I was enjoying my Youngster year. Youngster cruise had been awesome! I had made it through Plebe year. My classes weren’t too demanding. My roommates were cool. I was allowed to speak to women again (a no-no during Plebe year). I pretty much had it made.
My best friend at that point was Dave S. I would love to spell out his last name and give a shout-out to him, but that would be breaking my vow of anonymity. Dave S. and I did a lot of great stuff together that fall!
I remember playing football in the snow on an early snow day, hanging out in our room, going to away football games, and basically just having a great time.
We might have met Brook Shields after the away game at Princeton. As we were wandering around campus with a bottle of Jack Daniels, someone told us where her dormroom was, so we went up there and I wrote her a note on the dry erase board on the outside of her door. “Greetings from the Midshipmen!” or something like that. After we left, some security guards caught up to us and made us turn back. They led us back to the dorm, the door opened, and from behind the door someone stuck out a wet paper towel. They made me use the towel to erase my message. I really couldn’t understand the point of it. Someone else could have erased it and have been done with it. Why did they make us go back?
Later I developed the theory that Brook really wanted to see us, so she had her guards go get us, but when she saw how drunk we were, she just decided just to send us on our way. Anyway, that was the closest I had ever come to a beautiful movie star, whether it was her hand or not! (Ten years later I spoke to another beautiful movie star, but that’s a different story.)
After the University of Virginia game, we hooked up with two of my high-school friends who were going to school there and got a brief glimpse of fraternity life. Just like the movies. 50 guys playing drinking games and having a blast. We held our own in “Thumper,” and for years I would randomly shout out the words that start each round: “What’s the name of the game? etc.”
One night, we even tricked a Plebe into puking in our dormroom.
Like many Midshipmen who enjoy tobacco, Dave used Copenhagen dip, since smoking was both forbidden and impracticable for people who have to stay in shape. Every night, he would “enjoy a pinch between his cheek and gum” as he studied in our room. One night we were helping a Plebe with Calculus, and he got interested in Dave’s tobacco. So, Dave let him have a pinch, and you could tell that the Plebe liked it. (Sorry, Plebe, I don’t remember your name!) Anyway, after about 5 minutes, I decided that he really ought to spit it out. If you’ve ever tried dip, it’s really cool in the beginning. You get a little buzz from the nicotine, and the tobacco taste is refreshing. But you don’t want to do it for too long, if you’re not used to it!
So, I was about to tell the Plebe to spit it out, but Dave just shook his head at me. He saw my intentions but wanted to see how things would play out. I shrugged and went along with it, and we continued to talk to and watch the Plebe. After a few more minutes, I saw his face turn completely white. It was like all the color just drained right out of him. He got a sour look on his face, and he said (in a southern accent), “I don’t feel too good.” And then he proceeded to vomit into the Planter’s Peanut jar that we used for spitting.
You see, when you chew tobacco (or keep it betwen your cheek and gum), your mouth salivates. You do not want to swallow that saliva because it’s full of tobacco juice. You have to constantly spit. (The nicotine absorbs into your cheek and gums, so you don’t need to swallow to get the nicotine effect.) So Dave always had a Planter’s Peanut jar that he used to spit into. At first it might seem disgusting to you to see all that tobacco-filled spit in a glass jar, but you get used to it. Anyway, that’s what the Plebe had been using to spit into, as well.
He had been chewing and spitting and enjoying the taste, but he had let it go on too long. Dave and I knew it, but he obviously didn’t. He should have spit out that tobacco sooner, since he was not used to its effects. In the end, it was too much for him. His body took over and made him puke up whatever was in his stomach, and to his credit, he filled that Planter’s Peanut jar up TO THE RIM but did not spill a single drop! I was pretty impressed, and it was a funny thing to see.
I don’t think he ever chewed tobacco again, and I don’t think he came back for any more help with Calculus either!
So, like I said in the beginning, I was enjoying my Youngster year! Few Naval responsibilities besides school and intramurals, and plenty of fun with friends. But there was something bothering me at the same time.
You see, I had decided over the summer that I was going to quit the Academy for sure at the end of the semester. I had made myself go back to the Academy after Youngster cruise to prove that I wasn’t quitting because of my experience Plebe year. I wanted to show everyone that I liked being there, and that I could thrive there if I wanted to. My decision to quit was a philosophical decision, based on my convictions, not a reaction to the Academy. (I loved it there!)
So, all the while I was having these good times with Dave and the others, I had this secret gnawing inside of me. No one knew about this secret, although they probably would not have been surprised. But I was very conscious of it because I knew I would be letting them down in the end when I left. I knew they would be disappointed.
I wanted to tell Dave first. He was my best friend, and he was going to miss me the most. I had to tell him, but I was dreading it. Finally one Saturday night, we got a twelve-pack of Budweiser and headed out to a place he knew of in the woods where we could hang out and make a fire. He was from Georgia and knew a lot about the outdoors. I knew this had to be the the night that I would tell him.
As we walked along the streets of Annapolis with a big bag of beer and a clear destination, I was dreading the moment. The sky was overcast, and it seemed like it was going to rain. In fact, it may have drizzled a bit on our way out to the woods. Once we got there, we made the fire, drank some beer and chatted. I told Dave that I had something very important to tell him. He asked me what it was. I said: “You’re not going to like this, but I’m going to quit at the end of the semester.” He didn’t flinch. He just looked at me, and he said: “It’s OK, man.” And we gave each other a big hug.
Now, here’s the strange part. As we gave each other that hug, the clouds parted, and a full moon shone down on us standing there in in the woods. I looked up at the moon, which was surrounded by clouds, and I could not believe what I was seeing. “Did you see that?” I said, as we stood there in the moonlight. “Yep.” It was incredible.
After that, the clouds closed up and the night was overcast again.
I am not a religious person, but I do have a deep belief in a higher power. And I have to say that I took that event as a clear sign that I was making the right decision. I don’t know if I would have gone through with my plans to quit, if that strange phenomenon had not happened at that particular moment.
Dave’s embrace was affirmation that he thought it was OK for me to leave the Academy. The moon shining down on us at the exact moment that we hugged was God’s affirmation that it was the right decision. At least I took it as such. I had a lot of doubt about quitting the Academy, but every time my doubts arose, I thought of that night. How could I ignore that sign?
We never spoke much about it, but we both remembered. Dave quit the Academy after I did. He never talked to me about it. I don’t know if he just got lonely after I left him there, or there were other reasons. I never heard much from him after he left, even though I stayed in touch with everyone else in my company until their graduation, which I flew up from Florida to attend. I was disappointed that Dave did not keep in touch. And I hope you’ll reach out to me, if you ever read this.
I’ll never understand exactly what happened in that clearing in the woods on that cloudy night. You might say it was a random event. A freak occurrence that made me draw the wrong conclusions. Maybe it was. But it could be soooo much more.