Thursday, March 31, 2011

Same River but Different Tides

Sometimes life flies by. That's not a newsflash, but I sometimes forget just how true that is until the calendar and coincidence conspire to bite me. Twenty years ago today, I was invited into my boss' office in a building on the far end of the runway at Rhein Main Air Base (literally across the tarmac from the Frankfurt Flughafen) to be told we would be disbanded by the end of the calendar year and scattered like so many seeds in the wind.

"We" were an Air Force audiovisual detachment (some of us still gagged on our new 'combat camera' moniker) that had most of our personnel and inordinate amounts of our gear in places like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and elsewhere to support hundreds (if not thousands) of missions that were part of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. We had cleaned sand out of equipment that was supposedly air tight and from body orifices where chafe became a five letter swear word. But power scrubbing and steel brushes aside, we'd all come home in one piece less than three weeks earlier, just in time to be dismantled. It didn't take long.

The end of the Cold War and the reordering of a Europe that had existed since Patton's soldiers shook hands with Ivan at the Elbe meant NATO could hold a consolidation sale with lots of US forces in the overhead to be jettisoned. Not that I got to see it, but very shortly afterwards, all of Rhein Main Air Base, the busiest US airbase in the world, became a memory-the runway becoming, endlich!, noch ein startbahn fur den Flughafen.

I remember the Commanding Officer assuring me "the closure wasn't personal" and my assuring her it most certainly phucking was and how it was the violence of my language which seemed to upset her more than her news had upset me. Truth to tell I was numb from the roots of my hair all the way to my as--toes. I'd spent my life defining who I was by what I did and all of that was turning to ash before my eyes.

Over a decade and a half in what I thought was home was ending, and this moron wanted me to believe none of it was personal. Yeah, sure. And neither was anything that followed to include the narrowing of employment opportunities that meant my wife and I would live in the Land of the Round Doorknobs with our two children who were heading home to a place they'd never been before.

I remember again swallowing the anger and fear and that vaguely metallic taste I had in my mouth for months as well as the kabuki theater for me and my family as the slam-finish gained speed, if not altitude. Life imitate life as in recent days I couldn't do much for a person grappling with a similar shift of tides in a river in which she had spent decades except to offer my version of the same hollow words, knowing how little they help.

There's just so much 'one door opens when another one closes' pseudo-solace and cold comfort you can offer before not even you believe it anymore. But then you remember, yes, it was incredibly dark and all those things that seemed so important, well, they vanished right into the air. But that was almost a lifetime ago and now there's light all around with new (and different) hopes and dreams and maybe the realization that how we decide what our lives are to mean is perhaps when we finally define who we really are.

-bill kenny

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