For years people had been planning to attend this total solar eclipse. That’s what I was telling Commander Holliday as we stood graveside, shoulder to shoulder in Summer Whites, at ease, left hand over right, waiting for the funeral procession to arrive. The Colorado Rockies were to our backs, the Eastern Plains in front of us, and the sun glared down overhead. I stood there uncomfortable, sweating. It was two days before the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017, and a declining number of minutes before we performed Navy funeral honors for Daniel Brooks who, judging by his rank, had either been honorably discharged or had retired from the Navy, I couldn’t tell.
“I’m gonna win today,” Holliday said. I glanced at him after he said this. His eyes were squinting and fixed on a point long down the county road. He was about my height, wore metal-framed glasses, and had a hint of nasal in his voice. He was talking about whether he would make the widow cry. I tried to divert the conversation to my plans to drive north to see the eclipse in its totality, and how I hoped to miss the crowds by heading toward eastern Wyoming, away from I-25. I’d invited Holliday to come with, but he didn’t seem that interested.
“Don’t you get blind if you stare at the thing?” Holliday asked.
“Only if you stare at the partial eclipse,” I said.
“The moon covers the sun during a total eclipse,” I said. “That’s why they call it a total eclipse. You can stare right at it.”
“What does it look like?”
“That’s what I’m gonna find out.”
In addition to his Reserve duties, Holliday did part-time work in Boulder and funerals to supplement his income. While on active duty, he had been on a ship as a Surface Warfare Officer. After eight years as a Naval Flight Officer, I left active duty. I was now in the Reserves, an MBA grad student at Colorado State, and signed up to work funerals on the side, the GI Bill helpful but not enough. My days were spent alternating between being in class in civvies and at funerals in my uniform, and the one weekend a month, two weeks a year obligation of the Reserves. It split me in two, this life, the continual whiplash between living as a civilian and serving in the military, and though Holliday and I had this in common, it wasn’t like active duty, which had a way of forging or forcing camaraderie. But we did have the funerals. I did one or two a week. Holliday had told me he averaged three a week. He was either lying or exaggerating; either way, he was an asshole about it.
I’d only ever seen Holliday graveside, where he often shared with me his thoughts on the latest Marvel movie or stories of the most recent services he’d performed, including whether he’d gotten the tears to flow. A commander to my lieutenant commander, he pulled this duty when we performed together, though I had presented the American flag to the next of kin plenty of times before. Kneeling while doing so, and staring into their eyes while repeating the scripted refrain, I had witnessed more than my fair share of people crying, though I didn’t relish the thought.
“Rolling,” I said, as I spotted the tip of the procession moving toward us.
“The key is to look into her eyes,” Holliday said about the widow.
“You’ll go blind like that,” I said.
The line of cars swooped in around the perimeter of the cemetery, kicking up dirt like exhaust. Holliday called us to attention and a hand salute until the hearse stopped in front of us. Sometimes, I wondered if Holliday had known any fellow service members who’d died in the line of duty. I’d known a few. I didn’t think of Brian all that often, but he was there, waiting for me when I did. He’d been my roommate freshman year at the Naval Academy. He had brown hair draped across his forehead, a confident, cocky smirk, as if knowing how to break the rules meant that he could follow them better, which he did, all the way to his death: a helicopter crash on a training mission off the Atlantic, a fuel leak, nothing to be done, no way to subvert the future. I imagined the thwock thwock thwock of the blades hitting the water.
I resented Brian when we met. Regarding the regulations of our world, his stance was calm rebellion, and he, at most, tolerated them. I had trembled at the thought of disobedience. I didn’t know why Brian chose to submit himself to this system if he lived to undermine it. But there was something to it. I thought of myself as serious, though I was actually sullen. When I stood in formation, I kept a straight face like I was supposed to, which did nothing to obscure the emptiness underneath. Then I’d look over at Brian, grinning. He got his ass chewed every now and then for doing so, but he seemed emboldened by the shit, too. I don’t think he set out to break the rules; I think he did what he wanted, and sometimes he got into trouble, and sometimes he didn’t. Maybe Holliday was the new Brian.
