Sam Dean | The Roanoke Times
Summer of frustration
As the summer passes, Jordan's frustration worsens. He's impatient to start physical therapy on his leg, and his hand isn't improving. His right index finger is mostly gone and middle finger frozen, so he worries about how he'll fire his rifle and take pictures as a combat camerman. He worries he's getting soft from sitting around.
Still, he's insistent that nothing has changed, that he will be back to normal soon. He talks about how he will be do everything he did before the explosion -- running, jet-skiing, rock climbing and more.
His occupational therapist stretches his hand daily, trying to prevent scar tissue from forming. Jordan is used to the pain by now, closing his eyes until the worst is over. He learns to open jars, put pegs into holes, hold a pen.
"Hey, look at that," he says, smiling one day after spelling his name, the pen wobbling slowly across the paper like a second-grader learning to write. "Not bad."
One morning, he's sitting restlessly on the front porch at home. A little Marine Corps banner is stuck in the grass under an old crab-apple tree. He's spitting tobacco in the sunshine when the mailman hands him an envelope from Iraq.
Jordan knows he's lucky, that many troops are amputees, brain damaged, disfigured, but he's still self-conscious.
Inside are his dog tags, no get well card. He stares at them, two thin pieces of metal summing up his identity: name, Social Security number, USMC, blood type, religion ("No preference"). He slips them back in the envelope. He sighs, spits again.
In May, Bethesda doctors replace his leg cast with a Velcro rubber ankle boot. In June, X-rays show his ankle is still broken. By July, Jordan and Ginger think physical therapy on his leg should be starting -- leg lifts, stretching, tentative walking -- but Bethesda doesn't issue the rehabilitation orders.
The doctors tell him not to put weight on his leg, but he hobbles a few steps anyway -- he can't help himself. He tries weaning himself off his pain medications.
Jordan knows he's lucky, that many troops are amputees, brain damaged, disfigured, but he's still self-conscious. When he goes to the mall, he turns away when people stare at his scarred hand and nose, his limping gait.
The summer drags on, sticky humidity settling over the city. Jordan tries anything to break the monotony. He grows a goatee, then shaves it -- "I'll get in trouble. It's not regulation."
He tries to teach himself Spanish with "Spanish for Dummies," laboriously conjugating verbs into a notebook. He goes on eBay and buys a customized 1971 Volkswagen Beetle with a stereo big enough for an outdoor concert. He wears his Marine dress blues to his half-sister's wedding in Miami and returns with a sunburn.
One day, he gets word that his new $2,000 laptop computer, Swiss Army knife and St. Christopher's medal, which his mother gave him for protection, are missing from his footlocker in Iraq. He and his mother are furious that a fellow Marine may have stolen them.
In July, Jordan enrolls in a digital multimedia class at the Pentagon's Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Md., to sharpen his combat cameraman skills. Several Marines from his home unit are there. They greet him warmly, barely noticing his wounds.
"It's just a little speed bump for him," Staff Sgt. Timothy McMann says. "I wish we had 100 guys like Jordan. He's real squared away."
Jordan relishes being back among his fellow Marines, the regimented way of life, the sense of purpose, the camaraderie. His buddies call him "Sticks" because of his crutches, which leave him with a cut chin one night returning from town when he drunkenly stumbles on some steps. He laughs it off, studies hard, gets good grades in class. Other Marines treat him respectfully when they learn he's a battlefield veteran.
One of Jordan's classmates is Randi Foust, 24, a Marine lance corporal and combat videographer from Michigan. She's serious, with a pretty smile, brown hair. She finds Jordan mature, handsome, wise.
It isn't love at first sight: "He thought I was weird, so I had to pursue him," she says, smiling. But a relationship quickly grows, their lives becoming entwined to a degree that neither envisions happening so soon.
For Jordan, being an able-bodied Marine is important to his pride. One afternoon at the Fort Meade gate, a civilian security guard jokes about his being crippled. Jordan, who's limping in his walking cast, glares at her.
"I'm not crippled," he says, sternly.
"I'm just kidding," she says.
"It's not funny," he says. "There's nothing funny about it.