Words, words, come to me, words.

I’m typing in my wedding ring. Just to see how it goes. I’ve been wearing it off and on. Mostly the thought is don’t lose it, don’t let it fall off. It’s a little loose, see, but I couldn’t bear it any tighter. Apart from horses, it turns out I’m also afraid of getting a piece of metal stuck below my knuckle.

My future wife has been sworn in. We are officially a military family. The United States Coast Guard. I went to the swearing in. I don’t know how much I can write about it. I don’t know what’s privileged and what’s not. I want to write about everything, but that’s probably unwise.

Since we are not yet married, since as of yet I don’t feel like I was made privy to anything particularly sensitive, I am going to write a bit about the experience for me, as a civilian. As a person coming from a lifelong opposition to the military-industrial complex.

There were kids everywhere. Some there with family, some without. Some still in high school. Many who had not yet been born when I first started driving a car. It was a big day for shipping out. All the branches’ recruits were funneled through this office. There were a few tears. A lot of prideful parents, loved ones.

Gretchen was and remains my first and closest look inside this world. The first story of hers I read was about being an insider, a woman who grew up with boys who eventually shipped off. Her brother has been in the Coast Guard for the better part of a decade. Tim O’Brien was the entire reason she wound up in Texas, despite loans, despite the distance from home. She went to study with him. My own reasons for going to Texas State were as multifarious as they were minimal, excepting of course the big fact that it was the only school that accepted me. I was not so much enchanted by war stories, or the psychology of a soldier. I did like his prose.

This has been a long process for us. We’ve been preparing ourselves pretty much since the day she first talked to a recruiter on what was pretty much a whim. So I guess what surprised me most about being there, and what I suspect surprised most of the other recruits about Gretchen, is how comparatively unprepared for this they all seemed to be. Or anyway, most of them. There was an inevitability in the air. Like the first day of high school. You may know the what, but the how? Totally outside the realm of your anticipation.

Which for me gave it an undertone of a lack of choice. I’m sure the laws vary from state to state, but for most high schoolers, you never really consider the fact that you don’t have to be there, in high school, at least after a certain age, that you could be somewhere else, doing something else. I’d give it about 70 to 80 percent of these kids carried that sensation around with them like a suitcase. They’d look at each other like I know what I’m doing here, but what the hell could’ve made all these other people be here? Which is how Americans ask themselves: what the hell am I doing here?

Please understand, this is not to criticize. On the contrary, it made me really, really empathize. I have been there, not in this exact situation but in several others, in which I felt like I had only one decision to make, and so I owned that decision, and pretended there were no others. Because if there are no other decisions, you don’t have to ponder too deeply the one you’re making. I’ve kept jobs for too long like this. Went back to school like this. Relationships, don’t get me started. This quality does not necessarily mean the decision is bad, just that in the staring contest between you and that decision, you blinked first.

Blunk? No, blinked.

And, of course, all of this is totally understandable, but I blame Gretchen for not better preparing me for seeing this. Because for months now she has stared down this mammoth commitment, and studied it, and did not waver, did not so much as squint.

What else surprised me somewhat was that of all the recruits there that day, I only saw one guy who looked like he could not wait to straight-up murder people.

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