Everyone who has worn a uniform has those friends. You shared the same wins, losses, doubts and fears with those friends as you sweated and climbed the same mountains. Everyone who has worn a uniform knows about those true friends; bonded for life regardless of what happens next. When I was diagnosed with MS in 1999 absolutely everything in my life changed: everything except my friends. This is a story about three men who changed my life by assuring that my MS changed nothing.
I met Bo, Ho and Dougie all on the same day- June 28, 1989, R-Day-reception day at the United States Military Academy. West Point may be a prime mark of military success for young men and women, but on June 28, 1989 it was a spastic day for at least four boys. All growing up very different in different parts of the country, we were now expected to conform to one crisp standard. With the help of each other and the rest of our new platoon, we made it through R-Day.
That first day grew into a week, a month and finally the end of our first year. We stumbled through, carrying each other through that plebe year at West Point. We were seasoned: no longer wide-eyed and naïve. At least that is how we saw ourselves in the world. We refined that crisp standard. We trained together, studied together, and tested each other. Most of all, we supported each other, physically and mentally, the way that you expect brothers to do:
• By challenging each other to push on faster & longer, regardless of our intense desires to quit.
• By never letting up and never allowing each other to take the easier way out.
• By finding the humor and sarcasm in everything and trivializing our fears before those fears could ever take hold.
That first year became 22 (and counting). Separately, we have all blazed our own trails and are now in very different points of our middle-aged lives, separated by geography but tethered by our shared experiences (and cell phones). Each of us has been individually defined by our careers, assignments, deployments, transitions, marriages, divorces, children, families, and unique life events in general. Together, we are defined in much the same way as we have been since that summer day in 1989. Every step of the way is marked by some story we’ve told a thousand times already.
We talk as often as we can. Sometimes more, sometimes less than we would prefer. Every year, though, we gather. Guys’ Weekend. Our excuse to put aside life’s worries and concerns and enjoy time together.
Bo, Ho and Dougie know all about my disease and the ongoing litany of issues, hospitalizations and medications. Sometimes we talk about it, usually because I am taking the opportunity to vent a bit. But on Guys’ Weekend, I put all that aside in favor of the random banter, beer drinking, cigar smoking, good time crisp standard that we all maintain! Not quite the same STRATC young men we were, but we can hold our own.
What’s so special about Guys’ Weekend? For me, it’s the only group where I don’t have MS. Sure, they know I have the disease. They know about (and see) all of my issues and treatments. For me, they don’t see that. Bo, Ho and Dougie treat me exactly the same way as they always have, as one of them. No more and no less. And most importantly, no different than before, no different than anyone else. I can honestly say, besides these three men there is no one else whom I can say that about. For someone with MS, being treated like everyone else can be the greatest feeling in the world.
I let Bo into my MS world this summer. He rode with us in this year’s BikeMS fundraiser here in Oregon. This is the world where I am Kevin: captain of Team Amulet and one of the faces of MS. For me, my angst about the weekend was unwarranted. He happily rode and celebrated with us, all the time surrounded by the sites and stories of MS. In the end, regardless of what he saw or heard I was still KB. Nothing changed.
I’m headed off for Guys’ Weekend next week. I’ll never thank Bo, Ho and Dougie for what they do (rather, for what they don’t do). Nor do I have to. They would just shrug it off anyway or maybe poke fun at me for a while, then crack open another beer, and then poke fun at me again. Jackasses.
Please visit Kevin’s website at www.brieandkevin.com