Holliday broke off to greet the funeral director, who introduced him to the widow, who looked around seventy and had a streak of purple-dyed hair in her forelock. About the age for her husband to have been in Vietnam, but I wasn’t sure. Holliday came back to my side, and we waited as the pallbearers presented themselves on either side of the back of the hearse. The director helped them roll out the flag-draped casket.
Holliday and I snapped into mode and performed the functions that we had performed dozens of times before. We saluted the casket and then followed it to the gravesite. My muscle memory guided me as I snuck a glance at the mourners. The mourners wore sunglasses, and several women beside the widow had streaks of purple-dyed hair. The attire of those in attendance was variations of dark clothing, from black T-shirts tucked into black jeans, to dark suits and dresses.
Normally there were three of us, but since it was just Holliday and me, I had to pull double duty on the bugle. So after we posted on either side of the casket, I marched to the bugle I had put end up on the grass that was striving to be green. When Holliday saluted me, the signal to start “Taps,” I turned on the speaker wedged inside the bugle and waited for the music. Although this was how everyone did it, I’ve always felt acutely aware of the metal pressed against my unmoving lips and how apparent my passivity in the process would be if even one mourner turned around to look. No one ever did.
After “Taps” was finished, I marched back to the casket. In unison, Holliday and I lifted the flag off the casket, folded it lengthwise twice, and then made triangular folds until only the stars showed. After handing the flag to Holliday, I stood to the side as he kneeled and presented it. The widow’s purple hair was standing up in the breeze, and she looked into Holliday’s eyes as he spoke the refrain to her, offering this symbol of appreciation on behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Navy, and a grateful nation. I looked at her and tried to understand something, anything, about her husband. I didn’t know them. I hadn’t been there.
After the initial march out of there, Holliday and I informally broke our strides and walked back to our cars, which we had parked away from the other members. We began to slip off our gloves.
“Another one bites the dust,” he said. The widow had shed tears. At first, I didn’t think she would. When Holliday presented the flag to her, she was staring down at it, gray-faced and stoic; it was only when she lifted her head up to look into his eyes that she began to cry.
In movements that were oddly synchronized, we took off our Summer White tops, revealing our white undershirts. Right before arriving at this funeral, I had received a text from Petty Officer Simmons, the honors coordinator at the Reserves center, about a funeral the next day in Denver. I had replied that I would be there. My service was in response to death. But I didn’t cause these deaths. I was grateful for the service I provided, both for the benefit of the family, and quite honestly, for myself. They made me feel useful. More than that: needed. With each ceremony I performed, I got closer to the truth of it, but that truth was elusive, like death, whose nature is known only to those who’ve touched it. I didn’t need to know that, just the part I played. But that part was wearing me down. I needed to find fulfillment elsewhere.
“Two days,” I said to Holliday.
“Just think about it,” I said.
“Sure,” Holliday said sarcastically, with a raise of his eyebrows. Holliday was no doubt a dick, but the fact that we performed these funerals together made him closer to me than most other people in Colorado, which is why I wanted him to go with me to the eclipse, whose arrival was inevitable, just like these funerals. Death came for all of us; we couldn’t control that. But we could choose how to respond in the face of that fact. Seeing the eclipse in its totality would be choosing to participate, and that choice was control that I could apply to my own life.
Holliday probably didn’t think about the funerals or the eclipse in this way, if at all, which is why I never shared with him these thoughts. I got into my car and drove back north.
I’d become obsessed with the eclipse without really meaning to. I jumped into internet rabbit holes during the frequent study breaks I took from my MBA duties, already experiencing senioritis in the first week of my second year. The last total eclipse in America had been in 1979; the last one visible from coast to coast, as this one would be, was in 1918. Aztecs had tracked the sun’s movements to predict future events like weather patterns and astronomical cycles. They believed that a total eclipse would lead to global apocalypse accompanied by earthquakes. To stop this from happening, they sacrificed a prisoner on their calendar stone on the day they believed the world would end, which happened every 260 days. A bit much, I would have said, but extreme measures must be taken in the face of world annihilation. And the world hadn’t ended yet, so maybe there was something to it.
