When we think of military kids dealing with multiple moves, we generally think of school-aged children. Josh is an adult Navy ‘kid’ whose family is still active duty.
“It’s a funny thing to grow up. Regardless of your situation financially, politically, mentally, it’s a funny thing to grow up. Brazenly we face the world, daring the universe to stand in our way, opening our minds and souls for an influx of stimuli so numerous it is impossible to code, interpret, and analyze each piece; so instead we quickly create intricately connected categories and store the data as best we can. From the moment we are born, our brains create these complex relationships; they sort each incoming datum for later recollection and comparison—every sound, every sight, every feeling, every smell, every taste, every emotion (ours or others’), every sensation is connected to every other sensation in a dense, sprawling web of synapses. And that’s why growing up is funny. Because everything. Because being. Because life.
I take it as a matter of pride (though I had no say in the matter) to claim seven states as home. How is home defined for a military brat? For those who have only had one home to live in, and play in, and cry in, and learn to be in, home is likely prima facie; home is obvious and requires no further consideration. But for those who relocate every few years, moving hundreds of miles away from all of the connections you barely began to grok, home is distinctly more difficult to name. This was life, though, and it wasn’t as if I had any other perspective. For all I knew growing up, everyone moved a few times; everyone said goodbye to homes and schools and friends, packed up their cheap plastic toys, and shipped off to start all over again in another place, at a new school, surrounded by new people who could, perhaps, with the right impression (and not too much time), become friends.
How difficult it was as a child, though, to accomplish this. I suppose the first several moves were fine: I was young and self-centered enough to not feel self-conscious. A new home was another chance to have a bigger room, freshly painted walls, a totally new space to call my own. Academics came ridiculously easy to me, so switching schools was merely another opportunity to become every teacher’s precocious pet. I was a tad shy, but if prompted I would respond and engage. I could get by.
The next few moves, however, began to wear on my psyche. The building called home was whatever. The school was whatever. But all those carefully cultivated relationships in an ante-Facebook era didn’t fare well when the only means of maintaining them relied on the memory of a tweenager to pick up the family phone, remember the 10 digits that were probably recorded in some long lost notebook, and call. C’est la vie. Or more aptly, c’est la vie militaire. Late elementary school and all of middle school are the worst. That is the best way to describe them without expletives. Rare and fortunate are the few who make it through this time able to reminisce and say, “it was terrific, & interesting too / it was nice / & I had a good time doing it. I had fun.” Moving during this time meant I was continuously at the bottom of the social hierarchy—one does not simply make friends in middle school, particularly when one is suffering the onset of BO, acne, myopia, and a severe overbite. I only cried once (with moving as the primary impetus), though. I had one best friend whom I was very upset to leave. She (also a military brat) and I spent about two years together as neighbors, and we (along with several other brats) hung out constantly. I never spent more time outdoors than during those two years. When she was gone and we (my family) had moved yet again, I entered my apathetic stage. I was never cool enough to be truly emo, but I got as close as I could get for a smart-ass dork: I refused to hug unless absolutely necessary (touching was too much of an emotional connection), I referred to everyone as acquaintances, and I spent the majority of my time reading or engaging with the interwebz. Several moves later—it’s all a blur, really…—I entered high school. My school was a performing arts magnet school. It wasn’t the one I wanted—I wanted to commute to the math magnet school because the cold, unfeeling nature of computer programming would protect me from the cruelty of emotions. Alas, my mother—whose judgment in this situation should be lauded ad infinitum—said, “no.”
I joined the vocal performance magnet. Year one passed and I had numerous acquaintances (and perhaps a few acquaintances+). By halfway through year two, I had discovered my passion, my drive, a love I could maintain without fear of loss: music.a I had talent, I learned quickly, I took lessons, I moved my way up the musician hierarchy, and by the end of my final year I had a variety of really good friends, confidence, a 4.3 GPA, a 2210 SAT score (I remain upset by this because the day of the test, I forgot my calculator), and an acceptance letter from Westminster Choir College. I suppose getting out of that damned closet also played a part in the overall improvement of my mental and emotional well-being—not that anyone (besides mom) was surprised. I maintain relationships with several of the friends I made in high school (all hail Facebook and smartphones).
The college experience was immensely stressful and full of some of the absolute greatest and worst moments of my life. I moved to Princeton, New Jersey, in September of 2009. The fam packed up and moved again, this time to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. No cell phones, limited access to internet that didn’t suck, inconvenient telephone connection. In my first three years of college, I saw my family very rarely. My sophomore year, I woke up on Christmas day in my dorm room (I had a job singing in a church at the Christmas midnight mass). I was a capable, confident 19-year-old, however, and I managed. I graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor degree in vocal performance and now live in New York City, auditioning for everything and working in a music library. I see the family far more regularly now.
But it wasn’t all bad. What I’ve written so far seems to paint the worst possible picture of the situation that was my youth—and it was the worst possible situation at the time. Retrospection is a powerful tool, however, and you can change the meaning of life if you want to; if you have the respect for life and love and land, the resolve to see good in apparent minacity, the self-awareness to understand that you just are, you can manipulate any mindset. All the data we collect from the sensations of life are bound by the relationships and categories we assign them at the time—but only loosely.
If I retrospect, I know that despite moving so often and leaving all of my friends behind, I have an incredibly strong relationship with my family: Despite distance and sporadic conversations and visits, they’re there for me and I’m here for them. I also know that I am probably more adaptable than many people who didn’t have to experience so many different locales: I can pick up and move anywhere and make it work. I can make new friends (and call up old ones), I can lay out a new apartment, I can find a new job. As a military brat, the only way I know to deal is to keep learning. Learn everything. Read everything. Accept everything as it is without applying some moralistic concept of right or wrong. Is it nice to move every two years? No in the present. Yes in the past. I feel I am a stronger, more well-rounded, and more in-touch human because of my experiences, even if I didn’t particularly enjoy them as they were happening. I had plenty of happy times. I had plenty of sad times. Everyone does.
Life is pretty complicated. Growing up as a military brat was complicated. While it is easy to blame a situation for negative experiences, situations aren’t gifted with an anthropomorphic ability to create experiences; animate, (ir)rational beings create experiences. People create experiences and assign meaning. Moving around wasn’t negative; it wasn’t anything. I associated it negatively because I didn’t like not having friends. But in retrospect, I had so much fun meeting new people, exploring new places, showing off for new teachers. I clearly remember biking around the neighborhood in South Carolina and finding a small strip of beach hidden behind some foliage. I remember spending the night in a friend’s mansion in Virginia. I remember eating so many flavors of shaved ice when we first moved to Mississippi that we all got sick—whether that was the ice or the E. coli-ridden gulf water, we will never know.
Anyway. I can take a look at my life and my choices and the choices that were forced upon me, and I can say, “Man, I wish that’d gone differently.” Or I can take a look and remember that despite some struggles—you know… the kind all people experience to varying degrees—I turned out alright. I worked with what I had and I loved every minute of it; I continue to love every minute of it—every single salutation and every single valediction and all the moments in between. I learned that growing up. Coding, interpreting, and analyzing the data from every interaction with everything (animate or inanimate), I learned that if you don’t appreciate the opportunity to be, you end up regretting what you couldn’t change anyway. I love my dad and I think his job is awesome. I’m proud to have had the opportunities I’ve had and to have seen all the very different people I’ve seen. I wouldn’t be me without them or my truly awesome family. It is indeed a funny thing to grow up…”