Handsome boy meets beautiful girl. They fall in love and get married. Daughter Elizabeth arrives, followed quickly by another pregnancy. But in an instant the perfect love story takes a hideous twist for Heather Means, mother of Elizabeth.
Her Green Beret husband, Ryan Patman Means, is stationed with his Special Forces team in a forlorn camp in Iraq. He was there by choice, having enlisted after his best friend was slain in the World Trade Center on 9/11. He wanted to personally go hunt down those responsible. Ryan is the archetype of the American male hero: fearless, patriotic, confident, kind, and brilliant, bundled in a sculpted body with devilish good looks. Men have always sought out his friendship, drawn by his devil-may-care attitude. He describes himself as a "barrel-chested freedom fighter." His spirit is captured by his positive mantra, providing advice to his large audience of friends and loved ones, "Keep on rockin' in the free world."
As Ryan nears the end of his deployment in one of the most dangerous places on earth, Heather receives a 3 a.m. phone call. Ryan tells her, "Heather ... I have liver cancer." He is told he has 30 days to live and is sent to Walter Reed Hospital. Heather's world comes crashing down. She is 31 years old.
In her brilliant memoir, "RPM Rocking in the Free World," Heather Means fascinates us with the characterization of her Ryan as a boy and then as a man. She delights us with the exquisite love story of their romance morphing into a marriage built on eternal love, unshakable trust, and unreserved commitment. The two indeed become one. The child flourishes in the arms of her loving parents. The marriage is one of joy and hope.
But then we suffer with her as Ryan fights for his life against all odds. We walk the hospital aisles with her as she and Ryan's close family spend a month-long vigil providing support for Ryan and each other. Above all else, we discover the depth of her love for Ryan and her iconic courage as she travels through this nightmare world that inevitably leads to Ryan's passing.
But like Scarlett O'Hara she must face the future. She vows to insure the two daughters always understand how wonderful their father was. She tells us, "I know from living with Ryan that life should never be about what you want to be, but who you want to be." It has been three years since she lost Ryan, and she reflects, "The sadness never completely leaves. It comes and goes like the ocean waves."
A memoir can only be considered excellent literature if the author reveals the whole unvarnished truth. And Heather Means holds nothing back. Her emotions are visceral as she describes the incredible bonding she and Ryan shared, the acute agony she felt as Ryan wasted away on his hospital bed, clutching pictures of his daughters, and the feelings of helplessness, despair, and shock when the unspeakable happened to her young family.
She reassures us, "I know that nothing I deal with on a daily basis is as horrible as the day I lost him. I know that everything is really going to be okay."
Heather Means' story, told with rich prose, will become an award-winning book. It is a love story for the ages.