Before me stood what I recognized to be a naval chaplain and to his right, an impeccably manicured Marine Corps Staff Sergeant, donning full dress blues with all the ribbons, medals, and badges to which I’m sure he’s entitled.

“Are you Katherine Mica Wheeler?  Daughter of Michael Wheeler?”

No words would come, so I nodded.

I stood long enough to take in the stricken, unnerved expression that betrayed the Marine’s eyes as they met mine.  I stood long enough to receive a white envelope bearing the Department of Defense logo, and still long enough to hear the cherubic, thin-lipped Marine speak the words, “The Commandant of the Marine Corps has entrusted me to express his deep regret…”  And by those very words, ceased my revolving world.

Evie sat with me on the sofa keeping her warm arm wrapped around my shoulders as the Marine nervously cleared his throat and continued.  “Your Father, Master Gunnery Sergeant Michael Wheeler, was regrettably killed in action in the Washir District of Afghanistan on June ninth of this year.”

Only the dead have seen the end of war; as quoted by Plato, and occasionally my dad.  I cringed; resentful of the memories ironic and untimely intrusion.

I listened to every word the Marine said as he continued with his well-rehearsed Department of Defense approved notification.  I listened to the watered down, PG-13 version of how my dad died, but I didn’t actually hear any of it until the Marine left the room.  Each word reverberated in my ears like the percussion of an exploding grenade.  They rang long after the Marine and chaplain had left, and still they rang, until I could hear nothing else.

Such profound devastation, though not a single tear fell.

The days following, passed as unrecognizable blurs-faces and condolences that my mind rejected; unable to retain anything more than my own all-consuming grief.  I offered up my best, standard issue smile, which I saw by the returned expressions, that my guise was transparent.  The sympathetic smiles, the lingering touch on the shoulder, and the general uneasy feeling when entering a room, all indicated a consensus that I was nearing an impending meltdown.  Maybe I was.

I lost a couple of days entirely.  I couldn’t recall boarding a plane with Evie to Washington, D.C., or speaking with David on the phone before he flew out of Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, or much of anything else in between.  During fleeting moments of lucidity, Evie would fill me in on what details I missed.  It was awful and pathetic that Evie or anyone else had to take care of me.  My dad would’ve been disappointed.  The thought constricted my heart.

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