Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Westboro Gets What's Coming to Them

I hadn't planned on posting today because a) what the world needs is more Shake Weight (and cowbell) and b) I am knee-deep in bridal party jewelry and Mother's Day orders...however...this was posted on Facebook today and since I've been trying to post about Westboro "Baptist Church" without losing my freaking mind, I decided to share it with you. The story is about USMC Staff Sgt. Jason Rogers, who was killed in action in Afghanistan on 7 April. He was brought home to be buried in Brandon, Mississippi. The Westboro cult caught wind of the funeral plans and left Topeka with plans to picket it. However, the good people of Brandon had different plans. The following paragraphs were pulled from The Hayride, which was in turn pulled from an Old Miss sports message board. They are in NO WAY my words (so let's just get that out there right now). Below the story is a 4-minute video of a state trooper's dash cam as he escorted the funeral procession through Brandon. The video is set to the song, Dress Blues, by Jason Isbell. This town is proud of Staff Sgt. Jason Rogers...and we are proud of Staff Sgt. Rogers and you, Brandon, Mississippi! Semper Fi and Hooah!!

A couple of days before, one of them (Westboro protestors) ran his mouth at a Brandon gas station and got his arse waxed. Police were called and the beaten man could not give much of a description of who beat him. When they canvassed the station and spoke to the large crowd that had gathered around, no one seemed to remember anything about what had happened.

Rankin County handled this thing perfectly. There were many things that were put into place that most will never know about and at great expense to the county.
Most of the morons never made it out of their hotel parking lot. It seems that certain Rankin county pickup trucks were parked directly behind any car that had Kansas plates in the hotel parking lot and the drivers mysteriously disappeared until after the funeral was over. Police were called but their wrecker service was running behind and it was going to be a few hours before they could tow the trucks so the Kansas plated cars could get out.

A few made it to the funeral but were ushered away to be questioned about a crime they might have possibly been involved in. Turns out, after a few hours of questioning, that they were not involved and they were allowed to go on about their business.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Shake It Like a Polaroid Picture

Mama Virgo is always trying to find ways to work herself into my blog. At least once a month I get forwarded emails with taglines that say "this would make a great blog post, don't you think?" Well, yes...except adorable photos of panda bears in bamboo is not really deployment or Army related. So, instead they get forwarded on to my nieces, who appreciate them immensely. Except, this time she has worked her way in without really even trying.

Happy (Last) Red Wine Friday and Happy (Finally) Birthday to Neal!

Neal landed in Iraq on his birthday. Happy Birthday to you, here's some sand in your crack for the next year. All of this movement about the world made it difficult to ship anything to him and be guaranteed that it would find him. So, we waited. When the time was right and the CHU (something that starts with a "c", Housing Unit...I think) was unpacked, we started mailing the birthday items. My packages included 

As proud as I was of my purchases (especially since they were specifically requested by Neal), Mama Virgo had me beat. 

She kept saying "I can't tell you what we got him. You will just have to wait until he sends pictures." My fear was that she had caved on what he truly wished for and what I flat out refused to buy him 

There is so much wrong with this...I just don't even know where to start. It is the first time I have ever told my husband no. Well except for the whitewater rafting thing. And the sky diving thing. 

Mama Virgo swore left, right, north, and south that she did not buy him toe shoes....that she did not even have his shoe size. So, I waited. For two, long, agonizing weeks. Neal even went so far as to call Mama Virgo while he was Skyping me, just to say thank you for the amazing gift. He would try to take pictures sometime over the weekend. A 3-way call just to add to my frustration. Because my mother and my husband like to double-team me like that. 

In the end, the wait was worth it (as it almost always is). I received these pictures while barreling down I-64 on the way to brunch with Mama Virgo and Anna Banana. I am shocked that I didn't wreck my car while laughing uncontrollably. Happy Birthday to Neal, as only Mama and Anna could do it: 

I think I've seen this face twice...and once was when I asked him to bank his sperm in case he didn't come home from the war. 

OH no! It's a Shake Weight!! Now everyone in the unit can look like they are masturbating while they are exercising! I apologize to all of the 352 wives in advance. I'm not sure what the photos will look like when they return, but I'm sure part of it will be Neal's fault. 

WHOA. He is waaayyy too happy about this. A Keurig and a digital picture frame didn't produce a smile that big. Suddenly, I am alarmed. 

