Not "Goodbye" but "See You Later"
I didn't like Jamie at first. I first laid eyes on him on the first day of third grade at Trinity Lutheran School in Wahiawa, Hawaii, during our morning assembly around the flag pole. As a small private school, we always began our day by singing a patriotic song, singing a worship song, saying the pledge of allegiance, and listening to our principal read announcements.
Me being the happy little third grader that I was, I sang my heart out, but not everyone was participating quite as gleefully as me. I glimpsed an unfamiliar face in my class standing a few people down from me. With his mouth curled into a scornful frown and his eyebrows were narrowed in disgust, it wasn't too hard to guess that he didn't want to be there. Well, if he didn't want to be there, thought my little judgmental self, then I didn't want him to be there either. I was absolutely disgusted. Who wouldn't want to sing these fun songs?
A couple of days later (or could've been weeks...it was a long time ago so I don't remember all the details!) this little punk showed up on my doorstep with another friend of mine. Turns out Jamie lived a couple of streets down and hung out with the friends I carpooled with. I'm sure you can picture how utterly enthused I was to see him.
But despite my initial judgments, Jamie and I quickly became fast friends. We played weird Japanese tennis games on my PlayStation2, jumped around with a hose and ice cubes on our friend's trampoline, and even roamed around a water park all day on a school field trip!
The next year, Jamie was homeschooled, so I didn't talk to him much. Then I moved to Kansas at the end of the year, effectively severing our communication. I thought I'd never see him again...
Fast forward 6 years, to Camp Humphreys, South Korea. I'm walking across the cafeteria towards a familiar face, and I sit down in front of someone I knew in years past.
Smiles, and silence.
"Want to come sit over at my table?"
"Nah, I'm good."
Awkward silence. Then, "Okay, maybe I will."
Military life is full of surprises, but they're not all bad. The phrase "it's a small world" is definitely more significant to us than it would be for most people, as unexpected reconnections with past acquaintances are pretty common within our community. But the ways in which we reconnect and further develop our friendships can vary.
For instance, reconnecting with my friend Ana was a lot different than reconnecting with Jamie. Ana and I attended 7th and 8th grade together at Colonel Smith Middle School in Arizona. Living across the street definitely helped, but it was probably our shared experiences with band that helped us get so close. The summer after 8th grade, Ana moved to Korea, and I headed off on a yearlong assignment to Pennsylvania. We probably didn't expect to see each other again anytime soon.
But the Army works in mysterious ways, and 10 months later I was aboard a plane headed to the land of the Morning Calm. Knowing that I had one friend already made for me in my new home was a tremendous comfort, especially since Ana was able to connect me with the band director and counselors ahead of time to smoothly transition in.
When we first saw each other for the first time in a year, it was definitely weird. After all, we were used to hanging out in the mountains and desert of the American Southwest, not under the hazy, polluted skies of Camp Humphreys. But Ana hadn't changed one bit, and I hadn't much either, so it was kind of like we were picking up where we left off. Of course, we had each had many unique experiences in the months since we'd last met, but it didn't stop us from continuing our friendship.
When reuniting with a friend from a recent duty station, it's definitely easier to reestablish your relationship. But other times, you have to start again from scratch. When I was in Kindergarten at Leavenworth, Kansas, I had a best friend named Isaac. We have pictures of us fighting with lightsabers, eating apples at the playground, going on class trips, etc. I don't remember every little detail, but I do remember some fun moments, like my birthday party where my parents set up a Star Wars-themed obstacle course for us in the narrow hallways of my apartment, and running around the neighborhood on yard sale day (a huge event for Infantry Barracks, the complex where we lived).
Then, halfway through first grade, Isaac moved. I was pretty young, so I got over it quickly. Imagine my surprise when he popped up on my Instagram ten years later, with several of my friends from freshman year following him! Isaac moved to Carlisle Barracks, PA, one year after I left, and then was on track to come to my current duty station in Korea. Not only would we be graduating together, but we'd also be neighbors as well!
With the help of a mutual friend in Pennsylvania, we were able to reconnect and catch up, so by the time we actually met each other in person during the summer of 2020, we weren't complete strangers. But even still, there was barely anything left of our previous relationship to salvage, only faint memories clinging to old pictures and videos. Kindergarteners' personalities aren't necessarily that complex, so we were bound to change and develop our own interests over time. Of course, our parents still remembered each other and got along quite well, but it felt like Isaac and I were starting a brand new friendship, which we were because we hadn't been in touch for a decade.
Thankfully, it wasn't that difficult. Isaac and I get along pretty well and getting to know each other more felt natural. What's even cooler is that Jamie, Isaac, and I all live in the same neighborhood and hang out a lot. It's a weird but satisfying feeling when your friends from different places can become friends too.
This year in Korea, I have eight people at my school who I knew from previous duty stations, including my friend Griffin who moved here at the same time as me from Pennsylvania. I've found the bond that connects people who have shared experiences in another place to be truly special.
I often find myself wallowing in self-pity after I have to say goodbye to a friend. I resent my dad for choosing his career, the Army for stripping away my relationships, and myself for not spending enough time with people. But eventually, I come to appreciate the diverse group of friends that I have been given, whether they're at my current duty station or elsewhere.
I've heard it said that there are no true "goodbyes" in the military, only "see-you-laters." So the next time you're separated from someone, don't despair. Remember that "it's a small military, after all," and that there's a very high chance you'll see them again someday. Whether it's a "long time, no see" reunion, a "pick up where you left off" meetup, or a "who are you again?" moment, any chance to see someone familiar is a blessing that comes with our transient lifestyle. Of course, this blessing isn't guaranteed, but never give up hope that you'll see people again. Keep your eyes and ears open, and you may be surprised when an old friend waltzes back into your life.