Nearly twelve years ago I was finishing a cigarette and a thought at the same time. I even said the thought aloud, “Ian, you’re going to do this.” In February of ’06 (spoken ought six) I embarked on the beginning of this journey when I boarded a bus to Navy boot camp.
The first destination did not take me far from my home of twenty years in McHenry, Illinois. Like, at all. I was two towns over at Great Lakes Recruit Training Command. I had to drive further to see my recruiter than I would if I stole a car from the barracks parking lot and drove home. I had moments of that thought, but the one I had said aloud I would say again, then get back to listening to what I was told.
Boot camp complete, I had four hours with family, then I was on a jet to Groton, Connecticut. Finally, I was leaving home on an adventure. Those that have been call it “Rotten Groton.” I can not speak to the place because I feel like I wasnt even there. I was still going through culture shock and mild depression. I was doing fine in the Navy’s eyes, but what I had set out to do, I was terrible at. I didn’t know who I was, or what I liked, or who I would like to be around. I just latched on to things going on around me. I played Risk, watched movies, played video games, ate at the cafeteria, played pool, and exercised with my roommate, rarely, and did all of that poorly, with none of it gaining me anything. It was not shaping up to be an adventure at all, but that was not Groton’s fault. I turned 21 there, and for my first legal purchase I bought a pitcher of Miller Lite and watched the Simpsons while smoking cigarettes in the smoking lounge… woo! I tagged along to a club in Providence, but that has never been my scene. I went to the coast and got a sunburn, but the only other memory I have of it was that I lost my dog tags in the ocean. I was too busy missing home to adventure.
I graduated training second highest in my class; I thought I knew my job as a submarine auxiliaryman pretty well. When it came time to pick orders, I was holding out for a slot in Washington. There was only one. There were two of us with family in Washington.
Me: “Oh, well my dad, aunt, and grandmother are there…”
He: “Mine too.”
Order giver guy: “Got a quarter? Heads you, tails you…”
I was headed to the USS Ohio, the first ballistic nuclear sub converted to a guided missile sub. Before heading to Washington, I went home for the first time in months. My group of friends had gained some new friends while i was gone. I was new and interesting to them and the old gang all at once. I did not want to leave again, i was horny (the girls noticed the boot camp BOD) and young, and I thought I might stay and say, “fuck the Navy.” It was harder to leave after that visit than it should have been. The real adventure was about to begin but I wanted only to stay home again, to go backwards. I repeated aloud again, “Ian, you’re going to do this,” and got on with it.
The adventure got real, really fast. My roommate had sex nightly, not twenty feet away from me. My first day onboard the submarine I told a fellow mechanic to “use the right tool for the job,” which put me on a shit list. I would play video games in my room for hours and drink Jack straight from the bottle. I looked forward to Fridays, when I would go to have dinner with my family. I went broke about eight days after a paycheck on average. I was too busy missing home to adventure.
I got a girlfriend after a little less than a year. About the same time, the guys I worked with began to invite me out to more things. I got a better roommate, got a Volkswagen Beetle, and got out more often. I was still homesick, but having things to do began to dilute that, and I had a girlfriend, so I had something to focus my angst on that was here and now. I had a lot of angst because I was addicted to her like a horrible drug, and she was cheating on me. I ignored the signs, even blatant ones. I was still going broke because I was crossing on a ferry every other day just to drive around with her.
I need to fast forward, this is getting long. To make a long story short, that girlfriend wrecked the boy I was, wrecked him bad. I broke after I put what I thought was my son up for adoption. He was the mailman’s and by mailman I mean some guy that was homeless and slept in a tent on the beach, no joke. From that pile, I pieced together the man I am. The friends that were around me during that destruction became, and still are, some of my most beloved. The adventure was getting really REAL.
I began to do more things for me, not just to pass the time. I got out of the barracks into a townhouse with the roommate I had in the barracks. He was great, he was me but two years in the past. He stayed home and played video games, but occasionally he would break out with me and the aforementioned friends and have a great time. I hope I helped him. I bought my dream car, I slept around, I went to parties, i gained…
But this was not what I set out to do.
The USS Ohio brought me to faraway places that I barely experienced. I was either so busy with maintenance or exhausted from duty that I didn’t explore. Sometimes I didn’t even leave the pier the entire visit. The little I did do and see, was like a vaccination. Little bits of adventure that my mind and body could absorb and learn from. I was starting to fight the disease, the idle, the safe.
Then, a rebuilt Ian with his new lease on life, with only changes to be made and corners to turn, ready to face things and make it all about me… Met a girl. Met a girl beyond her years. A girl who seemed to have done it all. A girl, not one I needed or simply wanted, a girl I could learn from and evolve with. I met my future wife.
I was super cautious in spite of spite everything going very well as we dated. I didn’t want to welcome the pain of heartbreak back, nor foster ignorance of warning signs. I was still in the Navy with a year or more to go in my enlistment. As we dated there was genuine infatuation growing between us. I was in a heavy maintenance period with the boat and would drive 40min just to fall asleep with her at 1am only to be back at work at 7am. When I left her for our first deployment together I cried, too much. Deployments suck but I desperately wanted to keep what I had finally gained.
Megan, at the age of 16 spent six months in Spain, living with strangers in a strange place, with newness all around. She spent time in China teaching English with her mom, as a teenager. She was living alone, paying her way at 20. I needed to sell my body to the government to gain half the opportunity she took on herself. Post-Megan deployments became more, partially to stay occupied but also to attempt to exhibit the qualities I adored in her. I snorkeled, rented cars and traveled, hiked, regained fitness, and gained. I was cured. Every deployment I said it aloud again, “Ian you’re going to do this…” and added “you’re going to do a good job, so you can get back to her.”
Fast forward seven years. We’ve overcome a lot, no money, no jobs, injury, sickness, cancer… We have seen a bit more, and learned more still about ourselves. But our itch, our independent but equally legitimate yearn for adventure never subsided, only stifled.
After my time in the Navy we both got government jobs working at the local naval base. It was an easy transition for me, and a necessity for her due to student loans. With the help of some money from the family and those decent jobs, we found a home in a beautiful place. Got a dog, made a garden, and I bought more cars than we would ever need. We see friends almost daily, we adore and explore our piece of the Pacific Northwest, yet we still dream. We yearn to reignite the slow burning, glowing fire that powered us to get where we are and to what we have. Particularly me.
I’ve brought it up to Megan more than once, that I “just need more, I crave more… or something different.” I attend travel briefings in the event that I am sent to temporary assignments elsewhere, and I drift off, not to ignore the lesson, but to be there before I am there, to fantasize about what I would do with that opportunity. I see pictures of not so far off places that we could drive to and I ache with desire to be there. I close the page or change the subject because…why? What am I stuck here pursuing? Retirement? The American Dream?
I have those aches and those fantasies because my fire never went out, I am still on that adventure. I just stifled the fire with stuff and bogus excuses. I sat on that back porch and extinguished a cigarette, but lit this fire. The trials and gains have only stoked it along the way. Even as I write this i feel the drive, the pull, the fire. But I have to keep it stifled, for just a little while longer… That will be for the next blog.
In the meantime, we’re going to continue to quietly plan and scheme, fuel the fire in each of us, and clear the path for it to grow again.
I say it aloud once more, “Ian, you’re going to do this.”