Tuesday, June 10, 2008

In August, we went to Phoenix for Richard's conference. It was a nice trip, though hot and unusually humid for Arizona. When we were planning the trip, people kept saying "but it's a dry heat": what they failed to note is that Arizona has a monsoon season and we were landing in the middle of it. The hotel actually flooded the night before we arrived and we spent the entire week with the subtle aroma of mold drifting through the air. But it was a nearly complete change from the atmosphere, both literal and figurative, that we had been living in here and it was a good trip. The only dicey moment occurred on the bus trip to the Grand Canyon when the tour guide pointed out a hill and trail that had been renamed for SPC Lori Ann Piestewa who had been killed at the beginning of the conflict in Iraq. He clearly was afraid that her story was being forgotten (she was wounded and subsequently died at the same raid in which Jessica Lynch was captured) but I think that the there was very little reaction among the people on the bus, all of whom knew about Thomas. There is very little likelihood that any of those people will forget that American soldiers have died in Iraq.

Later in August, I had a very strange evening working at the fabric store. We were a bit understaffed because of a quilt club meeting in which several of the managers were participating, and as a result, I ended up working all over the store. This meant that I helped the same customer three times who finally told me that she was shopping for a (sewing) machine for the museum at Walter Reed where they were going to be displaying bones from Civil War soldiers. I asked if the families had given permission and she did say that they had done their best. From there she began talking about the old prosthetics they had on display and how the new stuff was light years ahead of the old ones: this conversation flowed naturally and it was one I would have had without a second thought before Thomas died (I will talk about anything) but suddenly I knew I had hit my limit and was going to cry in front of a customer. I never speak about Thomas to my customers but now I knew I had to, and so I told her that I had lost a son in Iraq. She began to tear up and I was clearly crying so I told her "We have tissues behind the registers" and pulled out our industrial size roll of toilet paper so we could wipe our eyes (there is nothing like toilet paper to lighten a very heavy moment). We did chat for a bit after that and I told her his story and how I'd balked just a tiny bit at the thought of the autopsy, but she told me they learned a great deal from these scans that was helping soldiers in the field which made me feel a bit better about it. She'd spent time at Dover, she may have been there the day they brought his body home. I realized that these people never see the families, maybe they can't do it emotionally, but that our encounter had made the families real to her.

Anyway, I think both of us changed our perspectives a bit that evening. I still see her from time to time in the store and she asks how we are doing--and I do the same for her.



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