Memories are a funny thing. They are ever present or lost in the web of neurons. They come back quickly and in some cases, unexpectedly after years of being forgotten.
I was in the military when I met a airman who impacted my immediate future. I had come to admire her, her strength, her courage, her. She was strong and full of conviction of doing the right thing at all times, even when it was difficult. On the eve of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” she showed me how to honor yourself and be who you are.
I don’t remember her past any more, but I do remember a couple important pieces. Like the permanent scar on the side of her face courtesy of a bar fight prior to entering the military. I have the impression after all these years that her life was rather difficult prior to entering the Air Force, although the details of her past, were never known to me — or maybe just forgotten amoung all the other memories and facts cluttering the gray matter.
She made me laugh, she talked me through some painful events, and unbeknownst to me at the time, helped me come into my own.
I haven’t thought about her for more than 20 years. She came crashing into my thoughts as I watched a woman in the crowd having a good time, laughing and dancing with her friends. In the blink of an eye, I was slammed back into the military talking to my friend. Sitting in camp chairs drinking cheap beer and wondering what the rest of our lives would bring us.
I don’t know how or why this dancing woman brought my friend back to me; the similarities of the way she looked or dressed or maybe it was the carefree laughing with her friends, but it left me feeling odd and unnerved for the next couple of days. Thoughts of our time in the military floated in and out of my mind at unexpected moments: playing softball, or hunkered down in the vault culling through military reports. Deep dark discussions about life, the military, and the war we were supporting, but didn’t necessarily agree with.
We had toured England together along with our friends. Driving the back roads in the cover of darkness or finding London night clubs in our down time. She taught me how to play darts, which I still am bad at, in local pubs. We hung out together on tarmacs at day break in a hurry up and wait mode before deploying to the desert. My first adult friendship.
Back then, there were no easy ways to stay in touch. Pen and paper or corded wall phones were the only ways to communicate long distance and it was difficult to find time when working rotating shifts and deploying to combat zones, and eventually leaving the military.
We knew each other when it was safe for a brief moment in time.
I don’t know why she came to mind. Why now? What makes me think of a long lost military friend after all this time?
I wonder what happened to her. A few years after my discharge I heard a rumor that she had passed away due to a brain tumor. I would like to think it was not true, that is was just a rumor. Her life would have been too short. She was a beautiful person and the world is less bright without her in it.
Memories — they have a timeline of their own. I do still wonder, why those memories choose to come to the surface after all this time and I wonder where she is now.