In the Line of Fire: How My Best Friend’s Death Taught Me to Live

Facing survivor’s guilt, finding redemption, and learning to embrace life after the ultimate sacrifice

Benjamin Sledge
Human Parts
Published in
8 min readMay 24, 2023

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Memorial to the fallen while in Afghanistan | Photo courtesy of author

Kyle was supposed to be the writer, not me.

My mom often referred to Kyle as her “third son” when introducing him to family friends because he would visit my parents even when I wasn’t home. The minute he walked in the door to my childhood home, he would drop his pants and moon my mother. My mom would burst into laughter while my dad just shook his head, partly because he could never predict when Kyle would show up and drop trou, revealing his bare ass with a small tattoo on it. The man had his own key to my parents’ home, after all.

The last time my parents saw Kyle was shortly before he deployed to Afghanistan. He had just completed a journalism stint in Panama covering the Miss Universe pageant and picked up a gift for my parents. Unwrapping the present, Kyle grinned ear-to-ear, awaiting my mom’s response until she frowned.

“What the hell is this, Kyle?”

“It’s a fresco painting of Panama! Put it somewhere where everyone can see!”

My mom chuckled, intending never to display the atrocity and quietly dump it in the trash; Kyle none the wiser. To this day, we still don’t know whether Kyle meant the painting as a joke or whether he was serious. It looks like a cheesy postcard you’d pick up at a gas station and matches nothing in my mom’s house decor.

Kyle’s fresco painting from Panama | Photo courtesy of my mom

Not long after visiting my parents, Kyle left for Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and then landed in Afghanistan to replace me and other members of my Army unit. I greeted Kyle with a hug when he arrived. I wrapped my injured arm around his neck and then tapped the back of his head with my cast. “This is the shit you have to look forward to,” I said with a smirk and a wink. A month earlier, I had been wounded in action when I took the brunt of a 107mm rocket while the Taliban and al Qaeda tried to attack our small forward operating base next to the Pakistani border.

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Benjamin Sledge
Human Parts

Multi-award winning author | Combat wounded veteran | Mental health specialist | Occasional geopolitical intel | Graphic designer | https://benjaminsledge.com