Butterflies swirled around in my stomach as the tan Sedan car turned the last curve on the smooth, asphalt road. The car was unusually silent. What could be said at a time like this? Anticipation thoroughly and completely consumed me. Even the cool stream of air flowing into the back seat still wasn’t enough to keep my hands from nervously sweating. I waited months to see this place and to see him again. I examined the blue details of the Rocky Mountains to distract my wandering mind. The peaks of the mountain tops glistened beneath the fading sun. The distance beheld only beauty.
The car pulled closer to the stark, white academic buildings ahead. My heart pounded as I opened the car door and stepped foot onto Colorado Springs for the first time. Others in the car already emerged and slammed the doors shut. I stood outside the car in awe of my surroundings. “So this is it? This is the U.S Air Force Academy?” I whispered to myself. The rest of the group was already several feet ahead walking along the concrete sidewalk that led to the courtyard. As I rushed to catch up, I realized something here was different. The cool evening air was thin. The altitude of the mountains meant that the air here was in short supply. Even the meager distance from the parking lot felt like an uphill trek.
Nearly everything here was paved. The academic buildings were symmetrical and angular. The landscape was purposely simple and seemed out of place in contrast with the exquisite mountainous background. Even the chapel was a rigid, triangular metal building with a jagged roof that jetted into the sky. The sound of trumpets commenced and filled the air every half hour. As a whole, this place was exactly what I imagined. The atmosphere was bleak and void of personality. The faces of the cadets seemed momentarily relieved, but not joyful. I searched through the families gathered around their loved one. And then, a familiar face appeared from around the chapel.
With a beaming grin, Nathan led us around the courtyard. We peeked over the edge to see the terrazzo. Below, thin strips of concrete divided small blocks of square marble. My fingers traced over the smooth concrete railings. “First year cadets aren’t allowed to walk on the marble” he explained. Every building he led us through bore stark resemblances. The rooms were symmetrical; the floor was square-patterned. Something about his bearing had changed also changed.
The dusk evening skies weren’t the most important detail of my trip to the Air Force Academy, nor were the bleak military buildings. This place was almost exactly as I imagined it would be. Nathan, however, was not the same person I remembered. The way he spoke was more rigid, the topics he chose were coarse, and his sense of bliss was gone. The surroundings I knew; this new boy, I did not. While he was away, Nathan conformed to fit his surroundings.
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