"Ma'am" is not what aged me tonight.
And it wasn't the lackluster glance the cashier gave my ID as I placed it, unprovoked, on the counter.
It wasn't the realization that at eight o'clock I was already yawning that hard.
It was your uniform-
not the official one.
The inferred one.
The cliched garb of a desperate GI: High and Tight, Ed Hardy, bedazzled back pockets with imitation iPhone fading,
cologne that whispered "I am so fucking lonely."
It was the "I have seen so much of this" that poured years on my heart while predicting your next words, knowing you would hold the door for me.
All yoga pants and tangles, glasses, tee shirt, no bra,
six-pack, microbrew, IPA
Uninspected ID awkwardly pressed between my lips
Cringed because I had to walk before you.
Display myself in appreciation of your service
I should have known.
I'm too presumptuous,
I looked at you again, not as an angry feminist-
though strong legs and a scowl can be misleading.
I found myself in a rocking chair cross-stitching a still life of boots and dog tags beneath an American flag.
In an alternate universe, I am your mother,
weeping when you stand chiseled and stone-faced, ready to disappear into a sandstorm.
As you're swallowed by a sea of pixellated desert camo.
I am your mother but you don't know it because you're looking me up and down as I pass you, saying something else I've heard before but am pretending I haven't,
I didn't thank you for your service
or the door
but maybe I expected you to to absorb it in the same way you expect those synthetic pheromones to work tonight at the bar.
I didn't thank you because I couldn't.
Maybe there were too many words clogging my throat and there wasn't time to sift through them for the right one.
Excuses, I know.
As your mother, I thank you for your existence, your humanness, your smile, strong hands
I appreciate your cells and all they do.
But I just can't understand why you're dying.
I can't understand the Skoal or the 40s or the bombs
I hate that you're going out tonight
to burn up your insides and hollow out your heart
because it's considered a conflict of interest:
Or not vital enough
to the mission.
But the girls in their jeans and heels will smell you.
They'll be looking for you
Already poised for the pickup
with a list of things they can take from you.
I can not be anti-war
If I myself, partake everyday.
If it's my only way of acknowledging the greater good.
I can not be anti-mirror;
I have to, unflinchingly, address my own reflection when it shows up High or Tight.
I can not be anti-door
Because I too, flirt with them daily.
I can not be anti-rocking chairs,
I can not be anti-flag
But I am anti-anything that drapes the lifeless body of a young person who was only trying to go somewhere and be brave.
I am anti-blood stained Ed Hardy after last call
Because you're supposed to be brothers
I am anti-synthetic pheromones
because it will likely work in the end,
but not necessarily to your advantage.
I am anti-ma'am
because, Fellow Traveler,
We might have known each other's names, had Life or Tonight panned out differently.
You can not reach everyone. You can not learn everyone's name. You can not expect everyone or anyone to be your friend or to open doors for you.
There are too many of us: Me's and you's running around everywhere. To liquor stores, speaking only in winks and head-nods, smiles, scowls, eyerolls, dumping judgements with drones because we want to appear openminded.
I have only the opening scene of your evening and an armload of stereotypes to apply to the rest of it.
You have only a glimpse of my ass, carried pretentiously out the door by yoga pants.
That, and the "Thank you" I didn't say.
And I can't blame you for "ma'am" or "bitch" or whatever you said.
I shouldn't have assumed, Fellow Traveler, that we couldn't speak the same language.
Or that yoga pants are synonymous with "Namaste."