“Truth Is Beauty. Beauty is Truth. That is all there is in life. And that is all ye need to know” John Keats
Colorado, Winter 2013
Beer for courage; Radiohead for the needed melancholy, or just the vision to stretch backward. But how far back? I sit here at my kitchen counter, strumming the wood nervously. This cold bottle is heavy and sends tingles to my toes. Fitting. It’s also fitting that I should begin this story at the best time of day, or as my oldest friend Megan would say, “the magic hour”. The sun is lower. The night is coming, but not before dinner, homework, drinks, friends gathering for the last hour to be happy at this small ski town’s plethora of lively, lonely bars.
Back to the story. My Story. We all have one. The one that you tell to new faces after beers help the truth rise from lips. The one that screams, “I should be a book! You should write this down!” At my most hormonal chapter
I picked up On The Road, by Jack Kerouac. I never put it down. They say you need to write by the rules. His beatific jazz staccato of rhythm that danced and jumped around the pages told me that I could make up my own rules, and people (some people, the ones that needed to) would connect.
That they would understand that a story needs to be told as if we are sitting at a dark and cozy oak bar and I’ve forgotten to care about sucking in my stomach, or pause to control my inside voice octaves, because I’m so enthralled by the sharing happening between two souls…or three. Or seven.
Stories are the point. That’s it. Every day; Every life. Its what gives the chapters substance (or roughage, as my holistic, raw kale-eating mother would say).
So I will try to attempt to write it down. Write down my story as if we know each other. Because we do. We know that life hurts.
Love is that kite we will cling to. Adventures. Living to tell about it.
I joined the Navy after dropping out of an overpriced billboard of an art school when I was twenty. Typically me, drove my mother’s precious- rustic white Jeep Cherokee, walked into the recruiting office hung-over, wearing the same faded denim skirt and grey t-shirt as the day before. I thought I’d show these “boys” that I was above all of it. Even though I was the one who drove thirty-five minutes in the heat of midwestern May to sign up. I left for boot camp two months later. My last days were spent uncouthly bragging about what I was doing, as opposed to all my friends, who were plugging away at school, had worked hard to do it, and had the resources and the brains…most of them.
I was naïve to the point of blindness. As with everything, I began to romanticize what my experience would be like. My mom and I rented all the military movies we could think of (or wished to relate to). They consisted of Pauly Shore and Bill Murray comedies, Band of Brothers, and Forrest Gump. I was set.
A quick goodbye-trip to Connecticut changed much of who I thought I was becoming. I saw him again. We fell in love, all over, but so different then at 16.
Three weeks later I left for the Navy, missing him and all that we had gained. I would write every night, mailing bundles on the Sundays that the recruits were allowed to send naively cheerful words home.
I would lie hundled in my boot camp-issued sweatpants and socks on my top-bunk and literally hug the letters of his road trip-adventure. His stories were out of a dream in my reality; sleeping in his dirty truck bed, peanut butter, bread and cheap bottles of whiskey diet. Twenty-mile hikes, old friends, Indian reservation tales, Las Vegas nights, lonely rainy ones in a wet truck parked out west somewhere in Yellowstone, Crater lake, or Badlands.
I graduated Boot camp and spent Thanksgiving in Connecticut. Consumed by love. Distracted to the point of irritating my father. After a long run on the reef rocks, with sweaty foreheads and cold cheeks, we decided that we could be strong enough to outlast the next four years that I belonged to the military.
We sustained a relationship through long nightly phone calls, lonely recapped days, and long workouts. Just drove around, searching for parks to sprint out my thoughts in.
His father died on Martin Luther King weekend, Saturday 2:00 am. We walked through the snowdrifts in the silent streets of NYC.
Finally we walked back to his apt, filled his rusty claw-foot bathtub with hot water, and talked and cried until morning.
“The story of life is quicker than the wink of an eye The story of love is hello and goodbye…- Hendrix
This story is not about him. But there is a well of unsaid words, and I believe that they need to be released. To, “piece the puzzle now before the trail grows cold”, as Austin Lucas would say.
To try to summarize what happened would leave out too much, and be unfair to the whole. But to forget it would be a lie that we can’t afford to live.
The Navy became a duty happening all around me. I read dozens, literally a hundred books in my time out to sea. I ran hundreds of miles through dogwood tree lined park trails, treadmills, and laps around the hangar bays. I ate the ships’ boxes of Raisin Bran, drank gritty black coffee, and slept in a tiny bunk across the tile from my closest and dearest companion, Valerie. Music filled the headphones of my blue iPod, and blasted out of my Jeep wrangler speakers through the autumn cities of Virginia. I cried often, and became angry. An intense rage filled my heart for a long time. Hatred and disillusionment for all those in my day-to-day existence. I felt more alone than I ever wish to feel enough again to describe.
Without the hope and love of someone who was outside of it all; without that escape…I feel into the black tunnel. I talked less and less. I felt my blue eyes cloud over when listening to others enjoying conversations. I felt like the rain on the beach on a cold November when no one is there. I felt like dying.
In April, I was honorably discharged, just one month shy of a six-month deployment overseas. I had put in a desperate request to be released early, on grounds of acceptance to go to school. My hope was at zero reserves. The optimistic girl of 20 had entirely withdrawn into herself at 24. My interest in the outside world had now become frantic searches on the ships’ computer for a way out. I found the Outdoor Education programs and applied immediately, before even studying the curriculum. Before questioning my goals (my only goal was to LEAVE). I wanted to run and fast and as far away from the giant gray ships and petty relationships and perceived IQs. I wanted to leave as a person who is drowning wants air.
I wanted to go west, I had decided. Whatever happened after that would happen because I needed it to.
That was all there was in that moment.
When I was called to my Officer’s request for a word, I went on shaking legs. What had a done? Had he found out that I had been hiding in the female berthing all morning because I couldn’t bear another hour of cleaning the same spotless bulkhead, or waxing the same shiny decks? My eyes met his, stoic and grim in the same expression, as he handed me my release papers. “ You’re request was approved, Prendergast. You leave in three days. Congratulations”…
If I could do it again, like we all wonder in or stories, I would have :
~Breathed in the salty air with more gratitude on that giant flight deck. Felt the rush of a landing jet, the vibrations, and appreciated the smell of fuel and sweat on my clothes after a hot day
~Noticed sunsets and stars without wondering if someone across the country was seeing them also. Would have been satisfied in my own company.
~Listened to the happy voices around me without contempt for where I was. Instead, felt their souls shining and loved them for their honesty in who they were
“Once in awhile you get shown the light in the strangest places if you look at it right” Jerry Garcia