The crunch of the car tires on the gravel road coursed into my inner ear, pounding with seemingly intense volume. In the stillness of the morning the sound of my approach marred the perfect tranquility that had settled over the land. The sound seemed sacrilege, and I slowed my pace from a crawl to a sludge-like slide, finally rolling to a stop. I eased the door open and stepped from the car, closing the door gently behind me and not letting it click shut. Silence was mandatory here. Maybe not for all. But for me. I knew intuitively I was meant to observe, not to speak.
Acres of green stretched in an undulating picture, frozen in time: a piece of history. Pieces of history. Hundreds, thousands, many more…each piece represented by a stark white slab, standing straight and tall like the soldiers they represented. A soft fog rolled over the endless stones, like a ghost of past wars; a smoky reminder of what had been, what still was, and what would be. I slid my feet slowly over the earth, gliding along in a fog of my own. The air was warm, but I felt a chill trip down my spine, crawl over my skin, coercing small bumps to spread over my arms. To be among the fallen heroes and heroines in their honored resting places made my ragged breath catch. I fought back the tears and moved forward. Off the gravel drive. My foot pressed firmly on the grass, muting my progress.
I do not tend toward superstition. It goes against all I believe. But as I began to traverse my gentle path through the bleached markers, I could almost hear their voices; raised in song, laughter, playful banter, serious discussion. I could not make out the words, or determine one voice from another. They merged into one soft chorus, mingling in my heart, rather than my ears. As I eased by the white sentries, I gently dragged my hand over one of the smooth surfaces. Something caused me to pause for a moment, and I dropped my eyes to the engraved name. Immediately I felt as if I had known this man; the name shook me to my core. Whether it was my imagination, or something else I cannot explain, I will never know.
“Percival.” Army private. His friends had made fun of his name, but had the highest respect for him.
I removed my hand. The mental idea of the man faded. I continued. With each marker I touched, each name I read, it was the same.
“Ulysses.” Captain in the Marines. Named after that union leader, presumably some distant relation.
“Rita.” Coast Guard. First in her family to break the tradition of Navy.
“Peter.” Navy, nuclear sub. A strong Christian that tended after his namesake in the Bible for impulsivity.
“Ortega.” Army general, named for his mother’s maiden name.
“Stephen.” Second lieutenant, Air Force. Killed on his first deployment.
My footsteps slowed. My destination approached. The sun broke through, clearing away the white mist of the fields, the fog in my mind. The soil freshly turned, the grass uprooted, discarded. The new marker glinted in fresh sunbeams as though it were made of the finest alabaster. I fell to my knees, involuntarily, gazing at the name staring boldly back at me.
“Eva.” My breath shook as I tried to pull in the oxygen I needed. It stuck in my throat and a feeling of dizziness engulfed me. Without touching the stony surface, I knew everything about her. Killed such a short time ago; her Pavehawk shot down in Iraq. I knew every curve of her face, every sparkle of her eye, every jaunt in her step, every note in her laugh. And I knew with a painful certainty that this was not my imagination. Tears on my cheeks, I kissed the rose in my hand and laid it gently on the churned dirt. Pushing to my feet, I wiped a hand across my eyes, whispered three words to her, and turned to go. It would not be my last visit to Arlington. She had given her life for a purpose; for many in fact. But her most important one waited for me at home. The one that had her face, her eyes, her walk, and her laugh. Our daughter would know the sacrifices her mother had made, all that she had given. In my heart, I made Eva this promise.
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