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Dear Military Teens (1st Place)

The following essay is the first place winner of our 2024 Month of the Military Child Writing Contest. The theme was to write a letter to the military teen community. Congratulations to Gabbie Paschke!

Hello Bloom,

I first found this community about a year ago; it was such a wonderful breath of fresh air to find a place where I could meet other military brats, people I could relate to in a way that I was never able to before. At Bloom, military and all the quirks that come with it are the norm. Desert deployments and summer PCSes are nothing more than routine, and we’ve all grown up in the same close but far-reaching community. As much as I made friends with kids in the civilian world, I could never relate to them through the quintessential childhood experiences other kids did: hot suburban summers, doorframe height markers, best friends from kindergarten–those are things my childhood simply did not have.

But at Bloom, we’re all dandelions in the wind. We’ve all been blown to the corners of the earth and seen wonders of the world. Our hearts have been scattered to the winds with each place we’ve lived. I’m swept from one place to the next by the military, but a Union Jack still flies on my wall, and squat saguaro pots are perched atop my shelf. The whole world can be seen from my room. I am not from anywhere; I am a patchwork of all the places I’ve lived, mismatched but stitched together and standing proudly. I have no hometown–I am a wanderer. Merely blown about by the sweeping winds of the military.

But living so many places when none of us have even graduated high school yet can lead us down more than Memory Lane. It can build entire cities in your head, creating a distorted reflection of a world that no longer exists. It’s so easy to get caught up in wanting to go back to a place, but you don’t realize when it slowly morphs from a home you loved into a glorified fantasy. You can never put your foot in a river in the same spot twice–when it’s gone, it’s gone. Your life as you knew it then is now frozen in time, crystallized into memories that can be replayed but never revisited. Trying to go back will only take you to an empty museum. The only thing to do is to move on and keep living; sickly sweet nostalgia will kill you slowly.

Despite the burdens I’ve borne, the graveyard of lost friendships I carry, I have met so many fascinating and unique people throughout my life. I have gotten to know people from cultures so different from mine, and learned about the worlds they’re from. I’d sit and talk to my British friends, born of Italian parents, at lunch, and play Minecraft with my friend from Cyprus. I’d talk to classmates from Ukraine, and my favorite teacher had lived in Bermuda. It’s helped me to see the world for how big it really is, and realize that all the other places in it are real–they do not merely exist in my head or on the Internet. The crystal beaches and quaint villages on social media often look too idyllic to be true, and living in only one place can make them feel distant; but learning to think of them as real is an epiphany that can only be had by being there and feeling the sun on your face. 

This perspective-shifting experience has also come accompanied with the most tightly-knit community there ever was. Despite the ease with which we slide in and out of each others’ lives, the people you meet through the military are a family you’ll never find anywhere else. Even as a young child, I could sense this: I remember playing hide and seek with the other kids at First Friday, going with my family to my father’s friends’ houses for squadron cookouts, and standing in a sunny hangar next to the runway, with my mother and her spouse friends, searching desperately for my father in a roaring C-130 as he returned from six months away. I remember all of the highs and lows I’ve gone through, all the ways the military both tore my childhood and molded it into an experience entirely unique. 

But growing up a globe-trotter has accelerated my maturity and changed me in irreversible ways. I always felt a little ahead of my classmates, but seeing the world so young, and learning all the lessons that come with that, has widened my distance from them even more. I’ve already learned so many life lessons, and felt the world in a way most people don’t until they’re adults. Leaving your friends behind, the quicksand perils of dwelling in the past, visiting your home but not really going back. I’ve never met a person my age outside the military who’s already learned these things. I feel like I know so much, earned experience through years and tears, yet my classmates are so blissfully ignorant. I’ve lived a dozen lives in a dozen different worlds; they’ve only lived in one, and it’s never gotten any bigger. I watch them laugh with their friends in class and make plans for the weekend, yet I stand in the corner, feeling distant and out of focus. How can I ever make friends with someone so young? Will I be on a different frequency than everyone else for the rest of my life? Am I going to meet another person who speaks my language, or will my best friend only ever be myself? Despite all the perspective I’ve accumulated, though, I can’t foresee my own future. I’m only sixteen–you don’t know what you don’t know. But will I always be alone?

Growing up in the military has had a profound impact on the way I see the world, in both enlightening and devastating ways. Moving so much has allowed me to meet people so different from me, and made me mature quicker; but it has also taken me away from those people, and can be a curse as much a blessing. But the military community has been a steady, constant force, and has provided the greatest home away from home I could have ever asked for. My childhood has been equal parts enlightening and spiritually exhausting, but I could never imagine growing up another way–for better or worse, I am a military child. Knowing the tide will ebb and flow, or being able to see from the other end of the tunnel, has strengthened my resilience, and makes me strong enough to deal with changes when they come. This is perhaps my greatest souvenir–the ability to cope with an ever-changing world. I only hope this resilience will continue to serve me as I get older, and make the burden of change just a little more easy to bear. And hopefully, the same resilience will comfort you as well as we’re all blown about by the wind. The only constants we have in life are ourselves and the military; despite its tribulations, we must take the best we can get. The only thing we can do is to keep moving.

Gabbie Paschke

1 Comment

2 days ago

This is a beautiful story, every piece. As a retired Marines child I could write a novel at age 38 of how affected and alone I still feel. Having to adapt to life outside of Quantico in a civilian world. I hope you stay connected for as long as possible. Keep every connection you make. Don’t get lost in the chaos of change.

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