According to the online Wikitionary: To come full circle means: To complete a cycle of transition, returning to where one started after gaining experience or exploring other things.
This is what I did last weekend – I came full circle in my life that started here in San Diego some 32 years ago.
I was 28 years old when I moved to San Diego. My husband was in US Navy and was about to start his career aboard his first ship. He was excited about his journey and boarded his ship for his first deployment about a month after we found our apartment. I could understand his excitement but things were different for me.
From a small town of 1000 people to a city of over a million people – physically – this is where I was. Emotionally – I’m not sure where I was. I was married – I was a closeted gay – I was – well – I was a mess.
I remember sitting alone on my couch on Thanksgiving Day eating a small chicken breast I had baked for myself watching the Detroit Lions play football. My family was all gathered around the table at my Aunts in Pennsylvania and – for the first time in my life – I was alone. I wondered how it was that I got here and what exactly is was I was supposed to be doing.
So, the next morning, I got myself a paper and I found myself a job at Naval Station San Diego working in the MWR (Morale – Welfare – Recreation) offices. Basically, we sold tickets to all the local attractions and tours and concert tickets. We were there to help military folks find their way around Southern California.
It was at this job at Building 71 – in the Theater Building on Pier 2 at Naval Base, San Diego, that my life changed – forever. For it was here I met Susan.
Susan was – and still is – the sweetest woman I had ever met in my life. She was married – had four children and was full of life with a laugh that just melted my heart. I knew I was in trouble the moment I looked in her eyes. I knew in that instant that this was the person I was supposed to be with. I didn’t know how on earth this would ever be – I only knew in my heart that this was the woman who was going to save me from me.
It was also here that I met Mary Ann and the woman we would all come to call Betty Mom.
Betty Mom was a force to be reckoned with. She was a strong woman from Wisconsin who took no crap and told all of her “girls” that we could be whatever we wanted to be in life. She was like no one I had ever met in my life. She always had a cigarette in her hand – and one at the ready. She had long blonde hair that was always meticulously wound on her head, and she was always dressed to the nines right down to her jewelry.
I had never had anyone in my life tell me I could do anything I wanted to do – I could be anyone I wanted to be. On a camping trip we all took together to the beach – Betty Mom told us this long, rambling story that none of us can remember – but the ending was this: “You can do whatever you want – just be discreet.” This we all remember to this day.
Mary Ann was also like no one I had ever met in my life. When I was told to go and work with her – I remember that my hands started to sweat just a little. She called people “sport” and “buckwheat.” She raised her voice and hung up on people. She yelled at small children that were messing with the brochures and then yelled at the parents who were not watching the small children who were messing with the brochures.
The first time I went to work with her I stepped behind her counter and she looked at me and in a rather stern voice said: “Who are you – and what are you doing here?” I swallowed the fear that had formed in my throat, and in a weak, quiet small-town voice, told her I was here for her to train… That’s when the wheels fell off the bus!
I can remember like it was yesterday Mary Ann picking up the phone that connected us with what I would soon know as home base – and she proceeded to let the boss and anyone else who could hear her know – she was in no mood to train anyone, and what were they thinking, and a myriad of other remarks. When it was all over – I was still there – and some 32 years later – we are still friends!
There are many stories I could write about the years Susan, Mary Ann, Betty Mom and I spent together in that little haven called Naval Station San Diego. The bottom line is that we all made mistakes, we all strayed from the litter every once in a while, but we were always friends.
Betty Mom passed away some twelve years ago – I was living out-of-state and none of us got the chance to say goodbye. This past weekend Susan, Mary Ann and I attended a Memorial Service for Betty Mom’s husband Chuck – the man we all affectionately called – Pop.
After the service and time with Betty Mom and Pop’s children, we made the 10 minute drive to Naval Base, San Diego. We drove onto the base, turned right, and made our way to the Theater Building, Building 71, at Pier 2. Time seemed to be standing still as we drove toward the building. Things looked different, and yet they were exactly the same.
There is no longer a ticket office inside the Theater Building, nor a tour department, but the doors to go in and out are the same, and the Theater is still in operation and the number on the edge of the building is still: 71.
We parked across from the Theater right by the water, and took the flowers I’d picked earlier in the day to the edge of the Pier. And there we were, Susan, Mary Ann and I hand in hand – remembering…
Mary Ann said a few words, Susan said a few words, and I tried to say a few words but nothing except the words: “Thank You” would come out of my mouth. I was thinking; “I miss you, I love you, I wish you could see how I’ve grown and become that woman you told me I could be.”
We dropped our flowers into the water and just stood there – silent – each of us wrapped in our own thoughts. There were more than flowers that went into the water on that day. Regrets, unsaid words, words that were said in anger, people who have come in to and gone out of our lives – all were thrown over the edge of Pier 2 and washed away with the tide.
We left Pier 2 and drove to every other place the three of us shared in the time we spent there. The Bowling Alley, the Navy Exchange, the Fleet Exchange. Nothing was the same – in the space where Mary Ann first asked me who I was; there is now a gorgeous Starbucks. The Bowling Alley bar where we spent way too many hours is completely different, but… the memories were so real and so thick I felt like I needed to take my hand and brush them away from my face. But, I didn’t brush them away – I let them wash over me and take me wherever it was I needed to go in that moment.
Full circle: To complete a cycle of transition, returning to where one started after gaining experience or exploring other things. Susan, Mary Ann, Barbie – it is as it should be.