September marks my ten year anniversary of being in uniform. It's been a long and short ten years which have brought me lots of joy, lots of tears and some accomplishments and failures as well. I'm reflecting upon this now because on the first will be my last milestone before I get out of the Army. I will be pinning Captain, my last promotion.
I've only shared two of my milestones with anyone. The first being the day I made PFC and Lee made my walkie talkie go off in my back pocket as CPT Brian T. Soldon was pinning me (we had walkie talkies back then...long story). The second was the day I commissioned. But since then, I've done everything in the Army alone. I never pinned E4 and just got promoted on paper and when I made First Lieutenant, I was in Iraq and it was done rather hastily. I got my promotion certificate from that about a month ago. It had been shoved in a box somewhere in the corner and when it got to me appeared to be a pirates map with burned edges and moth holes.
Throughout West Point, I never brought a date to a class function. Alex went with me once, and we had a blast, but it wasn't the same as going with someone I wanted to impress (not that I don't want to impress you Alex, but I know uniforms and granite buildings wouldn't ever be as impressive to you as the walk through the cemetery seeing the trees). I've never had the opportunity to "show off"...to share my pride in what I do with anyone.
When we were at DLI, we used to go down to the farmer's market and buy flowers. We'd walk around until we found a pretty girl to give them to. If we couldn't find one worthy, we'd give them to the girls we worked with back at the barracks.
That's kind of how I feel about my Army experience right now. It's something that has formed who I am and which takes most of my time and energy--it's the bouquet I walk around with all the time. It's something that has influenced who I will become and what I will do. But I share it with no one. Not the pride, not the doubt, none of the celebratory or sad moments. I just keep it all to myself and keep hoping there will be someone to share it with.
But, on the first of next month, when I pin Captain, it will just be me, pinning Captain, and thinking, "well. I guess that's it." And, years from now, if/when I meet someone to share these things with, I will share the emotions and memories the same way I do the memory of my father. They, the Army and my Dad, will be things which formed who I am, but which I will always carry alone. Things which I can try to convey as memories, but which only I will have experienced.
I don't write this to be self-pitying. It's just a reflection upon what the last ten years have cost me. There have been a lot of gains as well as I've met some of the best people I could ever know, got a college degree and gained valuable experience. But, the cost...the cost is higher than I had expected and weighs more heavily now that it ever used to. And every time I have a celebratory moment, there comes a point when the friends are gone and the handshaking stops and I'm alone. And I realize then that I'm not just alone, but I'm alone BECAUSE of what I am celebrating. It's as though every happy moment I've had in a decade is laced with bitterness.
I sometimes think about staying in the Army, but I know now that my bitterness runs too deep. That my resentment at the institution, based upon my experiences, would preclude me from ever fully committing myself to it. That's hard to admit, especially considering that I've still two years left to serve. It's hard to admit when I know I WANT to be a good Officer. But, I must admit it if for no other reason than to finally voice what I've already known for some time. The Army and I, like young lovers, who were once good, but are now toxic, must parts ways for the good of us both.