I prayed the whole way to work — thanking God for protecting me from what could’ve happened when I veered off the path. I allowed myself to be distracted rather than focusing on things that I could control. Worrying about Operation Desert Shield and how this declaration of war would affect me led to a seizure. My preoccupation with the drama in my life nearly led to the end of my life as I attempted to rush through it by taking a shortcut. I always heard that bad things come in threes. If that’s the case, I better start hoarding nonperishables in the event of a famine. With the way things have been going lately, number three is going to be a big one.
What could be worse than war and an encounter with a rattler in the Mojave Desert? I can’t even imagine, but I was still shaking by the time I made it to work. Pat was there and had already made a pot of coffee. I wasn’t a coffee drinker yesterday, but I became one today — heavy on the cream and sugar. Somehow that cup of coffee milk soothed my spirit as it traveled through my body’s sinews — warming every nook and cranny and making me long for home and my mother’s kitchen. I need to call her tonight, just to hear her and draw from her strength, but the distance in my voice might worry her, causing me to relapse into my former state, and I can’t go back there. I’ve come too far.
As I settled into my morning routine, an unfamiliar 2nd Lieutenant and a Senior Airman walked into the office and asked for me by name. Pat came in when he heard their voices from next door. They wanted to talk to me about Tony from the chapel. I agreed to speak with them and asked if Pat could come with me, but they denied my request. Pat ran to tell the General about this as I reluctantly accompanied them to the nearest conference room.
I was scared, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t know much about Tony from the Chapel other than his rank and that he was from Louisiana. They questioned me for nearly an hour — the same five or six questions asked in several different ways. It was annoying, and just as I was about to say that I’d had enough, we were done. When we finally left the conference room, the General summoned both men to his office. I was on the verge of tears because I didn’t know what had just happened or why it happened to me. Was this the big one that I had been anticipating? Who knew? I certainly didn’t.
When I walked back into my office, Eric’s things were there, but he wasn’t. He was next door in Pat’s office. I could hear their muffled conversation through the wall. A minute later, they walked in side-by-side and asked me what happened, but I sensed that they already knew the answer to their question. I explained that I had just been interrogated for nearly an hour about Tony from the chapel. Without warning, tears streamed down my face as I explained what happened, and they just watched and listened from a distance. Neither of them attempted to console me — as if they had been told to keep their distance.
Just then, the phone rang at my desk. It was Lynne, the General’s secretary. She said that the General wanted to see me. “Lord Jesus, what’s going on? None of this is making sense. Can you hear me?” I had never met with the General alone before, so I started to shake. I remember thinking that this has been the worst day ever. When I entered his office, he walked toward me and extended his hand. “Congratulations, Airman. You’re being promoted to Senior Airman today.” The next few moments were a blur as Eric, Pat, and everyone else from the office walked in with a cake, punch, and well wishes. I was happy, but I was still confused about what had happened earlier.
Turns out that the big one never came — at least not for me. Tony from the chapel was headed to Fort Leavenworth, KS where they hammer big rocks into little rocks. Eric knew there was something shady about that guy, but he couldn’t quite figure it out. For the past two years, Tony had been stealing money from the collection plate at each mass and buying all sorts of extravagant toys for himself. He had even stolen instruments and sold them. I never questioned how an Airmen was able to afford two bouquets of long-stemmed roses. I was distracted by their beauty rather than discerning the reason for the gesture from this jester.
When I went to Mass next Sunday, Adrian walked with me. He reached for my hand, and this time, mine knew exactly what to do. We both smiled as we walked along the path — praying for the start of something beautiful.