Thursday, August 16, 2007

On Unusual Anniversaries

Today is the thirtieth anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. I don't remember that day, but I remember the next day, when my friend Judd (yes, that was his name) said, "Elvis died yesterday."

"Elvis who?" I said.

I had no idea who Elvis was, though I'm sure I'd heard his music more than a few times in my life. My mom liked his music, even if she wasn't a fanatic about it. A few months later my brother and I would get a double-record set of Elvis's fifty greatest hits for Christmas:
But as momentous as Elvis's deathdday is, I usually remember August 16th as the day I left for basic training. In 1988. Nineteen years ago. When I was eighteen years old.


I feel old.

August 16, 1988 was a traumatic day for me--part of the worst year of my life. It was the last time I saw my father alive, and even though I didn't know that would be the case, I should have. He was too sick then for any other possibility. Only my emotional numbness kept me from realizing it, from considering the possibility that maybe I should wait a while before leaving my family. A week later I took leave, bought an overpriced, last-minute airplane ticket, was suited up in a hastily-tailored set of dress whites, and flew home to attend his funeral.

And then I went back to the navy. It took me a while to realize I hated working on electronics, a little longer to realize I was a pacifist, and maybe another decade to want to be a human. And now my life has come together so well it's like that year--those years--happened to someone else. I think of my desperation in the months following basic training and I know I'm not capturing how disabled I was. I know I can't recreate the emotional paralysis I felt. And I don't want to. There was a time when I thought I'd never feel any differently, and now I can't even remember it completely.

This sounds like a seventeen-year-old's poetry.

Suffice it to say that life is much better now. On August 16th.

And as an added bonus, here's a blurry copy of my boot camp picture:

August 16th is also a day of famous arrests: Charles Manson in 1969 and Ted Bundy in 1975. Bundy escaped, though.

I did, too.

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