“All along the watchtower, princes kept the view” -Bob Dylan
I was looking at the splattered dust outside my window today when it hit me. I was like some kind of Pipi Longstockings going to the fair when I turned in my orange and white ID card to the guard shack at the front gate of Davis-Monthan AFB. I handed over my precious past to the grinning guard in green fatigues, neither one realizing that this was the last sounding of the death knell of my youth. No one ever told me about this hidden rite of passage. It is snake-like in its knowing, still and harmless as it waits for the right moment to unleash its wound that would not be seen for years. Stronger in my broken places, I was looking for my future, ready to embrace life in a heady youth.
Today many of my former communities are now unsightly; desolate places. The high guard towers point at an empty sky, their scowling silhouettes softened by rowdy nests of shrieking birds. Sandbags have rotted away in grimy ditches and the shimmering light of day dances in what were once protected rooms. Warehouses that were bursting with stores lay barren surrounded with weathered whitewashed rocks. Motorpools heavy and low with lethal profiles of armored vehicles sit vacant save for a few desolate and twisted weeds. The leathered, oily smells are long since vanquished by the breezes of time. Sections of the high perimeter wall have deteriorated and dropped into disordered heaps of brickwork. They have met their demise – exhausted of the throbbing rhythm of men and machinery that made her so powerful. The only sounds are the sorrowful squeals of metal roofs beating out lonely staccatos in their wastelands.
Maybe if I had been equipped with some iota I could have known that this inevitable day would come. I have long since raised my children and procured a home since my displacement. I can’t help but wonder what it will be like when the door closes on this chapter in this isolation from my military birthright. An unwilling sacrifice of my homeland in exchange for the rights of a civilian. Will my sacrifice allow fathers and mothers to be able to raise their children to be strong and proud? Will I have left our world a better and brighter place for having been here? Every fiber of my being wants this to be tangible; it would justify the palpable price I have paid in the sorrows of leaving behind yet another friend; another school. Three moves equals a fire, most of us intuitively appreciate that phrase as soon as we read it. So here we are, living among the natives never really knowing if we are awakened to their detectable presence.
My surroundings have absorbed me for many years now and today I realized that my father had the most selfish reason for wishing that this would all come to pass for me. He simply hoped to raise a child that would not have to fight another war in this land of the free, home of the brave.