I’m sitting out front, alone, waiting for the end of year school car parade to pass by in front of our house. Penny is sitting on the balcony on the second floor while Nick is in his room. He promises to come out when the parade is here. Both kids are streaming stuff on the internet. I guess I’m on the internet too. So much internet these days.
This weekend, major U.S. cities were ablaze in protest over the killing of African-American man, George Floyd, after a police officer arrested Floyd, laying him on the ground while applying pressure to Floyd’s neck with his knee. As a result of this cruel arrest tactic, George Floyd ended up dead.
Today I took Penny to Floor and Decor, a construction materials retail store with isles of hardwood flooring and tile and backsplash and anything you could want for a home construction project. Penny and I went in, masked up, but it seemed like we were in the minority. Most of the contractors went around bare faced, and you know what? I didn’t care. It was a relief even, to see people going about the business of manual labor without a face mask. Like somewhere in these little occupational enclaves there was no COVID-19. I know this isn’t true of course. And I don’t know why I felt so differently at seeing people bare faced at Hobby Lobby. It’s completely illogical.
My sister introduced me to a book a little while ago called Designing Your Life. I haven’t read it and asked her to explain to me how it’s different from other self-helpy books about organizing your life.
“The author talks about designing your life versus making plans,” she said. “You design your life the way you might design a room in your house. You make a plan and buy some pieces, but when you put your pieces in place, you might discover that something doesn’t work in that space. So you move things around, and it’s more of an iterative process.”
To think about life as a design process is a more helpful model than say, finding your passion. Perhaps because in a design process you can account for the fact that you might not know exactly what you want, and so you allow yourself the freedom to make changes as necessary.
When I think about how we came to land in Houston and the lifestyle we had hoped to achieve, we made assumptions about specific neighborhoods—and about ourselves—that haven’t panned out as expected. Some things aren’t working the way we had hoped. Rather than get bent out of shape about what could have been, it’s time to get to designing and adjusting variables.
The great thing about designing is that the next iteration doesn’t have to be perfect. If you find that a framed picture doesn’t work in a space because it’s too small, you can find a wall that doesn’t dwarf the picture. If that’s still not quite right, you can try portrait versus landscape. You keep working it and improving on little details until you’re satisfied or you just plain don’t feel like fussing with it anymore. The same goes with the variables and details or our lives. So, it’s time for me to start fussing with the details of our life design.
We got a lot of rain last night and early this morning, so the weather was unusually cool during my run. Now I’m alone at my kitchen table, still, at this late hour in the morning. My night owls are still in bed, Nick is upstairs getting his regular early start on Fortnite. I’m having coffee, listening to the birds outside, and it is grand.
Today is Memorial Day, which is a federal holiday honoring the sacrifice of service members who have died while serving in the military. This is not to be confused with Veteran’s Day, which celebrates the service of all military veterans. Later we’ll take a family outing to a war memorial in Asiatown, which is about a 30 minute drive in an area we visited often before the pandemic. The story of Houston’s Vietnam War Memorial is showcases how diverse a city Houston is.
Since it’s Memorial Day, I’m reminded of a mother in Staten Island, New York, who I met during my tour of duty at 6th Communication Battalion in 2011.
As part of the permanent active duty staff, all officers and staff non-commissioned officers were on a rotation to serve as the Casualty Assistance Calls Officer (CACO). In February 2011, a Personnel Casualty Report arrived in my boss’ inbox conveying only the most pertinent details of a Lance Corporal Omar Mendez (not his real name), killed in action as a result of a gunshot wound while on an dismounted patrol in Helmand Province, at time X, date Y.
Our administration section pulled up LCpl Mendez’s record and determined his parents were divorced, which required two sets of CACOs, one set to deliver the news to each parent. I was handed LCpl Mendez’s record, and set off in parallel with my Staff Sergeant assistant and the other set of CACOs, to change into my service dress blue uniform and find LCpl Mendez’ mother.
It was a typical overcast and gloomy February afternoon. As the Staff Sergeant and I drove through a light rain across the Verrazano Bridge, I thought about the Marine’s name, and wondered if his mom preferred Spanish to English. I wrote out a Spanish translation just in case my Spanish deserted me at the critical moment.
I had never been to Staten Island, but like many of New York’s Burroughs that seem worldly, diverse, and interesting in my head, it’s not until I’m there when I realize the urban thing is not for me. We found her apartment on the corner of a dreary street and parked close, but not too close. I got out of the car with a business card and an index card with my notes.
