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On Leaving

August 31, 2011

Ugh. Leaving.

What they never tell you about taking a job like this one is how many times you’ll have to say goodbye. They’ll tell you how hard it is to be away from this place called home, how you’ll miss the comfort of your own bed, the privacy of your own room, your family, your friends and that elusive thing called a “normal life”. And miss these things you will, when you have time. What most of the infamous they don’t understand to tell you is that to survive you’ll pack all of those things like “home” and “normal” into a box, wrap the box in duct tape and tuck it away on a high shelf. What no one wants to hear or admit is that thoughts of these things have no place here, they interfere with the mission. If my mind is on my loved ones, the things I miss, anything besides the potential threats around me, the work I have to do, something could get missed, someone could very well end up dead.

The world here, it becomes your life. Ship, desert, hotel, tent, metal box, tree fort – the place really doesn’t matter, it’s home sweet cot, rack, hotel bed, concrete slab. The people here become your family, your closest friends, your confidants, your lovers. Judge away outside world, I challenge any of you to spend months and years surrounded for 18 plus hours a day by the same people and not get intimate with them. Fact is, we may actually hate each other as people, but that’s what makes us one big happy dysfunctional family. It’s not that going away is going to guarantee existing relationships will shatter, but life continues on and evolves while you’re gone.

What develops is difficult to predict. Some people become inseparable friends, some fall in love, some hang out only because of proximity and some actively plot each other’s deaths. Whatever the relationship, when the journey together comes to an end, the world turns upside down. Sure, you’re going back to that place called home, but for the last however many days, weeks, months, this place you’re in now has been home. The abrupt end of the carefully structured routine based off common meal times, shenanigans, gym time, pranks, chain emails, music, adventures and laughing so hard someone ends up falling over or inhaling food, is disorienting. Silently, it can be devastating. We all commiserate over the common hatred for whatever unpleasant or annoying situation we end up in, counting down the clock until it ends. Then it’s over, normal life resumes and we miss home sweet deployment.

Leaving doesn’t seem real, not when you’re packing, not when you’re leaving home sweet hotel-tent-ship-can-chu-concrete slab for the last time, not on the flight home, not even when greeted the flying tackles of family and friends. Truth is, the people who mattered the most while you were there still linger in the back of your head. Emails, texts, phone calls, instant messages and carrier pigeons will be traded back and forth. But at that moment of walking away, numbness sets in. You’re not really going to be somewhere else tomorrow. In a couple of hours it’s time for dinner, after that is the gym, after that is chill time… If there’s a lover being left behind, thoughts of that last kiss mingle with the anticipation of the next one, even though it won’t be coming any time soon, if ever again. Dread creeps in. The inside jokes won’t be known by anyone back home. The expectations will require adaptation and patience to adjust to. The silent loneliness from missing the dynamic will linger.

When that pesky reality thing sets in, you’re likely to find yourself staring out of windows and plotting meet ups. Emails, texts and phone calls will fly, with the silence between responses absolutely devastating. Life back in the real world is surreal shades of gray. Everything seems listless, dull, empty, until the moment you get to wrap your arms around them once again and jump headlong back into the feeling of home sweet deployment.

This began its life as a story I was writing as a commentary about how lost I felt when I returned from my last deployment. But like the thoughts themselves, it started and spun around and trailed off and spun some more. After a while the dust settled and the ache of being gone lessened, chased away by the business of being home. It wasn’t until leaving snuck up on me again that the thoughts came pouring back to the surface. I currently sit days away from another adventure. Sitting, staring at the calendar unable to believe that it’s not still that somewhat distant future my mind keeps projecting it as. I’m not ready for this, mentally I’m in a state of near panic at what I planned to have done, what I need to have done and how little of it is actually done. I feel like a failure because I don’t know if I’m going to make it to that point of being actually ready before it’s time to go.

Mentally, I’m a frantic wreck. Physically, I’m hiding on my couch and making plans for the weekend as if nothing normal is going on. Laundry spins in the dryer like many other nights, only tomorrow it will be finding its way into boxes. I keep telling myself I can handle this, it’s going to be okay. But…I don’t know that it is. Those who know me are very aware of my last-minute packing inclination and Doc has already been jokingly taking bets on how many hours before I’m supposed to leave that I actually get around to starting packing. Jerk. Hehe. I’m petrified of what this move means and all the loaded gun potential it holds. I feel like I’m barely functioning, exhaustion and speculation are taking their toll. Tomorrow holds a thousand tasks and time keeps slipping away. So off I go to lay in bed and stare at the ceiling and wonder.

“Can’t sleep. Future will eat me.”

Until Next Time,

From → Military Life

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