Today was one of those days that you really hope only happens in your bad dreams or on an episode of Army Wives. After a day of things taking way longer than expected, I was running late (as in, only 2 minutes early) for the division remembrance ceremony for one of our company’s soldiers who was killed earlier this summer. I see the other wives sitting together and the only seat left is next to the battalion XO’s wife whom I have met maybe twice, and seems practically perfect in every way. Okay, don’t do anything dumb. Deep breath, get centered for the invocation. Almost knock over the flowers I tucked under my chair. Yadda yadda lovely service, poignant and scary and terrible and beautiful with the surprisingly temperate breeze and totally clear skies and vista from the front of division HQ. Taking in the beautiful day, the sound of taps beginning, and trying to keep it together, I feel something touch me, and realize a spider has blown out of the sky and landed on my collarbone. It starts moving, and I really really hate spiders. I try to hide my panic and discreetly brush it off, which sends it scurrying down my blouse. At that moment, there is nothing I want more than to scream and tear open my blouse and get it off of me, and that is, at that moment, the absolute last thing on earth I can do. So I stood very very still and prayed the spider wouldn’t bite me because then I would actually really lose it even in the middle of taps. Suddenly, quickly, it was over and time to line up and pay respects and there was enough shuffling and coughing for me to shake out my shirt a little and convince myself it was gone. I’m really grateful for many years of ballet, because though my feet are messed up, I can endure a lot of pain, be dying on the inside and look like I’m happy about it, lose 5 lbs in 2 days, and be still for long periods of time without scratching an itch, and those are great life skills. While he is one squared away soldier, the looking happy about it is one aspect of discipline I think I even have DH beat. I’m pretty proud of myself for not making a sound.
After the families paid their respects, the brass went up in pairs with their wives behind them (so really foursomes) to leave coins on the battlefield cross. You know, the inverted rifle with a helmet on top and dog tags tied to the grip and a pair of boots. It is visually arresting, and I realize the tinkling sound I had heard through the ceremony was the dog tags blowing in the wind and bouncing off each other and the rifle. Then the ushers began letting people out of the rows just like church, alternating sides, to pause before the cross. Everyone was lining up 2 at time, and we, the wives, were an odd number and I was the last one on the row. Crap. I’m running the scenarios in my head, whether to just be the odd woman out and go with the person behind me, when I realize it is a line of soldiers who are evenly distributed and I will mess up their whole thing. Maybe they’ll have me go up by myself? Please, no. Then three people go up together. Thank goodness! So when the last two wives before me step out, the XO’s wife steps over a little extra and I pop out into the aisle with them. Crisis averted. Then…we stand around awkwardly, mostly silent because the line is still going strong, trying to communicate by eye contact and a few whispers. Wait forever to sign the guest book and then I bolted. All I could think about was how much DH would hate this, and how he had better not get killed because I’m not sure I could sit through one of these knowing how much he would hate this. It was (rightfully) so, so very serious and quiet and grave. It was ceremonious enough that it really should be rehearsed but it’s a terrible idea to rehearse a memorial service, so there’s a good bit of fumbling and bumbling. It is everything DH hates about official Army protocol, and he had damn better not get himself killed because it was awful. Lovely, tasteful, moving, and awful.
So, after getting stuck in rush hour leaving post, it felt incredible to hang a left and hit the 2 lane country road to St. Elmo with the windows open. Going 55 between a field of corn and a field of tobacco with the radio on loud feels even better. Getting the last 2 bottles on the shelf of rare and highly sought after bourbon from our tiny local distillery right before they closed was about as good as the end of my day could get when the one employee in the gift shop offered me a tasting of the bourbon, and well, 1/3 oz was just enough to coat my tongue and warm my chest, and it was delicious, and sharp, and hot, and sweet. And now I’m sitting on the deck watching the sun go down and cast long rays across the rolling fields beyond our fence. Today was an okay day.
The take away lesson, folks, is if you haven’t been to a remembrance ceremony, be mentally prepared for it to be a bit awkward, turn off your cell phone ringer, plan ahead of time to sit with someone, ask someone who has been before about the protocol (at least this post gave you a general overview), and, you know, have enough self discipline to not freak out if nature attacks you.