The Darkest of the Night

Like a boat leaving a ship for an unknown shore, life is a series of moments of transition into the unexplored.

Romantic stories often center around the iconic image, either literal or metaphorical (depending on the actual story in question), of the lover holding the hand of his/her love in the darkest moment of the night.  Comforting, protecting and assisting their loved one in the darkest of the night.

Those stories really crack me up sometimes.  Other times those stories infuriate me to no end.  Yet still other times those stories will give me what can be the greatest gift…and most awful curse…ever devised in human existence:  hope.

I have mentioned before I’m the first person I have ever met who is retiring from military as a single guy.  I have friends and acquaintances who tell me to enjoy the freedom and excitement of being able to start a new incarnation of my life unencumbered by having to juggle relationship issues…and yet, oddly enough, these same people are saying this while their arm is around their spouse and their kids play at their feet.  They have someone to hold their hand in the darkest of the night.  More often than not their spouse works, so they have an income to fall back on until they get established in the civilian world.

Those people have no clue, nor, I often wonder, a desire to get a clue to the cold hypocrisy of their words to someone like me.

I have no one to hold my hand in the darkest of the night.  From the off 20 years ago I said a family was my priority because the Navy would not be there walking down a beach with me when I was 90.  Yet I failed rather miserably in that department.  Gay man + straight woman ain’t gonna work, no matter how hard both try.  And as to me finding a guy…what a joke that’s been.  I have had such a wealth of negative experiences that I’ve come to conclude humanity is a rather contemptible lot.

I had a job interview this morning for a job I would love to get.  The interview at the Defense Information School went very, very well.  I am very pleased by the experience and, whether I ever make the cut for the position or not, it was time well spent with some highly competent professionals.

But I learned a little nasty detail during the interview that would have been nice to know back when I took the retirement transition class for a second time (I took it last August; and again earlier this year).  Turns out the National Defense Authorization Act of fiscal year 2017 re-instated a 180 day waiting period on hiring military retirees.  In other words, because I have served my country honorably for 20 years, unless an agency goes through a waiver process, I can’t be hired for civil service until six months after Sept. 30 (my discharge date).  That means I can’t be hired until March 2018.  This is how our country now punishes those who actually retire from military service.

I use the word “punishment” intentionally.  You see, if someone separates honorably from the military at 19.75 years of service, but does not actually retire, they aren’t affected by this law.  Only those of us who do at least 20 years of service and formally retire are punished by being told our own government won’t look at us for 180 days.  This law does not state the “veterans’ preference” is waived for 180 days, it says I can’t even be hired for 180 days unless the agency goes through a waiver process.

The likelihood of that happening for someone like me is zero.  I’m a nobody.  Zilch.  Zero.  I’m at best a common, mediocre Sailor who did 20 decent but mediocre years.  I never had what it would have taken to become a high roller, and that was fine.  I did my service and kept a promise I made on 9/11, and that was enough for me for the most part.

And this is how my people thank us.  I’m not asking to be hired over a better-qualified, non-military retiree.  No.  I don’t play that game.  If a non-retiree is better suited to the job, hire them.  I’m the one who needs to get better if that’s the case.  But to tell retirees we can’t be hired for six months is beyond insulting especially as anyone else separating honorably with less than a full retirement is not punished for serving by this law.

I have barely six weeks until I’m without a job, and now I learn I probably would have been better served spending 90% of my time searching in the private sector instead of a 50/50 split between private sector and civil service.  As I said, the retiree transition class didn’t bother to mention this pesky detail.  I am going to write them a rather strong critique on their website so that, hopefully, they’ll better equip future retirees with this somewhat critical piece of career-planning data.

So after the tangled adventure of yesterday and this blow today—during the interview of all times—I have come to a moment that is a “darkest of night” moment.  I don’t know how I’m going to pull this out considering that, despite all the statistics, 100% of my interviews are coming from the federal service and 0% have come from the private sector (statistics tend to indicate the retiree’s experience is 90% private sector and maybe 10% federal service).

I have no one to stand with me in this darkest of the night.  Everyone I call family is at least 200 miles away, and most are over 1,000 miles away.  There ain’t no one to help me.  Even if I have to fall back to selling my house, putting my stuff in storage and moving in with my parents temporarily (which, at least, is something!) I have to do it all alone.

That’s why love stories crack me up or infuriate me.  Even when they give me hope, it’s always shattered.  Everyone (with one exception) who ever said “I love you” to me lied and walked off (that one exception was the one person who was actually justified in walking off).  Everyone who said they’d look after me or help me or protect me didn’t—they all pulled the rug out from under my feet.  In the dark little world I live in, love is capricious, love is critical, love is controlling, dangerous, angry and, most of all, wildly undependable.  I really just do not understand why anyone would surrender to it.

Yet I long for it in my own humanly contradictory way.

So what does all this have to do with a lousy federal law that punishes military retirees for serving and sacrificing honorably?

Only that this is the deepest “darkest of the night” moment I’ve yet experienced in my own retirement process…and, as usual, there’s no one else here.  Those who might actually stand with me are in other states.  The rest…

…The rest will likely tell me I’m feeling sorry for myself.  That I’m bitter and self-indulgent and acting like an entitled, spoiled brat.

Deal with it.

Right now it is the darkest of the night, and right now I feel more alone than I have ever felt in my life.

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