CDR Jeremiah Fielding wandered around the Officer's Club shaking hands and slapping backs. This was the base's monthly 'Hale and Farewell' party—a party to welcome incoming Officer's and say good bye to those leaving. He felt sorrow, nostalgia and yes, even a little fear at the future he was facing. He had been in the Navy for just over 24 years. Tomorrow he would be a civilian again for the first time since he was 18 years old and he left home for the Naval Academy. He knew it was time to return home but he was not sure what he wanted to return to. Oh, he well remembered the hills and valleys, that special river and the quiet his family had cherished for generations. He knew he wanted to return to that. He just did not know what, if anything, he wanted to do for the remainder of his life. For the first time in his adult life he did not have a task or career facing him. He had never married and now he would face the loneliness being single in a strange place would be like. Always before he had his friends and his duty, his job, to keep him occupied. Oh, there had been women in his life. There had been a lot of women over the years and even one or two special ones but the one time he had thought of marrying she had demanded he get out of the Navy. He just could not do that so the relationship broke up.
Late in the evening Jeremiah was visiting with some of his fellow Seabees when the base commander cornered him. "Jer," he said. "I can still stop those retirement orders if you would let me. You're just too good a man to see drive off. You'll be on the next Captain's List for sure and then who knows? I can find you a job in my office if you would like. Hell, I can almost promise you a position anywhere else in the Navy if that's not what you want."
Jeremiah smiled at his friend and said, "Thanks Admiral but it's time for me to go. I miss the hills back home. I want to see the sun come up over the hills and watch the fog rise over the river for a change. I won't miss all the BS this administration is laying on us but I will miss many of the people I have worked with. I want to go back home and relax, maybe even find a woman to settle down with."
The Hale and Farewell was scheduled to end at 2200 hours but because this was also CDR Fielding's retirement party most of his friends and acquaintances kept on partying until the club closed. Being the responsible senior officer he was Jeremiah called a cab for the ride to his now nearly empty quarters for his final night on base and in the Navy.
The first day of his retirement, a Saturday, it was nearly noon when Jer struggled from his bed. He made his coffee and drank a couple cups while he packed his overnight bag and small suitcase with the remainder of his possessions still in the building. He filled his thermos, rinsed the coffee pot and walked out the door and into the second half of his adult life. He was halfway down the stairs walking toward his parking spot when he stopped in surprise. His truck was not in his reserved space. His first reaction was anger. He thought it had been stolen then he thought some of his men had, perhaps, taken it as a joke. He was in the process of calling security when he remembered he had taken a cab from the party because he was so drunk.
Jeremiah felt a swift surge of embarrassment and felt his face redden. He remembered how drunk he had become and feared he had acted like a newly commissioned Ensign at his first Officer's party instead of like a Senior Officer. He was ashamed he had allowed his friends ... No, let's be honest, he had allowed himself to imbibe way too much alcohol.
Jeremiah set off walking toward the club. It was only a half mile and the exercise would do him good. Perhaps he would get his lunch there and he would not have to stop for several hours. He was walking into the parking lot when he heard a horn honk behind him. He jumped and turned to see his Master Chief smiling at him. He stood aside and the Master Chief pulled into the lot and stopped beside him. The young looking Master Chief jumped from the car and gave CDR Fielding a snappy salute even though he was in civilian clothes. Master Chief smiled and reached to shake Jeremiah's hand before saying, "I thought you would be long gone this morning Commander. I went by your quarters just before 0800 and your truck wasn't there. I was hoping to see you once more and wish you well before you got off."
The Master Chief looked around and spotted the large F250 Super Crew that belonged to Jeremiah sitting in front of the club. After seeing the dry space under the truck it became obvious it had sat there overnight. It had rained in the early morning hours and the underneath would have been wet if the truck hadn't been there for several hours. "If I didn't know better I would think you partied a little too much last night sir. It looks like your truck has been here a while."
Jeremiah gave a sickly grin and said, "Well, I may have had just a little too much to drink last night. Those Bastards plied me with way too much good Glenlivet for me to chance driving.
Master Chief smiled and said, "Yes Sir. I know just what you mean. Those nasty old sailors just led you down the path to intemperance didn't they Sir?" The comrades stood uncomfortably together for a moment then the Master Chief said, "I dream of retiring but when I think about actually doing it I get scared. I mean all I have ever known is the Navy. I'm like you. I never found anyone to share my life with except my buds here in the Navy. You have any plans for after? Did you ever worry about what you would do, how alone you would be when you hung it up? I mean Sir, what does a man do with himself when this is all gone?"
Jeremiah looked around him at the part of the base he could see. In the distance he could see masts of ships at the piers. He felt an emptiness gnawing at his middle and sighed. "Yeah, there's a lot I'll miss for the rest of my life I expect. There's other things like the BS I won't miss at all. Most of all I think I'll miss the people and the work we did. I haven't given much thought to what I'll do when I get home. I want a small place in the country where I can relax. I would like to find a good woman to finish my life with. I don't know what else I want to do. All I've ever known since I grew up is the Navy and building things. I just don't know right now."
The two friends looked at each other another short moment and Jeremiah smiled. He reached out and shook the Master Chief's hand once again then said, "Guess I better get on down the road. Take care Master Chief. If you or any of the other men are ever around southwest Missouri drop in. There's always a rack there for you. I will be happy to put you up for a day or even longer."
Jeremiah forgot about his plans to have lunch before he left. The first few miles he was thinking about the conversation he just had with the Master Chief. There had been a lot of loneliness and longing in that conversation. He was almost an hour down the road before he felt the first hunger pains. He drank his coffee and kept going, ignoring his body. He was in a world of serenity. For the moment nothing existed except the steady drone of his tires on the pavement and the deep throaty roar of his powerful turbo diesel. The miles flew past and before he knew it dusk had fallen. By now his hunger was intruding on his consciousness and he was feeling tired. At the next town he pulled off, filled his tanks and ate his supper before finding a motel for the night.
Jeremiah went to the hotel's cocktail lounge after he checked in. He sat in the dim light alone at his small table sipping his Glenlivet. He listened to the low drone of other conversations and the somewhat louder sounds of the TV's while he contemplated his future. He saw several men his age or older making plays for the younger women in the bar. He smiled and remembered how he had been in years past. It was Saturday night and the hunt was on.
Jeremiah leaned back and remembered the conversation he had with his Master Chief before he left the base. It had seemed like there was a yearning in the Master Chief's voice, a desire for something more than the Navy. In any event the conversation haunted him. All either of them had known since leaving home had been the Navy. Over the years they had been stationed together several times and they had built a solid friendship. They had been there for each other during times of personal sorrow and during the tough times brought on by the Navy or life in general. They were as close as Officer and Enlisted could be and not cross the line of fraternization. They had discussed his retirement several times over the last year of his career. Master Chief had enough time in to retire also and had made it plain that soon a decision to do so would be forthcoming. For some reason though there seemed to be a hesitation, something else was needed for the decision to be made. Jeremiah had tried to give advice, to help with the decision but nothing he had said seemed to be of great help.
Finally the alcohol and exhaustion worked together to force Jeremiah from his chair in the bar and to his bed. He didn't even shower before collapsing onto the soft bed. Jer just stripped and rolled into his bed. The next morning he showered, hit the free breakfast in the lobby and filled his thermos with coffee. Once again he droned down the road stopping only to relieve himself and stretch his legs in the rest areas until evening when hunger and the need for fuel and sleep once again forced him to stop. This evening was a repeat of his first on the road.
.... There is more of this story ...