"Danny Boy"
by sarAdora

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Oh, Danny boy, the pipes,
the pipes are calling

September 11th

Vaguely, I was aware that the phone had rung - the special phone, the one that has a distinct ring... soft but alarming, especially at such an early hour. It's a direct line to people I'd rather not talk to unless we're socializing with them. In my half-wake state, I heard the squid's voice... sotto voce... and went back to sleep. Later, I remember that he held me close to him, kissed me and tucked the covers under my chin.

From glen to glen, and
down the mountain side.

I slept late, not rising till almost 8 A.M., the sun high on the Pacific Coast, a hint of rain in the air. Eventually, I made my way downstairs, the aroma of fresh coffee beckoning my footsteps. I was surprised to see Cowboy in the kitchen and wondered why he was still home. His uniform jacket was on the back of a chair, the gold stripes on the cuffs of the sleeves acknowledging his rank... commanding all by itself. His normally locked briefcase lay open on the kitchen table... the edge of a file folder resting on the rim of the case. My mind's eye pictured it... well aware that if I looked at the thick vellum, I would see that it was emblazoned with the Navy's seal. He held a cell phone to his ear, his eyes also listening... his laptop was on and there was a stoic expression to his face. Suddenly, I heard the drumming... my pulse revving up... my heart at the track's gates... bursting through them... hurling into a race at top speed... a race I didn't want to run. I was frightened.

The summer's gone, and
all the flowers are dying.

When he saw me, he ended his call, his expression morphing from formidable to approachable... from commanding officer to tender lover... Arms outstretched, he reached for me and pulled me onto his lap. For seconds, time stopped... the surrounding silence deafening, premonitions... tombstones... the river Styx... and the wings of angels... drooping... heavy with grief.

Finally, I noticed that the TV was on with the sound off. Giant plumes of dark smoke filled the screen... people running... streaked with ash... my fear rose.

"Are you watching a movie? At this hour?"

"No, baby," he said softly, his Texas drawl thicker... filled with emotion... small, sharp slivers of fear slicing... neatly... deeply... I looked back at the small TV that sits on the desk in my kitchen... My clean, white, pristine kitchen... where I cook to my heart's content... making homemade pasta and the best beef bracciola... Where my friends gather and lick the mixing bowls as I bake sugar cookies and banana cakes and make fried ice cream... Where I slip shrimp to the dogs under the table when no one's looking... Where I scoop DomTom, the stray cat, into my arms and scold him for jumping on my clean counters... where death and destruction replayed in living color on my small desktop television set.

'Tis you, 'tis you must go
and I must bide.

"Isn't that... the Twin Towers? In Manhattan? Where we were last month?" I asked, the fear unleashed and sweeping through me like the Energizer Bunny... adrenaline on the fast track, bile following in its wake.

"Yes," he murmured, holding me tighter.

"It's real?" I asked again, hoping against hope that it was a farce, a terrible prank, a nightmare... and I was still asleep.

"It's real," Cowboy repeated. "Terrorist attack... hijacked airplanes... with passengers... crashed into the towers and..."

But come ye back when
Summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's
hushed and white with snow.

I didn't want to hear the words... felt myself tuning out... lost in memories... not one of which belonged to me but nevertheless, vivid in my mind. Leningrad... Kiev... pogroms... Cossacks... Bunker Hill... The Alamo... Sherman's Atlanta... Pearl Harbor... The U.S.S. Arizona... Wounded Knee... Dachau... Auschwitz... ovens... Hiroshima... Nagasaki... mushroom clouds...Seoul... Saigon... Hanoi... Danang... Angkor... Vientiane... Belfast... Camps... fires... blood... rifles... trenches... napalm... and always... babies dying...

'Tis I'll be here in
sunshine or in shadow.
Oh, Danny boy, oh,
Danny boy, I love you so.

"Look at me, sweetheart," he said, gently cupping my chin, his gaze tender but filled with sadness.

"There's more?" Oh no... there's more. Acrid bile ...passed "go"... creeping forward... burning my throat, the taste of it on the back of my tongue... Death's sickle lingered in my gut... the hook-like blade raised... waiting... Tear ducts... ever ready to do their part... the limpid fluid stored... shape shifting... neatly lined... each salty fat glob awaiting its turn to fall...

"The Pentagon," he whispered.

