Induction Day at the Naval Academy is a production. It’s specifically in-processing for midshipmen candidates. Their families and the incoming candidates have activities lined up that can keep them busy for the whole day. Samantha had prepared for it with her father’s help. He had given her his copy of Reef Points and, knowing it was updated annually, she had dutifully memorized everything anyway. She had studied everything she could find in the library and online. She knew where to go and what was going to happen, and she knew that when she walked into Alumni Hall there was no turning back.
The alarm went off at 4:00 am. Grumbling, I reached out to slap the beast that was interfering with my hard won sleep. I had tossed and turned ever since I went to bed, barely getting to sleep when the alarm began beeping. I forced my eyes open and climbed out of bed. I showered, luxuriating in the cold water as I came fully awake. I dressed in a pair of cutoff jean shorts, scruffy running shoes, and a t-shirt that said “You learn from mistakes. I learned a lot today.” I had heard somewhere that you could show up for I-day nude but it probably wouldn’t be a good idea.
As I dried my hair, I looked myself over in the bathroom mirror. Here it was, the moment of truth. Was I really ready for this? I was excited, a little scared, but, yes, I was ready. The face in the mirror smiled back with grim determination.
The family had a hurried breakfast. My eggs were tasteless and I had a hard time eating them because my stomach roiled, not from fear but excitement. As the clock ticked down, more than once Nelson objected loudly about having to get up so early, but Mom simply told him he could sleep in the car.
We rolled out of the driveway at 5:00 and hit the interstate. Traffic was light until we reached Alexandria. Then it turned chaotic. On top of the “rush hour” traffic, which was bad enough, not long after we crossed the Potomac, the traffic came to a complete stop. As the delay dragged out I could feel the anxiety building. I was supposed to check in by 10:00, and the margin was getting narrower and narrower. Dad began talking about driving on the shoulder to reach the next exit. Fortunately, before he did, Mom announced, “Traffic is starting to move up ahead.”
I could see some of the tension drain out of Dad’s shoulders. We were moving again, albeit slowly. It took us fifteen more minutes to reach the scene of the accident. A semi was on its side on the southbound side, and the police had blocked all the lanes on that side but the inside one. I counted seven emergency vehicles. I commented, “What a gapers’ block. I bet that’s breaking news, even for this area.”
Mom nodded. “I hope no one was badly hurt.” In a way that’s how I’ll always remember her, always concerned about others. It’s true even now. Am I getting maudlin? It must because this day brings back so many memories.
We arrived at Gate 8 of the Academy at 9:30 or should I say, 0930? By the time we reached Alumni Hall it was 9:45. On our way in Dad reminded me of what was happening. “I’m going to let you out at Alumni Hall. You know what to do. Then I’m going to drop in on Willy – Admiral Moore – to let him know I’m here and introduce the family … the rest of the family. He’s expecting me. You’re going to be busy for the next several hours, but we’ll see you after the swearing in.”
I got out of the car, and they drove off. I watched them until they made a turn and disappeared behind a building. For a moment I felt more alone than I ever had in my life. My Mom and Dad had just driven off, leaving me by myself to face the biggest change in my life. Sure, I’d see them one more time today, but the change would already be taking place.
I looked up at the building in front of me and the young men and women straggling in line toward the entrance. Straggling? No they weren’t. They were walking tall, and so would I. I straightened my back and strode purposefully forward to join them. It was show time!