Three days ago, Zac entered the Air Force.
Oh, my heart!
He’s been wanting to do this for about 18 months. He had to get his braces off first, as the military wouldn’t take him otherwise. That was in June. Then he had to get a recruiter to meet with him. That took a while. Then, the ASVAB. Then MEPS. Then another test, the EDPT, for really smart people. Zac tested so high he qualified for it. After MEPS, they gave him a ship out date of October 15, unless one of his top job choices came open sooner.
But nothing came up.
The time dragged. He played video games. He did one-off chores when we asked, like mowing the lawn and emptying the dishwasher. He played with Dakota every day, tossing the ball up and down the yard. He teased Ruby. He cooked dinner on Thursday nights.
This past weekend, it all hit. Friday came and the weekend felt like this great gulf to get over. Ruby turned 14 on October 13th. Zac would go to the recruiter for the last time on the 14th, then take a shuttle to the hotel. He would leave for Lackland AFB on Tuesday.
Oh, my heart!
I took half of Monday off so we could drive up to Lacey together and say goodbye. The day was cloudy but dry. I pounded the pavement for 3 miles that morning in order to release the emotions.
Zac had his own methods.
“Mom, look at this rash,” he said. His hands had some dry spots on the knuckles and the back of his other hand.
“Just dry skin,” I said. I gave him some lotion.
“This could keep me out,” he said, worried the checkup would disqualify him.
Then he wandered around. We all did, making laps in our house. I couldn’t concentrate on school. Jonathon couldn’t grade discussion posts. We felt the weight of waiting.
I asked Zac to clean his room before he left. I told him to bag up anything he didn’t want. He started on Saturday, putting out 3 bags of college bedding, jeans, clothes he no longer liked, which included a rainbow-colored windbreaker (don’t ask), and sundry papers.
Then he took it all out and put it in the trash can.
I forgot that Zac is a very literal person. I didn’t think I’d need to say something like “sort it”, but I guess I did. Jonathon fished out the bedding and a pair of jeans. The rest got buried under kitchen trash bags filled with food scraps. Nobody had the energy to dig more out.
“Hey, Mom! I found twenty bucks!” Zac hadn’t really paid attention to his birthday card from last year. So at least he didn’t throw that away.
He did three loads of laundry. He stripped his bed, kinda. I could see the floor when I checked on him. He paced back and forth, looking at his phone. Then he stood still.
“I don’t think I’m going to be able to finish,” he said, crestfallen.
“Let me help,” I said. I folded his clothes, organizing into categories as I went. I gave him tasks to do. Throw this out. Put this in the dishwasher. I asked him which clothes left on the floor were dirty. He regained his sassy attitude.
I peered into his carry on, partially full. He was only allowed 3 changes of clothes.
“You need a pair of pants,” I said.
“I have pants. See?” He pointed to his joggers, which, for your edification, are glorified sweat pants with cuffs at the bottom.
“You need a pair of jeans at least,” I said.
“No, I’m good.”
When we got to the office, the recruiter, also named Zac, asked if he had pants.
“I’m wearing pants,” Zac stated.
The recruiter looked at me.
“Can you go across the street and buy him some pants? He’ll need them for the swearing-in,” the recruiter said.
We bought pants.
As we waited, an airman in fatigues entered the office. He was over 6 feet tall, all arms and legs. He sat down next to Jonathon. He asked a couple of questions of the recruiters (two in the space), then found out Zac was leaving for boot camp.
He told us how he enlisted. His dad, very ill, wanted to see him in uniform before he died. The guy had a full ride to St. Martin’s. He enlisted and was gone within a month. He gave Zac all the lowdown on boot camp.
“Don’t drink the water from the hose. There’s better water at the end of the line. Trust me.”
“There will be a shark attack your first night. They will bang on lockers in the middle of the night, yelling and screaming, to freak you out. Count on it.”
“Make sure your uniform fits. Don’t be afraid to ask for another size.” He pointed to his pants, which were definitely high waters.
“Stay mentally strong. Be friendly. These will be your companions when you have free time on Sundays. I’m still in contact with guys from my flight” (Air Force term for squad, battalion, etc.).
“Go to church.” This from the recruiter. I liked this other Zac more and more.
“It’s 2 hours off, and some groups give out candy and let you nap.”
The young man spoke again.
“You know what got me through? Millions of people have done this before. I can make it. The first 3 weeks are the hardest, then you know the routine.”
Zac listened intently, glad to have such direct input from someone who had been there only 8 months ago. He breathed in all the encouragement and advice.
The young man went on.
“I cried really hard at graduation. I was so proud of myself. And my dad was there, too.”
He was in intelligence and couldn’t reveal his job. Zac will probably go that route as well. I started to realize this airman was a God-incidence.
Finally, the shuttle arrived. Zac and another young man going to MEPS loaded up. We gave our final hugs and I tried not to sob, so proud of him and yet feeling lost.
He texted me as his last flight to Texas took off.
Ok we’re taking off, love you mom
Love you, too, Zac.
When we see Zac again, he will not be the same. He will be well on his way to adulthood, to manhood. He’s been in the cocoon of change for some time, shedding the caterpillar, sprouting wings. Soon he will soar on his own.
Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. – Ecclesiastes 3:11