He was the reason I opened my eyes each day and smiled. He was laughter and passion and mirthless fury all rolled into one nearly-perfect human being. He was flesh and bone and blood and tissue -- and spirit, soul, an endless aura of rainbows and he was my husband.

And now he is dead.

They told me on a winter day so bitter and cold that it seemed to reflect the icy, painful shattering of my heart. It was a blizzard out there, but the snow had nothing to do with Ian. While it was freezing at home, he had died in a burning deathtrap, a cage of destruction, somewhere in the windy deserts of Iraq. They said he'd died bravely, Ian did. He had gone to rescue a comrade, a fallen medic, when he was struck by a rain of hot metal.

Death came quickly, then. He did not die instantly, I know -- that would not be Ian's way. He fought, while his blood flowed from his body, while the wicked report of gunfire sounded in his ears. He watched with blurred vision, felt the immaculate pain, called for help that never came. And then, looking to the sky, he died.

Our romance had been the kind you would read about in the steamy, dog-eared pages of a Harlequin novel. Or maybe the kind of romance that could have been portrayed on a movie screen, by actors whose chemistry crackled like the static of a wool sweater. We could be Tracy and Hepburn, or maybe Bogart and Bacall.

I first met Ian when he and two other Marines came to speak to my third-grade class about what it was like to be a soldier. The children were squirming with excitement as the three men walked in, their backs as straight as steel, bedecked in their formal attire. I barely had time to introduce myself before the students clambered to have their questions answered.

"Do you really know how to shoot a gun?"

"Have you ever been in a tank?

"What do all those colors on your shirt mean?"

Ian fielded their questions like a pro, answering with such patience and humor that I was just as enthralled as the children. He glanced over their heads and met my eyes, gave me a wink. His eyes were deep blue, like the color of forget-me-nots. He had the tan of someone who spent hours outside, the strong shoulders and heavy legs of someone who was no stranger to hard work. His face was full of masculine, accented lines that cut his face into planes that were somehow not sharp, but almost painfully handsome.

After class, Ian asked me to dinner and set forth the whirlwind romance that consumed us for the two years leading up to our marriage. From that moment on, we spent nearly every waking and every slumbering moment together, laughing and tasting and loving so hard that it became impossible for me to imagine my life without him.

And then, he was called away.

I stood at the gate at the airport, watching Ian's plane leave, carrying him half a world away to a place full of violence and heartbreak. Both Ian and I were strongly opposed to the war in Iraq, though we both knew that he had a duty to fight when called. I resolved to let him go without much of a fight, without kicking and screaming and buckets of tears.

That was, of course, when I still thought he would be coming back to me.

He died alone in a country full of people who hated him two days before his thirtieth birthday. He saw hundreds of corpses of civilians: Mothers and wives who had been blown to pieces by destructive bombs, children who had been caught in the crossfire of Americans and "insurgents," husbands and fathers who had gone outside only to be shot down by either force. He had held the bloody, sticky hand of his dying best friend, trying desperately to stem the flow of life that oozed from a mortal wound. He wrote to me of a comrade who had stepped on a landmine, of a little girl holding a grenade in her tiny hands, of an old woman trying to dig through the rubble of her newly-bombed home, looking frantically for any sign that her children or her children's children were still alive.

He told me of going to bed at night and hearing the sobs of the men surrounding him, then crying himself to sleep. None of them could know if they would make it through the next day, the next week, the next month. They put on tough faces, laughed away the pain and tried to tell themselves that they would be alright, that they would survive this hell and would soon return to those who were blissfully ignorant of what was going on in such a senseless, violent war.

When I finally returned to work, my third graders were solemn with the knowledge of what had happened. My world was blown apart and beauty no longer existed for me. But there, on my desk, was a cluster of forget-me-nots tied with a tiny blue ribbon and a picture of Ian from our honeymoon. He was smiling, his hair being tousled by the wind coming off the ocean, looking so tanned and handsome that I nearly lost control. I sank to my chair and flipped the picture over to read: "Forget me not -- I."

I broke, then, finally shedding the tears that I'd held for so very long. Not even when Ian's flag-draped casket was paraded past me did I give in to the terrible agony that threatened to consume me and come out of my mouth in a cry so full of despair and pain that it would have shocked those around me. But there, with the children looking on, I fell to pieces. They stood from their desks, crowded around me, silently offering the encouragement that children can so elegantly give.

That night, I visited Ian at the cemetary and I left the flowers in the fresh snow by his headstone. I spoke to him for over an hour, feeling as though he was standing right there with his arms around me, his face buried in my hair, listening to every word with gentle serenity. Where he was now, I said, there were no more explosions and no more fear. And forget-me-nots as blue as his eyes could blossom all year long.

He was the reason I opened my eyes each day and smiled. He was laughter and passion and mirthless fury all rolled into one nearly-perfect human being. He was flesh and bone and blood and tissue -- and spirit, soul, an endless aura of rainbows and he was my husband.

And I loved him.