A little over two years ago our then 24 year old son gave his dad and I a call and asked if we could make the two and a half hour drive north to see him….he had something he wanted to talk to us about. After quickly settling on a day and time, we did what most caring parents of young adult children would do….tried to figure out what was going on! We (OK…I) ran multiple scenarios through our (my) minds; everything from a new love to, heaven forbid, being in some sort of trouble. In the end, we knew we would just have to wait the few days until we met, during which I prayed fervently for grace to handle whatever it was.
I remember that meeting so clearly….we were sitting on the outside patio of a Starbucks, making small-talk until Brett was ready to tell us what was on his mind. “So, I wanted to tell you….. after giving it a lot of thought, I’ve decided to join the Navy.” Immediate relief! Quickly followed, however, by a multitude of questions and concerns (mostly kept to myself) about how my sensitive, justice-loving, crazy-smart but also a bit quirky son would fare in the military. More specifically – in boot camp. Though his Dad and Grand-dad had both been sailors, Brett never expressed any interest whatsoever in military life. But, as he explained in his thoroughly well-reasoned and matter of fact way that he needed a job, and he figured the Navy would not only teach him new things but basically “take care” of his daily needs, I knew his mind was set. I remember looking at him, knowing his life was about to change, and praying he would be OK. And I also remember feeling such great pride in his choice. I knew he was nervous – and that made it all the more admirable somehow.
Brett had always been a “smart” kid; a voracious flashlight-under-the-covers-late-at-night kind of reader that lost himself in books full of adventure, humor, history – just about everything. Even as a very young child, I remember his little face lighting up as he pictured the world that words were forming in his imagination. That appetite for learning – absorbing, really anything that interested him carried him through school, resulting in several notable Academic Decathlon awards and a reputation for being super-intelligent, but at the same time unassuming and kind to all. I don’t know anyone….and I do mean anyone who didn’t like Brett. Not everyone understood him, but no one could argue he wasn’t a really, really good guy.
It was a near-perfect score on his ASVAB test for the military that caught the attention of his recruiter who in short order encouraged him to sign up for the Nuclear Propulsion Program – only the top 5% of Navy recruits are selected for this very rigorous training that is known for the hardest of work, the longest of hours….and the smartest of minds in the Navy. When Brett learned he could not only be in the Navy, but be a part of a group of other sailors who, like him, were competitive and driven when challenged to learn together, there was no looking back for him. We were so incredibly happy for him, and he was maturing in leaps & bounds. At 24, he would be among the oldest at boot camp, but he was also even-tempered, realistic about the challenges and most of all – ready to begin his adult life.
We sent him off to boot camp in Great Lakes, IL, wrote to him every day and celebrated his graduation with him there. We also attended his graduation from “A School” in Goose Creek, SC many months later where he graduated with honors. The study hours were long, the work load grueling, and more often than not he sounded exhausted, but he never complained or questioned his decision to join the Navy. He was getting anxious to “get to work” putting what he was learning into real practice. He loved the science, the math, the physics of it all. Brett bought his first car with his own money, and after a mega-shopping trip with Mom to outfit his new apartment, drove to Ballston Spa, NY where he would begin training in the Navy’s nuclear training facility there. Such an exciting time for him!
Though most of the work he did in training is classified and he couldn’t really talk to us about it, it was clear he was enjoying it, if sometimes frustrated at the frequent break-downs at the facility and delays while repairs were made. Because of these delays, he couldn’t be sure about a graduation date, but thought it would be next month sometime. We had already made plans to be available whenever the graduation date was – there was no way we were going to miss this final recognition of his two years of incredibly hard, dedicated work to be a “Nuke!”
Just yesterday we received word that his class would be graduating today……his friends and fellow sailors sent messages – some to us, many more to one another – about how it didn’t make sense that he wouldn’t be there. He was always the encourager….the one who helped anyone study to pass that next test. We were told over and over by his chiefs, even his commander how Brett was the epitome of an honorable, hardworking, conscientious and loyal sailor. His friends told us story after story of how he helped them with rides, cash, studying….he never failed to help when he could.
He should be there, graduating with his class, receiving his first orders………
We should be there with him……….
I should still have a son.
God…..have mercy. Please be near and give me mercy to get through this long night of despair.
I miss him so desperately…….