Today, the day has finally arrived. A day that looked like forever from the standpoint of a nineteen year old, twenty years ago. Of course it looked like forever, because as a nineteen year old, it was my entire life (plus one year more)! Had I decided to make the Navy a career, though, I would have been eligible to retire today, getting paid half my salary every month for the rest of my life. I would be transitioning to a new career, perhaps even going to college. Had I made the Navy a career, I'm certain that I would have been stationed in either Hawaii, Japan, or San Diego, which means that the ship(s) I was on would have taken me to port calls in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, Bahrain, and maybe even Kenya. Had I stayed Navy, I would also have likely been more serious in my search for a wife and started a family. Most of all, had I stayed Navy, I would be far better off financially. This last point is a sticking point with me and why I feel bittersweet about this day and wondering if I made the right choice in January 1996 to leave.
When I enlisted, I never planned to make the Navy a career. My goal was one enlistment, get my honourable discharge and GI Bill, travel a bit while my friends were stressing out in college, then get out and go to college with the traveling out of my system. My goals for self was to get my college degree by 2000, work in the Gore Administration, write my novel about the Navy and see it published (and hopefully enough media attention to initiate a controversial debate), and to settle down, get married and have children. I expected to accomplish all this BEFORE the dreaded "retirement day" arrived. I thought 15 years would be enough time to accomplish those major goals. Had I known how difficult my life would have been, how deep in debt I would get, and worst of all: making the same exact salary for the past 15 years, I think I would have taken the safe option and made the Navy a career, even if I didn't exactly love it.
This is why I'm glad we don't have foresight in the decisions we make. Had I known the hardships that I would endure in the fifteen years since getting out, I would have made the "safe choice" and I would have missed out on the wonderful experiences I did have. I would not have gone to BYU and met a few great Mormons to call my friends. I would not have experienced the wonderful Washington Seminar and seeing a dream come true in being an intern for Vice President Gore. I would not have lived in Portland the past four years and meet some great folks in my various social activities surrounding church, World Affairs Council, and political campaigns.
One of my favourite movies as a teenager was Peggy Sue Got Married. I re-watched it a year or two ago and still loved it. When I was a teenager, I didn't understand why Peggy Sue did not make a different change (namely, not marrying her high school sweetheart who would turn out to break her heart 25 years later). Knowing everything she knew and going back, she still made the same choice...because she loved her daughter. Its such a beautiful film and true. If I had the ability to go back to January 1996 and make the choice to "stay Navy", it would mean giving up on every person I have met for the past 15 years. True, I would have met different people and probably couldn't imagine my life without knowing them, but I'm not willing to make that trade!
So, even though I'm still not in a dream career that pays the wage I seek (my age multiplied by $1,000), I'm not in a relationship, married, or a father, my novel about the Navy still hasn't found an agent or publisher, and I still haven't made it to Australia, I will say with a certainty that I made the right choice getting out of the Navy, experiencing college while still in my 20s, and having the freedom to choose my destiny. The only regret in life that I still have, though, is accepting the job offer at That Awful Place when I was new to Portland. Those are four years that I will never get back. All I can do is move on and make these years count.
Perhaps some day in the spiritual realm, I will be able to see what my life might have been had I made a decision to stay in the Navy. That's one aspect of the spiritual world that I hope is true. A sort of "Fantasy Island" for people to see how different our lives might have been had we made a left turn at the major fork in the road of life, instead of going right. As Robert Frost famously wrote: "Two roads diverged in the woods and I...I chose the one less traveled by and it has made all the difference." My Admin Officer on the USS George Washington tried so hard to get me to reenlist. He said that the only jobs out there were "flipping burgers" and that I would never travel like I did in the Navy. I had more confidence in my abilities than he did. To this day, I have never worked in a fast food restaurant (and I've worked since I was 14) and I have traveled quite a bit since I've been out of the Navy.
Online, I found a cool retirement cake that someone made. So, on this day of my "Retirement Day" (in an alternative universe), congratulations to the alternative me for enduring 20 years of Naval service. May we now both join up and find our dream career that pays the wage we are worth! And yes, my dream career involves travel! I'm more certain of that now, after being in my new job for the past 90 days or so.