"Where are you from?" is literally the most dreaded question a person could ever ask me.
There isn't really a short answer outside of "everywhere" or "nowhere."
The "military brat" explanation doesn't work for some people who don't know what that means,
so even that simple reply often requires more long-winded details.
My sister and I have often joked that we just say "Earth" when people ask and leave things at that.
Over the weekend, we watched a documentary called Brats: Our Journey Home,
about soldiers and their families and the impact the gypsyesque life of moving
every year-and-a-half can have on kids who grow up that way.
I was surprised at how much I liked it, given the obligatory presence of the earnest sociologists-slash-academics
who generally have open contempt for all things military.
The ones in this doc were actually pretty sympathetic and at times even - *shudder* - objective.
There were a lot of interviews with various "brats" whose dads were in different branches of the military,
talking about their experiences and how they've reflected on their life and choices as an adult.
Some of them were familiar and comforting, others as foreign as The Great Santini,
a film highly excerpted throughout the doc.
Talk about foreign - I'm always amazed when I meet people who think that movie is a
blueprint for growing up with a dad who's a soldier.
Trust me, if you don't know for yourself, that is so beyond parody for most kids and their personal experiences,
it's best left as the comedy it's meant to be and not any kind of astute observation about a particular way of life.
My dad never acted like a drill seargent, ran his house like boot camp,
ordered us as if we were recruits, bounced quarters off our beds after inspecting
our boots to make sure they were shiny, shit like that.
He was always laid back, in good humor, and never brought his job home.
Not even the war. He never wore his uniform around the house or carried a riding
crop as a threatening gesture.
Most guys can't wait to get out of those clothes at the end of the day,
as do most of us who have to wear something uncomfortable and restricting at our jobs.
One of the most interesting parts of the doc was the interviewees discussing the
"don't talk about it" habit of military families for dealing with the stress and pain
of moving all the time that tended to boil over into other areas of life.
That's exactly how things were for us.
We were never forced to forget, but you do have to get over things pretty quick and
accept the fact that there is an old part of your life that is finished.
You're in a new town, sometimes a new country, new state,
and if you don't get to the business of setting up life there by dwelling on where you've been,
you're going to fall behind.
It's a coping mechanism and a very practical and necessary one at that.
"Get up, you're not hurt."
That's what we got when we skinned our knees and had other boo-boos.
No coddling, no fussing, not even a little bactine.
Wash it up, get to your feet, and learn not to be so stupid next time.
That sounds cold to some people, I imagine.
It's not. It's how you get through things without losing your mind to a broken heart and lost friends,
distant old neighborhoods, and happy memories you can only hope to recreate somewhere new.
Another thing they talked about was "the three year itch."
I had to laugh, given the very things I'd posted here just last week.
Most of us just plain cannot sit still.
We spent our childhoods swearing we would once it was finally up to us and when it ultimately was,
we end up sticking to our old habits and can't wait to buy a ticket for an adventure somewhere unknown.
The best part for me were the people who, like us, had lived overseas explaining how you can
get culture shock when you return home to your own country;
you have no idea what is on TV, what the fashions are, what's going on in politics,
even at a national level.
Hell, you even have to get used to hearing everyone speak English all the time.
Add to the fact that the first place we moved to after leaving Europe was California,
on the opposite side of the country from every other place I'd known in America,
famous for its strange and laid back way of living and we weren't just fish out of water; we were goldfish in a circus ring.
So much of it just hit home; most of the brutal parts of it did not
(one woman recounted being raped on a military base by a couple of soldiers
when she was like 11 or 12 years old. How awful!), but like Mom said as we were watching,
"that is their experience. It was not ours."
I'm going to have to watch it again to take in some of the more uncomfortable aspects,
especially the "kids" talking about their dads who had gone to war.
My dad did, too - Cambodia and Vietnam, but before I was born,
though it still had an impact on him throughout his years as a father.
He rarely ever talked about it, except maybe when he was drunk.
One of my favorite stories he told was when he was out flying missions,
they used to sometimes turn on the AFN radio station
("Armed Forces Network" - which I remember as a kid in Germany,
used to have an hourly news report with a countdown that denoted the time.
"At the sound of the last tone, it will be ten o'clock in Central Europe.
Do you know where your children are?" Hahahaha.).
They weren't supposed to do that, for obvious reasons.
It was too dangerous to indulge in distractions.
Anyway, one day, he's cruising the skies of Cambodia, listening to the radio,
when "My Sweet Lord" by George Harrison came on the radio.
He kind of got lost in the words - "I really wanna see you/I really wanna be with you" -
thinking about how much he missed my Mom.
Right then was the first time he was ever fired upon while flying.
He said the first words that came to his mind were "my sweet Lord, no fucking kidding."
At the worst I've ever seen, the saddest, really, was when I was seventeen and we took a trip to Washington D.C.
As we came upon the Vietnam memorial, I asked Dad if he wanted to look up any of his old buddies.
He just kind of solemnly stared for a minute, quietly said "no," and walked away.
It's hard to imagine what a thing like war can do to a man.
For all of our sacrifices as their dependents, the normalcy and consistency that we had to give up,
nothing compares to the reality of their own.
Bless them all. I'm proud of my small role of support in the subculture known as "brats."