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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Double Jeopardy

A customer came into the restaurant yesterday after spending a few days in Washington D.C.  Although we had talked about her trip for several weeks prior to her trip, I was stunned when she brought me a photogragh of my father's gravesight at Arlington National Cemetery.  Sometimes, I can't find his gravesite. She did.  I haven't been there for several years. The photogragh was a jarring reminder of my absence.
My mother was buried a few yards from The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in 1963.  Dad and I visited her often, gazing out over the horizon and the sea of white symmetrical tombstones.  He always said it would be a good place to spend forever. Perched on a hilltop overlooking the somber rolling hills of Arlington National Cemetery, it was a quiet and peaceful place.

When my father was diagnosed with cancer, I was his  primary caretaker during his fight for survival.  It was gut-wrenching to witness a hard-core Army Major and veteran of three wars  face his own fear of dying. His  "train was running out of control, with no brakes". Scared. Sad. Horrifying.

After 6 months of fighting, he died a few days before Christmas.  His first funeral was held in his hometown where he happily grew up, left for the army, returned to live, and died. The small town cemetery housed a tiny Gothic stone chapel designed by renowned architect, Faye Jones.  With a few rows of stone benches, the chapel was small, quaint, and cold. Very cold.   It was Christmas Eve. Seven inches of snow. While a soloist sang Oh Holy Night (a cappella), his flag-draped coffin was carried into the chapel. When the brief service ended,  The Battle Hymm Of The Republic took him away.  White Christmas.

His second funeral was held a month later when burial time became available at Arlington National Cemetery. The funeral, complete with rider-less horse, caisson, full army band, taps, and a 21 gun salute, was a grand tribute. All for him, finally. Everyone came from across the country to attend my father's funeral. He would have loved the fuss.

We stayed in a hotel  a few miles from the cemetery.  The night before the funeral, my extended family gathered in the hotel dining room for snacks and drinks. While everyone planned sightseeing trips, adventures, and future meals, Michael and I sipped on glasses of heartless warm chardonnay.
We excused ourselves, left the hotel, and strolled the streets of Alexandria under a shared umbrella to shield  us from sputtering rain and snow.  We came across a small Thai restaurant that glowed through the darkness. We were hungry and needed cocktails. The glow pulled us in.  The glass/formica bar tops were under-lit with blue neon, radiating  a mystical light through suspended sea shells, sea horses, and underwater stuff.  It was beautiful.  We glowed looking into it.  At it.  Into each other.  At each other.
We bathed in the blue sunlight on that dark snowy night.

Suspended in time, we laughed, cried, and innocently touched knees under the frozen glowing seascape.
After a few coffee drinks, we walked back to the hotel wondering what the next day would bring. Arlington National Cemetery. Funeral. Dad. Me. Michael.  It was late and quiet. Very quiet.  As the snow and rain started spitting again, we struggled to stay under our lone umbrella.

We finally tossed it into a bush.  One less burden to carry.

We walked in the rain, relieved that our journey with my father was almost over.

He was free
and so were we.

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