In a few weeks, I’ll be losing one of the biggest reasons for adopting a pen name. My brother will be retiring from his position in the United States military, and I’m finding it a strange transition. I’m not a military “dependent” but I never really felt like a civilian either.
I was in kindergarten and my brother was in fourth grade when he decided he wanted to serve in the armed forces. We went through a few adjustments of specialty and how to get there, but from that time onward, his life was shaped around that goal. By extension, mine was too, although I never saw a clear path for myself to serve. Still, I was my brother’s recruit, the private to his lieutenant until I became annoyed with all the salutes and climbing ropes.
When I was eighteen and he really was a lieutenant, I had a new challenge: don’t screw up his security clearance. This was more complicated than it sounds; I loved to travel, had very little concern for my own safety, and thirsted to make a difference somewhere even if it was outside the rules.
I stayed inside the rules…barely. I look back now and see how fragile it all really was. The right path isn’t always obvious. I wonder if it ever is. I have many regrets yet know that the opposite decisions could easily have become fatal mistakes.
In writing, I’ve given some experiences and what-ifs a new voice. Being on the sidelines naturally gives a different perspective on the people in the center of the storm. Embassies, government contractors, military and the people who love them have stories that deserve to be heard. With every manuscript, I research like a biographer and then dial back some of the details, because some truths shouldn’t get a spotlight. Always, always, I wondered whether an accidental truth could be perceived as my brother saying too much. If you knew my brother, the idea is laughable, but the bureaucracies of national security don’t err on the side of grace. Thus, as I began writing for publication, I chose to put another degree of separation between us by choosing a pen name.
What have I given to my country? However it was that I managed to stay out of serious trouble, at least I allowed a stellar officer to rise within the ranks and become a key part of our national security. He never talks about the details of what he has done, but I’ve seen the awards and promotions. I’m proud of him and all he has accomplished, and I know he’ll do great things in civilian life too.
Even writing that, I feel I’m claiming too much credit for myself. I did what I was supposed to do, nothing above and beyond basic duty. It doesn’t seem like enough in the grand scheme of things. It’s more like the thing I tell myself when I lie awake in the night, wondering if I’ve made good use of this gift of life.
I’ve decided to keep my pen name, partly for business reasons and partly because we are both looking for our next adventure in life. I want our new chapters to be bold, making the past seem grey by comparison. If you have reason to know my real name, I’ll share it freely. I’m the same person, just with a few different job titles. Still, I might ask about your security clearance before I share my brother’s name.