June 18, 2009


"Serendipity is the faculty of finding things we did not know we were looking for." Glauco Ortolano
I met him that day. Well, not really. But I could have. He was there.

I remember it like it was yesterday, instead of almost a year ago. In August, I drove to Salem, Illinois and met my dad at the driver's license branch to trade in my Indiana one for a land of Lincoln one. I glanced in the mirror after the written test and messed with my hair- and it was the best license picture I've ever taken. (I was forced to get a new one the next month-such is my luck.) We went to the hotel room to unload a couple bags and snacks, and drove a few blocks to the armory. My brother was there.

We picked him up, jammed Orsay and a couple other guys into the car, and drove another few blocks to a high school. There was an endless-seeming hallway crowded with boys in uniforms. Dad and I left Andy there and found some seats on the bleachers of the gym. I looked around, and saw the podium on one end, and a huge banner with "God Bless America" on the other. I pulled some Kleenex out of my purse and fingered the strap of my camera nervously.
The boys walked in as a thin line, and formed into rows at the other end of the gym. I watched Andy pass, and thought about how surreal it all was. The speakers stood up, each one saying the same thing, each more tiring and long winded than the first. There was the national anthem, the thankful speeches, the video cameras with red lights. I zoomed in with my camera and tried to find Andy amid the crowd of faces. It was hard to find him. I realized I was silently sobbing and hated myself for it.

Then the group broke, and I saw him walking towards us. We drove to a little diner and had hamburgers. My dad, never a stranger, took him to a local fire station to change out of his ACUs and chatted with the lone firefighter there. We found Orsay again at the hotel, and we all went swimming. There was an attempt to go to a bowling alley (closed), lots of junk food, and not too much talk about what the weekend meant. I went to bed with a heavy heart, knowing when I opened my eyes again I'd be saying goodbye. It's one of the few times in my life I've cried myself to sleep.

The next morning, we were up early while it was still pitch black. The drive to the armory felt so fast. We stood by the car, each hugged him, and then the three of us walked to the sidewalk where the bus was loading. There were stacks of duffel bags shoved into the bottom compartments. I looked at the silhouettes of the guys already sitting in the bus, and wondered what they were thinking. I hugged my brother again, and watched as he disappeared into the sea of dark outlines.

Dad talked with a few family members and walked back to the car as the bus engine got louder. But I couldn't help but walk after it as it sped up a little and rounded the corner. I walked faster and then stopped, watching it go down the street, and turn again out of my sight. I couldn't stop the tears, and I looked at the empty street for a while before saying the worst words I'd said up 'til that day. The drive home was miserable.

It was a day I'll never forget. However, I never imagined that my boyfriend was standing in those hallways, saluting in that gym, and riding away on that bus. It never occurred me until today, when I was writing him that I am going back to the Salem armory this weekend for a families meeting about everyone coming home. When I looked back at the pictures tonight, I saw one I'd taken of the ceremony's program. His name was right above Andy's.

I wish I could have met him years ago, but in a way I'm very thankful I didn't know him that day. So if we passed in those hallways and didn't know, it doesn't matter. I can't imagine having to watch both of them leave, even though that's exactly what I did. But about six months later, I found out how amazing that boy is. I'll go back to that gym this weekend and be ever so slightly in awe of the first place we didn't meet. And I'll daydream through the monotones of the speakers, thinking only about one thing- homecoming day.

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