Since I lost it all, I’ve wanted – pined, pained, striven – to get it back.
All I had wanted to be for a long time was a journalist. I’m not really sure where this desire came from, if there was a moment at which it just hit me, as they like to describe life-changing events. But many moments when I felt that desire stronger than ever come to mind.
Like when I was drinking beer with Walt Bogdanich, an investigative editor with The New York Times in a lavish bathroom on the fifth floor of the Paris Las Vegas Hotel – or was it the Bellagio? I don’t remember – and he told me about what it was like to work on his Pulitzer-winning story about how deadly drugs manufactured in China were making their way into medicine cabinets around the world. Some junior reporter who had worked with him came in toward the end of his story, and said the partying journalists in the adjacent hotel room needed more cash for a late night beer run. He plucked a $100 note from his billfold and handed it to the reporter. He later disappeared into a crowd of other investigative journalists to get ready for a session he would give at the investigative reporting conference we had all come to attend. I would have done anything to be just like him.
Or when, hung over at 8 a.m. one Thursday, I checked my email messages in a classroom in the liberal arts building and discovered a message informing me that I had won the Robert Novak award, an accolade distributed by Washington DC’s Institute on Political Journalism. Like 240 other entrants, a college newspaper colleague and I had slipped five copies each of a series of articles that had gotten our university president fired in an 8.5 in. by 11 in. manila envelope, sent it and hoped for the best. Months later, my colleague and I gave a speech before a group of our peers, and accepted a polished oak plaque stating our achievement. My colleague had received awards in journalism before. I’d always wanted one, and now I had it.
Or the few times I was called one of the best.
Aside from being distant reminders of how good it can feel to excel at a craft I love, these moments don’t matter any more. I doubt I’ll even mention them in my résumé when I leave the military and apply for a writing job – which, despite the pleas for open-mindedness I get from my betters on a daily basis, I fully plan to do.
Until then, I’ll be writing. Because I’m a sailor, or I will be when I finally reach the nebulous fleet they keep talking about. But first, I’m a journalist.