I’m at the stage where I stop anticipating the end and start learning how to accept the letting go, counting off lasts on my fingers. Performed my last ever overnight duty last Friday, fortuitously with my colleagues – the spec and the clerk in my office. Opened, cleared, and closed, the armskote for the last time. Handled a SAR21 for combat training for the last time on the 24th of last month, for SOC. I’d have to look back to the 23rd for the last time I’d ever enter the office on a Tuesday, etc. (Though, with about five more working days, I’d have to be pretty optimistic if I think I’ve taught an encik twice my age how to send a bloody ASIS report on the computer for the last time)
It’s silly to feel as much as I do about an organisation that has more or less constantly struck me with a sense of mediocrity (however a well-meaning one), even sillier given that I was all too ready to up and leave a week or two, boasting about the intricate arrangement of half-day leaves. I guess what’s holding me back are the friends, who have been refreshingly various; also the (probably unjustified) fondness with which I remember the places and the activities etched persistently in association. Sweltering Tekong and leopard-crawling in any conceivable uniform and for any conceivable reason; the gaudy pink of Delta Wing, remote from book-out, E-mart and the gift shop, and where we once had to fall in in a sandal on one foot and PT shoe on the other (“so have you learned how to listen to instructions?”); the Bruneian jungle with commando ants and grotesque thorns (which I caught my ear on once when I was shagged, which was admittedly often); Stagmont, where we traded in the chiongsua for endless lectures on physics and radio waves but the challenge remained staying awake; the endless yawning roads of Taiwan (again, sleep deprivation), the 72km, but the monstrous ji pa and bubble tea at the end; finally, air-conditioned Seletar, where finally having any authority was both the relief and the challenge.
In the first day of army they gave us everything at once – our 11Bs, our gear, our uniform, our haircuts, our fear. But two years later we learn to let them go one by one. Slowly regaining authority over our hairstyles, gradually swapping in rookie fears for confidence or even masterful nonchalance. Packing our helmets and body armour back home to fester in some ill-dusted corner. Sending away the memory of stripping a rifle in half a minute, or of the incentive of running 2.4 under 9:30 (which was overtly monetary but was really always about pride), or of the first time I realised the apex ladder couldn’t daunt me anymore.
This is going to sound silly but becoming a civilian isn’t going to happen on Dec 7, when I trade in my 11B for my pink IC. It’s not momentary. It’s an exercise in making discrete what used to be decidedly seamless, and we all know I’m horrible at that.