They are self-help books given with the intention of changing me; they are newspapers spread open to headlines of woe; they are bright empty foil wrappers strewn among my lavender, my rosemary; they are blemish, smirch, cicatrix. I am gathering, shelving in the "closed" stacks, sorting into the recycling bin, picking up with garden gloves. I do not want these facts in my brain.
Still, they are handed to me, neat and ever-obliging, given perhaps as a swipe with some mad painter's rag smeared with the colors of pride, love, heart-rift vulnerability, a fib at indifference. They are stacked around my dream-sleep late at night, and as I awake barely in the hours when boys are stirring; they are shuffled in among my regular deck so that I draw them in the midst of jollity, a soul-stab; they are the cruellest long slivers slicing into the pads of my feet as I dance across the floors with dishes, with smiles. They have me screaming, holding fingers in ears, humming fit to beat the band.
But the band plays on.
Here is information I do not want in my brain: the wife of a man who has died in a combat zone will receive an immediate cash payment of $12,420 upon learning of her husband's death. This is called a "death gratuity" and is unlike other sorts of gratuities in that someone must die to receive them.
Here is information I do not care to recall: if that death is due to "hostile actions" the cash gratuity is $100,000 and is payable immediately over and above the SGLI, Servicemembers Group Life Insurance, also due and payable in the fullness of time to me.
Here is information my children should not have: that life insurance maximum is now $400,000 and that figure represents the amount by which their father's death would enrich our bank account, compared to the sixty or seventy or eighty thousand dollars we'll see if he does not. To their credit, they would much prefer the smaller number; on their behalf, I seek a Spot Shot for brains. Shout it out?
Already, with the deployment now official and three months away, I have shuddered through the stories of the making of The Messenger, I know too well the differences between the way Marines and Army handle the families of their dead, I have a list of the possible reactions: say 'thank you'; refuse to let the soldiers in; fall into a pile of sobs; hide; slap them in the face. I have a stack of notes about the families in his unit and how they have fared after a mother or a father returns from war; the outlook is grim.
Without wishing ignorance I still do not wish complete awareness; I do not need these numbers and timetables scrolling by the screen of my everyday in a ceaseless loop. In a world in which the future is ever unknown this is too much knowledge; how can I disavow that with which I am so constantly familiar?
The facts keep clocking in, dutiful lineworkers in a factory running hot on all three shifts, and I'm the floor manager 24/7. I find myself, in the mid-mornings and wee hours, making reflexive movements as if to shake the clipboard clear, push the books off the back of the shelves, take a soapy swipe to my brain. It hasn't worked yet; I can't say I won't keep trying.