THE LAST FIVE ...
Closing up shop
It may be time for a change
Entry in the air
Music of the moment
Or ... BE RANDOM!
2001-07-05 - 3:11 a.m.
Proud to be an American
A few weeks ago, Brian sent this e-mail:
Just wanted to touch base with everyone. I apologize for the mass e-mail. Most of you know of my future plans at this point and for those of you who do not I sincerely apologize for not getting in touch. The past few months have been a little bit crazy for me. Just to recap for anyone who does not know, I'm leaving Sea World and animal training and joining the Navy to begin training as a naval aviator. It sounds a bit crazy on paper, but it's a career decision that I've put quite a bit of thought into. It will open a number of doors for me and for the most part I'm very excited to begin my new career.
I will be bouncing around for the next five weeks and I want to let everyone know exactly where I'll be before leaving for Officer Candidate School. I'm leaving late this evening to spend a few days in Key West with some friends. When I return I will give Discovery Cove notice of my departure and finish out my last three weeks as a dolphin trainer. I'm flying home to NJ on July 2 and will be there through the 10th. I fly back to Orlando for three days and depart for Pensacola, FL on the 14th for 13 weeks of OCS.
Upon graduation of OCS I will probably have anywhere from 1 to 6 months of down time prior to beginning flight school. There is an endless list of possibilities of where I'll be and what I'll be doing during that time. It depends on what the Navy offers me and what assignments are available.
Flight school consists of at least four components, the first of which is Aviation Preflight Indoctrination (API). This is six weeks of class work and physical training that takes place in Pensacola. Once completed I begin six months of primary flight training either in Pensacola or Corpus Christi, TX. The next step in my training pipeline depends on my performance in the first two components of flight training. Based on my overall scores I will be ranked against the rest of the class. We are asked to submit our preference of aircraft and depending on the rank and needs of the navy each student is assigned an aircraft. Either jets, helicopters or props/transports. The third component of flight school is 18 months learning to fly my assigned aircraft. Assuming I successfully complete this phase of training I will receive my wings of gold and owe the navy 7-8 years. I will then finish my training with 6 months of immersion in the specific aircraft I am assigned. This includes combat training and carrier qualifications if I fly jets.
The next ten years should be a pretty wild ride. In the near future I can be reached on my cell phone. I plan to keep this number in Pensacola but it is unlikely that I will have access to it during OCS except perhaps on weekends. I will also be using this e-mail address until further notice. Access to e-mail will likely be the same as my phone, if not more restricted once I begin.
So that's it in a nutshell. I hope everyone is doing well and that we will be in touch before I depart. Take care.
Thereís something about this Fourth of July. Brianís here today, and we barbecued at his house Ė a mix of high school and his college friends, a small group of friends and strangers becoming friends on a suburban New Jersey deck on an overcast, humid July 4th. But even without the fireworks and the patriotic music on the radio, the movies on TV, this Fourth seemed just as meaningful as all those I remember from childhood, now pretty much melded into one big celebration of fireworks and junk food and friends in my mind.
Brian leaves next week to return to Florida, then begin his 13 weeks of OCS Ė basically boot camp for potential Navy fliers. Itís not for me, but it is for him, and thatís something to admire. The barbecue actually ended with a viewing of Top Gun, the quintessential Hollywood image of Navy fliers. Brian will someday become a Maverick or Iceman or Hollywood singing Youíve Lost That Loving Feeling to some Kelly McGillis in one California bar or another.
I read through a synopsis of OCS Brian received from someone whoís been through it and I could not believe what I read. It was just like all those boot camp/army movies you see Ė the drill sergeants yelling even when you do things right, the entire group in trouble when one person messes up, that sort of thing. And Brian will go through this. But itís what he wants to do. Sitting there watching the movie, reading about the first few weeks of OCS, looking at the stuff he has to memorize (the various ranks of officers, the definitions of certain things and ranks), the oaths he has to take Ė with the promise of never divulging American secrets if captured Ė while watching Top Gun on the Fourth of July brought a tightness to my chest. It made me realize yet again how fortunate, how lucky we are to live in this country, despite all its faults and screwups and idiotic Texan presidents.
Brian is essentially the first friend I truly know to join the military. My uncle spent time in the Navy; I have friends with fathers who served in the Marines; I know several friends from ROTC at Notre Dame and other schools. But this is the first time someone I know well, someone Iíve known since grade school Ė I remember when Brian broke his leg in second grade when he fell off the slide at school Ė will be joining active service. Granted, that will not happen for years, since he wants to fly jets and has quite a commitment of training ahead, but he will someday be one of those pilots.
It hasnít even started for Brian yet, but I already have a slight inkling of a sense of what Heather goes through with Doug, and Iím amazed, really. This is my friend, a guy I knew well in high school and now know casually after college and jobs has separated us a bit. But she goes through this with her boyfriend, the one person outside her immediate family with whom she is the closest. That takes heart and strength and love, and I can appreciate that more now.
