Joey Bozik crosses his one arm over his body, rifles his backpack for his pillbox. He flips the compartment with his thumb, throws back his head and pops the morphine pill into his mouth.
His wife does not reach to help him.
She stands behind his wheelchair, ruffling his buzz cut. The silver ring on her left hand, gleaming like a chrome bumper, is identical to the one on his left. The rings are six weeks old, but he can wear his only now, just before Valentine’s Day, because the swelling has gone down on his remaining fingers.
They are in their temporary home in Washington, D.C., a room on the grounds of Walter Reed Army Medical Center. They are smiling.
“I’ll tell you this much,” said Bozik, one of the Iraq war’s three triple amputees. “I’ve never been happier in my whole life.”
Joey Bozik was a soldier from Wilmington.
Jayme Peters was a student from Tyler, Texas.
When Joey was in Afghanistan in 2003, he got to know an officer who would come to the post he guarded. One day, the officer said, I know this girl named Jayme. You two would hit it off.
So Joey e-mailed her a note, a photo. She wrote back.
She asked questions. The first was, When did you learn to ride a bicycle? They wrote every day.
Months later, he came back to Fort Bragg and rode with a buddy to College Station, Texas, where Jayme was going to school and living with her mom. They rode through the night — 21 hours, 1,200 miles.
He arrived earlier than he had said he would, 5 a.m. instead of lunchtime. He had arranged with Jayme’s mother to surprise her and take the pressure off their meeting.
Her mother showed him to Jayme’s room. She was sleeping.
She was dreaming of a shadow crossing her room, a tall man. She couldn’t see his face. She said, “Joey? Is that you?”
She patted the bed and he sat. She kept her cheek on the pillow to hide a blemish, a pimple. But, she decided, if he was going to be with her, he’d have to take her as she was.
“I said, ‘You know what? I’m not looking my best.’ I showed him my face and he said, ‘You look beautiful anyway.’ ”
He planned to stay a week, but it was two before he returned to Fort Bragg. They stole time over the months, a weekend here and there.
He shipped out again last March, this time to Iraq. He was in the desert, in a tent with nine guys, the military police officers he led. He wrote when he could get to a computer.
She wrote every day. Sometimes it was like writing a journal to herself. She made him a book, and the first line was, “When Joey met Jayme, he woke her from her sleep.”
They found they liked the same things. “The Cosby Show.” Dogs. Dial Liquid Soap — Mountain Fresh scent. (“Do you know how many kinds of soap there are in the world?” he said.)
On Oct. 27, his life changed. As did hers.
He was riding through the desert south of Baghdad when his Humvee rolled over a bomb. His buddies were OK. But Joey lost his right leg above the knee. His left leg, at the knee. His right arm, at the elbow.
They sent him to Germany, to the hospital. Then, they sent him home.
He woke up in the amputee ward at Walter Reed. Jayme was there.
He hurt where his arm and legs used to be. His foot hurt so badly he thought it was broken. He doesn’t remember it, but Jayme does. She stayed most nights in the hospital room.
He could not feed himself, go to the bathroom, turn a page.
Family came. Friends. His mother, Gail, packed three outfits and stayed three months. She cared for him as he became a child all over again, learning to crawl, to sit, to eat.
One day, he sent them all out, all but Jayme.
They had talked about what would happen if he got blown up. Now, it had happened.
He wanted her to understand that there were things he would never be able to do. Run on the beach. Carry her. Dance.
He said he did not want her to stay because she felt sorry for him. He told her she was free to go, that he loved her and he always would.
She was quiet. She said, as long as you have your head and your heart, that’s all I need.
They married New Year’s Eve in the hospital chapel.
People donated a cake, a limo, a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel with couches and champagne and a bathroom made of marble.
They went back to the hospital. Jayme started decorating their new home, a room at the Mologne House on the grounds.
She bought a canvas wardrobe for her sweaters and shoes. She got a feather mattress top for the bed. It was too soft for Joey but just right for her. He said OK.
His mother went back to Hampstead in Pender County, and Joey and Jayme were on their own.
They settled in to a routine. Up at 5 a.m. for her, 6:30 for him. She pulled the shades every morning to see whether it had snowed. It hardly ever did in Texas.
He found he could not be in a room with her without touching her.
She has a job now, an internship as an exercise physiologist at the National Naval Medical Center in nearby Bethesda, Md. It is her last requirement for graduation from Texas A&M University.
He has a job, too, of sorts. Physical therapy, to build his strength and prepare for prosthetic legs. Occupational therapy, to learn to use a wheelchair, to cook one-handed, to write with his left hand. Doctors’ visits, as he prepares for surgeons to remove the metal plate that is bolstering his left wrist. And social work, to sort through the paperwork that comes with disability.
At night, they watch movies. Funny ones. Jayme has her PlayStation 2 but doesn’t play games like she used to. It’s not something they can do together.
Last weekend, they sold his truck. It was a Dodge 4×4, white, V-8, four feet off the ground. He said getting out of it was like controlled falling.
You’re good, baby, she told him, but not that good. He likes that she’s starting to tease him.
They bought a Dodge Magnum, a space-age looking cross between a car and a sport utility vehicle. Joey can slide himself in and out of it easily.
When they’re home, they lie on the bed, which doubles as a couch. She holds his arm, the stump just below the elbow.
Over dinner, they design a dream house. They talk about the jobs they want. He wants to work with the VA, helping wounded soldiers. She does, too, either in rehab or as an X-ray technician.
She turned 25 on Saturday. He is 26. He is lucky, he said, to have gotten injured after his wild days were spent. He sees 18- or 19-year-old amputees in rehab, in the dining hall. They have not had the life he had.
They do not have the girl he has.
Monday, for Valentine’s Day, he plans to give her gifts he has been hiding in a buddy’s room.
He has been keeping her out of his backpack. He has been hiding a card there for more than a week, waiting for a few minutes alone. He had to figure out what he wanted to say.
Then he wrote the message, slowly, methodically, tracing out his wishes for the future with his left hand.
– You can go to blackfive.com for more updates on Sgt. Bozik.
God bless America!