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When the shrapnel in my father’s knees set off the metal detector, we had to sit and wait for someone from Homeland Security to show up. With everybody else boarded, half the flight crew seemed to wander back down the jet bridge pretending to be doing something official. The real reason, of course, was to check out the family of interest that was preventing the plane from taking off.
“Barbarians at the gate,” Cora said, picking her celebrity crossword back up.
My antsy sister wasn’t the only who couldn’t sit still. Even my father was getting restless. Because he was on deployment, he had to wear his uniform, something he hates to do when he’s off post. My mother looked like she was waiting on the governor’s reprieve.
Later, as soon as the guy with so-called clearance authority stepped from the moving walk-way, he started apologizing for having to inconvenience an American warrior. But then who could appreciate safety protocol better than a member of our own armed services? My father didn’t take this as a question and silently marched off with him like a prisoner of war. He wasn’t used to someone else giving the orders.
That’s when Cora asked me if it wouldn’t be just like Al-Qaeda to impersonate a bird colonel and the woman sitting in the next row glared over her shoulder at her again. Earlier, she’d helped her elderly mother board, and now, because of us, she was stuck here until they gave the go-ahead.
“Five letters across,” Cora said, drumming her pencil on her movie magazine. “‘Streep in Prada.’ Starts with a ‘b.’”
I covered my mouth so the woman couldn’t hear me.
“Bitch,” I whispered.
“B-i-t-c-h,” my sister spelled the word out. “And staring me right in the face the whole time.”
My mother suddenly reached over and patted Cora on the knee. “That’s enough,” she said and then nodded at me. “The two of you.”
Because it was a hardship tour, we wouldn’t see my father again until Christmas. And I tried not to think about this when I saw him emerge from the pilots’ lounge. I didn’t want his last memory of me to be blubbering when I said goodbye.
As he came back over to us, we all stood up.
“Who says waterboarding works,” Cora said and I noticed the security guy give her a lopsided smirk.
“Speaking of water works,” my father said. “I don’t want to see any.”
I knew that this was meant more for me than for Cora who’s never cried at an airport in her life.
“You know why it’s called the Green Zone, right?” she said to my father.
I was jealous of my sister’s stiff upper lip. Mine was already starting to quiver.
“Because it’s the ultimate gated community,” she said.
My father steered me a safe distance away from her and my mother.
“Just remember to let your sister go in one ear and out the other,” he said, keeping his back turned to them. “Kapish?”
Predictably, he didn’t offer me a hug or even a pat on the shoulder. My father wasn’t the touchy-feely sort.
As he turned around, my mother was dabbing at her eyes with a wad of Kleenex. And I thought how last week, she made us all go to church together, something she ordinarily required only on Holy Days of Obligation.
My father exhaled wearily and I got a whiff of the cigar he’d been smoking this morning. His staff gave him a box of Cuban coronas as a going-away present.
“Good,” he said. “We’re all copacetic.”
Then, embracing my mother, he said something that made her smile bravely. The hard part came as we watched him pass through the detector [End Page 7] without triggering World War III. Typically, he didn’t turn to wave as...