And if ye come, and all
the flow'rs are dying

"No!" I screamed, survival instincts in full force... senses exploding as I tried to get loose from his embrace, but he held me even tighter. "David?" I dared ask, my mind's eye watching my fingers scurry to re-weave the newly shredded remnants of my sanity. "Don't tell me he's dead! If you tell me he's dead, I'll never speak to you again! He's not dead!" I yelled at the man he called brother, my fist curled, beating each word onto his chest, and shouting my denial as if in my madness, death would change its mind. "He can't be dead." The floodgates opened... tears choked me... I tasted grief and I couldn't bear it. "He's not dead. Please don't let him be dead," I begged.

"Shhhh, cara mia," he crooned, wrapping his hand around the fist that had assailed him, kissing the sting away. "David's okay; he wasn't there this morning. I just spoke to him. He's fine, bambina. He's fine."

"Truth? You swear?"

"Truth. I swear."

If I am dead, as dead
I well may be,

"But there are others..." he paused. "And some we don't know about yet."

"Who?" I heard my voice whimper, my body already blanketed by mourning... Shrouds of sorrow neatly stacked on my soul's shelves... each waiting to fill my heart. I pictured Cowboy in formal dress blues at Arlington... his medals for bravery reflecting the day's light... his face filled with compassion. I wore black... the suit I bought the last time we were in New York... the one with the silk lining... and the collar that slightly chafed my neck. That's what we would wear when we comforted each family that clutched a precision folded American flag... a flag that had draped a cherished loved one's casket.

"Mark... Carl... Joe... and... Danny," he murmured, pausing between each name, his breath choking... The last name caused my strong warrior to swallow hard, fresh unabashed tears streaking his face... and mine. Danny... just finished BUD/s training, so proud to be a SEAL. We had helped him celebrate his new status... We stood proudly when Cowboy barked the command: "Attention to orders!" and pinned the brand new SEAL trident on Danny's uniform, congratulating him, my lips curving into a smile as I stood on tip-toe to give him the traditional kiss on each cheek.

You'll come and find the
place where I am lying

"Is there more?" I asked again, numbness entwined with grief... abject fear leaping forward... squeezing the breath from my lungs... my heart's blood spilling into caverns it should never know.

"Pennsylvania," he said, telling me what he knew, recounting facts as he knew them. "The World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the flight in Pennsylvania," he mourned. "The death count will be staggering."

"Are we at war?" I asked as I looked at my husband, a career military man... a man of war who has always been a man who prayed for peace.

"Yes, baby, we are," he affirmed. "We've been at war for a while, but now, it's on our soil."

And kneel and say an
"Ave" there for me.

Mark... Carl... Joe... and... Danny...

You would have liked Mark. He was funny and sassy and such a flirt... and Cowboy's driver, the first of many when he achieved a rank high enough to merit one. He'd bide his time and when Cowboy wasn't looking, he'd sneak a wet and sloppy kiss on my cheek and slip chocolates to me when he knew I was in the doghouse with the squid. Once he chanced to see me receive a few firm swats and after that, he always kept a soft pillow in the backseat of the limo. I could have wrung his neck... now, I wish...

Carl was one of Paul Bunyan's relatives... a giant of a man and so very gentle. A military K-9 trainer, he was one of several that had enough patience to teach me how to work with the animals we foster. He used to tell me to keep something that smelled good in my left pocket so the dogs would heel to my side. It worked; they follow me everywhere but he laughed the first time he saw me hand out bits of vanilla wafers for rewards. "I meant for you to keep dried liver, Sar, not cookies." I'll miss his laughter.

Joe... Joe was a tough nut to crack, a former drill instructor. "Don't take no truck from sassy women or green recruits," he used to tell me when I'd tease him. I'd tell him he was an ol' softie... this veteran of far too many wars and who had far too many scars, most of them buried deeply inside him. He always had a quick comeback. "Your man oughta tan your hide, girl. If'n you were mine, I'd fix you right quick." This from the man who carried me in his arms as if I were a fragile piece of porcelain that time when I fell and had to be rushed to the hospital and...

And Danny...

But come ye back when
Summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's
hushed and white with snow.

I tried to remember the whispered prayers the nuns made us recite when I was in grade school. I remembered that they were never answered... that they never brought me comfort... The child I had been was certain the Catholic God had rejected me because I wasn't one of theirs. Then I remembered the gods in the other churches I was forced to attend never answered my prayers either...