In case you had confused The Shake Weight with a sex toy, it actually comes with exercises and an instructional DVD. I would like to see The Silver Bullet try to compete with that. 

I am a little confused about why they only send one, though....maybe you can't handle the ecstasy of two Shake Weights at once? Or maybe it's bad for the heart. Or maybe it will give you hairy palms. Either way, Neal has yet to report on the effectiveness of his new toy....er....equipment...er...device. Oh never mind. 

Neal started his second master's class a couple of weeks ago so he barely has time to work, sleep, eat, and write papers. I am trying to keep him supplied with lots of bold K-cups and spicy chips but apparently I need to cross Shake Weight off of my list. Well played, Mama Virgo, well played....

In other news, it's been a little quiet over here lately because everyone in D.C. had just zapped every bit of zest straight out of me. I had to recover from their 11th hour recovery. To all of my new followers, both military and not, WELCOME!! I promise it's not all political rants and government frustrations. Sometimes it's a party. Happy Red Wine Friday, everyone and I wish you all an amazing Easter weekend. We will return to Champagne Fridays next week and I can hardly wait. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Too Much at Stake

The 4500 + page views I have received on my open letter to President Obama and Congress indicates (to me, anyway) that there is a general feeling of frustration and revulsion amongst the American people...unless you are passing my blog on to friends in a this-chick-has-fallen-straight-off-her-rocker kind of way. But the 50 comments I've received thus far say otherwise. I can be a voice for the military families who either can't or won't speak for themselves. I've always questioned authority and given my opinions freely so I consider myself mission ready.

At 11:55 PM on Friday 8 April, both email inboxes and my Facebook page exploded with congratulatory comments. I, along with the rest of my military family and the 100,000's of federal employees did a Happy Payday Dance of Joy. Wiping away tears of relief and exhaustion, I typed one last status update on the FRG fan page...Looks like we are going to be OK. And then I slept for 10 hours.

Since then, I've had some time to think about the past week...and talk to Army Dad, who took the opportunity to explain how this happened in 1995. OK yes, I was 16 in 1995 and government shutdowns were not nearly as sexy as Kirk Cameron in a leather bomber jacket. There is a chance that I was oblivious to all things Congressional. I would say that I am pretty much caught up on the Shutdown of '95 now, though.

Shana discussed the situation with J, who said that any politician guilty of stripping troops (especially deployed troops) of their paychecks would be voting themselves right out of a job next year.

Neal was largely unconcerned...although he did email me a copy of his LES (Leave & Earning Statement) for 15 April which showed half of his regular pay. That was Friday morning and right around the time that I began to freak the hell out. I spent most of Friday glued to CNN and Facebook, waiting for the situation to change and watching the clock tick towards midnight.

And then...confetti fell from the sky and we all took a victory lap.

Now, 48 hours later, I find myself wondering if we were ever truly in jeopardy. Did I get our backs up over nothing? Was it all a media stunt? Is it alarmist journalism or a game of political chicken? Or did we scream so loudly that Washington's ears perked?

Even though there is so much slime in D.C. that someone should have called Ghostbusters a long time ago, in my heart I still believe that everyone is basically good...that pathological liars are few and far between and everyone who is elected to office dedicates their tenure to the vision of our founding fathers. I do not want to believe that our troops and their families were used a bargaining chip when all else failed. 

And yet, that seems to be the consensus.

When I think about families stretched thin financially and emotionally, exhausted in a way that only multiple deployments can wear you down...and the moment that a casualty officer rings the doorbell of a military parent or spouse...and the lifetime battles with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury...and the parents, siblings, spouses, and children who faithfully package and ship anything that will make a deployment easier...

I do not want to believe that our troops and their families were used as a bargaining chip when all else failed.

Because that is pathetic, disturbing, and repulsive.

In hindsight though, how else do you explain the 11th hour deal followed by the jubilant swagger of those who reinstated payday for our troops? They are our nation's heroes!

Except...that they're not. Our nation's heroes lie in the neat rows of Arlington Cemetery...or had to learn to walk again with limbs made of titanium...or will forever be marked by images and events that are too awful for us to imagine. If the politicians and the media conspired to draw the American people into a soap opera of deadlines and dollars, then to you I say SHAME! SHAME! SHAME! 

