Let me take you back to December of 2009, I had just loaded up a 2010 Toyota Camry I had bought about 4 days prior, a deal my mom had found at the garage down the road from us. I had finished Officer Candidate School and three weeks of baby SWOS about 2 weeks prior, and I was moving to Norfolk, VA to check onboard my fist warship. I didn’t know anything about the world then. I was bright eyed and bushy tailed and I certainly didn’t know what I was going to do once I got to Virginia.
The immediate world radius I had experienced in my 22 years of life to this point were Western Pennsylvania the majority of which was the city of Pittsburgh, and my college town, Morgantown West Virginia. Aside from a few trips to see friends at different colleges in the surrounding areas and a couple of marching band trips in high school and college, my life to this point had been in one small bubble.
So when I began my move to Norfolk, Virginia, it was 3 days after Christmas and 3 days prior to the New Year. It turns out, when left to our own devices we can sort shit out. I ended up finding an apartment in the back of an old Victorian house for the first year after only 2 days in Norfolk. I furnished it all myself as all I had with me when I arrived was what could fit in that Toyota Camry and a bed sure wasn’t in there. I started out with just my sleeping bag and lite weight camp gear.
Within 2 months I met the Harmott crew. A group of 4 guys that had arrived to Norfolk 2 months after me and rented a house together less than .5 miles from my apartment. They had all been at Officer Candidate School (OCS) together and we actually overlapped while we were there but considering you don’t interact with anyone during the day including your classmates unless it’s after 22:00 when they call lights out, I didn’t recognize them at the time.
We were all on different ships and after I realized they lived so close to me, I basically became the 5th housemate as I was there all the time. Between their house and my tiny apartment was a very wealthy neighborhood with a community center and I used to rollerblade through that neighborhood often on the go between to visit the Harmott crew.
Needless to say, we had a grand time and when the year on my lease was up, I moved into the house and actually became the 5th roommate with the guys. It was the most ideal situation as we were all on different ship schedules, one roommate had to spend 6 months in Maine to commission his warship, while 3 of us deployed to the Persian Gulf in the same carrier strike group on 3 different ships, a Carrier, a Destroyer, and a Cruiser for 7 months. In addition, somehow we all ended up on different rotational duty schedules where you have to spend 1 night every 6 days onboard your ship when it is pier side to stand watch, so there was a different dynamic in the house often during our time there.
I look back fondly on these days, there was constant laughter, and fun, aside from one very loud explosive fight between me and one other guy, I don’t remember any other bickering. Plus we got over that quickly. The jokes were abundant, and so were the cooks, not including myself as I was still learning. We had great food, we all had our own rooms, and it was a wonderful place to be during one of the most transformational times in my life.
One roomate was from Texas, one from Virginia, one from North Carolina, and one was from Illinois. After experiencing some of the extreme hardships onboard a ship you can only really understand if you go through it, we could all come home to this extremely positive and wonderful support system and work through problems by bouncing them off of each other. We were all junior officers running divisions on a ship and there were a plethora of things to work through during our first tour. It helped me grow exponentially as one of our roommates was also a prior before getting picked up for OCS so he had years of experience from different perspectives to talk me through.
I didn’t take my time as part of the Harmott crew for granted, primarily because I didn’t know how great I had it until I didn’t have it anymore. The trials and tribulations I went through with this house as the backbone were plentiful. It was the rock through dark days and even darker nights. And it was a place of lifted spirits, laughter, and community that you always knew you were coming home to.
This was a place where I learned how to really embrace living in the moment. Before social media and all of that jazz, I mean what’s so crazy is that I have very few photos from this time. We didn’t ever think to take them it feels like. Which does make me a bit sad because I only have the memories in my head and it would be nice to see some of the photos to re-live them.
Every time I find myself back in Norfolk, I swing by the house. I can’t help myself. The last time was about a month ago and it was an 8 mile walk round trip that took the better part of the day to do. I always get tingles in my body when I turn off the main road to head down the lane. This time, when I was walking through, I saw a for sale sign out front and it instantly made me sad for reasons I can’t even explain. It just felt so nostalgic, and knowing that it is moving on to future owners made me think about the passing of time in that way you sometimes do, with a little bit of sadness at knowing the past is only in the hearts of those who experienced it.
So many memories came rushing back during my walk to and from that I was smiling inwardly remembering so many things I had long forgotten. Maybe I don’t need the pictures after all, the place itself still holds the same magical spell I had been under the entire time I was there. Since leaving, I have only kept in contact with one of the Harmott crew regularly as our next 2 tours had us meeting again and again.
Everyone else has fallen into the ether and although I still keep in touch with the other 2 minimally the magic of our time together ended the day we all left the house. Maybe that is why the memories still stay with the house for me like a living breathing thing. Alas, until we meet again…