A couple hours after the funeral, I met my MBA cohort for some Friday night drinks in Old Town Fort Collins. I arrived a little late and shuffled down the stairs to our meeting place in the basement of a pub, which was dark, busy, and covered in wood. I was sure that at any moment the place was going to collapse in on itself. Nate and Janet were already sitting and drinking and waved at my arrival. There were about ten of our classmates there as well, crowded around the table and engineering solutions to the world in the name of capitalism. Nate and Janet were my only real friends out of the group. Janet had asked me during the first semester if I wanted to join a study group with a handful of them.
They knew I was in the Reserves, but not about the funerals, which I didn’t talk about. I had certainly never mentioned Brian; my uniform didn’t give me a monopoly on loss. I had swapped out the Summer Whites for jeans and a T-shirt, and I had shaved that day before the funeral. I was skinny fat, which meant that I wasn’t fat, just out of shape. The beer didn’t help with that, but it helped with other things.
I made good work of my first beer while catching up with the general vibe of the conversation. It was second week of the first semester. They were talking shit about our professors as well as the prospect of jobs after graduation; I joined in on the fun. Nate, sitting to my right, wanted to go into investment banking. Janet, sitting across from me, a nonprofit. She was slim with dark, wavy, shoulder-length hair, sharp features, and a nose ring. Twenty-six, twenty-seven, there around. Tonight, tucked into slim black jeans, she wore a dark yellow shirt that said, “Animal agriculture is the #1 polluter.” Huh, I hadn’t realized that.
Janet was cute enough to attract my attention, but it was her steady hand that sustained it. I knew she painted in her free time. She looked at the world how I imagined she also looked at her paintings, like it was a frustrating and beautiful project, whose solution she would discover, if given enough time. Janet would have done well in the military, aside from the fact that she was opposed to even the idea of the institution. She didn’t seem to be opposed to me, however. Over time, I noticed a shift in her attitude toward me from neutrality to possible interest. It was only a matter of time before I either asked her out, or I didn’t.
“And you, Aaron?” Janet asked, her hand under her chin. “What are your post-MBA plans?”
I felt energized by hearing my name come from her mouth. I didn’t know what the future held.
“Oh, God,” I said.
“You want to be God?” she asked, smiling. I liked this woman. “Nate, you hear this?”
“Huh?” Nate said, swinging his attention from the others to our direction. Only a matter of time before we lost him, too.
“Get paid,” I said, smiling, hiding the fact that I didn’t have any plans yet.
“A paycheck would be nice,” Janet agreed.
The waiter hovered over, and I ordered us all another round.
For now, I had the funerals, and this—sitting across from her. I got out of the Navy because I didn’t see how my duties matched with the end goal: the system was designed so that all officers were competing for command, but I just liked being a junior officer and flying. Within the limited room for individuality in the military, I thought that flying would be the best option for a life I could mold more to my own liking. In flight school, I chose this obscure plane out of Oklahoma City whose mission was nuclear deterrence. The fact that few people chose this platform was the primary reason I did. It was a way of rebelling within the confines, a malformed but somewhat effective method of individuality. But the longer I stayed in, and the higher the rank I achieved, the more I was being pushed out of the airplane and up the command echelon, the alcove I had carved out for myself becoming smaller and smaller until I figured it was better just to be done with it.
So I got out. I applied to grad school, and went to where I got into: Colorado State. I stayed in the Reserves and pursued an MBA—a route many former officers took—while I determined what I actually wanted to do. It was the practical, effective degree to pursue that helped repackage our background from military officers to corporate managers. But now that I was pursuing it, I didn’t have a valuable reason to complete the MBA beyond the job it might give me—and I had left a job to pursue the MBA.
I was eager to change the subject. “I’m driving up to Wyoming for the eclipse,” I said, sipping my new beer as I alternated eye contact between Janet and Nate. “You should come.”
“Don’t we have class?” Nate asked.
“We have class every week,” I said. “But this—”
“Can’t,” Nate said, holding up his hands.
“I’ll go,” Janet said. My synapses snapped at her words, and I tried to play it cool as I pivoted to look at her.
