MILFORD—The photos on the coffee table are like puzzle pieces, a thick stack of 4-by-6-inch hints about the Jordan Pierson his family couldn't know.
There's one that shows the street that runs past the main cemetery in Fallujah, Iraq. Next, the view from the rooftop guard post on the edge of the compound where Cpl. Pierson was becoming a battle-hardened Marine. And dozens more, freezing the dusty faces of Plainville's Charlie Company against the monochromatic back drop of Fallujah.
In the living room of his family's house in Milford, the wiry corporal's dress uniform hangs from a door. It had awaited his return, maybe in late October, just in time to attend his unit's Marine Corps ball. He had asked that it be ready for him, just as he had been planning his University of Connecticut class load. Pierson, 21, was looking to get his life together after seven months at war.
On Friday, the news that he had been shot to death on a foot patrol in Fallujah broke this home open like an ant hill, leaving his family still hurrying purposelessly from room to room on Sunday, powerless to repair the breach.
There is food to eat -- so much that neighbors are making space in their refrigerators. People keep bringing it, their offering for the impenetrable grief that is settling in. Aunts, friends, his mother and grandmother sit around the dining table exercising their memories, stamping their versions of Jordan's unruly youth into the family record.
Aunt Roberta Jones: ``He said, `I'm joining the Marines,' and I said, `Oh, Jordan, please don't.''' Join a safer branch of the military, she pleaded. But he couldn't be talked out of it.
Mother Beverley Pierson: Jordan sent $300 home every month for the mortgage, without being asked to do it.
Family friend Gloria Amendola: When he got his first car, the Honda, he forgot to set the emergency brake, and it rolled over some newly planted bushes.
Then another knock on the door. ``This is how it's been since we heard,'' Beverley Pierson says. People keep coming. They say the same things and hug Beverley and Jordan's father, Eric.
Among the visitors is a dress-uniformed Marine, Lt. Col. Gerald Larghe, commander of the Plainville center where the reservists of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, are based. He's the one who knocked on Friday, delivered the sparse news of Jordan's end.
Larghe stands silently behind the family as they watch their television in the evening, seeing themselves on the news making a statement in front of reporters and cameras. Under the eyes of police sentries, the journalists had gathered thick on the lawn in front of the modest former beach house, a few hundred yards from Long Island Sound. Now the reports of the family's loss paraded on channel after channel, switched in quick succession, under photos of Jordan atop the television.
Reminders of him are everywhere. A big picture of his serious face under the dress hat of a freshly minted Marine. One at last year's Marine ball, his arms around a date. And in his room -- a detached garage-turned-apartment -- the artifacts of his daily world. A poster hangs above his bed, a photo of Marines paired with some weighty words: ``Honor'' and ``Country.''
His dad sits on a couch in Jordan's room, next to his other son, 11-year-old Ethan, remembering the ``skinny kid'' who pumped iron and trained to meet the physical requirements for enlistment. ``He worked on building up his strength,'' Eric Pierson says. He was so determined.
Ethan chatters on about Jordan, not yet reflecting the gravity here.
Friends of Jordan wander the house and yard, eyes red, their features hanging lifeless from their faces. They went to high school with him at Joseph A. Foran High in Milford. Some go further back. Jordan was a haven for many, they said, a person who sheltered his friends.
Already, his family reaches for meaning. Maybe the park behind their property can become Jordan C. Pierson Memorial Park. Beverley is explicit when she says her son's service in Iraq had worth, even if he didn't talk much with her about it.
She says it's important that people realize that her boy died for a reason. She needed to keep that in her mind in recent months, because she says she had a bad feeling. After he was wounded by a grenade in May and was awarded a Purple Heart, the feeling deepened: She might not be seeing him again.
But she will. He'll land at Bradley International Airport soon. His family will meet a casket there. A flag will be draped over it -- another piece for their puzzle.
Contact Jesse Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.