"Do you want to light a candle for them?" I asked the senior ranking military officer who had been an altar boy a lifetime and several wars ago.

"Yes," he answered.

'Tis I'll be here in
sunshine or in shadow.
Oh, Danny boy, oh,
Danny boy, I love you so.

We lit those candles... and a few more... and I watched in humbled silence as the warrior bent a knee, said his "Ave's," stoic in the presence of others, aggrieved sans uniform, his public persona unmasked when in my arms. We attended too many funerals, murmured the words we hoped would bring comfort and whispered sad farewells.

And I shall hear, though
soft you tread above me

The world walked on eggs for months after 9/11. With great success, I managed to crush each one I stepped on... constantly slipping on raw yolks... and raw emotion... my personal clot of grief just one of many thousands on the earth's surface. For the first time since surviving childhood, I was frightened. Noises startled me... I almost panicked when a small earthquake shook the house...

He rushed home... held me tightly... murmured soothing sounds... I needed more.

It was a gentle spanking... his hand in concert with my needs... one hand caressing, the other delivering the sting that drained my soul... capping my bottles of grief... setting them aside, and storing them elsewhere. Over and over I sought his reassuring touch... trusting him to help me heal... knowing it was what he also needed... his hands on me...

And all my grave will
warmer, sweeter be.

The time for mourning was past... I stored the memories... bitter... and sometimes, sweet... wrapped them in lilac velveteen and satin ribbons, and placed them on that shelf where I keep my treasured memories as well as my shattered dreams...

For you will bend and tell
me that you love me,

Weeks later, the pups and I wandered into the backyard at dawn to watch the sun break through the gray misty sky and I squeezed the tomatoes that turned red over night. I remember throwing one in the air for the large old crow that fence sits when I show up with sunflower seeds for its breakfast. The crow caught it, cawed raucously at me and flew away. My pups had begged for some. I remember sitting in the middle of my raised vegetable bed... as we stuffed ourselves with cherry tomatoes... the juices dripping on my chin while I sobbed... poignant memories.

I remember thinking that the yardman had clipped the willow again. I wish he'd leave it alone; I like it when the leaves ribbon down to the ground and sway in the breeze. I remember how upset the dogs were about my fresh tears... both the Rott and the Mastiff licking my face... their concerned eyes focused on mine, the sounds of their mournful whines a sad, sweet and comforting litany. I think I need a hug now.

It was a terrible time.

It took a while for my need to ebb... the reassurance of his arms, his lap, his embrace of me was as necessary as the breath I cast upon the window, peeking between the drapes at the morning... checking to see if the sun still rose each day. I remember being amazed that flowers I had planted before that fateful day were blooming... my asters came up, the dark red ones clashing with the orange gladioli. Whatever was I thinking to plant them in the same bed?

The spankings remained gentle... some firmer than others... but gentle nonetheless, the surety of his love and the strength and safety of his arms... my salvation, my sanity, my peace of mind.

And I shall sleep in peace
until you come to me.

A year later, I wept true tears when he had to take a brief trip to the Persian Gulf, my senses bleeding... my life on hold... my heart in my mouth until he returned to my arms. He teased me... saying I had worried for naught... which made me pout and stomp my foot and say words that caused his brows to arch. I refused to apologize and he delivered firm swats, caution in his tone if I didn't want more... I dared him... and ran... He gave chase... caught me... and delivered the promise of his words. The sweetness that followed is one I continue to cherish. We were one again... healing... and we were whole.

But come ye back when
Summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's
hushed and white with snow.

And now... we stand at war. The press will report every excruciating detail... forgetting that it was the warriors... not the reporters... that gave them that freedom. Members of Congress and various Parliaments will pontificate to their constituents... in glorious photo opportunities... And speechmakers will praise as well as vilify what is happening, filling our television screens with their rhetoric... forgetting it was the warriors... not the poets... that gave us freedom of speech and allowed us to protest war...

In an act of umbrage and outrage... and sheer stupidity... a few shouting and shameful examples of Homo Erectus... will burn the American flag. Once again, they have forgotten that it was the warriors that gave us the right to criticize our government's actions... the right to burn our flag...the flag our warriors defend... and serve... the same one that will drape their coffins...

'Tis I'll be here in
sunshine or in shadow.
Oh, Danny boy, oh,
Danny boy, I love you so.

~ End ~

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