July 5, 2008, Framingham, MA – Coming home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan just after Thanksgiving 2006, Marine Staff Sgt. David Animas-Esquivel returned with a broken ring finger and a few scars, but otherwise physically unscathed.
However, he would go on to wrestle with demons less tangible than terrorists.
Last Tuesday, the father of two succumbed to liver failure inside his mother’s 100 Phelps Road home. He was 33.
His ex-wife, Robyn Animas, a 30-year-old former Marine, said he suffered from post-traumatic stress, as well as “severe anxiety and depression.”
“He wouldn’t sleep. He’d always be checking locks and he would panic in a car if he got boxed in,” said Animas.
His siblings, gathered in his mother’s kitchen, recalled some of the more harrowing stories he shared with them.
A convoy that he switched out of at the last minute getting bombed. Bullets pinging off the side of a Humvee, just below a machine gun turret he was manning. Seeing a child with burns from from head to toe smile at him.
“It freaked him out for sure,” said his brother Victor Animas-Esquivel, 36.
He began drinking heavily in February 2007, his ex-wife, Robyn Animas, said in a telephone interview. He was also on anti-depressant medication.
Victor Animas-Esquivel described his brother as a free spirit, a mischievous but gentle soul who was the one who used to skip school when they were younger, a gifted drummer who enjoyed rock bands like Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots.
He suggested the military had hardened his brother.
“The pain of not being able to be himself could have made (him) start to find ways to forget about that pain,” said Animas-Esquivel.
However, his ex-wife said the Marine Corps was a big part of his identity.
“He loved it,” said Robyn Animas. “That was his pride.”
His wife’s first pregnancy was induced in the fall of 2001 so that David could travel as a Marine to New York City to help in the recovery efforts of 9/11, said his family.
Kezwick Animas was born Sept. 14, 2001.
David purposely moved the family to a North Carolina military base to increase the likelihood he would be deployed to Afghanistan, said his ex-wife.
The second of six children, Animas-Esquivel was born in Mexico City and came to the United States at the age of 10.
He graduated Ashland High School, where he wrestled competitively, according to his brother, in 1993, then enrolled in Framingham State College for two years before enlisting in the Corps on April 16, 1996.
That same week he received an acceptance letter to Johnson and Wales University that would have allowed him to pursue a career in one of his passions: cooking.
“I was the one to convince him to go (into the Marines),” said his brother, seated before a kitchen table with several of David’s photos, Thursday morning. “His personality would fit, I thought. He was always a leader, and he was always impressed with the uniform, even in middle school.”
His sister, Alexandra Griffin, 24, said her older brother was a role model.
“If we messed up anything he was the last one we wanted to know about it,” she said.
Griffin said he wanted to return to Alaska, where he was once stationed, to open up a customized T-shirt shop for tourists dubbed “Dave’s T-Shoits.”
“He’d always say it just like that,” said Griffin. “He loved it up there.”
His mother articulated another unfulfilled dream of her son’s.
“He wanted to buy a trailer and travel all around the country, maybe visit Mexico again,” she said.
David Animas-Esquivel served 12 years in the Marine Corps, but never became a U.S. citizen.
“I think he looked at it as a red-tape thing,” said his brother Victor. “He wasn’t angry about it or anything.”
During his last tour he served as a staff sergeant with the 2nd Maintenance Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group.
Upon returning, his six-year marriage began to unravel.
Eventually, strain from abusing alcohol and post-traumatic stress became too much and the two separated.
His ex-wife indicated they had attempted to enter David into an alcohol rehabilitation and in-patient programs several times, but were denied each time by the Marine Corps.
“His command was no help,” she said.
Marine Capt. Leticia Reyes, while saying she did not know specifically of David’s case, said rejecting such services simply “wouldn’t make any sense because Marines are our greatest asset.”
The couple’s divorce was finalized a couple weeks ago.
The breakup of his marriage and the distance between himself and his two children, Kezwick and his daughter Magdalena Roze, age 3, who moved to New Jersey, took an additional toll on him, according to his family.
“His kids were his life,” said his mother.
“From that point on he went nuts with the bottle,” said brother Victor. “He wasn’t eating and he was only drinking.”
His ex-wife said the children saw him “as much as possible.”
“He was an absolutely wonderful father,” she said.
He was first hospitalized in North Carolina with liver problems a week after his April 16 discharge.
On May 25, he was admitted to Massachusetts General Hospital so that he could be closer to his family.
Since that time he had been in and out of hospitals and was placed under Veterans Administration hospice care.
A memorial service is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday, July 10 at the John Matarese Funeral Home located at the intersection of Rte. 135 and Main Street in Ashland.
Marine Capt. Susie Gallucci, who is the New England Recovery Care Coordinator for the Wounded Warriors Project, noted that “post-traumatic stress is on the rapid rise.”
Gallucci said her organization visited David in the days before his death.