When I spoke to him this fall, Mike said he believed this had been Chris’s way of asking Mike if he wanted to have a relationship.
And by tonight he’d gotten the boat all opened up and aired out—made a run to get beer and another to a vintage store where he bought his dresses and shoes.The washing of bedclothes, the bleaching of sinks, the removal of any speck of organic matter, the rewriting of his “dead letters” to be distributed to his friends and relatives should he not return, all of them signed with that quote from the end of Over the course of his 20-year career, Chris would serve in the Balkans during the civil war there.He would serve during the first Gulf War; fight pirates across the Horn of Africa; drive into Iraq in 2003 ahead of the invasion.There are those types, of course, men chiseled from granite at 120 percent human scale, men who seem to drain several drams of testosterone from everyone else when they walk into a room.But you’d be surprised at the body types you find in the SEAL teams.And yet, as he slipped on a pair of panty hose in his sailboat on this night in 1996, Chris couldn’t help wishing he were more petite, more womanly. Chris finished putting on his outfit and walked barefoot up the ladder and onto the deck of his boat.
He always wanted that when he wore women’s clothing. Dusk was fast disappearing in San Diego Bay, the red lights of the Coronado Bridge blinked on, the weaponized beachhead of the naval station loomed cloud-colored to the west.
But I know Chris would be awarded the Bronze Star with valor, the Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal, and about 50 other ribbons and medals.
He would dislocate a shoulder, shatter a kneecap, be hit by a rocket-propelled grenade on his fortieth birthday, break two vertebrae in his back on a boat near Somalia and complete the mission anyway, and fly home sleeping among the flag-draped coffins of 19 of his brothers.
He’d undressed to his shorts, stuffed his clothes in a plastic bag, and swam the half mile to the sailboat he lived on—it was cheaper than sharing a house, like most of the other, younger SEALs stationed in Coronado did. He would leave it spotless, because he never knew when fate would dictate that he wouldn’t be the one opening it up.
It was part of the process of shipping out, a ritualized preparation for death that would always have a kind of dreadful power over him.
He was wearing a wig, and the way it felt in the wind called up a pleasant feeling of longing. He could feel the inhuman mass of the ocean shifting beneath him and hear the clanking of the rigging and the water against the timber hull, which just sounded better than it does on fiberglass. “Being invisible,” he thought, “is a relief.”He’d flown back from a training deployment in Thailand earlier in the week.