I left soon thereafter and with a plan to stay in touch with her. I wondered what would happen now if Holliday came, but I was almost certain that he wouldn’t. I needed to text him that something had come up, just in case. I drove back to my apartment on the west side of campus, a small, beige box of a studio deep in the heart of student housing. Most of my neighbors were undergrads. When I opened the door to the building, and as I walked up the stairs and into my apartment, which was on the second of three stories, I was greeted by the unmistakable stink of weed. Thankfully, tonight was silent, as I would often get it from both sides, the competing bass-thumping coming from the undergrads who lived above and below me.
It was hot, though—I had forgotten to turn on the air conditioner—so I took off my shirt and looked down at what time and beer and sitting had wrought. I had seen worse in my time. I opened my patio door to let in a breeze, and then dropped to my knees in the space that qualified as my living room. I cranked out the first ten push-ups fast, the next ten slower, then my arms slowly began to fail, my body quivering as it strived to be muscle. I stopped at thirty, the same number as my age, and with a sigh, lay on the floor.
Not like it used to be, when I cranked out sets of fifty, and after each set, ready for fifty more, both my body and my mind trained to push myself beyond my perceived limits. Separating emotion from the act was key to performing it well. Fatigue was like an emotion; only thinking about it made it real. It was like sadness in that way. The funerals I did weren’t sad unless I thought they were, and thinking so would get in the way of my duties. So instead of the sadness, I thought about the movements. And I tried not to think about where things were heading between Janet and me, only that we were going to the eclipse together.
I did another thirty push-ups, barely, then crawled into bed and went to sleep.
The next day’s funeral was at 1330 at Fort Logan Cemetery in Denver, sixty miles away and ninety minutes south. I did homework on the couch until it was time to leave, two hours ahead of time. I showed up with thirty minutes to spare, checked in at the front office, and drove to Concourse B, a gazebo for funerals, where I exchanged waves with Petty Officer Roberson and a petty officer I didn’t recognize. I got out of my car in my white undershirt, pulled my Summer Whites top from the coat hanger in the back seat, slipped on my white gloves and cover to make my uniform complete, and walked over to meet them. There were three concourses throughout the national cemetery, and the particular honors here involved cremains—cremated remains, that is—which would then be placed in the ground in front of the many white, pill-shaped gravestones that were in rows upon rows atop the rolling grass.
With ten minutes to spare, Roberson and I waited shoulder to shoulder, left hand over right, for the procession to make its way from the staging area to us.
“How’s school going?” Roberson asked. We had done enough funerals together that we each dropped many formalities of rank when speaking to each other. He had a tapered military mustache clipped well before it reached the corners of his mouth and tended to smile while kind of leaning his head back. “You’re done after this year, right?”
“Yeah, last year,” I responded.
“What are you gonna do after? Stick around in Colorado?”
“Maybe, yeah,” I responded. “Get a job.”
“I hear that,” he said.
“How’s the full-time employment search going?” I asked. Roberson worked part-time in healthcare and did these as a supplement.
“Well, with these,” he said in reference to the funerals, “I don’t need it.”
“They keep coming,” I said.
Soon, the procession was rolling, and we stood by at attention waiting for them to come closer.
The drive back to Fort Collins was shit, the cars both north and southbound crawling their way through the city. After the funeral was done, I had changed in the back room of the front office of the cemetery, replacing my lieutenant commander stripes with shorts and a T-shirt, clothes more appropriate for class. I wished more cemeteries had designated changing areas like this—even just thinking about it fucked up the Summer Whites, on which even the tiniest mark required a new round of dry cleaning.
By the time I hit the road, it was two p.m. I had class at four p.m., which wouldn’t have been a problem if the roads were clear, but, jammed up like they were, there was no way I would make it back in time.
