Saturday evening Andy and I had a very fancy date night.
Trees were being dressed up in white lights as we drove toward the huge building. Car doors gave way to blue satin gowns, spit shined black patent leather shoes, and dress blues that could take your breath away.
For once, I did not feel nervous.
It was like walking into someone else's castle to enjoy a glass (or two) of wine, have a chat with strangers while waiting for the king to arrive to give his speech.
We arrived early. Andy bounced us up the parking garage in his big truck as if we were on our way to the dump and not a million dollar mansion. I opened my own door, hiked up my red gown and met a nervous Marine on his side of the truck. His collar kept popping which is the military equivalent to your fly being open. Somewhere people are drinking water with deadly bacteria in it yet there we were dealing with a wardrobe situation like our lives depended on it.
Being early birds, we were able to glide through pictures and drink registration without any delay.
We walked and took in the others arriving in full uniform, gowns, and shoulder wraps. Each woman had a tiny purse and each man had a tiny woman.
Unlike other Balls in years past, I didn't know a soul. It was absolutely liberating. While my husband had to shoulder all the social weight, I felt at ease and relaxed like that woman who knows nothing in an artsy film about power, love and money. Ignorance for me was total bliss.
So we had a couple of drinks, chatted with Andy's coworkers some, and checked our cellphones for messages from our darling children at home who missed us so much they had to call. (They never called.)
(Some of my friends on FB asked what the kids thought about us all dressed up. Here's the skinny: Before we left the house Abby cried because she thought I was going to steal her tiara. Grayson pushed me aside to check out Daddy's medals. Sadie never noticed we walked out the door.)
Back at the Ball: As we were waiting to sit down to watch the ceremony begin, I saw three Marines pushing themselves along in their wheelchairs. Three handsome Marines with three very pretty dates at their sides. Three Marines who had lost their leg or both legs at some point during their most recent "visit" overseas. They could not have been older than twenty.
The banquet hall looked regal: Marine Corps flag shown proudly center stage. All tables were set beautifully with soft white hydrangeas and deep maroon flowers at the center, reminding me the cost of peace and freedom will and does inevitably draw blood.
The Marine Corps Ball felt different for me this year. Not because I wasn't scraped in the cornea like the last time. Not because I didn't know anyone. This year's Ball was different for me this year because I was not distracted. I got to feel the bass drums in my stomach as the marching band took the stage. I listened to the words the Commandant spoke when he reminded us there were troops waking up in Fallujah as we sat there waiting for our Filet Mignon. I bowed my head during silent prayer time for those service members we know, don't know, see, don't see, read about in the news, don't read about in the news. This big fancy dance allowed me the chance to leave my small little life at home and remember the bigger lives of those past, present, and future.
It was one hell of a date night.