I lie awake as a solitary bird on the roof and eat
ashes instead of my food. I am withering like grass.
The flag lies in the darkest corner of my bedroom enclosed in a black rimmed, triangular case which my best friend gave me three days before my husband’s funeral. The white stars on the union blue field bear witness to his death when I cannot do it myself. Like a red rose growing in January snow, its presence is incongruous. The contrast is stark, not hushed or entreating, and from somewhere in the thick of denial, a trace of the national anthem finds its way into the frozen images in my mind…”bombs bursting in air.”
Indeed they are… I should see smoke.
With compulsion and angst, I count the stars showing in the tri-cornered frame–one, two, three–glowing like wet, over sized snowflakes; and I ask myself if all the cased flags are really the same with only three stars set with purpose, like the notes in a requiem.
I wonder how they are arranged in such detail, these flags given at a military service. How are they folded so perfectly? Does a fourth star ever sneak through the soldier’s disciplined fingers? Does he or she sleep at night after officiating five or six funerals each day? Will post-traumatic stress disorder follow him after presenting them to each sad soul this day? Is he or she lucky to be here and not far away in a faraway war. Maybe this is what is called the “private war.”
…As my own is tonight…
I am shivering with all these thoughts, and I want to scream. They chase me like ghosts through the grief in this room with willful pursuit and passion. I don’t know where to run or hide any more. For the first time since his death, I am weeping, weeping loudly. I am alone now. I am afraid. I want him back with me…give him back to me, please.
On this cold December night, the wind is rabid. Trees are flailing and twirling, bending back and forth, a mainsail caught in an unexpected sea storm, and I become mesmerized by the gale. On its brightest setting, my office light reflects the glare of this brazen, insistent flag as if it were permanently etched on the windowpane. I am nauseous from both the shift of the storm and the agonizing stillness of the flag. Why isn’t it furling?
What do I do with this flag now? What can I do with anything right now? It seems like a century but it is only four months since I watched his eyes stop seeing me, felt his body tighten against my heart. I held him close and hard. I stroked his sallow face: “yes, it is all right, my love, go where you must… may I please follow? I promise to be quiet. I shall not cry.”
What do I do with this flag now?
But the white stars and blue stripes remain mute and stubborn in their tight, glass coffin. Shall I keep it or give it away in order to heal? Shall I just hide it in a drawer, in a closet, under the bed? Bury it in the basement with his medals and packed away clothes? What would he want me to do? I cannot think, God help me, I do not know what to do.
My memories are so bitter now in the fatal gloom of this winter night when the wind is an intruder, and my life the last leaf on a tree.
In honor of Francis J. Toth
by His Widow, Paula Toth