I want to believe with every ounce of my starred and striped heart that that's not the case. Although it's hard to argue with history and how it tends to repeat itself.

Regardless, DFAS (Defense Finance and Accounting Service) reports on its website today that we will all be paid on time and in full on 15 April. Whether that's a victory for Washington or our warriors, only time will tell. It is certainly a sigh of relief.

Should our leaders and lawmakers forget what a perilous game of chess it is that they're playing, they need only to look at this photo I took during the Friday awards ceremony at The Citadel last fall. They are the backbone of this country and they don't look anything like bishops or pawns.

Friday, April 8, 2011

I is for Irony

Ice Cube was right...it really is all about the dolla bills, y'all.

I had to make a phone call tonight that I never dreamed I would make...certainly not during a deployment...the one time that most military families are actually able to save some money. As I dialed our Family Readiness Group Leader's number, I thought I do not even know where to start.

We have many young Soldiers in our unit who are making E4, E5, E6 pay. I Googled it just because E4 was so long ago for Neal that I don't think he would have a clue as to what they are making now.


I made $23,000 one year...my first year out of college. I had a one bedroom apartment on the shady side of town and budgeted fiercely in order to put food on my table and kibble in the kitties' bowls. I learned what it meant to live "paycheck to paycheck." There was no wiggle room for movies or new shoes...let alone oil changes, flat tires, or birthday gifts. I did not have children to feed and clothe or a spouse to provide for and I still struggled every single month. An unexpected expense would send me into a financial tailspin that took months, and sometimes years, to dig out of. And yet, we have E4's and E5's in our unit who are married, have children, have bills to pay...bills that now sit squarely on the shoulders of the spouse back home.

Imagine for just a moment that you are sweaty, sand-encrusted, and 7,000 miles from home. It is your first deployment to a place where nothing is as it seems and nowhere is safe. But your one and only concern is how your family is coping. Can your spouse sleep? Are your children sad? Can they keep the heat on and the fridge stocked? Oh...except that last one was not really a worry...until today. But tack it on to the list because you live paycheck to paycheck while you're chipping away at time in grade. No longer do you just worry about the emotional state of your family, now you dwell on whether their basic needs are being met. And as CPT Miller will tell you, when a Soldier is preoccupied, it often results in disaster.

But how did we get here? Mama Virgo told me tonight that yesterday's post was "impassioned." I will settle for that...let's shoot for "educational" now.

According to US Debt Clock.org, we, as the United States of America, are a little over $14 trillion in debt. I feel like I should capitalize "trillion"...like somehow it has earned that right. If you watch the debt clock for any length of time, I promise you will experience chest pain and dizziness...perhaps tingling in the extremities. It is a fact of life that to slow the whirring increase of numbers, there has to be a budget. Many active duty families are familiar with budgets as most of us live on just one income...the one from the Department of Defense. Moving every three years (or less) and effectively maintaining the household through multiple deployments can make it difficult for the spouse to work a full-time job. We, along with 100,000's of other military families sit down at the beginning of each fiscal year and determine where the money should go. There are exasperated sighs and sometimes tears but there is always an agreement. It does not take more than an evening and a bottle of wine. It certainly does not take 8 months.

Maybe what Representative John Boehner and Senator Harry Reid need is a nice cask of chianti.

Or a swift kick in the ass.

According to several sources, including Politico, Roll Call, CNN, and the Huffington Post, it's not necessarily the budget itself that can't seem to pass the senate (although, bless their hearts, they do start the meetings with dollar signs spewing from their lips)...it's the political agendas hitching a free ride. Isn't that a familiar tune? One that you could almost whistle backwards. The total reduction to federal spending has been negotiated to something in the ballpark of $35 billion. Now...where and what? Senior Republicans are fighting for a cut to discretionary domestic spending (which bears an uncanny resemblance to cutting federal funding for Planned Parenthood and introducing restrictions on EPA's regulation of greenhouse gases) while freshmen Republicans are storming Capitol Hill with their rallying cry, "We will cut spending!" Is it any wonder that our government is shutting down? There are divisions even within the parties.

So, why am I asking Vanna to buy an "i"? Because 3 penis-packing individuals have met throughout the day and night, attempting to reach a compromise on Planned Parenthood...an organization that primarily provides medical attention to women. What business do they have negotiating annual pap smears, breast exams, and prenatal care? And above all, why is that program the reason why I had to call our FRG Leader tonight and suggest we begin looking at financial aid for families?

