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By , Grove City, OH
Up until this point, I was in denial. Up until this point, I had only lost control once. Up until this point, it hadn’t seemed real. Four soldiers in their navy dress blues formally marched up to the plane. The soldiers were clad in shining polished gleaming medals. Their uniforms were perfectly pressed. Their berets all rested at the perfect angle against their clean shaven, emotionless faces; except for their eyes. Those eight dark gleaming eyes full of sorrow, of rage. But they marched on, with blank expressions. They continued their march of silent grief up the ramp, and came back out of the plane bearing the burden of a dead man, in a box, draped in a flag. And then the tears flooded my face, my stomach clenched, and my heart shattered, as distressed and mourning wails and sobs pierced the unforgiving clear blue sky.

It was hard just to keep myself upright, in one piece. I felt as if I would shatter from the sheer force of the pain upon my fragile heart. But somehow I managed. As I avoided watching my cousin’s body being carried into the army base, I let my eyes wonder through the gathering of people who loved and respected him. Everyone was in their bleak, depressing clothes, crying or staring into an unknown abyss of pain. Some were quiet, some were loud. Alarmingly loud, like my aunt and my cousin’s wife. Holding each other and sobbing uncontrollably, I wanted to hug them both. But I was frozen in place, as if the sight of all this emotional torment was some huge, thick, being weighing down my insides like they were filled with lead. And I just watched them fall apart, because I could do nothing.

Once his body was moved to the hearse, we all piled into our cars to drive to the funeral home. The procession was like a long, black, winding, serpent, that engulfed all of us, and slithered its way away. I remember that his immediate family got to ride in a limo, and it made me furious. What was so special about them? I was sure I was suffering just as much, and I didn’t get a limo. I was family too. Where was my recognition? I wanted people to know I was dying on the inside too, maybe even more than them. As far as I knew, this was the worst pain I had ever felt, and I wanted people to know that. But I kept it to myself, because any attempt at some muttered fragment of a sentence would just leave me in tears.

As we drove along, I remember seeing kids who lived on the army base standing along the side of the road, waving flags, almost like a parade. I was in such awe that these total strangers wanted to honor my cousin, and it touched my heart of hearts and I cried some more at their innocence and thoughtfulness. I knew my cousin was special because he was the only deceased member of the Kentucky National Guard, but this was something different. I knew he was smiling down on their sweet gestures.

We drove along for a long time, and it was quiet and I don’t remember much until the emotional assault that ambushed us when we slithered up to the funeral home. Across the street, in front of the little brick funeral home, were protesters. My blood boiled and my face was scorching. What kind of awful people protest at a funeral? Sure it’s legal, but it’s anything but moral, especially from a Christian point of view. Yet they called themselves Christians. How dare they. Not knowing who they were, I immediately hated them with their obscene signs and insulting clothing and loud chants. My hands shook with fury and tears flooded my face for the thousandth time that day. This was not okay, and I couldn’t handle it. But their chants soon became muted by the monstrous roar of engines, and it was then that I realized the purpose of the motorcycle procession that had led our serpent. I knew my dad was in there somewhere, in the midst of that shield, and that was the most comforting thing I had felt all day. We proceeded inside.

The next thing I remember is the burial. It was a picturesque, new cemetery to honor soldiers and veterans. The tombstones were all glistening with dew in the sunlight; it was another beautiful, crisp, unforgiving day. The grass was cut evenly, and the tombstones were in uniform rows. There was an enormous monument in the middle of the field, and we shuffled through the wrought iron gates to the right of it, towards a green canvas tent and a group of soldiers next to that burden of a dead man, in a box, draped in a flag. People stood around awkwardly until something signaled the start of the ceremony. I don’t remember what was said, but I remember feeling like an empty void, capable of feeling absolutely nothing. I watched that same group of soldiers with the somber eyes fold the flag, so precisely and uniformly that they looked like robots. They handed it to my aunt. She clutched it to her chest and sobbed into it, whispering painful goodbyes into its creases and folds. Time elapsed, but I was unaware from inside my void.
The trumpets pulled me back into reality. First just one, then came four more. And they played the most awful, depressing piece of music I had ever heard. It was one of those songs that touches you to your core, which makes you want to cover your ears and beg for mercy, while at the same time you never want it to end. It makes your stomach flip and your heart race, and you wonder what kind of genius composed something so simple, yet so stunning. I froze and couldn’t do anything but listen. It’s that kind of song; it was Taps. Such a simple name for such an intricate piece of music. Then the trumpeters silenced their trusted comrades and five gunshots were sounded into that unforgiving sky. The tears fell, and I bit my lip until it bled, trying to keep the emotion inside, because I hated feeling this vulnerable. That song and those gunshots felt like they tore right through me and ripped me open; like my organs were on display for the crowd. I hated it. All this raw rampant emotion was too much for me.

I remember other random things that happened somewhere in the course of those two days, like my cousin’s sister attempting to sing at a church I don’t remember traveling to, and a random pastor there saying things about this man he didn’t know. I remember braiding his wife’s hair at the showing after almost everyone had left, and I remember not wanting to talk about any of it.
To this day, I still hate mentioning it, and I have to excuse myself at the sound of Taps being played. To this day, I still hate raw emotion and try to swallow it down with a permanent smile. To this day, I still hate those military protesters with every fiber of my being, regardless of who they are. But most important of all, to this day, I still love and miss my cousin.
All I have left of him are my fading memories, some dog tags, an old picture of us my grandma found, and an engraved bullet from the funeral. Such obscure objects that would seem unimportant to anyone else, that means the world to me.





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