There was a knot in my stomach but no tears yet to cry. There was no platoon standing behind me or a cannon to signal the end of my journey in combat boots. It was just a cubical space filled with memories of someone else’s’ life. It wasn’t even an office space.

The entire day was an illusion, a camera flash of the past 23 years of saluting the flag, early morning runs, and mandatory briefings. I remember looking down at my boots, slightly worn as they rested on the old stained carpet, trying to figure out where to place my eyes. I waited for the gentleman with neatly pressed civilian attire to bless me with my DD 214 to finalize the missing pieces of my puzzle.

This moment didn’t feel real even though I longed for that crisp piece of paper with my social security number written all over it. Drenched with memories, pain, sorrow, and joy; that DD 214 was everything.

I waited, and waited, looked up at the ceiling, then finally, just like that, it was right in front of me.

My DD 214 was ready for my signature.

Suddenly, my body became suffocated with the realization that I was about to travel into the unknown, a place I’d never been before.

As I walked away from my final destination, time stood still as the chapters in my storybook began to close. There were no cheers, no one stood up from their desk to congratulate me, no smiles, no job well done. That was it?

I had my most prized possession in my hand, but to the outside world, it was still business as usual.

I stood in the parking lot clinging to that piece of paper, experiencing a moment of gratitude and isolation, while denying my tears the privilege of running down my motionless face.

I made it! I survived cold nights in the field, early mornings at the weapon range, sand storms in Iraq, broken hearts, insecurities, loneliness, and tears.

I survived it!