A well-known reality of military life is that you can expect to be moved around. A lot. I had the good fortune of landing Alaska as my first duty-station, and will soon be in Colorado, with a short stint here in Virginia for schooling. The plus side to moving around a lot is that there’s the potential to go to a lot of cool places (conversely, the army has found a lot of crappy places to send people as well, such as where I am now). One of the biggest downsides is having to leave behind a bunch of amazing friends, and then attempt to find equally amazing ones at your next stop.
I left Alaska in the fall last year. Although I’d only been there for three years, the friends I made and experiences I had were enough to make me feel like I’d been there my whole life. I moved to Virginia, to a small little town where you keep your doors locked, curtains shut, and the dog in the yard to discourage people from coming too close to the house. A place where the most altitude gain you can hope for is stepping on an ant hill, snow is a traumatic event, and the longest recreation trail is a mile in length. Leaving Alaska, my friends, and a life I’d come to know and love, with an endless supply of mountains and outdoor recreation, was very hard.
Though I know a lot of people, mostly through work, I only keep a small group of close friends. I’ve always been this way. I use to see it as a flaw, but now I realize the value in this practice. Despite my quiet, somewhat stoic demeanor, I am a pretty emotional person on the inside. I’m usually not one to readily admit this, either, but it goes a long way in explaining why I only keep a small group of friends. I’ve learned to see this as more of a blessing than a curse, because it has allowed me to recognize and surround myself with people who I can be proud to call my friends.
I had a wonderful group of friends in Alaska. I still keep in touch with almost all of them, some of whom are also in the military and have moved as well. But even after half a year, I still miss the life I shared with them in Alaska. Knowing that I’d only be at this current duty station for 6 months, I didn’t expect to make too many friends during my time here. Thus, it came as a huge surprise to me when I found myself constantly in the company of the same few people on a regular basis; people that I really wanted to be around. The speed with which I made new, valuable friends was surprising. Perhaps it was the classroom environment that brought us together so quickly, but as my time here draws to a close, I find myself again facing the reality that I have some amazing friends that I have to say goodbye to soon.
I know the cycle will repeat when I get to my new home in Colorado (which I’m super stoked about, ya’ll… it’s been a dream of mine to live out west). And I know that this would have been a reality of my life regardless of whether or not I joined the military; I’ve always had a wandering soul and I’m sure it would have taken me just as many places at this point. But it’s tough knowing that it may be years before I see these close friends of mine again. The reality is, there’s at least one that I’ll never see again.
I think about my friends often. I wonder how they’re doing and often recall the things we’ve done together in the past. I become emotionally invested in my friends. There are people I haven’t talked to since college who I still recall often, wonder where they are, how they’re doing, wonder what life has handed them, or thrown at them. I feel joy for my friends when good things happen to them, and sadness when bad things happen. We may not have talked for years, but if a friend calls me up out of the blue, whether to ask for something or just to reconnect, it brings me absolute happiness. And yet, most of them probably don’t realize any of this. I’m notoriously bad about hiding my feelings, and about reaching out to say hi to people, even when I really want to. What holds me back? Mostly my extreme shyness. A little bit of doubt. Probably a small fear of exposing my emotions, too. I know it’s ridiculous to have these feelings in regards to people who know so much about me and probably feel the same towards me as I do them. But my shyness is a reality I struggle to overcome every day, and I’m still working on it.
At this very moment I sit among a room full of boxes containing all of my possessions. My dog has her head tilted towards the sound the movers are making as they unfurl an entire roll of packing tape around the box containing my mattress. Life is moving forward and there’s no stopping it. My dear friends and I have spent the greater part of the last week-and-a-half hanging out as much as possible outside of class. There’s been more than one night that I stayed out at the bar drinking water despite being dead-tired and wanting to go home, because my friends weren’t ready to go home and I knew our days were numbered. I have the feeling at least one of them has done the same.
Living with the reality that my time spent stationed somewhere is finite causes me to never take for granted the time I have with the people I care about. This becomes even more crucial when I take into account the risks inherent in our job. I strive every day to overcome the caution I exercise in reaching out to contact those friends I haven’t talked to in years when I’m thinking about them and just want to say hi. I learned this lesson the hard way two years ago when my best friend was killed in action and it’d been far too long since I’d last talked to him. I try not to hold on to too many regrets, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop regretting not having been more active in staying in touch with him. That thought alone goes a long way towards helping me overcome whatever unrealistic fears I have about reaching out to my friends.
I’m excited about starting the next phase of this journey called life. I’m happy that I’ll be one step closer to FINALLY living with my husband again (it’s been over a year). And I’m incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to meet these wonderful people whom I so dread saying goodbye to in a few days. The valuable lesson I’ve learned from these experiences is that you can’t waste one minute taking for granted the time you have to spend with those you love and care about. It ends far too quickly.