First person, begginings of a short story. Compiled from mine and friends experiences
|I had a good childhood. My parents, though divorced, were loving and supportive of myself and my sister, and my family was close. After some time spent bouncing around the country following my fathers job we settled in central Florida. It was here that I spent my childhood. I made friends, explored my neighborhood and had many of the adventures every young boy should have. My parents instilled in me a love for learning, the arts and history, and especially reading. Ever since I was young I had keen interests in both acting, and the military. Much to my mother's, and many others chagrin, I joined the marines straight out of high school. It was a decision for me that had been a long time coming. I had attended an arts high school, I had acted and been among actors and creative thinkers, but I decided I was not one of them. To me their problems seemed trivial, and I realized so too did mine. If I was to become a man, and learn what it is to have a hard life, I needed to leave the comfortable life I had lead. The Marine Corps would be my escape, and my salvation.
So eager was I, that at seventeen I began speaking with a recruiter. I had the academic scores to do anything I wished. But I was adamant, I wanted only to join the infantry, that historic maker of all things masculine, courageous and noble. I would be on the front lines of history I decided, and I convinced my parents to sign the paperwork allowing me to enlist at seventeen. I turned eighteen only five or so months before I left home, making this gesture largely symbolic.
I spent my last summer at home in an idyllic sort of stasis. Boot camp loomed on the horizon, but to an 18 year old boy anything more than a few days away is something set distantly in the future. I passed 3 carefree months with friends and family, till the day of my departure arrived. I went to the recruiting station with my father and mother, my sister,and my fathers wife. I milled about nervously with 10 or so other youths, all bound for the same place; Parris Island, South Carolina. Finally, an enormous white van pulled up out front. I hugged my family, my mother held me tight and cried. I staunched my own tears before they could fall, and climbed into the van. My recruiter stepped up to close the door. “Don't come back till you're a marine”, and the door slid shut. It was dark and gray outside the window, and I saw my family standing in the rain. I remember how scared my mother looked, holding my sister who seemed so small now. I stared, and tried to fix their faces in my memory; I would not see them for three months. We pulled away, and my old life was over.
The ride from the heart of Florida to South Carolina passed quickly. We all talked about the things we were to face, each trying to suppress his own nervous energy by pouring it out on the young man seated next to him. Eventually, there was nothing left to say. We fell silent. Some tried to sleep, others stared out the window. An hour or so outside of Beaufort, we stopped for a final meal at a Golden Corral. We stuffed ourselves as much as we could on empty stomachs. The staff was friendly, thanking us for our service with a worried look in their eye. They had seen this before, and they new they were the last friendly faces we would see in quite some time.
Stomachs filled we made the final push to Beaufort, and then to Parris Island. Coming up to the gate, we were told to drop our heads, we could not look out the window. The gate guard flashed his light into the van and chuckled. “Good luck” she said, and we drove onto the base. Streetlights passed overhead, throwing shadows in a regular spasm throughout the car. We drove for some time, before finally coming to a stop. The driver turned and looked back at us. “This is it boys. Good luck”.
The door was thrown wide open, and light spilled into the back. The humid, sultry air of South Carolina filled the car as a shadow crossed over our downcast faces. We looked up. Standing in the doorway, framed by the light stood a broad shouldered man, his eyes hidden under the brim of his green hat. He had a ghostly, other worldly quality, his outline blurred by the hazy air outside. “Get out!” he screamed.
The next week passed in a haze. I learned to scream every word I said. If I wasn't marching I was running. I signed papers, received shots, and my head was shaved bald to the point of bleeding. I put on my first uniform. I looked like a child playing dress up. We all did. I looked at my fellows, the young men who would be accompanying me through the next three months. We were all just boys. Most of us were too young to even shave. I thought of my mothers face staring after the van as we pulled away from the recruiting station. It had been only two days since then.
I learned to live meal to meal, day to day, week to week. The passage of time was measured in meals eaten each day and the number of nights slept without watch. I found a new appreciation for things like sleep, warmth and cooked food.
Church, became a critical part of all our lives. Not really because any of us had found a true belief in the almighty. Church was the only place drill instructors couldn't follow you. Here you could sing, here you could laugh, here you were told that you had worth. It became a vital weekly ritual. I stood beside atheists who sang hymns as passionately as any devotee.
We had our fair share of dropouts right at the beginning. A young man named Stanley will always remain in my mind. Stanley was a pacifist and a devout christian. He was tall, and skinny to the point of grotesque. What made him want to join the Marines I will never know, but he was generally treated with disdain. Stanley told the drill instructors he was beginning to have nightmares of combat, but truthfully, I think his will had failed him. Predictably, the drill instructors, many of them combat veterans, took issue with Stanley's story. For a week, Stanley had no rest. He was hounded by drill instructors 24/7. At night they would come into our squad bay and rouse him from sleep to drill him and run him back and forth across the room. He was inconsolable. He cried like a child most every day. Then one day we didn't see him. Stanley was gone. We saw him 3 weeks later in the recruit separation platoon, being processed off the island. He did not seem the least bit regretful.
Life moved on at the island. Others dropped, and others became hardened to the routine. I became close friends with the young man who shared the rack across from mine. His name was Fluette. He had been a high school athlete, with a promise of a full ride scholarship for football to a college whose name I can't remember. He had lost it helping protect his brother during a drug deal, and had joined the marines looking to provide for his infant daughter. I believe that what drew me to him was his infallible good humor. There was nothing that could be done to dampen his spirit, and in being so cheery he helped prop up my own dark mood.
I wrote letters home as often as I could, and the only part of the day that I truly looked forward to was mail call which came about an hour or so before lights out. Everyone hoped to receive letters from home. My mother, father and sister wrote most often. My mother kept me abreast of the family news, my sister wrote personal letters about her life and schoolmates, and my father kept the whole of the platoon updated on various teams scores. I usually passed my fathers letters out to the few die hard sports fans in the platoon, then find a quite spot in the back of our laundry room to read the others.
For a boy separated from home by time and distance, there was no greater anathema than those letters. I remember receiving letters at the rifle range. For two weeks my head had been filled with naught but the technicalities of firing a rifle. All day we would practice our aiming and breathing on the freshly mowed grass 1000 meters from our targets. My whole world was limited to the grass, the sky, the sweat on my brow and the rifle in my hands. Home and normal life was a distant memory. But at night I had my letters. My mother would write of her work at the hospital, and of my favorite restaurants in town. Life, she assured me, had not changed much while I was away. And that was a great comfort.
Its funny how you can find beauty even in the places you hate the most. For me it was the sunsets and sunrises over Parris Island. Florida's are better, but these ones had a special meaning. Sunsets meant the day was ending, and hopefully I would soon be asleep. I appreciated sunrises because there really wasn't anything else to look forward to in the mornings.
I generally managed to stay under the radar. Though my physical scores were some of the worst, and my personality was contrary to all that the drill instructors wished to instill. Where they wanted to see an aggressive, compliant athletic young man stood me; a generally calm, free thinking artistic type who had never really enjoyed sports. It had dawned on me too late that this may not be the place for me. But I had the good sense to, at least on the surface, conform to the standards set. I yelled, acted tough, kept up with the others as best I could and generally pulled off the best portrayal of the archetypal marine recruit that I could.
My performance was flawed however, and every now and then my instructors saw through the cracks.