REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- The plain white envelope sat amongst the ornaments and baubles resting on the scratchy, fake branches of the Christmas tree placed in the corner of the living room. It watched as my sister and I ripped open presents while gleefully smiling and exclaiming at new books, new toys, new clothes, and all the other new things waiting for us under the tree. It was unassuming, giving nothing away of the secret it contained.
The envelope was the last gift opened that day. My dad plucked it from its silent watch and handed it to my mom, who asked what it was. My dad simply gestured to the envelope. She opened it, revealing a single piece of paper with printed text. My sister and I couldn’t see it, could only watch my mom’s reaction as she read the paper’s contents. Disbelief painted her face. She looked at my dad and back at the paper. Then, tremulous hope and joy slowly dawned in her eyes as tears fell down her face.
“We’re moving to Camp Zama?” she asked. Japan. We were moving to Japan.
My mom was overjoyed. I, on the other hand, was heartbroken.
For Christmas in 2014, we were gifted, by the Army a new duty station. And, for once, this wasn’t a present I wanted.
Even before I was born, my dad was an active duty Soldier. Being a military brat wasn’t a choice, but it was something I mostly enjoyed. It meant moving around to all these new and different places, and that was exciting. It still is. How many kids get to live in Germany, much less travel all over Europe? How many kids can say they’ve been to four continents? Traveled to 20 countries? Have made friends all over? I recognize it’s an experience not many kids my age have had, and I loved it.
Living three years at any one place was a long time for me as a kid. As I got older, this fact got harder. My dad’s last duty station before he retired, our Christmas gift, proved to be the most difficult move for me.
At the time, I was 16 years old, a high school sophomore, and living in Hawaii. Here I was at this amazing school, with so many friends and great teachers. I lived in a literal paradise; one I was able to explore and travel on my own now since hitting high school. The freedom I experienced here was incomparable to any other duty station because I was older and had my driver’s license. I was wildly happy. I was established.
Throughout my freshman and sophomore year, however, I told everyone that I would move after sophomore year. I told anyone who would basically listen, casually throwing it out as if I were discussing the weather. I didn’t realize I was wrapping myself in a flimsily prepared armor, trying to shield myself from the reality of moving.
I had not known that this would be my dad’s last duty station, but I knew it would be mine. I only had two years left of high school until I was off to college. Somewhere in me, I had hoped Hawaii would be my last duty station; to stay at one school the entirety of its required years. But I knew. I got special permission to go straight to U.S. history in lieu of ninth grade Hawaiian history. My parents made sure I got my driver’s license as soon as I could so I would have it before we went anywhere else. I always made long-term plans with a time limit in mind. No matter what I wished, I knew it was coming.
My mom is Japanese, thus we often visited Japan to see family. I was also born in Japan. Japan is as familiar to me as my own hand. I would often welcome it with open arms. But when it became my dad’s new duty station, I can’t say I didn’t recoil from the place’s waiting embrace.
When my mother opened the envelope that Christmas Day, she cried tears of joy. She would get to be near her parents, her grandmother, who lived five minutes outside of the base where we would be stationed. This move, more than any others, was for her. And I couldn’t take that away.
I had never felt the feeling of my heart sinking to the bottom of my chest so viscerally as when I found out we were moving to Japan. It was as if I could feel it slowly sinking, hitting the bottom of my chest cavity with a heavy, hollow clang. And yet, there was something that swelled in my throat, blocking any negative feelings I could have spit out. Because I knew better than to say anything, even if I didn’t want to go.
To say that I didn’t want to go was akin to saying I didn’t want to see my grandparents, that for once, I didn’t like Japan. This is incorrect. I shoved the words down, creating jagged rocks sitting heavily in my stomach. To tell my parents I didn’t want to go was selfish. We didn’t have a choice. None of us did. How could I put that burden on my parents? They’re already dealing with an overseas move with two kids. So, I shut up. Literally.
For about the first five months in Japan, I had no friends. I barely talked to anyone, giving perfunctory answers to any questions. The first two days at school, I don’t think I even said anything at all. We were allowed to go off campus for lunch and I went home every day, eating sandwiches while watching YouTube on my phone. It was monotonous. My silence was loud and encompassing to me, hiding all the feelings I felt guilty about; anger and frustration at the move; anger at myself for being angry; sadness at the reality of my situation; jealousy for the people who never had to move to faraway places; more anger at my jealousy.
But, just like all the other moves, we were there to stay until the next time the U.S. Army called.
When I thought about it, this move was no different. I knew how to move. I knew how to make new friends. I knew how to take advantage of new places, new adventures. I knew how to do this because change was an old friend of mine, had guided me through all of my childhood, shaping me, and instilling in me the ways to flow with it.
So, I took one small step forward.
I made a friend. Then I became friends with her friend. And my friend’s friend’s friends became my friends. I started to go out and explore the places I had yet to go on my previous trips to Japan. My sadness and anger subsided and were written over by the new memories I was creating until they were all but snuffed out at my joy of having moved to Japan.
I don’t regret the feelings I had when we moved, but I also don’t regret the move. I spun it into a fond experience. I love the friends I made in Japan. I love the time I had living in Japan. And this is one of military brats’ most important characteristics: Resilience.
Brats climb the looming, boundless walls that stand in front of us. We’ll fall down a thousand times. We’ll fall down a million times. But I have never seen a military kid who doesn’t stand back up and try again. A brat conquers the scary moves, the unfamiliarity of a new place, and turns an unwanted decision into a fond memory.
The moves will always come. We’ll always be faced with change. But we know how to face it, and waiting with each new home are more friends, more adventures and more memories that make those decisions worth it.