I dream of Baltimore a lot.
It's not the Baltimore I remember, precisely. The architecture varies wildly. It's lit in gold and amber hues. Charles street slick with summer rain stretching street lights into stalactites. Everyone I know is there. They lean out the windows of row houses to wave as I walk. Steam rises off the street. They all miss me and tell me so. I see them face to face and tell them I'll be home soon. We'll all be home soon. I promise.
Pratt street bustles with every era. The fashion of every decade rub elbows with the soldiers coming home from The Great War, World War II, The Korea War, Vietnam and Baghdad, all at once. Trains and boats and planes spilling veterans onto the streets from Penn Station, The Inner Harbor and BWI. Warriors rushing into suits and slacks and bell bottoms, coating their warlike hearts in the familiar civilian skins and going on with life. Eating ice cream, going to college, having children, meeting family members familiar to them with their new unfamiliar minds writhing, ecstatic, overjoyed to be home, praying for the allies that remain-sometimes forever-in combat zones.
Remember, now that you're home, you have to pay for water.
Remembering. Ghostly legions forever gone. Living their lives for those who can't anymore. Moving on, moving forward, growing old, growing up, growing out. Moving away, moving in. Sergeants First Class, Chiefs and Senior Master Sergeants and Gunnery Sergeants retire, putting pins on their caps. VETERAN. SOLDIER. SURVIVOR. Hearing the cadence forever. The four beat, everywhere. All the time. Like a clock.
E-4s become Ephors, certain of change but not certain of how. Getting ready for the next war. Getting ready to put on the hard stripes. Getting ready to let the FNGs make just enough mistakes to learn.
Getting ready to have a child. Preparing to say goodbye to that child before they are even born, not forever, just enough to hurt. Just enough to want. Just enough to leave an empty space in a crayon drawing that goes on the fridge. Coming home again, getting back in the drawing on the fridge. Saving those drawings. Folding them up, putting them in a duffel. Keeping the yellowed paper behind armor and in front of their hearts, soaking with sweat and hope. Hope you remember me. Hope you are proud of me. Hope you get to meet me.
Patterns persist. People persist. Praying to new ancestors, the ones on The Wall in the City of Stone. The ones with the pins on their hats.