I awoke at 6:15 a.m. today, half an hour before the alarm Iíd set after a night out in Boston. I knew it was early, but if I wanted to get home for Brianís barbecue, I wanted an early start to beat any possible Shore day-trippers and have time for a nap. So I was on the road at 6:40 and in my bed at home by 11:30. When my alarm went off at 1 p.m., I snoozed five times, for 40 minutes, before waking, showering and walking over to Brianís house.
Iíd planned to stay at Bryanís in Boston through the Fourth, but sailing yesterday Ė one of the things I was really looking forward to for the holiday Ė and the rain forecast for today meant there wasnít as much keeping me in Boston. I didnít really want to miss Brianís barbecue, since heíd be home, as would Amy from New Orleans, and Elise was coming up from D.C. And I wasnít keen on the prospect of driving home from Boston on Thursday and then going to work that night. I could use a good, long nightís sleep in my own bed, with no alarm to wake me for the first time since before my vacation.
And I didnít want to be a pathetic wimp. I was a little apprehensive about going to Brianís because of the potential for High School Heather to be there, along with the current boyfriend, Sean, the guy for whom I was dumped so roughly not two months into freshman year of college after two years of dating. Itís been nearly seven years Ė and Iíve yet to meet the guy. Part of that was by design: Heather wouldnít let us meet that weekend I flew down to Davidson, a planned trip to be together that turned into her plan to break up with me. And we just havenít been at the same parties in the years between then and now. Iíve seen Heather several times, but Seanís been off serving out his ROTC time in Europe and now they live together in Brooklyn, but she and I have not spoken since last June. I have absolutely no desire to meet him, and I know this is a weird situation Ė most people when they break up with someone do not have to worry about seeing the person again. Not me. Heather and I were friends first, and our group of high school friends that has managed to stay in rather close contact through the years continues to get together during holidays and such back in New Jersey. A good number of them live in New York, so we occasionally hook up in the City. So thereís always the potential for Sean and myself to be in the same place at the same time.
But then I thought about how ridiculous that is. I donít love Heather anymore. Most of the time, I donít think about her. When I do, itís because someone has mentioned her Ė like when Brian mentioned he was going to see her last night Ė and then I think back to those high school days, which were so good to me, and the fun we had and I miss that. But thatís the thing Ė I miss what we had in high school. Weíre not the same people now; I wouldnít want to be with her now. In fact, when she and I are together in the same group, I donít look at her as the Heather I used to date. I look at her as the Heather who changed at Davidson and dumped me for her ďbig brother,Ē the junior she was paired up with to ďhelpĒ with that transition from high school to a small college far, far from home.
So I went to the party and they werenít even there.
It was a great day. Jaime and Dave were there, as were Elise and Jeremy. Will came down from the City, and Lisa too, and Amy Beth was there without James, who will be up at the end of the week for her cousinís wedding. And some of Brianís college friends. One woman, Katie, spoke with a slight southern accent, what I took to be the mid-south, like Virginia, and there was something about her that kept me staring when she wasnít looking. I couldnít figure it out. She was there with her boyfriend, but it wasnít one of those times where I find myself immediately attracted to a girl and want to spend time with her. I actually had no interest in that way until I listened to her talk and watched her. Then I realized that she reminded me of the Good Heather, college Heather. There was a hint of Heather in her smile, a pretty good imitation in her voice, and her choice of words in certain conversations was dead on, to the point where she said goodbye to Brianís friend Dan with a kiss and a hug and said, ďI miss you sweetie,Ē that I thought it was Heather talking to me. At one point I think she even laughed and made a comment, a slight aside joke, that would have had me spinning around hoping to see Heather had I not known who it was.
So to celebrate the 225th anniversary of our Nationís independence, we grilled burgers and hot dogs on the deck and drank Corona with Absolut Mandarin and lime and talked through the afternoon. When the rain started we went inside and someone put Top Gun in the VCR and Brian turned on the surround sound and we finished the night together on the couches wondering which character Brian will be most like a few years down the road when he buzzes our houses in his Navy jet.
As Brianís college friends scattered to the ends of New Jersey, all having to work tomorrow morning, and our gang headed home to New York and Philadelphia, I finished the night at Valís with Dave. It was a quiet night at the bar, with only six people there when we arrived, and one was an employee and another her friend. We talked about women and the last week over pints of Sierra Nevada (OK, he drank Coke), and then left shortly after midnight into a light rain. It had poured earlier, and picked up again as we drove home, so Dave took a detour to his office, where the wide-open parking lot with its smooth asphalt surface provided a playground for his BMW. He accelerated quickly and turned the wheel, causing spins and fishtails so that he could recover and get the car straight again. After 15 minutes of fun in an expensive toy, we headed home.
Next page: Northeast Odyssey: Nantucket History Day
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