I feel very uncomfortable at parties. I am not very good at self-introduction to strangers or small talk. Often preferring silence to forced conversation for the sake of societal convention, I have a difficult time feigning interest in the weather or in the details of the life of a stranger who I may never see again. In short, more often than not, I would rather be walking the dog, but this time, I knew I had to be there and I attended with only my infant daughter as a companion.
The room was filled with 50 people, none of whom I had seen before, but with her, I was comfortable. People approached us. They asked me questions about something I have interest in (her) and I did not have to talk about how mild a winter is has been. In the end, it was not as bad as it could have been and it would only get better once my wife and son arrived.
Meanwhile, Chuck was making the rounds as if he was a groom on his wedding day, only he was sober and wearing jeans.
I imagine his conversations were a lot less awkward on his wedding day too.
Mikey has already gone through this once before. The 4 year old son of a Sergeant in the US Army reserves, he has already spent a quarter of his life without his father, and will spend another year without him again. As I watched the two of them together, I was saddened, unable to place myself in Chuck’s shoes.
When my own son (a friend of Mikey’s, through his mother) arrived at the end of the party, he went over to Mikey and the two ran off to play. Then, Chuck (with his wife, Stacy, at his side) was left to stand at the door as the party finished. He embraced each person as they left. He thanked them for coming, and said, “I’ll see ya soon.” Nearly every guest told him to “be safe.” You could tell who he was closest to: they said, “I love you.”
After the boys were done playing, AJ pulled me to a table to ask me a question. There was a book that had caught his eye; it was standing upright near Chuck’s cake.
“Daddy? What book is that?”
“It is called ‘Hero Dad’.”
“Because Mikey’s daddy is going somewhere far away to be a soldier.”
“And he is a hero?”
“Will he be buried in a cemetery too?”
I remembered a cold damp morning in November 2010 and realized what AJ had taken from that day.
I quickly tried to change the subject, but he had no interest in talking about the weather.