Cameron Matthew Anestis: A Remembrance

The news came to me from Citadel cadets via Facebook about an hour before midnight: LCpl Anestis had died.

I immediately went through several stages, from thinking it was some sort of sick joke to hoping it was someone other than my former student Cameron Matthew Anestis — selfishly hoping it was the loss of a young man I didn’t know rather than one I’d grown to respect so deeply.

After midnight, I had the confirmation I feared via a brief online obituary:

ANESTIS Cameron Matthew, 21, Georgetown, KY, loving husband of Tiffany Elaine Anestis and father of Isabelle Skye Anestis, died Mon, Aug 17, 2009. Born in Manchester, NH, he was the son of Emmanuel John and Dawn Sidway Anestis of Lexington, KY. Cameron attended The Citadel Military College of South Carolina and served in the Iraq War for 8 months as a U.S. Marine. Survivors other than his wife, daughter, and parents include a sister, Kalyn Anestis; two brothers, Evan and Christian Anestis, all of Lexington, KY; paternal grandmother, Irene Anestis, Boston, MA; and maternal grandparents, William and Delores Sidway, Enfield, CT. He was preceded in death by his paternal grandfather, John Emmanuel Anestis.

I know no details of his passing beyond these simple facts, but more information would do little more than add footnotes to the terrible, tragic, undeniable fact of his death.

It is unlikely that I’ll be able to attend his funeral in Kentucky tomorrow morning, and of course they’d hardly know me if I did.  I had Cameron twice in my classes here at The Citadel, but I’m not so arrogant as to think that his family heard about me one way or another.  At the same time, I feel a duty to say something here about Cameron, if only for the chance that perhaps his family in their mourning might read it and know something more about the impact their son made in his time here. Perhaps one day even young Isabelle, wanting to know something of the father that was taken from her too soon, will read it, too.  I fear it’s all I can do.

I met Cameron in my first semester here at The Citadel, in the Fall of 2006, in one of my English 101 courses. In a sea of trimmed hair, grey uniforms, and slightly shell-shocked faces, he impressed me at once. There was a self-confidence in the way he carried himself, a strength that made itself apparent on the very first day.  I remember that there were two female cadets in the class, and one of them decided to sit right up front, right under my nose.  When no one else would sit at the table beside her — because of her gender or my looming proximity, I don’t know — it was Mr. Anestis who did so. I liked him right away, of course, but I found even more cause to like him as the semester went on. Whenever there was a question or a call for volunteers, no matter the task, I could count on Cameron to raise his hand. Whenever a fellow student needed help, I could be sure that he would do whatever he could to help them.  No matter the day, no matter the occasion, I could count on him to be, in every sense of the word, present. Cameron was a “red badger” — as I fondly call our Marine-contract cadets — and you could see the aspiration to serve his country well in nearly every aspect of what he did in my class, in every occasion we sat down to chat in my office. Disciplined, controlled, kind, and clever, he was, in a word, professional.  For a new professor, lost at sea here in so many ways, Anestis provided a steady anchor.  He could not possibly have known how much easier he made my life that first year.

I got to know him well through that semester and the following one, the Spring of 2007, when he insisted on enrolling in my English 102 course (“I stayed up all night to be sure I got in yours, sir,” he told me).  I learned about his love of baseball and his excellence at the sport as a young teenager.  I learned how his joining the Armed Forces had been difficult on his family, but I also learned how they had come to accept his choice. One of the greatest things that had happened to him, he once said, was learning that his father was proud of him.

In the Spring term we studied Woody Allen’s play “Death Knocks.”  The play is a simple one: New Yorker Nat Ackerman is surprised one evening when a man dressed in black falls in through his window, claiming to be “Death.” Though Death insists that it’s Nat’s time to die, Nat parries him off again and again with witty twists of logic. The two of them decide to play gin rummy with Nat’s life as the stake — a mock of the Death-playing-chess scene in cinema — and Death loses badly, with Nat sending him off into the wilds of New York to return again another night. Several students wrote papers on the play, all of them seeing it — as indeed I had presented it in class — as a light-hearted piece:  Allen, they said, was one way or another dismissing the human fear of death. All of the students, that is, but Mr. Anestis. In an essay entitled “The Meaning of Life,” Cameron eloquently argued that Allen’s point was not to dismiss our fears of this world, but to learn from them that the central message of life is to embrace what little time we’re given.

He was right, of course.  And for all that Cameron Matthew Anestis gave in life — for his service, for his kindness, for the words and memories and people he leaves behind — I cannot thank him enough.

15 Comments

  1. This was really thoughtful of you to write. Cam is my husband’s cousin and I know our families will appreciate reading all the wonderful things you mentioned about Cam, I am going to pass this link along to them. It’s an extremely difficult time for everyone but it’s memories like these that will help the family heal. Thank you again and our best to you.

  2. You’re welcome, Kelly. I was simply honored to know him.

  3. I was browsing the internet trying to find out more about Cam’s death and came upon this. I had Cam in class when I was a student teacher at his HS. Energetic and enthusiastic about whatever occupied his mind at the time, he ensured the class was never dull. I’m glad to read here of the man he had become; it reminds me to view each of my students as a promise of success.

    On another note, I confess I browsed your site with interest after I saw a link about Tolkien papers. I’m glad to see someone with an interest in speculative fiction pushing it at a school like the Citadel, especially considering its most literary alum, J.O. Rigney, Jr.

    Best wishes for the upcoming school year.