The funeral that day had been slightly different, as they all were. Instead of cars, the procession was a line of motorcycles, the vased cremains and American flag inside a clear rectangular box pulled by a three-wheeled trike, and a line of motorcycles following behind at a low rumble. The service member was Isaac Rezendes; the family and friends present rode their bikes and had black leather jackets, bandanas, and tattoos. Roberson and I marched in, and as the senior member, I advised those present on the duties I was about to perform. After “Taps,” Roberson and I folded the flag, then I turned and kneeled and presented the flag to Rezendes’s son, who accepted in silence the flag that was a symbol of his father and his father’s service. I couldn’t see his eyes as they were hidden behind black wrap sunglasses. In the middle of presenting, I glanced at his neck tattoo, which was drawn with black ink, the left side of a skull with cavernous eyes, a crown made of stone, and feathers for earrings. I wondered if the design was Aztec.
I showed up to my Information Management class half an hour late, the drive north having taken twice as long as the one south did. The professor waved me in, and I took a seat toward the back of the class. I settled in for the rest of the three-hour lecture, already impatient for class to end even though I had just gotten there. I took notes as they came to me, writing down the topics that I thought, or the professor indicated, might be on the test. With the right knowledge and the right grades, graduation and life would follow. With my military background and an MBA in hand, I knew that I was doing quite more than okay in terms of future financial stability. But this path seemed preordained, one that so many military officers had taken before me. I had no right to complain, but no cause for real joy, either, because I still hadn’t found my own path, or my own purpose within it. The funerals, at least, provided a concrete sense of duty. I got the text, showed up, and did what I needed to do. Mission accomplished. There was satisfaction in the simplicity.
I saw Janet from across the room, her head down, taking notes, and wondered if it was a possibility to bridge that gap between us, and if so, how it could be done.
Unlike my military buddies, most of whom were married, I still didn’t grasp the concept of a typical romantic relationship. I had this half-baked theory that one could maintain, but not exceed, the level of social acumen with which they entered the academy, and by that measure, I had been behind. I had wanted to date in high school, but my shyness was an impenetrable bridge I couldn’t cross. At the academy, this inward focus was compounded by systemic constraints and kept me from reaching out for relationships. After graduating, I was finally ready to try at least. The learning curve was steep, and I wasn’t a good climber. I rotated quickly from flight school in Florida to Oklahoma City, where I was on the road half the year. When I was home, I went on dates, where I really tried—we both seemed to—but after one or two, I had to go back on the road again, and one or both of us would forget about the other. I grew tired of that life, of that place, so for my shore tour, I took orders to Japan as a way of breaking free, which was true for a time, but I soon began to count the days until I returned to the States. I was stuck; I was restless. When I left the Navy, I was banking on this being the change I needed. Janet seemed to embody this change.
We had a break halfway through class. Janet and I crossed paths in the hallway.
“I thought you weren’t gonna make it,” she said.
I was flattered that she had noticed.
“It’s my part-time job,” I said. “I had to drive to Denver and back.”
“I hate that drive,” she said.
“What do you do?” she asked.
“Well, it’s for the Reserves,” I said. “I perform funeral honors.” This piece of information didn’t seem to affect her either way. I continued, “We fold and present the American flag to the next of kin.”
“Oh!” she said, surprised. “Sorry.”
“Thanks,” I said. I wasn’t sure what she was sorry for. But it was easier for me not to explain that fact. It was easier just to say thanks. I didn’t know how to talk about these things, and if I did, maybe I would fuck up explaining it—it was probably best to just perform the service and shut up about it afterwards. It wasn’t my story to tell. I wasn’t the one who was grieving. I wasn’t the one who had died.
“No, it’s—” I said, pausing to determine what to say next. “It’s okay.”
“How long have you been doing them?”
“One year. Since school started.”
We both stood there awkwardly. I hoped I hadn’t killed the conversation.
“Does the offer still stand for the eclipse?” she asked.
“It does,” I said.
“Okay, because I want to go,” she said.
“I have it all planned out,” I said. I thought I saw her frown, but I pressed on. “About the path we’re going to take up there. And I brought extra gas, food, and water. You never know with all that traffic.”
“I guess you planned for everything,” she said.
“It’s a process,” I said, not quite knowing what she’d meant.
We soon returned to class.
