From Tony’s Story…
“Honey…Chris and I have something we need to tell you.” Carla walked over to the bed and sat down. The child in the bed still wore boy’s pajamas, but it made no difference to Carla and Chris.
“Toni?” She turned and her face grew sad as she heard the familiar sound of her own name…...his name…until Chris continued.
“Honey…I know…Antoinette Amelia…I married your mother and she made me the happiest man on earth. I can’t take your Dad’s place, but I want to try to be a part of his daughter’s life…Okay?” He smiled and grasped her hand, bringing it together with Carla’s as the family came together for the first time.
more than just a prayer or anything you've ever dreamed of.
So if you feel like giving up cause you don't fit in down here,
fear is crashing in, close your eyes and take my hand.
Downtown Arlington… a few years later….the week before Christmas…
“Are you sure? I’m not familiar with the procedure, Toni.” Carla said. Chris pulled the car up to the curb and parked, but kept the motor running.
“It’s okay, hon. She’s going to be fine. Her meeting can’t last all that long, and it’s probably better that she go this alone.” Chris smiled at his wife and turned around to face his daughter.
“So the plan is for us to circle around the block about seventeen times or so…” His voice trailed off as his smile widened, causing the girl to grin ever so slightly.
“Or you could drive home and I’ll just catch a movie and crash at the Hilton, okay?” She leaned forward and kissed her father’s cheek.
“You’re the best….you know it?” He half-smiled and got a bit misty; pleasantries came easy for her and difficult for him to receive even though he’d been her Dad already for a few years. Carla slipped off her seat belt and leaned between the two seats, hugging Toni.
“I’ll be okay, Mom. You’re praying and dad here is praying, and somewhere Daddy is looking down on us all.” It took only a short while for Toni to get used to calling her step-father ‘dad,’ and it was all good, since somehow her father had almost known his end would come and that Chris was the best person to take care of his family. What Chris marveled at was that Tony knew that his family would be just right for his best friend.
“Wish me luck!” She said as she hopped out of the mini-van. She was dressed in a black jacket and charcoal slacks. Her white blouse peaked out from beneath the jacket; very professional if subdued. She waved and walked toward the entrance.
“You’re right on time. I like that.” The man smiled and stood. He was dressed in shirt and tie; his jacket draped over the back of his chair. The man looked to be about the same age as her parents; perhaps odd for such an important position, but he looked the ‘part’ as well.
“Let’s get right down to it, shall we? What makes you see yourself as qualified for this responsibility? It’s never easy by anyone’s estimation, but this is going to set a few folks on their ears, you know?” The man almost smirked, but the expression seemed to be intended for someone somewhere else.
“That’s just it, sir. I’m not quite sure that I’m qualified. I’m just hoping that you might find me acceptable.”
“Funny word to use, young lady.” He shook his head, but his expression turned to a welcoming smile; not quite grand-fatherly but more like a kind uncle or older cousin.
“I’m in no position to demand anything, nor should I. I’m just glad for the opportunity to present myself.”
“That seems a bit timid. In the situation you seek to gain, timidity has no place. Serious consequences can arise from being shy, young lady.” He said the words ‘young lady’ as if they were a detriment, but it really was more like he was provoking her to take charge.
“My dad….Daddy told me to be honest, but also be humble, sir. I’m trying to balance that with the need to speak plainly. I hope that I can be candid without seeming presumptuous.” He looked at her askance and she continued, as if she was answering the question he was bound to ask next.
“I know that this opportunity is unique, sir, and that it hasn’t been met with the approval others may have anticipated.”
“That’s very diplomatic; while I am perfectly happy to entertain new ideas and suggestions from others, I’m not terribly comfortable with folks who have a motive in their request. As such, I am treating it just as that; a request and nothing else…. You see my dilemma?”
“Yes sir. You would have been glad to offer this opportunity to someone such as I, but they beat you to it, and it now has been portrayed as someone else’ idea.”
“You should be quite comfortable dealing with the folks who make demands and have unspoken or un realistic expectations. From what I recall, it’s something you’ve got to be good at if you want to get ahead. I couldn’t, so I moved sideways; an arrangement I hope proved beneficial for you as well.
“Sir, I cannot express my gratitude enough.”
“So then, tell me why you want this opportunity. What qualifies you besides your academic achievements? It’s so much more than anything on the other side of the fence, so to speak.”
“I just want to do my dad…my parents proud.” She hesitated. It was hard to speak of both her father and step-father to a stranger. Not that she wasn’t proud, but that both of them had such a profound effect on her in different ways.
