Can you think of a specific moment in your life, a turning point, when you knew that your life would never be the same? Oftentimes, I think of many of those moments in my life. We all have events in our lives that profoundly change the direction of where we thought we were going.
I would like to share a few of these moments with you, including the most recent one – why I decided to emigrate to Portugal.
I Was Just a Kid
In high school, I was just meandering through life as if life was happening around me. I was merely a participant in everyone else’s lives. I lived in Maryland, near Washington D.C., played baseball and football, and had some friends, even a couple of girlfriends. But I never really felt like I was in command of the direction my life was taking. I wasn’t old enough to make life-altering decisions until it was time to decide what I wanted to do after high school. Even then, not so much.
Clemson, My First Turning Point
I knew I wanted to leave home to go to college. But I think that was just me being tired of mowing the lawn and doing the dishes. I think my kids had the same thoughts when they first moved out. As it turns out, we never really get to run from chores we don’t like. In retrospect, that was the first “grown-up” lesson I think I learned. I didn’t even really know what I wanted to do in college. As it turns out, schoolwork is kinda like chores.
Picking a college when you don’t know what you want to do with your life is never a good idea. I looked at schools all over the country and narrowed down my choices: DePauw University in Indiana and Clemson University in South Carolina. I was accepted to both, but the pivotal moment is when I chose Clemson.
Clemson is a great school with excellent student opportunities, but I chose a life of socializing, beer, and other intoxicants. I was wasting my time there, squandering those great student opportunities. I realized after one year that it was time to grow up and do something different.
Joining the Navy, My Next big Turning Point
I spent the summer of ‘89 working at a furniture-delivery job making $12/hr. It was enough to have a room for rent and a car, but not much else. My parents, as fresh empty-nesters, moved to Vermont that summer to run an inn so moving home was not an option.
One day, I was out driving going nowhere in particular (the theme of my life up until that point) when I came across the Rockville (Maryland) military recruiting station. I decided to check it out and soon gravitated toward the Navy recruiter. I had taken the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) back in high school and those scores were pretty good.
My recruiter said that I qualified for the Navy’s nuclear program. Most nuclear-powered ships spend most of their time underwater, so I passed on that. I chose to be a sonar technician, and I was in boot camp by October. Joining the Navy was a big turning point in my life because that decision led me to my wife.
Dating and Marriage
I was never much of a “ladies’ man.” I had a couple of girlfriends while in high school but never really serious ones. Maybe at the time, they felt more serious than I make it out to be now, but perhaps that is just the memory skewed by my sixteen(ish) year-old hormones. I never doubt that I really loved the young women I dated. I think at that age, love is shrouded by what you try to portray yourself as to the one you are courting.
Meeting Angie, the Third Turning Point
I met Angie at the on-base country club (music, dancing, and beer – not golfing) just at the end of sonar school at the Naval Training Center, San Diego, California. There is a longer version of this story I would like to write (and I might, one day), but instead, I will just share this moment of when we actually met.
I went to the club that night with several of my sailor buddies. We all sat at one of the tables, but like many of those nights, they all dispersed among other friends or left with their dates leaving me alone at the table with a couple of pitchers of beer.
I saw a really cute young lady standing near the main entrance as if she was waiting for someone. A couple of songs later I noticed she was still standing there just looking around. It wasn’t that crowded, so I figured if she had been there that long, her date must’ve stood her up or something.
I decided to go ask her to dance, so I got up and walked her way. I got about six feet from her and this overwhelming feeling of doubt came over me … and I chickened out. I walked right by her and out the front door. I walked around to the back door and came in through the bar area picking up another beer to go sit at my table and dwell on my lack of courage.
This is the turning point.
I was not going to chicken out! It’s just a stupid dance! All she could say is, “no.”
And so I walked her way again and she said yes. She said yes, and the rest of the night was meant to be. We danced and talked and danced some more until the bar closed. We went to a little restaurant nearby and had bagels and coffee until four in the morning.
The rest is history, but we celebrate thirty years of marriage later this month.
Our Next Chapter
A lot has happened over the last thirty years. We have moved all around the country living in various states, sometimes near family, all while raising our family. Somewhere along this journey, my sister said to me one night, “I think we might be Italian citizens.”
This is the most recent turning point in my life. It seems like I can never look back more than five years or so and say to myself that I knew what life would be like for me in five years. It seems like I would always be wrong. Think about 2020! Who would have ever guessed this is what life would be like for any of us?
I don’t think that the courage it took to ask Angie to dance is the same level of courage it takes to move my family to a foreign country where I have no family. The result of how different my life can be is just as profound.
I don’t know what the future holds with any certainty, but Portugal feels like it’s the place it will be.
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