I was talking to Travis at work. He was having a better than normal day. That IED in Afghanistan fucked him up some, but he gets by. Day by day.
Last night he was in Seattle, at a Social Distortion concert. He had to pass all the teen girls leaving their Panic At The Disco concert as he left.
The Ferry ride home wasn't bad, he told me. The only problem was he was hungry, and the food on the ferry at 1 AM sucks. Travis settled on a sorry-assed hot dog. Some shriveled-up crap on a dried out bun. We laughed, and agreed that nothing good ever happens after midnight.
When my wife got the call that her father had died, it was before midnight. But it felt like "zero dark thirty". It just felt dark. We met her mom and sisters at the house, and called The Neptune Society to pick up my father-in-law, Jim. We waited. We talked a bit, but it was so quiet.
The women soon drifted off into a fitful sleep, while I waited for the "meat wagon". As I sat in the dark, I remembered talking to Jim about his Military Police duty in Germany in the 50's. I kept vigil, remembering how Jim kept vigil. How Travis kept vigil. It occurred to me how solitary each of us was. Alone in our duty. We talked, and we understood. But the duty was each of ours to fulfill. I never felt lonely, but I did feel alone.
The quantum nature of The Universe engulfed me. It was now, and it was thirty years ago. The barracks was quiet, but an occasional drunk would stumble-in. I'd tell them to shut the hell up and not wake everyone up. Occasionally, The Corporal of The Guard would drop in, trying to catch me sleeping. They never would. I could always hear the footsteps... hard rubber squeaking on waxed cement. The door latch sounded like two pots clanging as the Duty Corporal tried to sneak-up. Even the yellow sodium floodlight reflected sickly off the door glass, sweeping the barracks as The Corporal entered. He never caught me sleeping. Even though I did.
The Neptune Society boys were about as slick as the Corporal. Not that they were loud or disruptive at three AM. I heard their van roll up outside, the light reflect into our living room, the door latches click... It occurred to me that Death does not sneak up on us. It's just most folks aren't paying attention.
I woke everyone up before the men reached the door.
I'm going to miss Jim. I just don't know what else to say about that. Travis' generation uses the term "battle buddy". That sounds about right.
A few days later I'm back at work. Another friend from work, Mark, came in looking like shit. He looked like he had been up all night, because he had. His brother had just died. I'm guessing he got the call some time after midnight. Lack of sleep wears on a man. Or it "builds character", I forget which. For a moment, he expressed hesitation at leaving us and the workload. I gave him a hug and told him to get the hell out of here. He had a long flight to The Philippines ahead of him. It was Mark's turn to be the sentry, and hold vigil.
Mark and his brother were Navy vets. Travis and Jim were Army. I was a Jarhead. Death will get us all. But it isn't Death that we fear. It's that quiet before He arrives.
It's zero dark thirty now. And it's quiet.