First I trace each branch of the deep Y carved into his chest by the
medical examiner. Then I touch each short dash, each stitch, that had
closed him back up. All I’ve been told is that he was hit head-on, that it
was not his fault, and that he died instantly. Still, I am looking for clues.
Answers. I’m a military wife. And he’d come back from a combat zone
I consider the dragon tattooed on his upper arm and trace a finger
along the green hairpin curves of its spine, from the tip of its snout to
the tip of its tiny, forked tail. His skin is cold. Refrigerator cold. A deep
gouge presents between two knuckles of his hand, and a large flap of torn
skin with a thick maroon edge lies over his hand bones, not sutured.
I remember his eyes are gone. Donated. But the closed lids with their
delicate lashes whisper against his face in the concave curvature of two
small smiles. Warm tears drip from my chin onto his bare arm. I close
my eyes and begin to search inside the dark recesses of my living body
for a doorway. A lamplight. A path. Something—anything—to tell me
which direction to go tearing after him.
“Where,” I say, frantic now that I know what I truly want, “where did
Whether he was going off to the war in Iraq or to specialized training
for his army job or to VA appointments at the hospital here in Minne-
sota, I accompanied him, always, as far I was allowed. This meant being
left in a lot of waiting rooms, hallways, and parking lots. Behind roped-
off areas and security gates. And now a funeral home. And Earth.
The waiting room at the VA hospital is an upper-level atrium with large
skylights and plastic plants. It’s easy to know if the sun is up or down,
but not whether it’s doing any good. Rows of sectional couches with thin,
worn cushions make a semicircle around a monster console television
that plays the Military Channel on mute. World War II tanks silently
rumble down a rutted European road. This is what I remember from
the last time I waited for my husband there, only a week before he died.
It was early enough to still be dark outside, and the large Plexiglas
windows that lined the walls streamed the only light, a dim fluorescence
from the adjoining hallways, where earlier I had seen Authorized
Personnel Only lettered across a set of heavy steel doors. For a long time
during the morning of his surgery, I sat and watched those hallways for
hospital workers to push empty gurneys by, imagining the click of the
wheels as they passed from one window frame to the next.