09 February 2006

Smitty Goes Soul-searching and Comes up Empty

I had some lunch and took a magazine and went out to watch the T-6's fly around the pattern a little. Hadn't been out long when one of the guys called to ask me to pick him up after his T-38 ride, so off I went. We stopped by the BK so he could pick up some lunch, and I asked if he wanted to go back and watch the pattern for a little while, so that's what we did.

I had a good time. I got to tell some of my old pilot training stories again that most of my friends have already heard, and I got to answer some questions he had about UPT. We watched the jets take off and land for about an hour or two before we came back. I felt much better about things. I am glad I got to come on this trip, after all, TSgt M.S. and Lt Col H. notwithstanding (I called one of my bosses at home to see if H. had decided to pass along what a wretched, sinful person I was; he hadn't. My boss reminded me that some people are just pricks. True enough). Like most of the T-38 IPs these guys have been flying with the last two days, I envy them.

Pilot training was hard, and I don't for a minute think it was all glorious fun, especially not in my case. But what I wouldn't give to go right back and do it all again--with the benefit of experience behind me, of course. I hope they all do well and get to fly what they want, but I know that's just not the case for everybody. You never know who's going to do well in UPT and who's not, but I think just getting to come up here and see a little bit of what it's like will help these guys out.

I came back in and checked my email just a few minutes ago. A little late, Stanford University wrote to tell me that my application was, at last, complete.
Since I haven't added anything to my application package since mid-December, I wonder what they were waiting for. Maybe they hoped I'd send in more... money? I don't know. Do I really care any more? I got in at Virginia; certainly Stanford's not likely to come through with any bigger scholarship offer than Virginia might (if Stanford even admits me). And yet now I feel like--even with Virginia--I'm being pulled inexorably forward toward law school, to JAG, and I don't feel like I ever really stopped and asked if that was what I wanted to do. I just got on the train; I never bothered to look at my ticket.

This is a tough thing to be thinking about as I sit up here in Valdosta, living in the past. What good times those were, and what bad times, too. And oh, the things I'd do differently if I only had the chance. I'm no dummy; I know I wasn't going to go fly fighters. But I could have flown something other than the tanker. Perhaps it wasn't meant to be; after all, the flying I like to do is really not the kind of thing you ever get to do in the mobility world.

Still... why did I get depressed? What was it really all about? Do I really know? Is there a way I could keep flying and keep whatever caused that depression at bay? I guess there isn't; I guess in reality there's no way to stay in the service at all and keep that depression at bay. After all, flying was the thing I liked, and it wasn't enough to keep everything else from crowding in: the strange provincialism, the absurd performance rating system, the two-faced attitude towards trust and responsibility, the rules for every little thing that prevent you from really solving a problem, the book that tells you where to go and who to talk to and when to be there and how to cut your hair and what to think about all these things as you do them. It's not a lifestyle I could ever adapt to. And yet I'll miss it so much. Why?

I saw the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind about two years ago, I guess, and while I liked it I didn't really get it. I'd never had a relationship like that, one that I might actually want to scrub from my mind entirely, and I couldn't imagine ever having one. But that's the relationship I have with the Air Force now. I know I can't ever really be happy here. But I'll miss it so much when it's gone, how on Earth am I going to cope? I don't even understand why I'm going to miss it, but in a sense I already do. If I could wipe all memory of my service from my mind... I'd lose so many great memories, so much of who I am and so much of what I love; and yet I'd be free, free to go on and live the rest of my life, and never have to think back and wonder what might have been, why it didn't work out, whether it ever could have.

What a mess I've made. All I want to do is enjoy myself and give something back to others at the same time. It seems a simple enough impulse, and look what I've managed to do with it. I should be happy. Things are actually going well, in most senses. Lord knows I live a better life than a lot of people; I just can't let myself sit back and enjoy it.

1 comment:

Rambling Speech said...

Souls are elusive things. That's why there are so many religions and philosophies dedicated to researching them. Hang in there fellow traveler.