It’s been a long time coming, but we’re finally back in Virginia to visit Christina’s family and some of our dear friends. We haven’t been in Virginia since we left in 2015, and while we’ve noticed a few changes since we’ve been gone, it feels as if we never left. Christina grew up here in Virginia, born and raised in the Tidewater area, but my own Virginian ties started around 2009, when I was still in the Navy. I’d just left A-School in Pensacola, Florida, and I was about to begin my naval aviation career, starting with VRC-40, a C-2 squadron in Norfolk. I was an awkward little fish in a big, busy pond.
I feel like having a little flashback, if you’ll indulge me.
I left home in Texas in 2008 after a series of lost jobs and a failed relationship. Surrounded by the reminders of my many failures, I decided I needed a change. I needed some direction, some discipline and a college education. The Navy promised a fresh start. I wasn’t sure how well I’d fit in, but I decided I’d never get anywhere if I wasn’t willing to break out of my comfort zone. So I cast aside my inhibitions and took the plunge.
I shipped out to boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois in August of 2008. Boot camp was tough, and I felt a little out-of-place as a 22-year-old in a sea of recent high school grads. I was overweight, under-confident and out of shape, and I wasn’t sure if I’d make it through boot camp successfully. But there was no room for failure – the Navy was my last resort. I saw no other way to turn my life around, so I pushed myself to succeed. I told myself, “the only way out is through,” and this was the first of many mantras I adopted in the years to follow. After eight weeks, I’d lost weight, gained strength, become more focused and determined, and I was ready to face the world.
I went to A-School in Illinois and later in Pensacola, Florida. I look fondly back on this time in my life. I excelled in the classroom and helped some of my fellow classmates with tutoring sessions. I made new friends and felt more confident and self-assured than I’d ever felt before. I graduated third in my class and got to choose my first duty station. Having no desire to work on combat aircraft and spend all of my time on a ship, I chose to work on the C-2 Greyhound, a COD (Carrier Onboard Delivery) aircraft which spent most of its time on shore, delivering personnel and cargo to the carriers rather than delivering death and destruction overseas. My squadron was VRC-40, located in Norfolk, Virginia. On the last day in Florida, I packed my bags, bid my friends a fond farewell, and boarded my flight.
This brings me to Virginia, which in the following years became my second home. It was in Virginia that I lived out the remainder of my military life. When I arrived, I was thrown for a loop – all that military training and pomp and circumstance was thrown out the window, and I had to embrace a much less structured, less formal work environment than I’d had for the prior six months. Where I had excelled and found my confidence in the scholastic environments of Illinois and Florida, I was suddenly the bottom rung of the ladder in Virginia.
During the following two years, I had some of the most rewarding experiences in my entire life, as well as some of the most harrowing existential crises. The intimate details of these experiences are outside the scope of this post, but suffice to say my “mid-life” crisis came in waves starting around age 24. I struggled with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and rock-bottom self-esteem. In 2010, I started seeing a therapist, and with his help I managed to get my life back on track and start taking better care of myself. The process was slow, and in many ways continues to this day, but by 2011 I’d reigned in the worst of my mental aberrations and was approaching a semblance of positive mental health.
I left the Navy in 2011, eager to start fresh. Much like in 2008, I felt it was time for a significant life change. I needed a fresh start, and I was ready to move on to the next chapter in my life. Around this time, I met Bo, a man who would become one of the greatest friends I’ve ever known. The first time I met him was at a coffee shop called the Kerouac Cafe. It was late at night, and he was wearing sunglasses. I asked him why he was wearing shades at night, and he replied: “The sun never sets on a bad-ass.” Needless to say, we became fast friends. Bo was a constant companion in the years that followed, and he played a significant role in my journey of self-discovery and enlightenment. To this day, he remains one of my nearest and dearest friends.
In 2012 I began college at Old Dominion University. I’d previously attended college at Texas Tech University, seeking a computer science degree. However, instead of pursuing my degree, I dropped out after a year of skipping class and playing video games. This time around, I was determined to succeed. I contemplated degree plans, bouncing between psychology, nursing, programming, and other profitable careers. But I realized that my heart wasn’t in any of these paths. In truth, writing had always been my passion, and while I couldn’t think of how I’d make it pay the bills, I didn’t care – I could do anything, work any job, succeed anywhere. I wasn’t worried about the bills. So I decided to follow my heart. I majored in Creative Writing, minored in Philosophy, and over the course of the next three years I knocked out my degree with a vengeance, graduating Magna Cum Laude.
During college I made a number of other life-long friends. I found and lost love, grew as a human, and really turned my life around. I was in the best shape of my life, was happier than I’d ever been, and in the last year of college, I met the woman who would eventually become my wife. Long story short, Norfolk, Virginia was my crucible and my forge, where I grew from a boy into a man and discovered my strength, confidence and self-worth. I found my deepest, most lasting friendships in this city, and I wouldn’t be the man I am today if it weren’t for the incredible people and experiences I found here.
In the years after I left Virginia, Christina and I worked a number of jobs, struggling with layoffs and career changes during the first year and a half. But I knew, thanks to my experiences in Virginia, that we would be more than capable of surviving and thriving despite the struggles. We are flexible. We are dynamic. We are chameleons. When the thought of trucking came up, we knew it was something unlike we’d ever done before. But that’s what we’re good at, isn’t it? Trying new things, diving in head-first, and learning to swim. I wouldn’t have the confidence for all this if it weren’t for my experiences in Virginia.
So this holiday season, as we returned to Virginia for the first time in over two years, I couldn’t help but take a nostalgia-trip back in time, remembering the people, places and events that made me who I am today and prepared me for the life I’m living. I’m incredibly grateful for the time I spent here in Virginia, and I’m so glad I was able to come back this year, to see my friends and family and revisit my old stomping grounds. Virginia will always have a special place in my heart. I’m glad to know that, thanks to our career in trucking, Christina and I will be able to visit this place more often, and get paid for the drive to boot! Life is good.
Anyway, I guess I’ll wrap up this holiday post. (See what I did there?) I love you all. Hug your families, and try to stay warm this winter. Happy holidays, and goodnight!
(This week’s photo courtesy of Pixabay – A great source for royalty-free, public domain images.)