The Staff Sergeant and I waited at the front door of her apartment for what seemed like a while. In the event that she wasn’t home we would have gone back to the car and waited until we saw her. In these circumstances, the Marine Corps wants to notify next of kin first and as soon as possible, with condolences delivered in person. Since we did not know where she worked, if we had to sit there all day and wait for her, that’s what we were going to do.
“Yes?” She said to us as she walked up from behind us standing at her front door.
“Can we go inside?” I said. She let us inside, and there at the foyer, I began, “The commandant of the Marine Corps has entrusted me to inform you that your son, Lance Corporal Omar Mendez has been killed in action…”
I did not get through much the remaining dialogue. She threw herself on the couch and cried and screamed. Her 16-year-old son came out from a room in the house and was soon anguished as well. I left my card with her son and told them both we’d be in touch. What followed over the next seven days or so were several visits back to this mom and coordinating with the other CACO for LCpl Mendez’s dad, to talk through military funeral arrangements and benefits. We spent time in the funeral home hearing the family discuss arrangements and burial preferences, with family intermediaries relaying messages between mom and dad. LCpl Mendez had a big family and three brothers. Two were also Marines, his twin brother had been serving in Afghanistan at the same time he had been killed.
It occurs to me how surreal this must be for the families. LCpl Mendez had probably been in the Marine Corps, maybe two years. He had been in Afghanistan only a couple of months. He got the same send-off as many had before and many would after, but he just never came back. I remember on a separate occasion talking with a Gold Star mother at a community relations events representing 6th Comm. She talked about losing her son a few years back and how she’d come to get involved in the military community in New York.
“It’s hard some days. Some days I tell myself, ‘let’s pretend he’s still on deployment.’”
There’s a lot of other stories out there. These are mine. This is what Memorial Day is about.
I’m sitting in the minivan with Steve and the kids, on our way back from Jamaica Beach on Galveston Island. It’s about 1.5 hours from my house with traffic. And there was a lot of traffic today. But we’re flying now, heading north on 45. The kids have their headphones in which means Steve and I get to listen to whatever we want. For this trip, it’s Pink Floyd’s The Wall and the whole thing is good.
I had purchased day passes to Galveston Island State Park for their beach access, but when we arrived the park ranger told us that their beach access was closed, and what I had purchased was access to their campsites and trails.
“It’s not on your website, that your beach access is closed,” I said.
“It is. It’s on the front page, in red at the top. Public beach access is about a quarter mile, but I think they’ve been turning people away.”
I always do this, miss some small, but big, detail. We found the public beach access and even though there were lots of beach patrolling cops, and lots of people on the beach, we had no trouble getting in.
It’s the day before our Memorial Day weekend begins. Steve has off tomorrow and is not set to return to virtual work until Tuesday. I have therefore submitted my formal request to him to have a work-day for myself. My request went like this:
“Dearest, since you’re off tomorrow, I have stuff I’ve been needing to work on that I haven’t been able to do. So I’m going to be upstairs for a long time.” I said, frying an egg.
“Oh really? That means I need to find something to do with the kids,” Steve said, receiving said fried egg.
Little does he know that even though he is off tomorrow, the kids still have virtual school. I will make sure to mention this.
At the moment the sky is overcast (yay!) and the weather is comfortable. Poppy is sitting next to me sopping wet because Penny has decided to play with the hose. At one point she came up next to me shouting, “surprise sneak attack!” At which point I threw one of my own temper tantrums about, you know her being jerk getting me and my electronics wet. I mean really they show these hammy kids on the Disney Chanel pull pranks on adults and no one flips out? I’m glad to say no iPads or Canon EOS6D cameras were harmed today.
In other news there is drama in Florida (which seems to often be the case in Florida no matter what’s going on) around their reporting of the Coronavirus cases in the state. Of note it appears that the first states to move on ending lockdown restrictions mostly reside in the South, which is culturally interesting, and there’s speculation our major cities in the South will see a COVID resurgence.
I’ve been following bloggers in different parts of the world write about how the pandemic has played out in their areas. Restrictions appear very strict in South Africa (still a ban on tobacco and alcohol), and re-opening the economy has exposed fissures along white collar/blue collar class lines in the UK. In Ireland people are weary (and sometimes defiant) of the public health restrictions, as they are in many places at this point. Now it’s our turn. Maybe here soon, we’ll start to see what the Coronavirus crisis reveals about us.