'You're in my prayers'
PLAINFIELD -- In this town, the knife feels near the bone. It is not just the April rain, the gray light on the graying clapboards, the crouching way the mourners have of walking when damp cold is trying every seam and buttonhole, seeking a way in. It's everything: the cardboard cigarette sign in the shop window, the drumbeat of the wipers in the left turn lane off Interstate 395, the crunch of what was once a bit of broken taillight slowly becoming plastic sand. This is Connecticut close to the margin. Scrambling for a job that will pay enough, looking for a path through the days to the sort of security no one seems to be offering anymore -- work, a decent home, a car, children, a life.
Of course you might try the Army.
Dan Malloy and Nancy Wyman arrive separately for the funeral, in their black cars that park on the side street, around the corner from the front door of the little church. Inside, the crowd overflows the pews, but they have saved a space for the governor and the lieutenant governor midway up the aisle. The rest stand in the vestibule. Brig. Gen. Steven Scorzato from the National Guard, in full dress, next to Andy Maynard, the state senator, stamping his feet against the chill. A woman shifts a toddler from arm to arm, trying to urge quiet.
Outside, the reporters and the TV cameras are held to the far side of the street. The sergeant's survivors don't want the media here. A phalanx of bikers hold American flags along the sidewalk; the Patriot Guard is here because the devotees of Fred Phelps, the bitter homophobe preacher from Topeka, have threatened to stage a protest outside the funeral, their argument being that this man died because Americans are too accepting of gay people. The Phelpses don't show, but the Patriot Guard stands there anyway, a waving wall of red and white fabric under the gray clouds.
Inside, the lieutenant governor, the tough Jewish daughter of Brooklyn, lowers her head slightly as mourners sing the hymn from a war movie that has slowly become a memorial standard in the wake of our real wars. The mourners sing "The Mansions of the Lord."
WHAT DO YOU SAY?
When did you last walk up to a stranger at a stranger's funeral -- the father of a young man dead too soon, let's say -- and take him by the arms and try to make him whole again? Or is that not Dan Malloy's task here? It must be more than simply expressing condolences. Is he showing the flag? What do you say when it's forced upon you, this duty that makes no human sense, to try to buoy the spirit or dull the ache in someone you will never know, offering nothing but your famous face, your car and stern driver, the disembodied good wishes of anonymous citizens who don't know any better than you do what this flushed, broken man must be feeling?
When you're governor, you have to. So the cameras capture Malloy on the sidewalk with the sergeant's father. The man is saying something to him, insistent and quiet, and Malloy is talking to him in return, looking at him with an open mouth and wide eyes, as if he is trying to paint his gaze across the man's face.
There's no follow-up visit, no repeat engagement. No one measures whether it helps. It's just a scene from a country still fighting its quietest, longest war.
The official party walks down the side street, and Nancy Wyman's mouth hangs open, just slightly, as she wipes her hand at the corner of one eye. The lieutenant governor looks stricken, and the governor's hand reaches out, just for a moment, and lands on the back of her shoulder. Then they're in the cars, moving again, and all of Plainfield stays behind them, staring at the little church's front door, learning about whatever comes after this.
CONDOLENCES TO A FRIEND
Nine. This is the number of memorials, funerals and private meetings with family that Dan Malloy attends for Connecticut troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan during his first year in office. Each one follows strict protocols (the military department is grimly effective in organizing these events), and at each the governor is cast as comforter-in-chief, his presence supposed to convey something amorphous but uplifting to the families of the dead.
The military duties abound. Malloy and Wyman address soldiers in the big send-off ceremonies at the hangar in Windsor Locks, bidding them to fight well and come home safely. In a small room in the state Armory, the governor moves slowly down a short line of National Guardsmen shipping out soon to Afghanistan, stopping briefly to chat with one -- they have a mutual acquaintance in Stamford -- but otherwise keeping brief. Quick handshake, a look in the eye and a word of thanks for their service.
