Stories about people weeping over a death in Iraq often include some detail of personal connection. The media struggle with the same challenge I faced, trying to distinguish one event from another. The nephew of a guy who swims at the same pool we do. A kid who went to the local high school. The third soldier from this state in the past month. Someone whose mother tried to talk him out of re-enlisting, followed by a sound clip of her trying to make sense of it all, explaining that he died for something he believed in. There’s usually a hook. But this is not one of those stories. I don’t have a reason for why this day, out of all the days since March 20th, 2003, my get-through-the-day veneer just slipped away in the mud.
Do I need a reason?
* * *
When I lived in Philadelphia – a great town that I would happily return to someday – I learned to keep my guard up. Not a lot. Not consciously. But more than I ever had before, growing up as I did in a town that was smaller than my freshman class at college. Because Philly is a big city, and when you live in a big city, you figure out how to be a little careful. At least I did. And then I moved back to a small town, this time in New Jersey. When I went back to Philadelphia to visit, I had a great time cruising past all my old haunts, proudly remembering back routes I’d devised to avoid the Schuylkill Expressway, visiting with friends, treating myself to my first cheesesteak in years. And I never really knew the extent to which my level of constant, subtle wariness had been elevated during my years in the City of Brotherly Love until that return visit, when I could feel it kicking back in.
* * *
The rain let up a bit once I got into Kendall Park. I turned off the radio, wiped my tears, and got home safely. After dinner and games, tooth-brushing and jammies, stories and kisses, I started in on lullabies. My son has been going through a Wizard of Oz phase, and I’ve been teaching him the words to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” because I’ve just had it up to here with “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.” Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue – for a moment, I was flooded with this moment of remembering. I was right back in that fierce protective flare up in your heart that comes when you’re holding a baby and suddenly imagine a room full of generals pushing pins into a map. I could feel my throat tighten and the tears threatening to start up again.
My guard against the three-year ache that is the Iraq quagmire will probably go back up tomorrow. I think I’ll feel it.