Aside from this entire process proving to be petty, typical, and disappointing, it's ironic. If the federal government shuts down tomorrow night, some of our 352 families will get a phone call on Saturday morning and instead of discussing T-ball games and Spring Break plans with their Soldiers, they will have to discuss options for a new budget...one that will get them through until Congress, who will continue to receive full and on time paychecks, can decide on the nation's budget. It really is all about the dolla bills, y'all...until it's about Washington boobs discussing your boobs instead.

*If you have an opinion on the rider which provides federal funding for Planned Parenthood or the issue of our nation's debt, I invite you to write your Congressman or woman. I just ask that you remind him/her that riders have nothing to do with The War on Terror. Our military and their families sacrifice years of their lives for this country. As we say...all give some and some give all. Why give them some of a paycheck when we could give it all?
Write your Representative
Write your Senator

**If you are a military family that will fall into financial crisis if paychecks are interrupted, check out the National Military Family Association for information on temporary financial aid.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

An Open Letter to President Obama and Congress

An Open Letter to President Obama and Congress:

I have not been under a log...I have not been out of the country...I have simply had too much faith. I shrugged off the idea that the government could actually "shut down" due to your inability to pass a budget....by April. Ridiculous, I thought. They would never let that happen. Well they is you and you have lost the trust of the American people. Even you, Mr. Well-Spoken, Fight-For-Main-Street-Not-Wall-Street Obama. When I think of how many times I went to bat for you, pointing out all of the good you have done, I now find that I am embarrassed. A wolf in sheep's clothing, I believe we would call that.

Please tell me, leaders and lawmakers, have you ever watched someone you loved board a plane, bound for war? Have you ever counted the minutes until the next email/phone call/letter from that person? Have you ever received a message that everyone on base is in lockdown because "something happened"....but you don't know what or who until the family has been notified and lockdown is lifted? We have been through 3 deployments...T-H-R-E-E...I have been through all of that. And yet, every time the orders come and the duffles are packed, I say a prayer, salute the flag, and feel the tears of patriotism sting my eyes.

I don't feel patriotic today.

Today, I am just angry.

I think it must be nice to take a limo to work. My husband takes an uparmored HMMVEE. 

I think it would be lovely to stroll into the office at 8:00 AM. My husband is dressed and starting PT at 0530. Sometimes he is there at 0530 because he has yet to leave from the night before.

It must be delightful to choose from any number of 5-star restaurants in the Washington D.C. area. Neal routinely eats, without complaint, whatever is served in the chow hall. When a day goes crazy and he misses chow, he eats an MRE...which is nothing like tapas or Lunchables.

I can only imagine what it's like to have an assistant (or several) to help keep your calendars straight and your meetings on time. My husband has a small green notebook that fits in the cargo pocket of his pants and a Battle Buddy, who keeps him from becoming a target on the business end of an IED. 

I know it must be hard to leave your families in your districts when you travel to D.C. for business. Although every Soldier of the 352 willingly joined the Army, none of them wanted to kiss their parents, spouses, children goodbye for a year. They will miss births, weddings, funerals, graduations, so many moments that only happen once in a lifetime. 

I realize it's difficult to reach a consensus on critical matters, like the federal budget, when there are 536 of you. Neal and 50,000 other troops must communicate, coordinate, and cooperate or lives are lost and families are changed forever.

My prayer for you tonight is this: that when your driver navigates you home...through streets safe from car bombs, gunfire, tripwires...and you enter your home...which is climate-controlled and smells deliciously of lasagna and chocolate chip cookies...and you kiss your spouse and kids again for the first time since 9 hours ago...when you dry off from a hot shower and put on freshly laundered pajamas...when you lie down in your king size bed and snuggle up to the one who gives meaning to your life and the work you do...that you will think for just a moment about the men and women who are far from home...living in hostile territory, showering when they can, sleeping in a bunk, and kissing a photo of the one who gives meaning to their lives and the work they do. And then ask yourself,

Would I do any of that for free?

