Wednesday, May 04, 2011


I don't believe in secrets, but there are things left unsaid.

André was like the younger brother I never had. It was the summer of 2002. There were 40 of us, plebes, in 4th Company[1] whenever we had a new member arrive. The subtext was that we shouldn't mind where he came from; he was one of us now and nothing more was said of it. I knew from my enlisted experiences that new arrivals in training were either the result of a rollback due to a training deficiency, or a simple administrative shifting. 

I disregarded the former; The Academy's lack of a year-round class-up cycle like RTC or NNPTC meant that you couldn't knock someone back from, say Alpha Company in Week 1 to Echo Company in Week 5. Every Company was on the same schedule, so I simply assumed that one company had lost some administrative overhead for the summer and the powers that be simply dispersed a few plebes to lighten the load.

So we were resting on a grassy hill on Hospital Point after some pointless exercise or other (probably enjoying bag lunches, given the 'resting' portion of my recollection) when I noticed the new arrival sitting alone. The scene I remember involved myself approaching a withdrawn André and striking up an awkward conversation.

I was wrong. It turns out he was moved to our company for disciplinary reasons. He’d chosen to go to The Naval Academy because it was close to where his family lived in western Maryland. He was quite the civilian and had started his time at The Academy on the wrong foot. It was weeks later, after that discord had snowballed until he was severely disciplined and almost kicked out, that he was moved to our company to give him a clean slate. This naturally repulsed me. My only real failings up until that point were a single, destructive, unrequited love and an errant ability to judge people more as I got to know them better. Naturally, I was unempathetic, but polite.

Yet we became friends. My judgment of his past gave way to his friendliness and indifference to my condescension. Our meeting was a curiosity; over the subsequent months, I was the moody critic who barely tolerated company. He was the lighthearted, good hearted one who rarely held a grudge, and even then did so poorly.

I wouldn't say that we were inseparable. I vaguely remember a moment of doubt just before the start of the school year where I was contemplating whether or not I’d sign up to be his roommate. He’d long since bonded with the company as if he’d been there all along and I was feeling the first of nearly-lifelong urges to slough off old things to begin anew. Also, I was worried; wisdom and revelation had taught me that truth didn’t matter and rumors did not discriminate; if the privacies of my life were to be exposed, our association would only injure him.

Ultimately, I couldn’t be so abstractly cruel; denying his friendship without offering a reason. I wouldn’t be so, not even to save him. A failing. Though nothing went wrong; this isn’t a sad story. It’s a story of what was and why. No matter the outcome, good luck is no justification for recklessness.

Recriminations aside, for those two years we were the best of friends; the kind born from contradictions. Hispanic/Caucasian suburbia and plain old white trash. Wide-eyed optimist and eagerly world-weary cynic. Kind and proud. We spent time with his family, perhaps my first real taste of America’s middle class North. I found it lovely and promising, but alien. In 2004, when The Academy was snowed in, we ventured across Tecumseh Court, freezing in our warmest uniforms, braved the icy steps to the enclosed tunnels of the science, and claimed the scant remains of the Rickover Hall basement sandwich vending machine. There was a prom night in there that I think I ruined in the service to honest doubt and my own stellar…unbelonging to his world, but that’s a tale for another time. We laughed at our room's third man, John, during the ensuing hilarity of Isabel.  We built a Herndon Tree together and spent more than our stated limits on gifts.

For my part though, there was always a divide I would not, could not cross. He was family, but ultimately there were parts of my life that didn’t our friendship. I laughed uncomfortably at the perfectly untimely creation of USNA Out and rolled my eyes at the gods themselves when I was handed a victim book at the Holocaust Museum informing me of the significance of pink triangles[2]. There was never any particular reason to burden him or to compromise myself. Nature, upbringing, and training told me that truth was not the rational choice, but his openness and honesty made lying was no choice at all. Instead, there was a deliberate silence.

And two friends, between truth and lies.
[1] Actually, Bravo Company at the time, but let's keep this simple.
[2] In case you thought my luck with randomization was limited to dice and cards.

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