  4. He will certainly be missed, Dwain. A very good man.

    As was, for that matter, the late Jim Rigney — though whether he or Pat Conroy is our “most literary alum” is a debate I’ll not enter.

  5. Dianne Caraviello

    Thank you for taking the time to share with us the Cam you knew, the Cam we loved so much. It is comforting to hear these wonderful stories. We will cherish them always.
    God bless you,
    Dianne (Anestis) Caraviello
    Cam’s aunt and godmother

  6. Mr. Livingston. Cameron’s parents did read your words. I cannot count the number of times I have read your words. I cannot express to you the feeling of warmth and comfort that they provide. You reminded me of things about my son for which I am most proud. Taking the time to share your memories of my son was an act of kindness. This shows us the type of man you are and why Cameron respected you as he did. In Cameron’s short time here with us he did touch many lives and will always be lovingly remembered. You Sir, with a single act of kindness, have given us so much. You will also be remembered. (Manny Anestis – Cameron’s father)

  7. Thank you for taking the time to write, Manny and Dianne (and those who’ve written me privately). I’m heartened to know my words found you all across the miles that separate us, and that they might have helped in however small a way.

    It goes without saying that you and the rest of Cameron’s family and friends are in the thoughts and prayers of many here and around the world. That we were all fortunate to know Cameron is too little to say in the face of such tragedy, but it is the simple truth.

  8. Paul Roth Morris

    I met Cameron a few weeks ago when we became a co-worker of mine at the Bluegrass Airport. We worked together almost every night. In the short amount of time I was able to know Cameron he touched my life. Its still a shock to me that little over a week ago I was joking around with him.

  9. Mr. Livingston,

    This more than adiquately describes my best friend from high school. I recall many times stateing what no one else would and standing up for something in the face of adversity, no matter the possible result. Cam and I strived to live a life that would be respectable and not “cool.” We refused to change who we were or the thoughts we had unless logically or morally proven otherwise. We challenged the norm and turned heads often. It is amazing that he was able to continue that lifestyle further into his life. I value the times we shared together and life spent in his company. Thank you for capturing him so beautifully in this.
    -SGT/CDT Saylor, Thomas U.S. Army

  10. Brad Kookendoffer

    I only knew Cameron for short time, but the time that I did get to know him I quickly found out what a hard worker he was, what a good friend he was, and someone you could count on no matter what the situation may be. I worked with him at the airport and he always helped out whenever asked without question. He never complained, he just seemed glad to be there and help another person out. I respected him for that and many other things. No matter how the day was going he would go out of his way to entertain us to make our day better. I wish i could have gotten to know him better, because he is definately an individual I will never forget. Camo, it was a pleasure knowing you and you will not be forgotten by me or anyone else you have touched, whether it be for years or just a few months.

  11. Colonel Larry Simpson

    What guy! Cameron was the real deal. Calm, cool, and collected was how he came across, but that is how most, it not all high school students want to be perceived. You don’t to put guys like cameron to the test, his actions proved who he was the real deal time and time again. He was bright, quick witted and fairly athletic. I recall the time on a base visit to Virginia Beach. Cameron and Thomas Saylor had a show down of who could do the most push ups, the quickest. It was almost too close to call, but Cameron won. Following his push up victory, Cameron decided he could take me in wrestling, being a new member of the school’s wrestling team. He didn’t think this “old guy” had the stamina or power to best his quickness and his recently acquired wrestling skills. Yeah, you guessed it, age and wisdom prevailed. Cameron was not the tallest person and I figured I could use my height and weight to my advantage and get “rider” points. We had a great time and Cameron was always very pleasant to be around.

  12. Cameron was, as we keep hearing, the real deal. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts.

    I would encourage anyone posting here to submit your thoughts for those he left behind at the official guest book kept for the family. I wouldn’t want any of these treasured remembrances to be missed by them.

  13. Coach Herbie Knecht and Buck

    Dear Manny, Dawn, Kalyn, Evan, Christian, Tiffany, and Isabelle,
    At this moment i sit here choking back tears as I have been told by my son of one of my baseball kids dying.
    Cameron Anestis, you my son were the perfect example of what a baseball player was all about. The kind of kid i was honored to coach . Playing on a team that didnt win a game his last season but statistically at the top of the league in many catagories. It was stupidity, ignorance, and greed due to egos that you were overlooked on the allstar team that year. But as I picked the Select All-Star team for SouthEasterns 12’s that year we proved them wrong. I made you my leadoff hitter, and all you did was hit over 600 for me during all the games we played. You didn’t care where i played you . Never complained but I helped you to regain your confidence that the others had tried to take from you . He made us proud Manny and Dawn . He was a great kid and I loved him dearly. Our loss is Heavens gain. I wouldn’t doubt if he’s not up there right now swinging a bat stepping up to the plate with a big group of kids around him telling them about our memories that summer. I know I’ll never forget them. Deep in my heart those days will stay til my last breath, Rest in peace Cam. Until we meet again. always. Coach Herbie Knecht , and Buck

  14. Coach – I don’t know if his family is still watching this page, but I can only hope that they are: heartfelt words bring healing to broken hearts.

    Though it cannot erase the pain of his loss, you should know that Cameron actually wrote about playing baseball for you in the third essay he ever wrote for me, highlighting the wonderful memories he had of the year he made all-star 12s. You clearly had an abiding impact on the life of a young man who touched many.

  15. Every day Michael. Every day Coach. I remember too, those happy, proud moments. Thank you both.

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