Joined: 20 Jun 2005
Location: US, Pennsylvania
|Posted: Mon May 10, 2010 1:17 pm Post subject: The Good Ol' Days
|Nathan Kennedy died from a shot to the head while serving his country in Afghanistan.
The viewing was held in Claysville, a small town in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Claysville is a self-sustaining community. Not in the sense of resources or economics, but in the sense that few people ever move into or move out of Claysville. They are born there. They grow up there. They have children there. And they die there. Their parents did this, so did their parentsí parents. Grade school classmates are next door neighbors, and it stays that way. The same people that went to prom together will run into each other on their way into Minteerís Market for that weekís can of Copenhagen, their wrinkled lips stretching their grey beards into smiles as they joke about the gold olí days.
When two uniformed Army officers, with their hats in their hands, stepped on to the Kennedy family porch, the town knew what they had to say before their knuckles rapped on the weather-worn front door. The two soldiers were crying, and when NatalieóNathanís older sisteróopened the door, she knew what the town knew, and she cried too.
The ripple of Nathanís death scattered yellow ribbons and American flags. 6 miles outside of Claysville, a quarter of a mile beyond his high school, the ribbons marked the beginning of a path to Nathanís viewing. Ribbons clung to stop signs, to mail boxes, to fence posts, to trees. Miniature American flags lined the road and blanket-sized flags hung from clotheslines. The ribbons and flags were thickest at the epicenter of the ripple, the Claysville American Legion, the location of Nathanís viewing, 7 buildings down from the porch where Natalie first knew what the town knew.
Volunteer firemen took turns directing traffic, an attempt to manage the 5000 people expected to migrate into the town of 724 for Nathanís viewing. Three cars away from the American Legion, a group of bikers leaned on their Harleys and their Yamahas. Their black leather vests were emblazoned with buttons and American flag patches. The backs of their vests read, ďthe Patriot Guard.Ē
Few mourners wore suit jackets. Some wore forgotten collared shirts, the shirts they only remembered owning when it was time to attend a wedding or a funeral. Many had come from work, still wearing battered work boots, stained blue jeans, and tucked-in t-shirts. The women wore humble dressesósome floral, some black. The children were dressed like the adults, but their faces bore a sadness tinted with confusion. They didnít know that the adults looked at the children and imagined what it would be like if they died the way that Nathan had died, their soft faces disappearing beneath the shadow of a coffin lid while their parents scratched their graying hair and cried as they recalled the good olí days.
Nathanís two sisters, one older and one a twin, stood alongside his father and younger brother. His mother wasnít there. She died when Nathan was in 9th grade, and Nathan died on her birthday.
The mourners trickled toward Nathanís family, filing past two poster-board collages of family photos, four photo-albums, and a television looping a memorial video. Many of the mourners were Nathanís friends, high school classmates. Five years had passed since their graduation. They faded into adulthood, starting families, losing their hair, putting on weight. They took turns leaving the corner next to the Legion bar to stand with Nathanís family. Those at the bar stared at the beer taps and wished that they could drink, those standing alongside Nathanís family contemplated their own mortality.
Nathanís sisters seemed most concerned with helping others cope. They encouraged those with tears to remember Nathan as he was, referencing inside jokes and childhood memories. Nathanís sisters were tired, and they had cried all the tears they had. They replaced the tears with hugs and forced smiles. They tried not to look at the coffin.
Nathanís father stood straight and smiled and shook hands. If he frowned, his mustache and wrinkles hid it. And if he cried, he never let the tears leak from his eyes. He stood with a broken strength. His wife, his sweet Penelope, had already been taken from him, and now he was burying his first-born son, but he had three children left that needed him to be strong, and the town needed him to be strong too.
Niles, Nathanís younger brother, wore a rented tux. Prom was that night, and Nileís family was forcing him to go. Nileís mimicked his father, standing straight and shaking hands, but he couldnít smile. His face was still soft and his hair full of color. His voice choked when he tried to speak, and his hands quivered. Barely 19, he pretended to be a man, pretended to be strong. Niles was in 4th grade when his mother had passed, and from that day on his face betrayed a lingering sorrow, a permanent ache for what he had lost. Now, standing next to his older brother, that lingering sorrow was gone. A cocktail of frustration, rage, and hopelessness took its place. Nathanís death pushed Niles into an abyss, and the town knew it, but they did not know what could be said or done to free him. They tried to think of what they would do were they in Nilesí place, but the thought only frightened them. Still having no answer for Niles, they filed through the line and drew their loved ones close, lingering in their embrace.
Nathan lay in his coffin, his skin a flat grey from 11 days in a military morgue. His beret hid the sutures from his autopsy, and the bars on his green uniform gleamed in the flickering florescent lights of the Claysville American Legion. His lips were cracked, his white-gloved hands folded on his stomach. This wasnít Nathan.
The town knew that this was just his body, that the warmth of the Nathan they knew had gone, and they mourned because the good olí days would never again be good, and they cursed because Nathan would never have good olí days of his own.
ďWhen I am fighting I am keeping my mind empty for any expectations. I am waiting for something unique, completely new.Ē