During the latter half, I tried to focus on taking notes about the finer points of information management strategies, but I was thinking about Janet and kept glancing across the room at her. My laptop was on the Wi-Fi, so I Googled “Aztec tattoos.” I couldn’t find the exact one I had seen that day, but I did scroll across dozens of others tattooed on necks, arms, backs. I also discovered that in Aztec culture, the fathers would tattoo themselves first and then their sons. If it was an Aztec tattoo the son had, I wondered what kind of tattoo his father had before him.
My phone buzzed. I pulled it out. Oh, from Janet.
Beer tonight? she texted.
I scanned my classmates before settling on Janet across the room. We both smiled.
Yes, I texted back.
Postmortem, in a sense, is when understanding occurs. After Brian died, I thought back to when my relation to him and the Navy changed, to when I appreciated them both. It was second semester of freshman year, the homestretch before we graduated to being an Upper Class and had an inkling more of control in our lives. But I was thinking of quitting. My grades sucked, and the Upper Class shat on me every chance they could get. I just wanted out, to go to a real college and wear flip-flops to class, grow out my hair, and talk to coeds. I could get away, and once I got there, I would be free. I had told Brian this plan, and he hadn’t really responded. One night, I was woken up in the middle of the night by Brian’s white eyes staring into mine.
Let’s go, he said. He was in full cammies, his face painted. He flipped on the bright overheads and stood there until I got up. I wanted to know what the fuck—I had a chemistry test the next day—but Brian wouldn’t tell me. After I, too, put on my cammies, he held a canister of grease face paint, and he thumbed it onto me, his mirth replaced by a ceremonial seriousness. We slipped into the hallway, then down the stairs, and, once outside, jogged in unison toward the front gate, the one that separated our confinement from downtown Annapolis.
We followed the perimeter wall until we were immediately behind the academy chapel, which stood watch over us along with the accompanying moon. I knew why we were here. This was the farthest point between the gate guards and where the wall was at its lowest. Historically, this is where midshipmen sometimes “jumped the wall” for unauthorized liberty, and getting caught doing so wouldn’t get you kicked out, but the punishment would make you wish you were. Before I could protest, Brian crouched next to the wall, and I knew what he wanted me to do. I put my foot on his back then launched myself up, my chest hitting the top of the wall exactly where my heart was thumping against my chest, as I grabbed the other side with my arms. I swung my legs over and landed on the other side.
I looked around at the empty street and row houses. Brian soon followed. He swept his hair back from his forehead, and then turned to look at me. This is freedom, he said, his finger jabbing my chest. We jumped back over the wall. I began to jog back, but was grabbed by Brian. He jabbed my chest again. This is freedom, too. In the moment, I didn’t have time to think about what his words meant. I just didn’t want to get caught before we returned to our rooms. But the next day, I knew I wouldn’t quit, that I was in it for the long haul. After seeing the other side of the wall, I saw a new side upon returning. It took me years to truly understand Brian’s lesson, or just to begin to understand it, a bit heavy-handed on his part, or perhaps my interpretation was: that both hope and despair were a choice.
I thought about this as I held Janet’s body next to mine, no longer able to sleep, and doing my best not to wake her. After class the day before, one beer led to two. When she suggested we hang out at my place, I knew what that meant. Sitting on my couch, we talked about nothing and everything until we took off each other’s shirts, and she said “I want this,” and I said, “I want this, too,” because I did. And as she slept, her breath was measured, and she intertwined her hand in mine. So this was how it started.
About Janet, I couldn’t help but extrapolate. It was the day before the eclipse, and tomorrow we would leave early and talk the entire way up, her touching my arm when she laughed at something I said, and sharing with me something she hadn’t shared with anyone else. When the moon stood in front of the sun, we would stare at it, our hands clasped together. Sharing this event, one bigger than ourselves, we’d form a bond that we’d carry into the unknown future. A relationship, in other words. We could make it work. Everything to come would use this moment as a reference point. When people end things, it’s because at least one person forgot where it started. But I would never forget this. It was literally within my grasp. As I held closely onto this idea, and to Janet, I could feel myself ricochet off both of us and hover above, so that neither of our bodies belonged to us and were at the whim of a force we couldn’t control. I needed to stay grounded.
I could feel Janet’s breath shift as she woke up, which brought me back down. She rubbed her eyes with her arm, turned toward me, and smiled. We exchanged good mornings.