Which is what you will be asking, or expecting, of our military if you do not pass a budget by Friday. For me, the red, white, and blue are colors that will never fade and never run. You, leaders and lawmakers, are an embarrassment to the flag, our Constitution (which you should all be familiar with, as you spent an entire work day reading it aloud), and the American public. We are way past annoyed...we are disgusted. And if you ask the military and their families to sacrifice emotionally and financially, we will soon become a country without a competent military.

As a Captain's wife, it is not my place to debate our role in the Middle East...whether we should divide and conquer or run like Hell and try not to get caught in the crossfire. We follow orders and the chain of command. We do what we are told and attempt to keep the opinions and complaints to a minimum. We do this so that you may continue to pass laws, grant freedoms, and set budgets. You are not holding up your end of the bargain. You, clearly, have NOT got this.

May the sound of boots on the ground and Taps ringing out in the dark haunt your dreams tonight. May you wake tomorrow renewed and ready to think about the true American heroes. May you set aside the bickering, the childishness, the self-inflated ego and get down to the business of funding our military so you can continue to ride your limo through bomb-free streets and pass laws granting the freedoms which are protected by our United States Armed Forces.

Monday, April 4, 2011

History in the Making

"Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end."
President Barack Obama, Camp Lejeune, February 27, 2009

According to a press release, which is posted on the WhiteHouse.gov website and dated 1 August 2010:

When President Obama took office in January 2009, there were 144,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.  At his Camp Lejeune speech on February 27, 2009, President Obama announced that the United States would end its combat mission on August 31, 2010, and retain a transitional force of up to 50,000 U.S. troops to train and advise Iraqi Security Forces; conduct partnered and targeted counter-terrorism operations; and protect ongoing U.S. civilian and military efforts.

For anyone keeping track, the 352 is part of that transitional force. They have been in country for about a month now and, as of a couple of weeks ago, they are in full control of daily operations. 

With the exception of the Marines and Special Forces who are almost always the first on the scene in any combat situation, the units deploying to the Middle East are replacing other units who are ready to get the Hell out of Dodge. The final days prior to re-deployment are filled with tying up loose ends, cleaning the billets (lodging), and training the incoming unit. Before the outgoing unit can fly home and the incoming unit can take over, they must complete "left-seat/right-seat rides." Just like learning how to drive your parents' stationwagon in the K-Mart parking lot, each incoming Soldier must observe his/her outgoing counterpart during the course of their day...learning the tasks, asking every question that comes to mind, trying to understand and anticipate what challenges lie ahead. The left-seat/right-seat rides are designed to ensure that the new unit is as successful as possible at completing a smooth transition. We have been through a lot of left-seat/right-seat rides. 

As Neal explained it to me a couple of days ago, everyone has their own function within the unit. Some Soldiers are working with the contractors...they are the external side of things. Some are visiting FOBs (Forward Operating Bases) and camps to determine the best way to begin shutting them down. Neal is basically Human Resources. He works the internal side...checking to see who needs more training and who is up to date, preparing the PowerPoint slides for the daily briefings. Even he, as the glorified Office Manager, had to complete a left-seat/right-seat ride. 

What occurred to me last week is that is the last left-seat/right-seat he will do during this deployment.

No one is coming to replace them. 

That has never happened before. 

When people ask me where Neal is deployed to and I tell them Iraq, they get this sort of disappointed look. Like Iraq is no longer good enough. (You should have seen them when I said Kuwait last time. I may as well have said, "He is sunning himself on the French Riviera for the next 12 months. He should be a well-fed, bronzed god by the time he returns.") And when I say "Iraq" the way I do..."ear-rock"...more blank stares. I pronounce it that way because Neal once told me that if we ever hope to have peace and understanding between the countries, we should respect them. Part of respecting them is pronouncing the name of their country correctly.

So, I tell those who ask about him that his unit is shutting down operations in Iraq and will be turning over the keys and closing the gate behind them by 31 December. Except very few Americans understand the scope of this project and the historical significance behind it. While no deployment is ever "typical," the 352 has been granted an amazing privilege...to close down a base for the first time in...I don't know...60 years?? Although we still have military personnel in Korea, Japan, Germany...seems like no one ever said to us, "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here." 

Even when the 352 and 50,000 of their closest friends exit Iraq, Secretary Clinton and her merry band of state department staff will be coming in. If they decide they would like to keep the chow hall, the PX, the Green Beanery...then the 352 will have a place to eat, shop, get caffeinated until they board that home-bound plane. If not, there will come a time when breakfast, lunch, and dinner is an MRE, toiletries will be hard to come by, and the mail will cease to run. It's like invading a country, but backwards. 

