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  • Boot Camp changed me. I discovered leadership qualities I never knew I had. I ate well, packing on 20 pounds of solid muscle, going from a skinny 160 lbs on my 6’ 2” frame to a more solid 180 lbs. I felt substantial for the first time in my life. I had bright dreams for my future in the Navy. I was looking forward to the travel, the girl in every port, the sweet taste and smell of sea salt in the air, becoming a leader of men. I was really gung-ho about it all, but in an understated kind of way. I was quietly optimistic.

    I also discovered that I was a good correspondent. I spent most of my free time, what little of that we had, writing letters to everyone. Mom and Dad, little sister Mary, various friends, and the girl who I fancied as my “girl back home”, Susan. We were just good friends, but as guys talked about their girl back home, I developed a fantasy that she was mine, and began to act like she was. She apparently bought into the fantasy, and thus began a virtual relationship that would never quite achieve reality, much as we both tried desperately to make it so.

    The more I wrote, the better I got at it. I discovered that I had a great sense of humor in writing, and could turn the occasional phrase. People responded very positively and wrote back, and I became the envy of my mates, as I would always have a pile of letters at mail call.

    I loved the comraderie of Boot Camp. After my last, long, lonely months of college, where I was, unbeknownst to myself at the time, having serious struggles with my budding addiction already, I was now clean and sober, guys looked up to me, and I made lots of friends. It was all fresh and new and I felt so fortunate to have been able to make such a positive change in my life. Unfortunately, that would be the pinnacle of my Navy career. It would never be that good again, and I would never be that clear-headed or positive again, for the next 4 years.

    Brother Ken attended my Boot Camp graduation. That was so special to me. He was apparently out that way on leave anyway, in the San Francisco area, and made a special trip down to San Diego to attend my graduation and spend the weekend with me. That somehow made it more real for me. I dragged him out to a massage parlor, which we'd later get a big laugh about.

    My family moved to the Philadelphia area while I was in Boot Camp, to Cherry Hill, N.J. When I returned to visit my friends in Connecticut, they all said that I had changed. Well, I had! I had needed to. But, they didn't see that. They missed the long-haired hippie-type Pete who had always been good for great philosophical debates and was always half-baked and out of it, and they treated me like I now had the plague. I was no longer into smoking pot, I just drank the occasional beer. They were used to me being the guy who would do and take whatever was going around. Yeah, I had really changed.

    One guy who I had been closest with before, Fred, and who was also good friends with my old girl-friend Amy, informed me one day as we walked on the Windsor green that they had talked about it, about me, and decided that they no longer considered me to be a friend. Wow! So, they prefered the fucked-up Pete over the clean-cut Pete – o.k., fine. Well fuck them! Who needs them! But, it really hurt. I had thought they were true friends.

    Susan and I had a very nice night together, going to a carnival in Springfield, Mass, and we were both totally into being boyfriend/girlfriend now, so we were just trying to figure out how that changed our relationship. We would spend the next couple of years trying to figure that one out. We never really did, because it was never real. Just something we both thought we wanted.

    Mom seemed to be thrilled with the change in me. We’d become great pen pals, and she wrote wonderful letters to me, keeping me up on their move, and happenings at home. Dad remained cautiously optimistic. I found him to be such a smug, self-righteous prick at that time. It always felt to me like he was just sitting there waiting for me to screw up again. I now believe that a lot of that was in my own mind, reading more into his actions than what was really there, but it was how I felt. I did not like the man, and he sure didn't seem to like me all that much.

    He managed to coerce me into attending an AA meeting, where he needed me to help set something up. Mom was in AA, Dad was in Alanon. They had me pegged as a potential alcoholic from the time I was 9 years old. That just really pissed me off. I never even had touched anything until I was 14, and as far as I was concerned, it did not cause me any problems. Something about the way I chugged sodas as a kid made them think I was a natural to become an alcoholic. How crazy was that? Well, as it turns out....but, still, the expectations they set up around me bugged the crap out of me.

    I’ll always remember this one older gentleman in the AA meeting who had kind of picked up on how I’d been coaxed into being there. He pulled me aside and just said, “Don’t worry about what your parents think, young man. You have a lot of years ahead of you. Enjoy the ride, but if you ever need these rooms, just know that we don’t bite. We’re here if you ever need us. But go on out there and give it your best shot. Enjoy life while you're young! The world is at your feet.”

    So, I did. I gave it my best shot, and would have one hell of a ride.
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