The other day I struggled down to the local post office to mail care packages back to the guys still in Iraq. Usually carrying three boxes into a crowded post office and filling out customs sheets is enough of an ordeal on its own. This time even getting to the post office was a ridiculous hassle because of the Public Enemies movie being shot downtown. The general hysteria that Johnny Depp provokes everywhere he turns up creates quite a mess to navigate..the barricades, the crowds, the Range Rovers cruising like maniacs down tiny, previously serene side streets.
I collide with a guy on my way in and finally throw down the three boxes and proceed to fill out customs sheets. I wait my turn. I hand the boxes over to the clerk, relieved to be free of them finally. She takes her time. I feel slightly agoraphobic, being out of the house. Also slightly claustrophobic from all the crowds.
The clerk makes an attempt at small talk.
"You sending these to the troops on your own, or as part of an organization?"
"On my own. I have some friends over there."
I have adopted this strategy of telling the truth to strangers if directly asked, but generally I skirt the issue in small talk with people I don't know. Saying "I just got back myself" to that clerk would have kind of been like saying "Yo, I just got diagnosed with cancer!" No one ever knows what to say back to you.
"My women's auxiliary group sent a bunch of stuff over," she continues. "We only had one girl. It's funny what the girls ask for, you know like conditioner and body spray and good lotion."
Mmhmm. Yep. Mmmhmm. You don't say?
These kind of interactions are frequent, interactions where I am not really divulging much about myself and in doing so, I feel a little shady, or like I am tricking the poor stranger who probably only means well. I feel like I am accidentally overhearing a conversation that I am not supposed to be overhearing, like when you realize the people in the next room are talking about you and they don't know you are listening. It's the kind of thing that makes your skin crawl a little, makes the prickles on the back of your neck stick up a bit.
They don't know I am here, right there in front of them, because I don't fit into their little box of whatever they think an Iraq vet looks like. Shh. And sometimes I like to teach them a lesson, by abruptly informing them that yes, I was just one of those girls asking for good lotion, that we are normal people and we blend right in, but usually they can't hide their surprise and the conversation sours quickly while they attempt a recovery.
Ah well, such is life so far away from the military, I suppose.