Don’t talk politics, everyone here already knows you’re against war.
Pose for pictures, smile normally, smile naturally.
For the third time in as many hours, listen to an explanation of the differences between a sergeant and a sergeant-major.
Get that he is not your little brother anymore; he is nearly a foot taller than you.
Accept a piece of sheet cake spray frosted with his photo, but don’t eat it. Accept a beer from Cousin Barry and another one from Uncle Ted, but sneak in whisky shots between.
Stop texting your friends, they are trying to be understanding and sympathetic, but understanding and sympathy are not what you need right now.
Say you are excited for him. Use terms like excellent opportunity and great adventure.
Prevent Dad from telling the table just what it is exactly he thinks Mom should have done to keep him from enlisting.
Remind the family of those three months in 1996 you had him convinced that he was adopted. Laugh about how it was a good ten years before either of you realized that almost every older sibling pulls this line.
Suck in your stomach, unslur your speech, adjust your slip so it’s not hanging out in the back.
Slip Aunt Ann’s dog some fat scraps when no one’s looking. Not because the dog looks particularly lonely or hungry, just because it’s something immediate you can do sans endless spirals of negative repercussions.
Assure yourself that the kids shooting off firecrackers a few doors down are not doing this to intentionally imbalance your serotonin levels. It is, unfortunately, Memorial Day Weekend. It is, unfortunately, every good citizen’s duty to be thinking about dead soldiers.
Remain calm if you feel you feel your chest cavity empty and plunk down past your stomach.
Recall hearing that doctors are training dogs to detect cancer and other invisible-to-the-surface diseases. Something about dogs having an extra nose in their mouths.
Prevent Mom from telling the table how much money Dad owes her, his second ex-wife, and the government.
Listen as if it’s all going to be vital information someday. As if a sergeant and a sergeant-major will someday kick down your apartment door and demand to know what your not-little brother thought about the new Radiohead album, because it is going to directly affect the next move made by the Secretary of Defense, who is waiting anxiously by the phone for your response.
Loop this around your brain until you remember-it-for-good: It’s not called Iraq, it’s called overseas.
Try and stay mindful of the fact that, actually, none of this is about you. You’re not leaving, you’re not in danger. Have some perspective. Or, at least, fake having some perspective, the way a real adult would.
Do that one trick where you envision all of your exhalations as bubbles with little yellow propellers on them. Envision the bubbles propelling themselves on up over the handmade Goodbye banner, over the top of the ginko trees in the backyard, and past the halfhearted wisps of clouds gathered into ungeometical shapes.
Give your little brother an awkward side-hug. You are not a family of huggers, but surely this is a hugging occasion. You can’t high-five your blood relative on out to deployment.
Wonder if the kind of dog who sniffs out cancer is different from the kind of dog who sniffs out bombs.
Watch him get into his car so stuffed with the gear that he can’t even see you waving at him through the rearview mirror as he drives off to report to Fort Campbell.
Just keep telling yourself overseas, overseas, overseas.