Saying Goodbye | Our move from Kingsville to Lemoore
We drove to the base early on the day of Josh’s winging ceremony to take some pictures of him in a jet. To document what he had accomplished and to say goodbye.
I was in shorts and a t shirt in October and the air was warm and sticky like always. As we drove past the guard and on to the hanger, I noticed the base felt calm and comfortable for once. It seems like that always happens when something that forced you to grow comes to an end. The anxiety, fear and discomfort is replaced with a sense of calm. A sense of accomplishment. A sense of pride. That morning at the hangar, I looked out on the orange and white T-45s lined up under their overhangs and it was like looking down on a fleet of butterflies. You had nothing to be afraid of, I tell myself. Finally, they had no power over me, I had learned them all by heart.
Fear is a strange thing. An overwhelming cold feeling in the pit of my stomach. I am afraid of so many things. Mostly the unknown. The unilluminated places in the future. The things I cannot see clearly or know fully. I want to feel like I am in charge of my life. I want to feel like I am making my own decisions, even if I’m not. I want to feel powerful and in charge but the Navy does the opposite. It makes me feel powerless, like a pawn that gets moved and shifted around without my consent. When they own you they control you. But maybe in some ways it is good. I am learning to be okay with the unknown. I am learning to be okay with not knowing where we will go next or what our future looks like or how much time we have left in this place we are living. I am learning to be okay with last minute changes and cancelled plans and being sent to places I never imagined I would go. It’s teaching me about presence and joy and contentment. I’m a slow learner with these things, but I’m making progress.
As we prepared for our next location we were certain of our future. Nobody had been sent to the base in Lemoore recently because of a back-up in training so we were confident that we would get our first choice, Whidbey Island. We began to plan, look at houses and research loans. We could stay long term, buy a house, and settle into the Pacific Northwest, a place we have always thought we would feel at home in. We were happy, dreaming and imagining our future. Josh would fly the Growler, a version of the F-18 that doesn’t drop bombs. He liked the idea of it and I did too. Our moral compasses could be assuaged knowing he wouldn’t be out destroying countries and killing people. That has always been the part of this job that doesn’t sit well with us. The last few weeks in Texas it felt like we were floating in this new reality we had created in our minds. We would finally be able to stay somewhere long term, we would finally have stability. I could go back to school if I wanted and I would finally be able to focus on my career again. We found a perfect house that we were convinced we would buy, make a home in and be a family.
A few days before his winging ceremony Josh met with his Commanding Officer to hear our fate. I was at home on the couch when I received a single word text from him: Lemoore. I felt hot tears welling up in my eyes as I was jolted back into the reality of the Navy. In an instant everything changed, Josh’s career, our home, our plans and our future. I felt angry and blindsided. It’s frustrating when they don’t give you what you want. They ask you what you want as if they care, as if they will take it into account. And it sounds trivial but it doesn’t feel like that when it’s your life that hangs in the balance. They know you can’t leave or quit even if you want to, so they don’t need to care.
After a few days, the news didn’t sting anymore and we accepted our future. Plans would change, I wouldn’t be going back to school, and we would try to get stationed in Japan after our final year of training was up in Lemoore. We tried to look on the bright side and eventually it didn’t hurt anymore. And that is our resilience. Everyone in the Navy has it. It builds up over the years, like it is a muscle getting exercised.
We left in such a whirlwind it seemed. After we found out about Lemoore we had a couple weeks to plan our cross-country drive, schedule movers and get ready to leave. And just like that we were gone. Those 14 months came to an abrupt end as we drove across the country, back to California. Back to the state where we met and fell in love and got married. But we weren’t the same. We travelled with our car packed full of everything we would need for our first few weeks before the movers would arrive with our stuff. We travelled with 14 months of memories in our heads and 14 months of marriage and living together in our hearts. 14 months of learning new skills, of making the most of our location and our life together. We changed in Kingsville and I knew as we drove from Texas to California that the changes were only beginning. This life that we chose, or maybe it chose us, would make us into better versions of ourselves if we would let it. It would give us adventure and experiences and emotions that we wouldn’t get anywhere else. It would give us people who would love us and change us and join us on this path if only for a season. Someday we will look back and be grateful for this path. Even now when it is difficult, I can recognize that.
Life happens even when you don’t realize it. It is moving even when you feel stuck. It is changing you even when you feel as heavy as a marble statue. The lessons will reach you in some way or another even if you don’t want to hear them and even if you aren’t looking for proof of their presence. One day in the future you will look back and see it all. You will see that it was happening even when you couldn’t recognize it. You will see that it was swirling all around you like an invisible sand storm, moving and transporting the very ground you are standing on until one day you look around and you see a different landscape entirely. I never want to go back to Kingsville, Texas but I also never want to forget it.
We found a jet for Josh to climb into and I took a picture, my favorite one I have ever taken of him. It sits at my desk next to me and I look at it all the time and smile. And when I look at it, I remember the good times we had in Kingsville. I remember the places we travelled, the shows we watched and the fun we had. Chatting for hours on the couch, waking up before the sun to drive to different cities, hiking through Big Bend National Park and laying on the ground in Marathon seeing the Milky Way in all its colorful and magnificent glory. I remember my friend Gene and his beautiful ranch. I remember seeing Josh fly for the first time and finally understanding what all of this was about. And that gives me peace and it gives me hope because Kingsville was hard. But today, years later, I remember so much good. The anxiety, the fear, the sickness, it’s there too, but it doesn’t stand out as much. And I take heart because as I sit at my desk alone in Japan, my husband on a boat somewhere on the ocean, I know that this too will pass. And I won’t remember the deep sadness I felt for weeks after he left for deployment but I’ll remember the way the bamboo covers the mountains here and how it is so green and beautiful. I’ll remember the places we got to see and the times we got to share. I’ll remember the funny little square car we bought, spending $30 on the juiciest Japanese strawberries and walking through our neighborhood together every night when he was home. The good memories are always so much stronger than the bad ones. And that’s magic if you ask me.