The best reward for a workout well done is a good soak in the hot tub. Alone. With nothing but quiet contemplation. I was in the process of rewarding myself the other day when another woman slipped into the bubbles beside me, totally disrupting the sanctity of my tub time.
As if her presence wasn’t distracting enough, I noticed her staring at me out of the corner of her eye. I felt exposed enough sitting there in my bathing suit. No need for further scrutiny. But as I stared back out of the corner of my own eye, I realized she looked familiar.
“I know you,” she said, breaking the uncomfortable silence. “Is your husband in the military?”
After listing off our running histories of duty stations, we discovered our common ground: Japan. And now here we were, 5 years later, shooting sideways glances at each other in a hot tub at a YMCA thousands of miles away from where we first met.
We reminisced about life overseas, discussed the mutual acquaintances we had run into since then, and traded updates on our lives and our husbands’ careers. My body had reached its hot tub limit around the same time we ran out of things to talk about, so we joked about the strange place we’d meet each other next time and went our separate ways.
The funny thing about seeing people we know from past duty stations is that our perspectives are frozen in time. We remember each other for the people we were when we knew each other, in that one particular stage in our lives. I will always think of that woman as the perky young servicemember who was a news anchor before she got out of the military, just as she will likely always think of me as the pregnant wife with the blonde toddler who never missed a playgroup.
I’ve bumped into all sorts of people from previous stages in my life as a military spouse, usually in random locations like the movie theatre I usually don’t go to or the wine aisle of Walmart. I even spotted a familiar face once mowing his lawn as I drove home from my son’s baseball practice.
While most of these chance encounters don’t result in lifelong friendships or even a second meeting, they do manage to leave me with all sorts of warm and fuzzy feelings. I’m transported back to that time and place, to that stage I was in when that person knew me, and once again, I’m that younger version of myself frozen in time. I’m the nerdy graduate student or the runner with the red jogging stroller or the pregnant wife with the blonde toddler who never missed a playgroup. And even if that time and place wasn’t a stage I’d care to revisit, it’s still a reminder of the incredible journey that brought me from that point to where I am now.
I may not have gotten the solitary contemplation I was hoping for that day in the hot tub, but I ended up with a different kind of reward. Not only had I been given the opportunity to reminisce about one of my favorite stages of military life, but I also walked away with the comforting thought that I can find a member of my military family just about anywhere I go.
I love those blast from the military past moments. I only hope I’ll be fully clothed for my next one.
Who have you run into from past duty stations? Have you found a renewed friendship where you least expected it?