The day I left for the Army I can not remember if my knees were knocking or completely paralyzed together. I was beside myself with emotion. I anticipated the challenge ahead, but I was scared to death. I could never have imagined what life would be like in the service, and second hand information is nothing like experiencing it yourself. It reminds me of the war stories of giving birth. You hear a combination of horrible and wonderful stories, but your experience can be unique & nothing like anything you had heard before. I believe this is because both experiences are the type in which you can not put into words.
The first few days all I wanted to do was roll over and die, lay down and cry. I could not believe the amount of hurrying up to just continue waiting we were forced to do, and than trying to stay awake with only a few hours of sleep. I immediately missed my daughter, and my heart ached terribly to hold her and breathe in the smell of her sweetness. In all honestly I also missed being in control, I could not manipulate my surroundings & I felt like a fish out of water. My ego taunted and haunted me in these waiting hours with the regret of leaving my daughter behind, the very ego that led me to where I stood was tormenting my spirit with endless hours of abuse.
The lines for the phones were long, and there was never a guarantee that my daughter would be available to talk. As one could imagine, I wasn't on my husband's priority list. I had left him to begin a new life, and he was bitter in the wake of that aftermath. I could leave, and he was left to pick up the pieces. So having our daughter easily accessible was not as important to him as it was for me. We stayed married only for the benefits of me not having to give up rights to my daughter in order to join the Army and so that he could have medical insurance. I was very good at bargaining for what I wanted & using my manipulation skills in order to remain in control. In hind site, my life couldn't have been more our of my control at every second. But it didn't matter, as long as I could convince myself that it was so, than so it was.
I had become a runner, not in the sense of actually running miles in the service. Instead when the going got tough I would simply self destruct and run like hell. The running now led me to place that was not so easily left behind, the military had me for the next four years & they were in control. This was a new concept for me, I could not just give a notice and I could not just quite. Somehow the same traits that haunted my life became very beneficial to my success within the service, it was mind over matter. I was good at convincing myself of what ever proved necessary to the survival of training in the military. The mind is an amazing tool, and by this time I was certainly a master of my own mind.
During basic I learned that responsibility and discipline were important to survival, not just for the preparation of war but in training. I only had to be disciplined one time for falling out of a one mile run, no shower, late chow, and two extra hours of what the Army called Motivational PT. I would continue on in basic training flying just under the radar, I would do what I had to do, but did not excel so much that the Drill Sargents learned my name.
The two most vivid memories of basic for me would be the gas chamber and low crawling the sand pit. Not because they were horrible, or that I conquered them. Instead it was because they reminded me of my life, & these two training days rocked me to the core emotionally.
The gas chamber was a combination of frightening and completely torturous. At one point I even thought maybe they had poisoned us by using too much riot gas because we were close to the last platoon to go in. It turned out that they had meant for you to choke, burn, and gag until you felt like you would die. This technique was valuable to everyone's survival during chemical warfare. You and your buddies would never fail to dawn your gas mask within 30 seconds or less, & would always recognize the signals that alerted you to do so. For me it was a real life example of what it felt like to slowly suffocate, & that alone was a replica of my very life.
The sand pit seemed like a walk in the park after surviving the gas chamber, the little pit seemed like a bump in the road in comparison. Perception is everything & what I saw was not at all what was. After being instructed to low crawl with my helmet, (bullet proof and heavy by the way), & my M-16, (awkwardly long and heavy itself), I still thought positively that the sand pit was not very long & this would be a breeze. Taking on that sand pit would prove to be much harder than it looked. Keeping my weapon out of the sand and my head down, was not as easy as I had anticipated. I would not crawl that pit with out raising my head to see how far I had gone, only to meet the eyes of my Drill Sargent, who reminded me of Grace Jones. She would deem me dead & send me back again and again. It would become a battle of control, I could not crawl with out peeking at my progress. I continued to kill myself over & over, until finally I let go of the need to control where I was going or how far I had gone. What a mirror of my own life the pit would become. I cried when no one was looking, resting in the middle of the pit until I collected myself so I could complete the challenge before me. I hated that sand pit, a reflection of how much I hated my life, but only in secretly within the depths of my soul where I could hide it from the rest of the world. The cycle I was trapped in was my prison, & it was a cycle that I would continue repeating over and over again.
These tools I accumulated in the moments of training should have been enough for me to make some well needed changed within my life. This could have been the beginning of much needed positive twist in my life, but it would not happen that way. It would be many more years before I put these tools to use. It was like handing a screw driver, hammer, and shovel to someone who had no clue how to use them. I understood how they made me feel emotionally, but instead of using the shovel to dig my way out, I dug my hole even bigger. I lacked the knowledge and the discipline to make these tools useful in my life.
The good news is that one day these tools would prove as life saving devices for me. I believe this is the journey in life, experiencing things and collecting useful information that will one day be valuable at the cross roads of life where you just get it. The "ah ha" moments that finally bring you full circle right where you needed to be. There would be many more years of running, lying, and denying before I would save myself.
While in the service yet another man would be my down fall. I went on to have my second child by whim, and with a man I barely knew. I would give up my career for him, & tell tall tales of why I ran yet again. Not only to myself but to many people in my life. I did not give up my dream of being in the service for my children, and I didn't do it for myself, I did it for a man & for the hopes to once again finding security in places I had no business looking for it.
I would take with me an honorable discharge, a tool I could use to continue lying to myself. The service, in my own mind, agreed that I left honorably. I didn't finish my time, and there would be nothing honorable about that. Now faced with yet another life in my hands, in which I had no business taking on, I set out for another devastating chapter within my life, & the lives of my children. The road ahead of me in this time of my life would be the most disastrous of all!
(More to come...)