I’ve gotten a lot of questions from people about what it’s like being in the Army. There’s an air of mystery and lore around what being a uniformed service member is like. In college, for example, I had to spend every Fall semester telling dozens of curious students that I had not, in fact, gone to basic training, nor was I an expert marksmen. I also wasn’t Jason Bourne in the flesh, capable of using any and everything as a lethal weapon. I was just a student who had learned some fun stuff, but more really boring stuff. (By my senior year, I was completely okay with letting them think I was a Green Beret-Ninja hybrid who could kill them with a paper plate since that meant fewer questions).
Being a vet (soldier, sailor, airmen, marine, or coastie) is difficult to explain. The best illustration I can come up with is that being in the military is like having a roommate who follows you everywhere, and does some weird things at weird times. Oh, and that roommate lives in your thoughts, and not actually in a spare bedroom.
I’ve named my roommate ‘Joe’.
To many, including myself, Joe seems to be a bit too aggressive, angry, and maybe even a little paranoid. He wakes me up in the middle of the night because “there was a noise in the living room”. While I know it’s just the house being a house that makes noise, Joe seems concerned it’s an intruder. In an instant, Joe is silent and motionless, listening for confirmation that someone had in fact broken in. What’s weird is that sometimes I think he actually wants someone to break in. Maybe Joe wants to make sure he’s not crazy, or maybe he’s just looking for something worth getting angry about. I’m never sure.
When I’m driving, Joe seems like he’s on alert. He reads most, if not all, of the signs we pass on the road. He says it’s so he “knows where we are in case of crap”. Sometimes I watch him stare at cars, or double and triple check something in the mirrors. He always, ALWAYS watches abandoned cars on the side of the road. And he doesn’t do well with passengers who seem oblivious to the apparent constant danger the road possesses. This is where I’ve had to learn to curb Joe’s anger. I can tell he wants to yell at people who block his view of intersections or traffic.
When we go out to eat, Joe always pulls towards the tables in the back, or preferably a corner. He says it’s so he can watch things called ‘avenues of approach’. He also seems uncomfortable in a crowd. ‘Too many people’ he grumbles. And he always seems to be trying to get a read on people. It’s the same look he has when we’re driving; looking for threats.
Joe’s also a bit of a jerk. For some reason, he doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of sympathy for people. He’s openly laughed at me for complaining about being tired or waking up at 8AM. I’ve heard Joe blow people off who come to him crying about a break up or a complaint about unfair deadlines at work. He typically shrugs his shoulders and says “Big whoop“. It’s like he’s anesthetized to emotions.
He’s intensely private, never wanting to open the door to his room. Inside, he’s got just, loads of trinkets and things he’s collected over the years. A bottle of sand, a special looking coin, photos of friends, or a collection of poorly pirated movies. He even has some stuff in his closet like a helmet with a chunk missing or a bullet casing. I’ve heard him try to let people see those things, but they usually wind up asking a lot of questions that Joe struggles to answer. Either Joe can’t explain why those things are so important to him, or they just can’t figure it out. Either way, it seems easier for him to just not open that door.
Joe is super inconvenient at times in my life. He can make relationships difficult to have because he’s not very sympathetic. He never seems to relax, which makes me more anxious than I want to be. He’s always got some level of anger, though it’s usually controlled. Usually. And sometimes I absolutely hate Joe. He gets in the way of normal life so much.
But I can never get rid of him. Because Joe is the reason I am where I am. And because Joe has pulled my butt out of the proverbial fire before. And he might have to do it again.
Because when I would lose my cool in crisis or trauma, Joe shows us just in time to calmly and cooly put out whatever fire popped up. When I would get offended at some off handed comment, Joe reminds me what’s really worth fighting for aren’t words, but actions. He reminds me that it’s almost never worth fighting for yourself as much as fighting for your loved ones.
Joe is the one who has seen a bigger picture than I ever will. It’s a picture that doesn’t have the little details like who got voted off the island last week, or whose dating who now. It’s an acute picture that deals with life and death, of triumph and tragedy. It’s like Joe can see past the trivial distractions that bog me down so much.
Sure, Joe is inconvenient. And there are definitely times I would rather not have Joe around. But then something happens that reminds me just how important he is to me.
But that’s why Joe and I have such a love-hate relationship.
That’s why the Army is the best and worst roommate I’ve ever had…