Photo doesn’t look like much but
here’s the story:
The Cedar Rapids airport is a small one—there are no double doors to pass through en route to ground transportation and baggage claim; one just strolls past a security guard who is yawning in his chair. As I do that the other day—I’m in Iowa to teach for the Iowa Summer Writing Festival—I notice quite a crowd has gathered. I’m always struck by the blondness that is Iowan, and this group is no exception: several towhead children bouncing in excitement, a few parents, a number of blond teenagers, texting. A young lady stands at the very front of the group; her make-up is polished and her hair blown-dry. Beside her is a woman of about 40 whose eyes are already red with tears.
I recall the soldier who rode a few rows ahead of me on the plane from Houston, wearing the strange camouflage of our recent desert wars, more pink and blue than the old tan and brown.
“There he is!” someone squeals.
He comes around the corner. He is not carrying a bag, his arms swing; he is the epitome of soldier, with his buzzed blond hair and his excellent posture. His eyes scan the waiting group and alight on someone. I can’t see over the heads of those around me, but I imagine is his mother, with her red eyes; she must be holding her arms out to him.
But it is not toward the older woman that he strides. It’s to the young lady beside her. There’s a moment of protocol. The girlfriend, such must she be, wonders for a moment that she is to get the first hug. But it’s clear that it’s to her he’s heading, and she steps into his arms. He buries his face in her neck. His hands grip her waist, her hips, his arms slide all the way around her. I can almost hear him groan.
He steps back, his face lighted—he looks as if he might laugh, he looks as if he might cry. And he sinks to one knee and holds out a hand.
The crowd sighs, as one. I am not the only one who’s paused en route to whatever’s next. The security guard is no longer yawning.
Between his thumb and forefinger is a ring. There are a few squeals, quickly hushed. He has hold of one of the girlfriend’s hands. She presses the other to her lips. I can’t see her face, only her shining hair.
“Will you marry me?” His voice is low, but it carries.
She doesn’t appear to say anything. Never taking his eyes off her, he slides the ring onto her finger.
At her quiet “yes,” we applaud. He stands. She has her left hand held up, gazing at the ring on her finger. I see her realize that this is not the moment to appreciate the ring! With a little shake of her head she throws her arms around him. He lifts her up. Her knees bend and her feet rise in what we all hope is joy.
About this time I remember to get my iphone out of my purse. The resultant photo doesn’t manage to capture any of this.
Later, waiting for our luggage, I congratulate them and ask if I can take their picture. They oblige.
A few moments later he joins the half dozen of us waiting to grab our luggage as soon as it appears. A young boy, nephew or cousin or brother, waits with him. I’m looking for a box of books; the soldier for his duffels, one of which almost immediately nudges its way through the rubber flaps above the conveyor belt. He lifts it, places it beside him. “It’s heavy,” he says to the little boy, who doesn’t care that it’s as big as he is and four times as heavy. He persists, and the soldier helps him get his arms through the straps—it can be carried like a knapsack. The boy teeters, his face red with effort and pride. It looks as if he will be pulled on his back, like a bug on its shell; or that he will fall face down with the huge duffel covering him from head to toe.
The soldier hefts a second duffle off the belt. “Let’s go,” he says. The boy manages a step forward with the pack on his back, grinning.
He steadies the boy with a hand to his head, and guides him towards the waiting family. “Let’s go home.”