If this account sounds like one of an outsider's, the reason is that I am one. It was my first military ball, so I had no idea what to expect.
My manicure was done, and the stylist at the salon had just finished perfecting my updo. After a quick coffee with my aunt, Sky and I dropped Millie off with her grandpa and sped towards the hotel. About an hour later, we carried our clothes in dry cleaning bags into the room, and began to get ready.
I fussed over my eyeshadow and lip gloss, asked Sky to help me with my bracelet, and took out my camera while he began to get dressed. Vainly, I couldn't stop looking at my dress. It was a purple-grey ("gunmetal", according to the tag), and my earrings somehow matched it perfectly. It was the fanciest, most pricey dress I'd ever worn, including my wedding day. I couldn't help but feel a bit regal, especially when Sky stepped out in his Class A uniform. He asked me to help him fasten the blue infantry cord to his button. We had to Google the instructions for tying his bow tie, since he insisted on wearing a real one instead of a clip-on like most of the men. When I moved his bag off of our bed, the ring box for my engagement ring tumbled out. I checked to see if he noticed, and quickly put it back like I hadn't seen it.
We took a few more pictures, then walked down several long, dim hallways, past the pool, and stood in the lobby with the rest of the guests. It was a large hotel, and people were arriving for a wedding reception and other events while we stood and chatted. It was strange to see them look at us all as one mass of 'military people'. I don't get that kind of experience very often. An older lady whispered to another, "It must be a military ball." A couple little girls walked past some of the spouses and girlfriends, telling them, "Your dresses are pretty!" in a kind of awe. When the bride for the reception walked in, she didn't even stand out among so many other beautiful, poofy gowns.
The doors to a large room opened, and we filed into a line. We were quickly inside, where Sky told a soldier his company and name, and we were handed keepsake glasses with the unit's crest, and printed tickets for the meals we'd chosen. Everyone broke into smaller groups, talking and sipping drinks. I asked Sky if we could get our portrait taken where they had set up a backdrop and flags in the corner. I asked him to hold some of my things, and he replied I would have to hold things for him too. I looked down and saw my gorgeous ring in the palm of his hand. He grinned mischievously, but put it back in his pocket.
We had our picture taken, and walked back to our little group. I watched Sky as he said "sir" over and over. A lieutenant who he had spoken to earlier had come back to check if he'd been able to tie his bow tie. "You know what," he said, putting his hand into his uniform pocket. He pulled out a black clip on tie, and handed it to Sky. We laughed that he happened to have a spare, but Sky dutifully put it on. We stood in the reception area for a while, until the walled sections of the dining area were pulled back.
It started to sink in that it wasn't just a regular party. I began to learn the meaning behind the term "military brass"- everything on the uniforms was shining, and gleaming buttons and pins would catch my eye everywhere I turned. It felt like I was an extra in a movie set, watching as everything happened around me.
We were instructed to stand as the flags were brought in by soldiers with white gloves and rifles. Toasts were given by each company- to the country, to the president. At our table, it was "I propose a toast to the National Guard." The rest of the room echoed a loud "to the Guard!" After every announcement, all the men cheered "hooah!"
There was a speech given by a retired general. While I don't remember every word, I do remember that it was moving and I had to swallow back tears at a couple points. There was a history of the old regiment, then the recognition of all the soldiers who had been killed in action, or who were still missing. The room was completely silent as we were asked to remember the men who were not there that night.I thought about fellow bloggers who had lost their husbands in the war, and was glad that I stood in front of Sky so he couldn't see my face. I can honestly say that the moment was the most patriotic I had ever felt.
After the toasts and speeches, we ate and talked with the three other couples at our table. A couple of the guys told their war stories. While they described some of the things they did and saw, I watched the faces of their wives sitting next to them. I wondered if they ever got used to hearing those things. They sat there expressionless, but I know better than to assume their hearts didn't hurt a little.
The dinner was over, and we stood again as the flags were taken out of the room. The music started booming loudly, and some people began dancing. We went back into the reception area. Sky pulled the ring from his pocket occasionally, and the sparkle get my attention. He would tumble it between his fingers before putting it away again. I would smile and try not to get excited. He was ready to leave after dessert, but I wanted to have one dance to a slow song. After four or five songs of club music, we realized it was going to be unlikely that a slow song would be played. I looked behind me at the ballroom one last time, and we wrapped our arms around each other's waists and slowly walked back to our room.
He took off his uniform jacket, and I unbuckled the straps of my shoes. He told me to play some music on my phone, and so, as cheesy as it may be, we had our slow dance after all. We swayed back and forth in the tiny space to Sinatra and Michael Buble. After Sky helped me with the dozens of bobby pins in my hair, I showered away my makeup and combed out my tangles. I looked in the mirror and was a little sad everything seemed back to normal so quickly. The clock had struck midnight, and Cinderella had been replaced with a sleepy Erika instead.
It was almost like it didn't happen. But I remember it all. I know it did.
And Sky did not propose that night. The ring is safe in our house somewhere. It's pretty cruel to tease a girl like that, but I can't say it would have exactly been a surprise either. I know when he does get on one knee again, it will be lovely.
And I know, for at least that one night, I was Cinderella, he was the prince, and we were happy.