Thursday, July 21, 2005

Johnnie Walker Red

The night before I left for Basic Training, nearly three years ago, my mom took me around town to say a couple goodbyes and pick up some last-minute supplies - soap, a comb (which turned out to be pretty damn useless), stationery, socks, the usual load-out.

That evening, after we got home, she produced a brown paper bag and slid out a fifth of Johnnie Walker Red Label scotch.

"Thanks," I said, considerably surprised. During university, I'd been quite a drinker, which was a habit I brought home with me during the summers, and which caused my parents, I'm sure, no small amount of dismay. I remember once, that summer, my dad asking me about a smashed bottle of Baileys and a broken brandy snifter he'd found on the back porch steps. All I could do was shrug.

But I guess Mom knew that day was going to be my last hurrah before a drastic change in my life. She gave me a hug and told me she loved me.

That night, I sat out in back of the kitchen door on the breezeway between the house and the garage, taking long, leisurely draws off the bottle of Johnnie Walker. I thought about my home and my family, my friends, the four years at university that had flown by so quickly, the friends I'd made there, and mostly, the big, dark, immediate future.

As I drank, I thought about what I might have done instead of enlisting. I thought about where I might be in six months if left to my own devices.

Some of my friends from town stopped by as the moon and the fireflies came out. I was about two hours into the scotch and there were perhaps four or five fingers left in the bottle.

We had a long, awkward, surreal conversation. I hugged them when they left, and I knew it would be a long time before I saw them again.

I sat there for a long time, not knowing how to feel or what to think, standing at a crossroads or milestone... some major point, at least for me.

I sat until the sun came up. My recruiter pulled in, and it was time to go.

* * * * * *

I've cut down on the drinking since, mostly in the past couple months, mindful of a New Years' resolution I made seven months ago. But I bought a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red, just because I'm feeling nostalgic, and sometimes I can't help but wonder what would have happened if I'd told my recruiter to turn his GOV around.

It's not that I completely regret joining the Army, not at all. It's more that I'm intrigued by the idea of what my life might look like now if it hadn't been for the Army. Would I be a better person? Worse?

Different, certainly.

And there are changes yet to come.