“So that was fun,” she said.
She jumped out of bed to use the restroom. When she came back, she began to slip on her clothes. I was admiring her as she did so, and when her eyes caught mine, she looked away. So did I. I scrounged around for a shirt and some gym shorts and put them on.
“I’m gonna go, but I’ll see you tomorrow?” she said.
Our bodies met again, and we kissed. She took a step back and put her hands in her back pockets.
“So,” she said. “Can we just keep this chill?”
My stomach dropped. Chill. I knew what it meant, and I tried to determined why she was saying it to me.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said, too quickly. “We could do that.”
“Okay, cool,” she said.
“I’m just trying to figure this all out,” I said.
“I get that,” she said. She looked at me as if I was a blank canvas, and she was determining how to begin.
“I just thought this was for real,” I said.
“It is for real,” she said.
“Like more than just chill,” I said.
“We don’t have to, if you don’t want to,” she said.
“I could want to,” I said, trying to convince both of us. She scrunched her face at that. “I could.”
Janet gave me a reluctant hug, which I returned in kind, and left. I went over and sat on my couch for a long while. What Janet and I thought we had known about each other wasn’t the same. Maybe she knew something about me now. I knew something, too: I could want what she wanted. I just had to want it enough. Then, spurring myself into action, I threw on some socks and running shoes, and went out the door.
I could feel every step reverberate through me. My feet slapped against the concrete as I made my way to the local park, and once on the grass, they sunk into the earth. It was early, so it was still cool. I was running to get back into shape. But once I met my body weight goals, what would be the point of continuing, except to prevent me from returning to the state I was in? I needed to keep moving; if I stopped to think about it, I would be paralyzed by the looming sense that if everything was leading to an ending, then there was no point to ever starting. Following that logic, if loss was a constant state and time was fleeting, it didn’t matter if Janet and I got serious or kept it casual or got married or never saw each other again. The future and the eclipse would always happen regardless of whether we arrived there together.
When I got back from my run, I had received two texts: one from Petty Officer Simmons to coordinate a funeral the next day and one from Holliday asking if I was still going to the eclipse. I sent a text to Holliday saying that I couldn’t go, that I had a funeral; I sent a text to Simmons that I would be there; I then sent a text to Janet telling her I wasn’t going to the eclipse, though I didn’t say why.
The day of the eclipse, I drove to Denver to perform a funeral for a World War Two veteran. His was maybe the twentieth such ceremony I’d performed, a generation literally disappearing before my eyes. I thought about Brian’s service as I waited with Roberson for this one to begin. I sat in the pews and looked at Brian’s portrait as he looked back at me: his smirk, his constant gaze. This ceremony was Catholic. I was a lapsed one. The priest spoke of the next life, the one we were driving toward. Which was nice. I liked the thought of Brian living on, but I wasn’t sure whether I believed the priest. And whether or not I did wouldn’t have affected the truth of it. The next week at Reserves was when I raised my hand to volunteer for funeral honors. There was value in taking part.
The procession for the World War Two vet was starting. When I kneeled and gave the flag to the grandson, he looked down at the flag as I recited the refrain, eventually lifting his head to meet my gaze. His eyes were wet as they looked into mine, like I was the giver of hope—I didn’t think I deserved it. But I handed him the American flag all the same, because action was synonymous with faith.
After the service, I took off my Summer Whites jacket and got on the road, tentative of what was to come, but the traffic was clear; everyone else was up north to watch the eclipse in its totality. I got north on the highway and headed back home, pressing down on the gas, trying to make it back in time for class.
I had set my watch for the exact time when the total eclipse would be happening, and when the alarm went off, I looked up through my side window as I drove, and glanced up at the sky. I thought about the people in Wyoming at that moment, who were staring straight at the moon, the sun shimmering behind it, witnesses to an act of nature that had no regard for our earthly considerations—how did they feel, what did they see? I wasn’t sure. From my vantage point, I looked into the sky and at the sun only partly covered by the moon, seemingly as bright as it always was, the eclipse not visible to me. But just because I couldn’t see it, didn’t mean it wasn’t there.