|Photo Credit: Mary Ellen Mark|
Aaron Mankin, 25, is a Marine, a Purple Heart recipient, and the father of a baby girl. The following is his story.
Madeline has started to develop this crooked smile that says "I know something you don't." I had that same crooked smile before I was burned.
I was wounded two years ago. We were clearing houses and villages and pinching off the insurgency coming into
Instead, I woke up. The first time I saw Diana three months later, I asked her to marry me. I didn't know what I was capable of as a husband or as a dad. I didn't know what I could bring to the table besides a burned face and scarred arms. My ears, nose, and mouth were gone, as were the thumb and index finger of my right hand. When she said yes, it was a turning point for me. Even though I had a right to be bitter and curse the world, it wasn't what Diana deserved. It wasn't the man she fell in love with.
It was a month and a half before I was ready to look at myself in the mirror. Then one day, I got out of my hospital bed to go to physical therapy and I saw the mirror I'd passed countless times, refusing to see the truth about how hurt I was. I looked over my left shoulder, and there I was—this torn up, frail, thin individual with open wounds on his face that I barely recognized, and my worst imagination became my reality. I cried.