Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dog Tags

It's no secret that I had a hard time when I was teaching high school choir in Antioch. My phone calls to Mom and Dad were routinely full of angst, as I dealt with the ups and downs I experienced there. I know it was hard for them, knowing I was having such a hard time but not being able to really do anything about it.

One afternoon, after another dismal day, I came home from work and stopped by the mailboxes to get my bills and junk mail. But that day, there was also an envelope from home, addressed to me in Dad's familiar scrawl. There was something jangling around in it. Curious, I opened it up to find one of Dad's old military dog tags and a military-issue can opener on a key ring, attached to an index card, on which Dad had written something about how he never got shot down while wearing the tag in the skies over Southeast Asia. "Hopefully, they'll protect you from the slings and barbs."

Of course, I started crying then and there, in front of an open mailbox. Sentimental gestures are not common for my dad (though he shows me, in actions, how much he loves me all the time), so when he makes one, I know it's truly meant. I walked back to my apartment with a smile on my face, clutching the tag in my hand and sniffling. Once home, I attached it to the lanyard ID I wore at school every day. More than once over the next year, I would softly clutch that tag (and the can opener) in my hand at rough moments. 

When I left Antioch, the DV lanyard was discarded, traded in for a Stockton school lanyard. The tag was attached to a new set of school keys, and clutched in my hand every awful time I had to go into my principal's office in 2009-2010. 

The tag was transferred for a few years to my regular lanyard, on which I keep house keys, mailbox keys, etc. But when I was issued my keys at the Large Suburban High School, the tag found itself on a green lanyard, once again snuggling up to classroom keys. 

I haven't needed a lot of protection from the slings and barbs at LSHS, but it's comforting, nonetheless, to feel that old dog tag in my hand as I carry my keys around. It helps me identify my keys if they're next to someone else's identical lanyard. 

Imagine my distress, then, when I gathered my keys in the teacher's lounge on Friday, to find the dog tag and can opener missing. 

At that point, I had no idea where the loss had occurred. In the office? Somewhere on campus? In my car? Once back at my office, I looked in my purse, but found nothing. I sent an email out to my colleagues, asking them to keep an eye out for this sentimental item...and I opened myself to the possibility that the tag might be gone for good.

But then, yesterday, I sat in Summer's car, cruising around Napa Valley and enjoying a day of relaxation and catch-up with my dear friend. As we drove down a vine-lined highway, I reached into a pocket inside my purse in search of my lip balm. My hand closed around a familiar piece of metal. Interrupting Summer with a small gasp and a, "Oh, wow!!" I pulled the old dog tag out. I can't tell you how happy I was to find it. 

The next thing to do is to find a stronger key ring to keep it on; the current one pulls apart too easily, and I just don't want to risk losing my tags. I can't imagine not having them on my school keys. While I feel very safe in my current gig, I love having that piece of family history with me. A small talisman, perhaps. A reminder that I have two people who love me and support me, who are proud of me. 

Slings and barbs cannot hurt me.

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