Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Tonic Chord; for Richard

It was the final salute, a last show of respect from the heart of a Sailor to the body of a fallen Marine that guided Richard to the airport in his dress blues on May 3, 2004. What a miserable day for suits that was. And a Monday, no less. Monday to Monday.

One of the few things I took comfort in that day was that from the time Aaron had left this earth, from the time I first heard that the someone’s son who willingly laid down his life, the life that was his and mine and so many others; from the horrible three seconds my heart stopped, not his, what, fifteen hours after the fact? But one of the things I took comfort in was the number of days since deadly labor had begun. The number, a symbolic seven. Completion.

Quick, too quick no doubt, for such news from Marines with such a message.

And exactly seven days later I buried him.

It was complete.

So many finals. Final this, final that. Names engraved here and there. And it is all so beautiful and touching. And that is it. It’s fast, and snap, snap. And, and, and….


But Final final does not exist in the hearts of good men. I am blessed among women in the way I buried my son. It is a son that is buried. The son will be missed as a hero. And for me, would be missed just as much had the tragedy been a drug overdose, a car accident, any unlinking of everything for a time.

Sensory deprivation.

That’s what is missed: the babies we raised, the teenagers who charmed us, then snap, were initiated into the hood of man. We stood by, merely glimpsed a former youngster, a splendid creation birthed from our bodies. And suddenly, always suddenly, no matter the time, they are no more.

The mothers whose shoulders were built for such a parting are not honored by an entire nation. Seems a little unfair, really. Later, down the road.

Those who came to my aide, stood at my side, stunned me then. Their goodness astonishes me still.

Admittedly, there is a great deal during that time, which is forever lost to me, but there are images and conversations that will die only with dementia or death.

Since Aaron’s funeral was in Amarillo, four hours from here, most of the family came the night before. Greg, Tiff, and I left a couple of days earlier since I was to ride with Doug and Eric to meet Aaron’s body in Oklahoma City.

I’ll never forget the hotel we stayed at. Tiff’s parents reserved rooms at the Four Seasons or Fifth Season, something season, which is not important except to say that in its day, it lived up to one of those images, but May of 2004 was well past the crucial color of any four or imaginary fifth fluctuation of any bit of month of the year.

Rick and Cindy reserved these rooms while they were still at home in Scottsdale, so of course they ddidn't realize how this one time paradise of a place had been well seasoned and for all intense purposes, tossed out to sea.

The sympathetic clerk, owner or owner’s wife no doubt, told them via the long distance call that we could get these special rooms for only $39.99 during these distinctive days of death's duty. She said,or he said, just tell them we were with the Austin family.

We all thought, how nice, and alerted the entourage. We all called the hotel and mentioned the code phrase in a quiet and covert fashion, but the secret was out when hours later, we drove up, or when we were about a mile away really, and saw a sign: $39.99 EVERY NIGHT. Its pomp and flash shamed New York City on New Year’s Eve at its shiniest. And of course, we, Greg and I being smokers, got the worst room in the place.

Rich didn’t miss much by flying from Dallas to Amarillo the morning of the funeral, then back out before the graveside service began. A service in the architecture and tradition of man. A tradition that I hold high in a mother's heart, because these traditions were founded by men with a Richard heart.

A young busy executive, a stand in or newly appointed president of the company (if memory serves me justly), flew from Dallas to Amarillo to pay his respects to me, to my son and my family, even though he hadn’t talked to Aaron for nearly a decade.

I don’t remember Rich’s exact arrival. I believe I was in the viewing room or whatever dressed up thing funeral homes name such bizarre rooms of great cush and comfort. A spotlight in the stage set for waxed bodies and their survivors.

The room did comfort me. I didn't want to leave. It wasn't the overstuffed chairs and great divans of antiquity, not the flaked gold of frames that squared and rectangled a perfect pastoral scene. Not the dimmed lights that glistened and glowed upon the body of a Marine and the portraits of how the Marine really looked a few months prior. These were our own geometric shapes that hinted personality of the missing to the unknowing, but all of us in this final room knew.

Unrushed and handsome, tenderly eager, Richard attended me there in that room. He told me what Aaron’s ribbons represented. Even that, I’ve since forgotten, though their significance is duly noted, recorded, tucked away.

There are times in our lives that the brain snaps a forever photograph.

As everyone filed out before us, as the ushers or flower gatherers or whatever their directors call them are, gathered flowers, dispensed directions and quick, quick, snap, snap. Snapped duties and biddings, after all, the next funeral is at two, for heaven’s sake, take this, not that, okay, these go first, oh for the love of new ushers or flower gatherers, I’m the Director, but no one can do it without me, I must do everything.

A scene I never heard, but felt.

My mind’s film argued with the rush. We have to leave?

But yes, everyone’s leaving and talking and directing....

But Greg, I’m sure he must’ve been behind me.

He always was.

And Karen, in front of me some, I think.