So, please don't look disappointed when I tell you about the 352's mission. No disrespect to any veterans or the way we have left (or not left) countries in the past. This one is about trying to give control back to where it belongs, in the hands of the Iraqi police and military. It's not any more or less important than what is going on in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Libya...but it is a mission worthy of our attention and respect.

Maybe Bill can convince Hillary to keep the Pizza Inn and the 31 Flavors?

The 10-Day First Date

Six years ago today, I fell in love. Truly, madly, and deeply and long before Savage Garden spewed it all over the radio. I had written epic emails to a Soldier in the middle of the desert. I had agreed to a first meeting in the Heathrow Airport on 1 April...an R&R for him, a moment of truth for me. I had received my first phone call on Christmas Eve. And I had ignored every warning, criticism, and side-eye because my heart told me it was right and that it would all be OK.

We already knew so much about each other...favorite movies, music, food. We knew one another's family as if we had been Christmasing together for years. And I could assemble Neal's ideal care package with my eyes closed...something spicy, something sweet, and a card, sealed with a kiss. A face-to-face meeting was in the cards and it filled everyone with dread...except for me and Neal.

I packed 4 suitcases, 2 for me and 2 for him. I boarded a plane before the sun rose over Cincinnati and landed in London late that night. I nervously re-applied my make-up in the airplane bathroom and tried to breathe. Not breathe deeply...just breathe. I cursed Customs and the 3 agents on nightshift. Hurry UP, already!! And when I emerged from the world's longest hallway, with a cart in tow threatening to topple all of the Samsonite that had been haphazardly tossed aboard, there he was. Waving. Smiling. Looking just as nervous as me. And I smiled back.

We hugged. I felt the pounding of both of our hearts. He was shorter than I had expected. I was sweating profusely. I finger-combed my hair and rubbed my lips together while he hailed a taxi. Tiny moments when he wasn't looking and I could try to pull myself together. As our driver raced down boulevards with grandiose names, he snapped this picture.
And that was the beginning of our lives together. We had 10 days planned...seeing the sights, eating as much Indian food as Neal could digest in a week and a half, and learning how to be with each other...outside of the confines of an inbox.

I landed on a Saturday night. April Fool's Day. We talked until 3 AM...about the flight, the war, why we had 2 twin beds that had been screwed into a single headboard. We retired to our respective sides and thought about rolling toward the center.
 The next day, he let me sleep until my eyes sprang open and my brain cranked...wondering if I was actually in the Waldorf Hotel in London, England, with the most handsome man I had ever known...or in my apartment with a cat on each side of my head. We had breakfast and crappy coffee and went to hear the St. Paul's Cathedral choir sing. He took pictures of me taking pictures of the cathedral...photos that I didn't see until I was back home, missing him and wondering what our future held.
That night, we walked to the bar where we were to meet the Party Bus. We had 2 tickets to ride and drink all night long. We never made it onto the bus. We had drinks while we waited on the bus. Then we danced. Then we kissed. Then it was 3 AM. We had missed the bus. I would argue that it's the first time I actually got on the right bus (figuratively, of course. Stop blushing, Mama Virgo). We came back and crashed...and rolled to the center.
When I awoke on Monday morning, I was in love. And I knew that if we didn't get married, my heart would end up smashed and left to rot. Still...it was the risk I was willing to take. The next 8 days told me that I would leave the United Kingdom with a heart so full of love, respect, and laughter that only the remaining days of a deployment could keep us from being together.

I think when I wasn't looking, he fell in love with me, too...

Happy 6th Us Day, handsome. What I am most acutely aware of as I read Katie's blog is that everyday I have with you is a gift and we should never take it for granted. It's OK to talk a little longer, hold a little tighter, kiss a little more passionately because someday you could lose all of it forever. And what you're left with is photos, memories, and wishes tossed in a fountain. Just as when we lost Shepherd and, consequently, all of our friends clung more tightly to their own children, Katie has shown us that it could all end in a blink of an eye. I am not spending our Us Day the way I want to, but please know that I am thinking of you constantly and counting my wake-ups until we can once again roll toward the center.