The war that defined my youth was over in the snap of a finger. It was 2014, and I have left Afghanistan for the last time.
I had seen the unraveling of the General Patreus after an affair with his biographer. I watched General McChrystal brought down by a journalist from the Rolling Stones.
I am one of thousands that will come back home, two duffel bags over each shoulder, looking around at the bustling world that moved on without us while also standing still, waiting for our return. I do not know what music is trending. I am barely conscious that the word “trending” was still in use. We are, all at once, within and without.
I am just one of thousands that found a taste for a more exciting world, then found it’s call too alluring to ignore, and the pay off too high to not come back again and again. When there is no Afghanistan to go to, I didn’t know what to do.
I wonder if every war generation takes to the road.
The First World War gave us Fitzgerald, Hemingway and the roaring Paris 20’s. The lost Beat Generation in the shadow of the World Wars gave us Kerouac then their resurgence as a Beatnik during the cold war, then us… the Millennials. The Gen-Yers who grew up knowing the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq as a way of life. The 1990’s of peace and economic stability, the internet boom and the electronic era were a far off memory. Dead along with our fairy tales.
So I, unoriginal, shall take to the road as well. Kerouac went from New York to San Francisco, then to the southern lands. Many of my peers found solace on a road trip across the country for a time as well. Others, yet, went overseas.
Was it any surprise that when the student loans were gone, the bills disappeared and military obligations absolved, I longed for adventure? I am restless. I was in need of something more than a normal, calm, sedentary life. A life without excitement is a life in catatonic purgatory.
Restless, discontent and wandering in search of something. We wayfarers all have the same story; the illusionary conveyor belt life of school-job-retirement as the badge of honor was ripped from us early. We went to school, got our college degrees and there were no jobs for us. There were no jobs for the over-educated or the young.
I lost one job because of budget cuts, though I knew I did a decent job for a really good team. I miss that office too, but I can’t say that I was ever happy there. The work was fulfilling and important. Yet the suit, the beers afterwork, cooking dinner at the house and date nights in the gentrified center of town were perfectly fine, but ultimately covering up a hole. I was last hired, first fired.
“Pay your dues” they told us. Well, paying our dues doesn’t pay the bills. Paying our dues take time – time that we didn’t have because many of us were getting laid off. Now, that government that most of my countrymen voted for will make it harder to pay off the loans we were coached to take as underage shmucks.
Corporations failed us. Government failed us. Conventional wisdom failed us.
The shining yuppy life became a joke. A symbol of consumerist detritus that did nothing but take our from us, push us into debt and give us the symbols of wealth without any actual wealth.What is the point, when the most expensive part of an article of clothing is the one-inch label in the back?
“Shop your way out of debt”, “Reaganomics”, and “Pay your dues” were sold as the way to the American dream. Reason be damned! Reality be damned! This is what you’re supposed to do. It’s what’s expected.
And I grew up watching people lose everything. Their homes, their families, their practices under the same people who preached the American conveyor belt. I watched people go into mid-life crises and bucket lists because they had spent a life chasing an ideal that left them unsatisfied, unhappy and unfulfilled. I had tacitly accepted the ideal role the way a frog stays water that boils slowly, or how a dog allows a leash to be placed around his neck while he’s distracted by a bacon treat.
And my generation, entitled and spoiled though we may be, are not idiots.
It is better to carve out your own life, in your own way than to allow someone else to do it for you. It is better to fail on your own terms, than to succeed under someone’s wing. It is better to have a chance of being with the stars than to stand with your feet on the ground.
This is my segment of the Generation – the outcasts, the bohemians, the millennial beats that live on the outskirts of the world we grew up in. We are the nomads, backpackers, wayfarers. We roam, we run, we travel, we are waltzing Matilda.