Her eyes. Yes, Karen was there. And Richard.

Richard walked part way with us. Stopped.


I could hear the voice, orders from somewhere, another time, a different place, something different.

No. Somebody different.




The broken chords
drift …

The triad begins. A tonic chord it is built upon too.

Steady. Slow before the eyes of eternity, the naval officer’s hand ascends near his temple and waits there.


Before beginning its
slow descent and
steady cadence as

his right hand
lowers and finds
its end. Presses

itself firmly against
the side nearest
a sailor's heart.


aunt karen said...

This is more beautiful than words can say. I'll never forget that day and I don't know if I could have gotten through without my Husband supporting me on one side and my Seabee brother supporting me on the other. De'on, I am honored that I was left in the viewing room with you to witness this final salute, one of the most honorable but heartbreaking things I've ever seen.
Rich, thank you again for coming that day to support our beloved Marine, De'on, our family and me. You won't ever know how much it meant. I remember the day I called you to tell you the news and you didn't hesitate to say you would be there. I love you, Little Bro.

aunt karen said...

De'on, I know it's hard for you to remember, but Rich did stay for the graveside service. After it was over, we all went back to the motel. Richard and I were riding up the elevator to the rooms so that he could get changed to fly back to Dallas. It was then that he told me that he was probably headed to Iraq soon, but not to tell Mom and Dad yet because he wanted to tell them himself. Not something I wanted to hear, but I tried to be strong because he was so proud that he was going.

De'on Miller said...

So that's it. I knew I'd seen him at the hotel. Of course, b/c we went straight to the gravesite.

Well, good, I'm glad he was there. That was the most beautiful part of all.

I'm glad you like it and I hope Rich does too. It will always mean so much to me that he was there. It was the most beautiful thing to witness, that slow salute.

Lisa just left and loved her birthday gifties from you!

aunt karen said...

I love it, De'on. Reading it, I was taken away, back to that few moments, feeling it again. I wouldn't have ever wanted to miss that.

Your's and Lisa's gifties are Antique finds. I love you sisters!

Lisa said...

Aaron's funeral was the most awesome funeral I have ever been too. That sounds kinda crazy, but wow! The people along the road to the graveside. What patriots, they have know idea the gratitude I have for those people who showed Aaron and his family and friends what America really stands for. To brother, to brother. No hate on that day. Thank you dear God and the angels that surrounded us. I did come across an angel that day. After the graveside services a man that looked like maybe could be from the Vietnam war, back in the 70's movement, some special guy anyways came up to Kayla and gave her a slug from the 21 gun salute and offered her his condolences. I would give anything to have had a picture to show with her eyes looking into his. I have often wondered how he knew she was Aaron's Little Pretty... that was in a world she had never experienced before. She had never lost a pet or somebody she loved before that day. I assume this guy was an angel...had to be. I think he must of heard her poem she read, Streets of Gold at the funeral services. Aaron I know you had to feel the hearts beating as one that day. Something you always wanted. I so wished your guys that fought with you that day had the memories of that day that we were blessed to have.

Lisa said...

Karen your gifts were fantastic for my birthday, you know how I love dogs, they are precious. Your brother, brothers and sister-in-law are pretty amazing. Tell my amazing brother how much I love him and I didn't get my morning birthday call that he always has in the past.

De'on Miller said...

Your words are true and right. It was all so beautiful.

And I hadn't forgotten about our angel.

So many good hearts out there in this crazy world!

Beautifl writing, my sister!

LT Rich said...


That was a wonderful caption. If, in some way, my being there was of some help, I am glad. You know, it’s heard all the time about ‘paying respect’, and as I wrote in an article that ‘I went to pay my respect on that day’. But it is so much more than just words, or a saying.

Respect to a man that saw the job through.
Respect to a man that didn’t hesitate to put himself in harms way to ensure the safety of others.
Respect to a mother whose strength cannot be fathomed by others.

Yes, things were a little rushed that day and I didn’t realize, nor intend that a final expression of my respect would be witnessed; but I’m glad it was. LCpl Aaron Austin was the epitome of a true Marine…a true man…one that all who follow, would only hope to emulate.

Thanks again De’on for all you are doing…for your strength. You’ll never know how your writing and your actions affect so many people in so many different ways.

De'on Miller said...

Your words are precious to me, Rich.

I re-read the issue of Double Deuce where you paid tribute to Aaron.

The article was so inspiring. And I will always be thankful for you in our lives.

Your parents did a wonderful job with the three of you, and I know Rich, how very, very proud of you and your service they are.

Thank you.

De'on Miller said...

I will be sharing the article when we get back to you tomorrow!

Come check out the Buzzzz!

(Oh, I bet y'all get 'em all, you Seabees, huh?)

Anonymous said...

Well I was just going to pass some time after I put Chicken Gumbo on to cook and here I am bowling like a baby....thanks so much Rich for reminding us what all is good and right about America Thank you Virgie Bell says

DONNA said...