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We spent the majority of the D.C. trip at the Smithsonian. It takes more than a week to really look through every building, and it was wonderful to see my father stand in awe in the center of a room full of Monets. The blue hazy masses of enchantment enraptured him even more than me, and he became a giddy child almost- so different from the man I’d always… not really known. This trip would be one of the few times I’d see his possible emotional access.

Two days before we were to leave, we had to make the visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It’s amazing how tourist chatter and excitement allays as you near The Wall- the blackness ahead comes up more fierce than a shark’s fin, one massive bleak banner neverending in its trail. Before I became a journalist, this would be my first definition of deadline.

All come to live a dream,
to join the slowest parade they'll ever see.
Their weight of sorrows carried long and carried far,
taken to The Wall.

At the start of the memorial, the granite creeps up larger and larger from the ground. As it grows, standing close to the shine of it, you see how tiny the names are, how many coat that one section you gaze in front of, and how agonizingly far it stretches. I was fifteen, still at the start of hunting down truths to my soul. This was the marker for countless who never had the chance to finish.

I swallowed. Watched my father, who’d briefly been in the war, learn where his friends were on The Wall. We began to travel the blackness. I squinted harder the further we walked, determined not to cry right there in front of my family, in front of other tourists who were already in tears anyway. With each name my father found, more wetness arrived on his cheeks. My grandparents kept silent. My grandfather, his lips a pale thin red line, had known WWII and kept one hand on his son’s shoulder.

I broke into my tears, still aware of how much more black wall we’d yet to see. The end seemed so far away. The names smaller than my crumpled heart.

“Yeah, I found the names. Let’s go,” agreed my father, hurriedly walking away from the reminder.

Slow deliberate steps are involved.
He takes them away from the black granite wall
toward the other monuments so white and clean.
O, Potomac, what you've seen.

In the future, when he would be on his 3rd possessive wife, speaking to me perhaps once or twice a year and not even attending my college graduation, I would remember this, and let a little forgiveness set in. I just had to. This experience did not absolve certain problems, but seeing my father so upset would never leave my mind, nor the wall.

Lyrics taken from "The Big Parade" by 10,000 Maniacs.

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