The plane tipped to one side as it curved away from the earth. The land fell away leaving nothing but blue. She wanted nothing more than to be back on solid ground in her own hometown.
The last two days had taken lifetimes. The exhaustion was starting to creep in around the corners. But she had a long way to go before home.
Puffs of white cloud streamed over the wing breaking the monotony of blue. “Just close your eyes for awhile,” he had said, “Get a bit of rest before we land.”
She held a book, ignored in her fascination with the blankness. The book started to slip from her fingers as her eyelids drooped. She pulled it back before the fall and laid it in her lap. “I’ll just close my eyes for awhile,” she thought.
When her eyes closed the events of the past few days played across her memory. Driving her father and aunt to the airport, getting everyone through security and on the plane, landing in the bright light of the nation’s capital. Then navigating the terminal, getting the rental car and checking in at the hotel. Finally, the reunion.
These were family members who had been virtual strangers for over twenty years. People drawn together by loss and grief. And, as was typical of this family, to cope they drank. Heavily. At one point she had to negotiate with the police on her cousin’s behalf. At another she was responsible for a rather large bar tab left behind by members of the party long departed, At another she found herself dragging a heavily intoxicated young sergeant back down the hill to his hotel room.
When she finally made her way to her hotel room it was hot and dry. Her body was exhausted but her mind would not stop. Sleep was fitful. Morning came too soon.
She went through the motions of morning routine. Shower, dress, gather and go. There was breakfast with the family followed by the military hurry up and wait in the lobby. When finally she eased the rental car behind the limousines, she breathed a small sigh of relief to have the proceedings underway.
The cemetery was a sea of white headstones, occasionally punctuated by something more personal erected by a family of some means. She found herself wondering which type of headstone he would have.
There were checkpoints and protocol. Then they were all ushered into a small room to wait some more. His beautiful baby girls were dressed in matching dresses, coats and hats, identical impressions of one another but in reality two halves of a whole. One angel slept while the other was engaged and inquisitive.
There was the service and her cousin’s powerful remembrance of her brother. Then the journey to the grave, once again through the field of lost soldiers. The cold air, snowflakes flying. Her father held her arm and she clasped his hand. She shivered, but not from the cold. But she had to stay focused. Her role was to worry about the logistics so her father and aunt could be there. To hold the space so they could grieve. And she still had to get them home.
The plane tilted again, an indication that this leg of the journey was drawing to a close. She opened her eyes to a blank white outside the window. They were in a cloudbank. Flying through a clean slate.
She didn’t feel so tired anymore. She would be able to get her aunt and father home. She could hold it together a while longer. And then she could succumb to the sadness.
Sadness for the loss of a good man. Sadness for those who were forever affected by that loss. Sadness for the realization her father was indeed blind. Sadness because her aunt was so much older than she imagined her to be. Sadness for twin angels who would grow up with two American flags and a set of medals to represent a father they would never know.
The plane burst through the clouds. The city below was a marvel of motion. The plane banked making its final turn toward the runway. Once again there was nothing but blue. She wiped away the tear and reminded herself that it would have to wait.