the wake, Jordan's friends were together again, driving to the Trumbull church where a memorial service was scheduled. In front of hundreds, a few of them took turns on the stage, trying to fit Jordan's life into words, to explain to outsiders why there was something special within the mundane.
Kyle O'Connor explained how he struggled to write about Jordan, but ``the abstraction of friendship cannot be put on paper,'' he told them. He called the loss a milestone that people should mark with changes in their own lives.
Amendola recalled his partner in childhood mischief, his ``brother from another mother.'' And he said that in recent years, ``Jordan found new brotherhoods.''
Jordan's two worlds -- civilian and Marine -- intersected at the church in front of his flag-covered casket. Marines in dress uniforms filled rows of seats. Missing at the wake and service, though, were most of Jordan's newest tribe of brothers, the Marines of Charlie Company, still in Fallujah awaiting their orders home.
Only one of the Marines from Fallujah was there: Lance Cpl. James R. Lauber, leaning on a crutch to ease the pressure on his shrapnel-torn right leg. He was hit in a grenade attack two weeks before Jordan's shooting and arrived home the day Jordan fell.
At the wake, Lauber hobbled to the casket. He put his left arm out and leaned on a rail next to Jordan for a moment. Then he reached over and touched Jordan's chest.
``It could have been me,'' Lauber said as he walked from the home.
At the service, Jordan's family talked about how difficult it was to understand him. But in the church were the two groups: old friends and recent Marine comrades. Both have their own understandings of Jordan.
Friends cried and Marines sustained stony expressions, with Lauber trying to prop himself up at attention with the others. Then they all filed into the parking lot to watch Jordan's casket carried toward the hearse, on its trip toward his Wednesday burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
The sun emerged from behind cover to flash off the silver casket as the Marine pallbearers put it in place. Jordan's parents, Beverley and Eric, and his little brother, Ethan, stood at the open rear door of the hearse. Eric kissed his fingertips and touched the casket.
After it left, Beverley talked about the example she hopes her son set for others.
``For Jordan, it was the Marines,'' she said. ``What is it going to be for you?''
Contact Jesse Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.