Twelve years ago yesterday, I was standing at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) at the top floor of the federal building in downtown St. Louis. This was the final stop for all that wished to enter into any branch of the United States armed forces. I had already sworn in once for my branch of choice, the Air Force. All that I had in my possession was a duffel bag with plain white t-shirts, underwear, and toiletries. My personal belongings had been locked in storage and I had sold the ’95 Dodge Shadow that I owned, the week prior to my scheduled date to ship out for basic training. I had just graduated high school. Everything I had known was behind me. I was ready to start a new life. The two pieces of advice that were drilled into my head from my Air Force recruiter were: “Say NO to anything they ask you.” and “Don’t get married”.
The time had come to see the medical examiner that would clear us for basic training before leaving for the airport. My weight and height were proportionate and I didn’t have any bad joints, bones, or muscles. I was in perfect health. As I started to walk on through what had become an assembly line, the examiner called me back and asked, “Have you been to a doctor for anything in the past 90 days?” Completely forgetting that this was my cue for the “NO”, I said honestly and emphatically, “Yes”.
That “YES” is the reason that I never made that flight to San Antonio for basic training on August 1, 2001. I often reflect back on this pivotal moment because something that minute changed my entire life’s path. Everything happens for a reason, as the old adage goes. But I wonder, what my life would be like now had I followed my recruiters instructions and said, “No”? I surely would not be living the life I am today and I even question the path I chose after that to get married and have children at such a young age. Now a divorced, single parent of three children, and just finishing college (although a great accomplishment) was not the life I envisioned for myself when I stood at the top floor of the federal building that day. In hindsight, I think about how the decisions we make in this life can affect us in many different ways. Some decisions we can go back and correct, but others we have to live with for a lifetime.