Fuck, we all make mistakes right?
Most of you know that I spent fours years of my life in the United States Marine Corps and while I’m proud of that today; there’s an episode or two along the way that I’d rather forget. Allow me to explain…
I won’t get into the details of why I joined Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children. Suffice to say that it wasn’t out of any deep sense of patriotism or loyalty to my country. I guess, like many of us, I was just looking for way out.
I don’t think anything can prepare you for the first time that you leave home for any extended period of time. In retrospect, I had it pretty good. My folks had either no clue or didn’t care about my comings and goings but as long as I wasn’t dragged back home in handcuffs or in the backseat of patrol car , they were happy. Or, at least numb. Anyway, a couple of days after graduating from high school, I was in for the wake up call of my life.
Boot camp will do that to you.
Anyway, I had signed up under a program that was called the “guaranteed grunt". Basically, you signed your life away for the next four years in exchange for a $2,500 signing bonus payable once you completed three months of basic training. The caveat was that you were going to be an 0311 and you'd best put on your walking shoes and do what you were told.
Now, I don’t know about you but back in 1976 that was more money than I’d ever seen and being all of seventeen at the time it dangled in front of my eyes like a kid in front of a candy store window. I didn’t need much more persuading and it wasn’t long before I signed on the dotted line along with my parents permission.
Three months of hell followed. Parris Island, South Carolina from the middle of June to the middle of September is like an oven. A blast oven. I was counting the days until I’d get leave and be able to visit back home with my friends and hang out on the corner drinking beer and just shooting the shit.
When you’re seventeen or eighteen, the world seems to be spinning faster. People seem to come and go a lot more frequently than they do later in life. Things change seemingly overnight and sometimes it seemed as if there was nothing left to hold on to but your closest friends. Two weeks of leave just wasn’t enough but I had my duty to do and my country was calling.
Newbies anywhere are usually easy prey. I don’t care if it’s here at E2, or in whatever kind of school or prison you might find yourself in. The military is no exception.
I remember cashing that freakin’ check for the twenty five hundred the moment I put my feet down in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I had received my assignment, my pockets were flush with cash and I was looking to make new friends.
I never knew how much people played poker in the service and I was the perfect pigeon. I think it took all of maybe a week to blow the whole wad. I was pissed at myself, pissed at my fellow marines and pissed at the world in general. I wanted to go home.
So that’s what I did. I hitched a ride from something called “swoop circle” at Lejeune that dropped me off at Times Square in the heart of New York City. From there, it was a fifty cent subway ride back to the friendly confines of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn into the outstretched arms of what I thought was freedom and to the warm embrace of my waiting friends. There was no way I was gonna tell my family.
I think I lasted about a week. My friends would sneak me into their basement to sleep and to feed me but they were afraid of getting caught by their own parents. I was, after all AWOL and I was getting to be more and more of a burden. I remember spending two long nights riding the “R” train back and forth from Bay Ridge to Astoria, Queens with only my duffle bag to keep me company and my head nodding off in fits of sleep only to be awakened when the train pulled into another station.
People, for whatever reason somehow seem to have an innate sense when something is wrong with one of their own kind and I could feel their stares burning holes right through me. Maybe it’s curiosity or maybe it’s pity or maybe they can sense weakness or vulnerability. All I knew was that it was the dead of winter, it was cold and I was ashamed.
Finally, broke beyond belief, I called up an old football coach of mine looking for help. His family ran a funeral parlor and he said I could stay the night there but the next morning he was going to drag my ass back to the recruiting station and explain what happened. He said if I didn’t go back, chances are, in the not too distant future, I’d have wound up as one of his customers on a cold metal slab .
To make a long story short, I went back and paid the price. Being confined to barracks for a while and receiving extra duty for a longer while were great incentives not to go that route again. Along the way, it probably cost me a stripe but I kept my nose clean enough to get out with an honorable discharge. That’s not to say that I didn’t fuck up a few times more when I was in the service but never to the degree I had done before. There was no way I was gonna put myself or my friends through that again.
It’s funny what a few words in an old abandoned nodeshell will make you think of when they catch your eye and your frame of mind is in the right kinda place. It's been about thirty years since I'd pulled that stunt and I’d thought that little episode was buried so deep inside me that it’d never be told again and then BOOM!
It all comes back in a rush of words.
I guess life is funny that way.