“Well, I imagine you have, but everyone else does as well. Where you’re going, you’ll have to be…what did they use to say? Oh yes… twice as good as any man…maybe three times, since you’ll be coming at it from an entirely new perspective.”
“I can only hope to be half the person my …” She paused and backed off a bit; lost almost in thought.
“My step-father has given me the love and support that my father did and would have if he survived. And of course my mom has always been in my corner.”
“Why do you bring that up?”
“I guess …I needed to let you know where I came from… the strong roots of understanding and compassion. I know that’s not what they preach in the brochure, but…”
“Oh, I know that it doesn’t say it, but everyone I know who has ever sat in that chair across from me or my predecessors found that those qualities were very much a part of the type of person we look for. And I’m quite confident that you’ll fit in just fine.”
“I’m…I’m not following you, sir.” Toni tried to look at him directly, but she felt very incapable and ill-equipped.
“Ms. D’Artale. I was convinced of your qualifications when I read the essay you wrote in request. The absolute conviction of who you are and what you stand for…what this country stands for. It came through, as they say, loud and clear. I have to caution you, though.” His face grew almost stern and his tone changed to serious. She put her head down slightly.
“Sir?” The voice was only just a bit timid, and her face was only just a small degree downcast.
“I don’t really care for sweet tea.”
“Oh….it’s what so many of the restaurants around here have. I was thinking more Thai. There’s a really nice Vietnamese place on Wilson Boulevard that you and your parents might enjoy.
“The interview for all intents and purposes is concluded. You and your parents are to be my guests for lunch. I don’t really like eating alone.”
“Thank you, sir. That’s very kind of you. You’ve done more than enough.”
“Perhaps, but like I said…I don’t like eating alone. My wife is at some conference and I won’t be seeing her until Christmas Eve. And besides, I’m very hungry. These interviews always work up an appetite, you know?” He smiled and tilted his head, smiling a kind cousin-uncle-brother smile once again.
“Toni? May I call you Toni, Ms. D’Artale? Or should I say Midshipman D’Artale?” The thought of being the first transgendered appointee to the United States Naval Academy wasn't lost on her, but it was a huge responsibility, nonetheless; perhaps too huge? She put her head down slightly, overwhelmed by the moment, but it wasn’t finished.
“I knew your Dad… Chris…. We got to know each other just before I left the service. I was never really good at taking orders… And I knew Tony as well.” Hearing her father’s name almost pushed her over the soft acceptable edge.
“Both of them are as fine as they come… Your Daddy and I were friends in high school. And your Dad Chris is the one who urged me to set my sights a tad higher than I had ever imagined.” It was a lovely moment but for the anxious look on Toni’s face. He noted it and put his hand up in caution.
“Oh, Damn…. Sorry. Listen. I make a habit of reading essays without looking at the names; helps me be a bit more objective. Maybe a bit unorthodox as well, but it’s like I knew you were your father’s daughter even before I knew who your Daddy was. And when I read the name, it just fit. Especially since I already knew that Chris had married your mom. Sounds odd, I know.” She looked at him and smile; she didn’t understand it, but she accepted his explanation. He helped make it harder a second later, but it was in such a sweet way that she would remember the words for the rest of her life.
“Your Daddy used to talk about you…when you were a baby. Never said a word that didn’t indicate pleasure or pride. And I like to think that if he were here today, he’d not only be pleased, but as proud as any father could be. But your dad…I know he’s a step-dad, but it’s like you’ve gained his legacy as well. This may sound odd, but it’s original and it’s mine, so write this down.” She looked at him and he smiled. Reaching back to his desk, he grabbed a pen and a small pad and thrust it into her hands.
“Oh I’m serious. Write this down, okay?” She nodded and put the pen to paper as he said finally,
“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Even if it came from two different orchards.” He smiled as he walked back to his desk to retrieve his jacket.
“Now what do you say? Portuguese or Burmese?”
Times-Union, December 29
LtCDR. and Mrs. Chris Davidson of Virginia Beach, Virginia are pleased to announce that their daughter Antoinette Amelia D’Artale has been accepted as a first year student at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis Maryland for the fall semester. Ms. D’Artale is the daughter of the late Commander Anthony James D’Artale. Ms. D’Artale was sponsored by Sen. Vincent O’Reilly of Arlington, Virginia.
It's written in the stars that shine above,
a world where you and I belong, where faith and love will keep us strong,
exactly who we are is just enough
there's a place for us, there's a place for us..
And Finally: Cindy's Song
There's a Place for Us
From the Motion Picture
Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Words and Music by
Carrie Underwood, David Hodges
and Hillary Lindsey
As performed by Carrie Underwood
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