Field Tripping: Memorial Dazing

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer, or so I've been told by all the folks who've been chomping at the bit to wear white again after that whole Labor Day thing. If my social media universe is any indication, everybody was grilling in the backyard, getting stuck in traffic on the way to the beach, or frolicking on some nature trail within an hour or two of here. It was all happy pictures of happy families and groups celebrating the start of the season where we stare at our phones while sitting outside instead of inside on the couch.

I spent mine alone, though, the ladyfriend out of town on a solo getaway to Providence, Rhode Island. We just celebrated the third anniversary of our first beer—well, I had two while she nursed half of one—and this is the first vacation she's taken by herself since I've known her. It was long overdue, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't pretty excited to try out the new Pepperoni Rolls from Papa John's and binge watch the terrible ABC Family series "Separated at Birth" without having to share the food or the remote control.


What happened was something completely different, totally unexpected, without any precedence: I didn't even turn on the television until Monday night. As a girl raised on television who keeps it on in the background much of the time, this was really something. Sometimes we surprise ourselves. Instead, I spent the holiday weekend field tripping.

Saturday started late, a noon o'clock brunch with friends. I had no particular plans, but I brought books and sunscreen and a plan to stay out all day to see what would happen. What happened was hours sitting on my friend's patio, listening to the rush of sewage through the pipes currently snaking above ground in Mount Vernon as they repair the infrastructure below. That part of the city's wearing its insides on its outsides, and if you're just a little bit tipsy or a little bit high, it's actually pretty relaxing to just sit back and listen to the sounds of all of us taking shits and showers together. Yep, we are human, and even though our sewer system is a mess, at least we have one to mess with. Back before sewers and cars the streets ran with our waste and that of our horses, and I'll take the slight stench rising in summer heat to what it must have been like back in the day.

I ended Saturday listening to femmes talking about femmes at the Heels on Wheels Roadshow queer art and performance event at Red Emma's. Still riding the afternoon high, I mellowed in to watch. There are the beautiful people the TV tells us are beautiful, and then there are the beautiful people whose beauty comes from wearing their insides on their outsides, and that was everybody at the event that night. Summer means sunscreen and sweaty tank tops and skirts that make me look and feel like a dirty old wet rag, so I took special pleasure in these hot femmes and their hot fans. And then another friend and I rode our bikes back to my neighborhood, traded stories on a front porch, a perfect summer Saturday in the books.

That was a lot of socializing for me—I'm actually kind of a loner—so I spent Sunday by myself. I spent the morning reading the Sunday paper with a vague plan to take my bike out for a long ride. And then I read an editorial about the "true meaning of Memorial Day." I generally hate people telling other people how they should feel and what they should do on state holidays, but this piece, 'The Graves of the Marines I Lost' by J. Cale Weston, wasn't about that. It was about the soldiers who died in wars under his direct supervision, and his visits to the hometowns and gravesites of this tiny group of casualties to our ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In a larger sense, it was what happens in war, how people die in wars, and what it means to remember those people.

Here's the thing: war means people are killed, people die. It is an essential part of the enterprise. Some of those people are soldiers, and some of those people are not soldiers, and many, many people directly, tangentially, and not at all related to the war currently being fought will be killed by war. Yes, Obama's drone strikes have meant a huge uptick in people killed by drones since he became president, but this is just the latest way people die in wars—however we fight them, and whether or not we call them wars, people will be killed. It's what it's all about, even if we have figured out a way to do it at a distance.

I thought about this, about my own mourning multiplied to unimaginable scales as each lost life is mourned just as I have mourned my dad for the past six months. When a bomb hits a wedding party or a hospital or a school, our media will often say the victims are unknown—but they ARE known, just not by us, personally. They are fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, lovers, friends, family—and their losses are felt as deeply as mine, or as any of the people making the decision to drop another round of bombs.

I cried, I put on sunscreen, I got the bike and headed vaguely west until I found myself on the Gwynns Falls Trail. I rode to the western edge of it, marveled at the life a month of rain and a week of sunshine has birthed just outside of neighborhoods decaying from their own decades of a different kind of war. It was hot, I was sweaty, and then I was home, happy to spend Monday in bed with my cats and to finally turn on the TV, because sometimes both the good and the bad are just too much.