I haven’t been out of my house since Friday afternoon. The shades have been drawn down to numb the sun and the only exercise consists of movements from my couch to the refrigerator and the bathroom; not in any particular order.
I’ve been dreading this weekend since last year. I knew it would come right before June brought the sweltering DC heat. I knew it was going to come for some time and this Friday, I simply decided to prepare myself by hiding. From the world. From the sky. From myself.
Today is Memorial Day. Today, like all Memorial Days I would go to pay my respects at the Arlington National Cemetery. Today, however, was different. Today, I would visit a gravestone of a fallen friend.
Nobody deals well with death. It’s a natural occurrence, but an unnatural emotion. Losing my friend was like telling me that the color yellow was to exist no more. I am constantly reminded of his absence with every smile I enjoy.
My alarm sounded at 9:59, but I couldn’t get off of my couch until close to 1. My chest felt like there was a full balloon inside, but no matter what I did, I could not get it to burst.
I looked at the thousands of white headstones marking those who fell fighting for someone’s freedom. The hairs of my skin were at a constant attention as I walked by families and friends paying their respects. My feet guided me where my eyes did not wish to look. My feet guided me onward at a quick pace.
There it was. His section. His mother had told me how to find it. She knew that I would be going this Monday and had mailed me a card with the instructions inside. She knew I would be there. She knew that I would have found it on my own, but she wanted to make it easier for me. His mother, who now had no more son, was thinking about me. The balloon filled with more air.
And there he was. His name. His birthdate. His death.
He was older than me. Now I am.
I looked down on his gravesite hoping that the proper words or actions would come out of me, but they didn’t. I stood there, with sunglasses in my hand, waiting for tears that I had been holding back to drop. They didn’t.
Many times I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing, not even empty air would come out. No wise words. Nothing.
I was on my knees in front of his grave. Above his body. I placed my right hand on his grave as I did his shoulder before I last gave my goodbyes to him.
“See you later,” I said, not believing in goodbyes.
Later never came.
My knees were wet from yesterday’s downpour, but my eyes had forgotten to blink. I put both hands on my cheeks in a motion that would normally cause tears, but nothing. I could not cry for my friend. The tears were hiding from him as if to refuse to actually say goodbye.
Then, a man, an older man with gray facial hair and a black bandana firmly placed his hand on my own right shoulder. I stood up and embraced him. The tears finally came. The tears that had been stored for months poured onto this strangers shoulders. His black shirt. He embraced me firmly as to let the air out of the balloon that had been holding air for far too long.
I walked away, still crying, not wanting the tears to stop because I needed this release. I needed my balloon to go away.
I am not a politician, nor have I ever claimed to know about great worldly events. What I do know, however, is that I never want to cry at the grave of another friend lost in a faraway land.