The last time I was in my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, I was sitting with my brother Kelly and two friends, Jen and Patrick. I was telling them about why I left the Navy. The actual story is a bit involved and so I’ll save that for another post, but the main reason was:
I was angry because I was supposed to go to Germany to learn how to do offensive driving, and my choices were taken away by nincompoops.
I went from the Command and Control Center at the Joint Cruise Missile Project in D.C. to being armed to the teeth, chasing around in caravans guarding the 6th Fleet General and Lee Greenwood (and entourage). I’d be packing my .38, a PR-24, and either a shotgun or an M-14. NOT on automatic.
This wasn’t all the time. Or even most of the time. Sometimes I’d be directing traffic or pretending to follow suspected homosexuals around. “Karin’s following us again…. HEY KARIN! See you at the club later!”
Either way, there was enough excitement for me to look forward to going to Germany and learn how to drive like an action movie stunt woman.
So, there I was, at The Office bar in Omaha, crying in my beer, if I had been drinking beer, about how I felt like I was pushed out of the Navy.
Then, Jen said to me, “You might have ended up dead.”
Ending Up Dead
“Maybe.” I said, and nothing else.
But it stuck with me. I never even thought about ending up dead when I was crouched in the passenger seat of the first car, ready to fling myself across the driver with my shotgun if we saw a threat. It’s a cliché you hear in the movies all the time. “It’s the job.”
It IS the job. When you join the military, you join for life. Even if you get out, they can call you back. You give up your privacy. You are a part of what you truly hope is a higher calling.
People don’t always come back. When you’re forced to go, like in a draft, that’s a tragedy. When you march into the recruitment office and sign up willingly, it’s something that’s understood, and that’s accepted.
Not everyone gets processed out nicely in Philadelphia, like I did.
The truth is, the things I did were not very exciting. Yes, I suppose that someone who was never in the military might feel a little queasy about what I’ve just said. And yet, mine were tame. So many others had more exciting experiences, both good and bad.
“You might have ended up dead.”
Maybe that was the expectation
It really niggled my noodle. Was that really what I expected? What did I think would happened when I made the choice to join Security at Sigonella? And I did choose it. I wanted it. It was close to Libya (and Gaddafi), and I was feeling gung ho.
Then, on my favorite Pandora station, Mondo Bongo, I heard a song from Elliot Moss called “99”.
“Hide all the keys, and seal our windows, ‘Cause I’m going to war Don’t hold your breath waiting for me ‘Cause I may never come home”
Here’s the video. I’m going to be one of those annoying people who make you watch a video, knowing that you probably won’t get the same thing out of it as I do.
Did you watch it? Go watch it! I’ll wait..
I listened to that song many times. It brought tears to my eyes, but in a good way. A grieving way. I watched the video and I’m certain that Elliot Moss would be astounded why I grieved. It’s clear in his video what he’s grieving. He’s grieving the loss of the one who went to war.
When I joined the Navy in 1983, I was untethered. Even though my grandparents had taken me in for the past two years, too much had already happened to me, and by me, in my life. I was doing drugs and taking advantage of the random man who crossed my path. I had no ambition, no plans, and I couldn’t conceive of an actual future for myself.
People from my past have told me they expected me to be dead by 30. They tell me they’re proud of me. I’m still not sure why they think I needed to know that my life was dismissed when I was young.
So, I joined the Navy. The Navy gave me structure. It taught me my own power. I became intimate with my true strengths and weaknesses. I grew up in the Navy. I had purpose.
JCMP, or the Joint Cruise Missile Project, gave me status. I didn’t see it then, but it was the truth. I was supposed to go the officer route. I had quite a few conversations with base commanders about going to college and then becoming an officer. I never did anything about it. I never followed up. I tuned it out.
Becoming an officer not why I went into the military. Even though the blessings I gained from joining the military changed my life for the better. Even though I learned about computers. Went to college. Found myself. I wasn’t supposed to go home.
I Wasn’t Supposed to Go Home
I’m 56 now and so I tend to get into those conversations with other mid-lifers, you know the ones. What are you going to do when you retire? Do you have a retirement plan? Will you even retire? Can you? What are the plans for the end of your life? How are your hemorrhoids?
I tell them that I don’t intend on retiring. I will go on doing what I want until I can’t, and then I’m leaving. I figure I have 10-20 good years left, although I have to say that I’m pretty tired already.
I don’t intend on living in a retirement community. Getting shipped to a nursing home. And then dying in Hospice. Getting diddled by the staff before he reports my dead body.
I don’t have much of a retirement account. I don’t have a plan. I don’t even think about it unless someone presses me. I don’t have kids. My brothers live in different states and they have their own lives. Why on earth, would I want to live beyond my good years?
This is exactly the same kind of thinking I had when I was in the Navy! And what WILL happen? I’ll probably end up in hospice somewhere where I’m actually looking forward to being diddled by Herbie the handyman just to break the monotony.
I’ll sit there grieving because I wasn’t supposed to be there!
When I joined the Navy, I was untethered. I needed structure and to belong to something bigger than myself. My life was worth nothing except for what I can give. To be of service. And to die in that service, well, sometimes that’s the best a person can hope for.
The nincompoops took that away from me and I grieve for my loss. It’s been 30 years and I’m finally grieving. I don’t care that it doesn’t make much sense. It feels good to cry.
I’ve tried talking about this with a spiritual advisor, but all they heard was that I wanted to kill people. Of course, that wasn’t it at all. They let their self-righteousness color our session.
I’m 55 years old and I am untethered. I have been untethered for 30 years. I used to know who I was and what the eventual outcome would be. But then 1988 came along and I went back to Omaha. To the place where I was born. And to the place things happened.
I have done so many things! Things I could have never imagined before joining the Navy. Things the Navy made possible. College? I didn’t think it was possible! Going to Israel for an archeological dig. Moving to Seattle to do Stand-up. So many things!
Bad things too. Going to L.A., getting depressed and running out of money and being homeless for a while. Things have happened to me, both in and out of the Navy. I’ve been kidnapped three times. Carjacked once. Had to deal with guns twice, once during the carjacking and the other because a friend took some drug and hallucinated that I was his ex-wife. That was also one of the kidnappings.
I don’t get into those kinds of situations anymore.
But I am untethered. And fearful. The place I work got sold and I’m having a hard time adjusting. I’m getting older, and maybe I won’t die when I want to. What if I get sick and end up in the hospital on machines that no one is willing to take me off of? It’s my greatest fear. The community I was a part of has gotten self-righteous and violent towards each other. I have sleep and stomach problems.
I have no purpose. What? Are they going to put on my tombstone “She was a really good software tester.”? How pathetic is that?
I could have had on my tombstone, “She was a brave soul. She saved lives.” I could have been buried in Arlington.
How could I not grieve that? Trading purpose and service for being surrounded by numbnuts who think they’re so special that they run around shaming and blaming and attacking people they claim to love. In the service, these people would have been given an “attitude adjustment.” I have no idea how I got here.
So now I look for my purpose. A good purpose. Maybe just entertaining people and giving them something to think about is enough? I want it to be enough. It’s fun and I can do it. People need to laugh, to cry, to be entertained. It’s not frivolous, not matter what some dumbasses say.
Maybe I can live with it…
Maybe it won’t end up killing me…