Robert Stokely fired up his computer and began a journey to a place an ocean and continent away, to a land of parched earth and dusty brush not far from the banks of the Euphrates.
It is the Iraqi town where Robert's son Mike was killed on a hot August night in 2005. A place that haunted him.
Robert showed me his Google Earth mapping ritual the first time I met him in his office in suburban Atlanta.
It was almost a year after Mike's death, and he was tortured by the thought that he might die without ever seeing where his son fell.
Now, when I meet him for lunch at a sports bar more than six years later, it is as though a great weight has been lifted.
The sorrow of losing a child, unimaginable to many of us, never withers.
Robert still wears Mike's dog tag around his neck and occasionally sleeps in his son's bedroom, frozen in time with Mike's Green Day CDs and military memorabilia.
On a shelf in the room sits a round clock that Robert bought for $4.98. He stopped it at 2:20 a.m., the time of Mike's death, and in black marker scribbled the date: August 16.
Robert still does the things that made his grief so visible to me in the aftermath of Mike's death. But Robert's voice is steadier now. He can finish most of his sentences without tears.
I know that it is because of that place -- Yusufiya.
In 2005, I was a newspaper reporter embedded with Mike's National Guard brigade, the 48th Infantry.
His unit, Troop E of the 108th Cavalry Regiment, slept in a rat-infested potato factory in Yusufiya and patrolled the restive town and its outskirts, never knowing who was friend or foe.
The insurgency was raging in Iraq, and Yusufiya lay in a part of the country that gained notoriety as the Triangle of Death as more and more American soldiers lost their lives on bomb-laden roads.
That's how Mike was killed. He stepped out of his Humvee during a night operation, and a bomb sent shrapnel slicing through his body.
I wrote about Mike's memorial ceremony at a forward operating base not far from where he died. His friends occupied rows of folding metal chairs set up in front of a pair of Mike's desert boots. His dog tags hung from an upended rifle.
Robert read that story. And we began a conversation, first through e-mail, and later in person, when I returned from Iraq.
It struck me from the beginning how open he was; few parents of soldiers I'd met were so grittily honest.
We order bowls of vegetable soup and after small talk, I decide to ask him why he chose to be so public with his sorrow.
"I would rather tell the story as it is than have people fill in the blanks," he says.
There's another reason, too, why Robert has been so forthcoming.
"I want people who killed my son to know they failed in their mission," he says. "They wanted to leave us as the walking dead, shells of people. I'm not going to let them have that."
On the first anniversary of Mike's death, his father had shared so many memories.
I learned he was born prematurely and weighed only 4 pounds, 2 ounces. That he grew up with a scar on his chest where a tube was inserted to save his life when his left lung collapsed.
After Mike died, Robert looked at the autopsy reports. He realized his son's left lung had collapsed again.
Robert listened over and over to the last voice mail Mike left on his cell phone. He couldn't bear to close Mike's bank account, even though it held only $29.
He put me in his Ford Escape and took me to all the places in Atlanta that meant something to him as a father.
To the first apartment they shared after Robert and Mike's mom divorced. To the cemetery at Corinth Christian Church in the town of Loganville, where Mike is buried. I remember how he bought 12 gallons of water from a nearby convenience store for the grass around the headstone.
I ask him if he still visits the grave once a month. He tells me he does; that he keeps a watering can, hedge clippers and a bottle of Windex in his car in case of impromptu visits.
"I can't do anything else for Mike other than keep his grave up," he says.
I don't know what to say as silence makes the moment awkward. We both look down at our soup.
Then, he volunteers: "I know some people think I'm over the top."
I know that he's a father in pain.
I think of what he told me six years ago: He couldn't rest until he stood in the very spot where his son took his last breath.
He was like any other person who felt a need to see the place where a loved one died. Only this was not the scene of a car accident along a lonely Georgia highway. It was a place far away -- one of war.
The journey of his dreams
Robert bookmarked the spot where Mike died on Google Earth. Every day, he studied the images of green and taupe parcels of flat land.
He'd always been fascinated by geography. GPS, his family called him, because he memorized maps and never lost his way, even in an unfamiliar town.
He figured out that Yusufiya is about the same latitude as Sharpsburg, the town south of Atlanta that he calls home.