Sunday, September 25, 2005


Airports and airplanes have a quality about them that is cleansing. I don't know what it is or when it happens, but for some reason, between departure and final destination, there is a release of the nostalgia and sentimental feelings built up from seeing and being with loved ones.

I got on a plane this morning at 5:30 a.m. It took off from Syracuse Hancock International Airport and landed in Cincinnati, where I got on another plane that took me to Louisville, where my Camaro had been parked for the past week or so.

I had been home. Missing one of my brothers, who was sitting in biology classes at university, we'd still managed to have one hell of a time. On Tuesday, we drove up deep into the Adirondack mountains of central New York and stayed in an incredible timber-beam lodge near Lake Placid. The next morning the six of us headed out and climbed Cascade Mountain -- an easy peak, according to the guides, but a long enough climb to provide a good sweat and hunger for dinner, after which we all felt the soporific effects of the rarefied mountain air.

Last night, Dad and I went for a walk after we'd had dinner and let off a few fireworks he'd hoarded since a trip out of state.

I lit up a smoke as we walked down the dark country road my parents' house sits on, and we talked about life.

"Do you think, when it's all said and done, that you'll look back on this time you've spent in the military and think, 'This was a good thing for me to have done?'" he asked.

I drew hard on the Camel.

"I don't know," I said finally. And I didn't -- I wonder, sometimes, how the total will wind up. I know there have been benefits, but I feel like there are some things I didn't need to have experienced. Some of those have been direct results of the Army, and others have been my own choices, made because I've been in a certain place at a certain time with certain circumstances.

It was nearly pitch black outside, but I could sense the sleeping cows in the nearby pastures and the Shetland ponies nearby.

I told Dad what I thought while we headed back to the house.

When we got back, we sat outside the kitchen door on the patio furniture we'd only a little while before been launching bottle-rockets off of. I talked a little bit about my college friends -- one of whom had stopped by the day before -- and finally about the summer I returned home after senior year with a journalism degree in hand and not much else. It was that summer, three years ago, that I signed up for the Army.

"I never really did figure that out," Dad said. "What made you decide to do it? I remember one day you were here painting the house, and the next day you were heading off to the recruiters'."

"It was three years ago," I said, "so it's kind of hazy. I'm not the same person I was three years ago now, so it's hard to think like I did that day."

I told Dad how I'd taken a package into town, to the post office, for Mom, and how I'd looked across the street to the recruiters' office in a new way. I'd always known it was there, but this time I looked at it differently -- like it was an option.

"I was feeling bad that summer, Dad," I said. "I didn't like myself, I'd come home from all my friends at school to here, home, which at that time was essentially square one. I was overweight, which was a relatively recent thing, and that struck me, because never in my life had I been fat.

"I signed up for a lot of reasons, I guess," I said, not knowing how to explain anything. "Sure, there was some patriotism and latent rage from September Eleventh, but that wasn't all there was to it. Truthfully, I never actually thought I'd ever be able to do it till I passed that final PT test in basic training at Fort Benning."

We talked for a while longer, and I realized as we talked that the Army has changed my life in a very fundamental way, and that while I've made some poor decisions because of my involvement in the military, the end result is going to be a better person; a better me.

Most of all, more than my own career or my estimation of myself, I wanted to do something that other people could respect, and for me the most important of those people was my dad, who has been someone who's been respected so much because of his amazing dedication to being a doctor. I'm here, three years into a five-year Army contract, because I wanted to know -- and I wanted him to know -- that I can really do something I set my mind to.

I don't know what'll happen after this. I don't know if I'll ever make it like I want to make it. But I do know that I have a familiy that dates back to.... well, before I was born, and that's what counts. I have a family who will love me no matter how hard or far I fall. And I'm an incredibly lucky man for having that.

Mom, Dad, Maggie, Alanna-Marie, and Zach -- thank you all so much for being with me during leave. I love you all, and I can't wait to see you again. Jake -- I wish you could have been there. We could have used a village idiot.

My family -- I love you all. Thank you so much.