The funerals are different. They know when one is coming: the first notice from the Pentagon to the military department, and everything all embargoed, the press staff forced to no-comment everything until they have the green light from Washington to confirm, even if everyone already knows.
This is one of those days. Aug. 10. The staff is upbeat. Roy Occhiogrosso shows up in the outer office, holds out his arms and announces, "Just sayin'."
It's one year to the day since they trounced Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary. But the governor is furrowed and focused. He shouts out from his desk to the room where Arielle and Zack Hyde sit, asking for Patricia Parry's phone number. It's 10:45 a.m. Four days earlier, a Chinook helicopter was shot down in Wardak Province in Afghanistan, killing 30 American troops, mainly Navy SEALs, along with Afghan soldiers and an interpreter.
Malloy is calling Parry, a friend from Stamford, because one of the Navy SEALs was her son, Chief Petty Officer Brian Bill.
He punches the black phone on his desk and waits.
"Hi," the governor says softly, "it's Dan Malloy."
He speaks quickly, quietly. He sounds nervous.
"I wanted to offer my condolences as a friend and neighbor, but also on behalf of the entire state," the governor says. He waits a few moments, says a few more words.
"I can assure you you're in my prayers," Malloy says, and hangs the phone up. As he puts the phone down, Arielle Reich is handing him the red binder with the day's schedule, his briefings and talking points -- announcing the airport authority, meeting with business leaders from Windsor Locks, visiting the community college training program, stopping by the set of the romantic comedy to watch Robert DeNiro, Susan Sarandon and Diane Keaton film a slapstick wedding scene in a sprawling Greenwich backyard -- but first there was this task. Malloy exhales, deliberately. It sounds like this: "Hoooooof." A blank look crosses his face as he looks down at his desk. Then the look disappears.
A little more than a week later, Newfield Avenue has come to a standstill for the funeral Mass for Chief Petty Officer Bill. Two ladder trucks suspend an enormous American flag in front of St. Cecilia Parish. The dignitaries file in: the U.S. senators, Blumenthal and Lieberman, the mayor and the leaders of the community. The Mass begins. A homily from the priest who was Bill's CCD instructor, remembrances from those who fought alongside him. Music fills the church. The Navy hymn, "Eternal Father, Strong to Save." Again "The Mansions of the Lord." Patricia and Michael Parry sit near the front, as does the man's father, Scott Bill.
Malloy is inconspicuous, back in the row of politicians. When the time comes, he slides past Lieberman, Blumenthal and Wyman, and joins the line to take Communion.
Afterward, he says little, but this, in an admiring tone: "The Navy knows how to do a Mass."
TO THE WAR ZONE
Some parts are different. The president is coming to give the commencement speech at the Coast Guard Academy in New London. So Malloy is up early that morning, cooling his heels in the grand old hall with the faculty and academy brass, milling about amid the white-clad cadets, eagerly awaiting an audience, however brief, with the commander-in-chief. (It isn't an audience, not really, but Barack Obama turns to him, thanks him for the welcome, before they embark on the long roll of the names, so many of the newly minted officers walking forward to receive their commissions from their parents, who stuff the papers into their left hands and barely wait out the handshake before wrapping the kids in bear hugs.)
And when the invitation comes from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the staff lops whole agenda items off the calendar: a trip to the war zone, to Afghanistan. Of course he'll go.
It's handled in secret, the governor going out of the office to get the shots he'll need in Kuwait and in Kabul. The staff wants a commitment up front that his office won't have to pay anything: this needs to be on the Pentagon's dime.
On the eve of departure for Washington, the first leg in a still-secret trip, Dan Malloy and Arielle Reich are literally turning out drawers, searching for trinkets and mementos to give to the troops they'll visit. There's nothing in the guidebook for this, no budget and no store of lapel pins. They've got the pens with his signature on them. The National Guard locates a stash of miniature flags. Well, there's something.
Tomorrow: At the end of his first year, what had Dan Malloy truly accomplished? And what does the future hold?