A year ago, my husband, Francis, stood on a stage before our family and friends in his Navy dress uniform and spoke about his 28 years of service in the military. The audience looked on curiously as the band played “Old Glory” and the flag was passed slowly, methodically, from rank to rank. When “The Watch” was recited, men blinked and cleared their throats, and women dug for tissues in their purses.
After speeches were said and flowers were given, I grabbed Francis’ arm. To the lilt of the bosun’s whistle, we walked briskly up the burgundy-carpeted aisle, and past the rigid side boys, Francis giving his final salute as an active-duty US naval officer.
That symbolic moment in time felt emotional, powerful, wonderful. Despite our uncertain future outside of the US Navy, we were focused on the last 28 years of Francis’ military service and how thankful we were for it all. The experiences, the challenges, the opportunities, the adventures, the honor, and even the hardships and the strength built therefrom.
We floated through the weekend on pride and gratitude, dancing like sweat-soaked fools at our party.
Reality came like a rickety wooden roller coaster. The kind you aren’t initially afraid to board, because, well, how bad could it be? People have been taking this old ride forever, right?
Once you lock yourself in, you start feeling queasy as it tick-tick-ticks its way up the slope. Then suddenly, it dives and your stomach drops into your shoes. You think you might be hurled to your death, or at least hurl up the corn dog you just ate, but as the centrifugal force pins you into the seat, you realize that you’re in for the long hall. As the momentum carries you up the next hill, you look out and see the peaks and valleys and twists and turns to come. You know you must stay to the end, when in great relief, you will stagger toward the funnel cake stand.
That’s what reality feels like after the pomp and circumstance and open bar of a military retirement ceremony.
A couple months after our friends and family went home with rolled up programs and sweaty party t-shirts in their suitcases, we moved off base into a tiny temporary rental, where we spent the long, dark winter searching for our new place in the world.
Our pillow talk was initially laced with nervous excitement. Will Francis make more money in the civilian world? Will we attend swanky corporate parties? Will we make new friends who golf and meet at wine bars on Fridays? Will we finally turn in the minivan for an SUV with that new car smell?
In our naiveté, we believed what everyone told Francis: “With your experience, you’ll write your own ticket.”
Turns out, that ticket was harder to write than we realized. It took many months of gazing wall-eyed at LinkedIn; writing and rewriting resumes; networking with Tom, Dick and Harry; pouring over application questions; rehearsing for interviews; tsking about unreturned calls and emails; and trying desperately to not take “sorry, we chose someone with corporate experience” personally.
Finally, it came. The job offer was located out-of-state from the high school our youngest attended, but what the hell, it’s a great job, take it.
Our original vision of a cushy-post-retirement lifestyle had to be amended to include living apart during weekdays, negotiating the hopelessly tangled ropes of corporate politics, making due with our old minivan with over two-hundred-thousand miles and a leaky roof, and missing our military friends.
One year out, our metamorphosis from military to civilian life is still in the gooey larval stages. We remain very much a family in transition.
As we navigate the peaks and valleys and twists and turns of this extended roller coaster run, we’ll hold tight to the military pride that welled up in us last summer on the day of Francis’ retirement ceremony. Our military foundation will keep us grounded, so we can sit back, raise our hands in the air, and enjoy the ride no matter where it takes us.
[With much thanks to Francis’ cousin, Marianne Mangan, for taking over two thousand photos during our retirement weekend last year. Also, thanks to our friend Suz Drgon for taking photos, too … love the sweaty dance shots, Suz!]