Occasionally, I have dreams in which I’ve accidentally reenlisted in the navy. Yes, accidentally.
In these dreams, I’m at my current age, married, living in Colorado—all the things, essentially, that I’m doing now—but somehow I’ve happened to scrape a pen across an enlistment contract and sign away four more years of my life. So sorry, I tell my dear wife, but I guess we can still write each other, and when my ship is in port, I’ll come home as often as possible. Did I mention I’ve already been assigned to a ship? No?
This is right up there with the dreams others talk about in which they’ve forgotten a final exam, or worse, they’ve shown up for the exam but neglected to wear clothes. As a college instructor, by the way, I like to think I’d have the presence of mind to confront someone on their nakedness, but honestly, it’s difficult to say how you’ll react in a situation like that until it happens. Unexpected nudity has a way of throwing things into disarray, I’ve found.
But back to my navy dreams. It seems significant that in them I’m at my present age. After all, that’s what makes it inconvenient, right? If I were twenty-two and accidentally reenlisted, that wouldn’t be so bad. Being in my late forties, with a wife, and with, you know, Other Things To Do, however, it could present a real problem.
Don’t get me wrong. My stint in the navy was exactly what I needed at that time of my life. It also just so happened to be a time when I could survive on scant hours of sleep and the occasional cup of ramen noodles. In those days, I’d developed neither my discriminating palate for fine food nor the impressive girth resulting from said food. They were lean years in more ways than one.
If I had to go back in the military now—which is actually prohibited by law, barring a reinstatement of the military draft in case of alien invasion, zombie apocalypse, or some similar event—I know I wouldn’t fare as well. The first time I had to stand a six-on-six-off watch schedule for two or three weeks, sleep on a concrete floor, or get by on only three cups of coffee in the morning, I’d cry foul, no doubt. At eighteen, I didn’t care. At forty-seven, I’m a bona fide wimp.
Well, I can still sleep on a hard floor. I just find it impossible to get up afterwards.