(Sally: I’m beginning to think I should just block you from the site.)
The Monday after “One Fateful Saturday Night” I woke up but I didn’t want to be awake. I wanted nothing more than to sleep. In fact, I never wanted to wake up. I didn’t care about school. I didn’t care about my friends. I didn’t care about the fact that I was only a day away from the next Young Life meeting. I was disconnected with the world and there was only one person in it that mattered (that’s still me). I was a brooding teenager who had his world shattered in the same way that so many other teens had probably had their worlds shattered. And much like the rest of them who had similar situations occur in their lives I was unsure of how to deal with my life and the unfortunate incidents that occurred in them (a year or so later I would take part in the much more unhealthy act of self-mutilation, as opposed to the life altering decision I made this time around. I didn’t cut myself in that process but…well, if you ever see me and see many perfectly formed circle shaped scars on my body you will probably be able to figure out which version was my self-mutilation of choice, much to the dismay of Sally).
That entire day I was in a haze as I sat through classes. I wasn’t there in person. My body was, but that was about it. I chose to sit in my varying desks, staring out of whichever window happened to be around until my shop class where I was talking to my buddy “Pete”. We were in the darkroom because it was easier to get away with dipping as opposed to the classroom where our teacher was exponentially more able to catch us. Pete was a senior, getting ready to graduate and he was going off into the military. We had talked about all of his plans for post high school a lot, especially since I thought I might want to do something in the same vein. I had already met his recruiter and had been introduced to other recruiters in the office, so I asked him if he was going by there after school that day. He said he was, so I told him I was going to catch a ride there with him.
Throughout most of my life I have come to snap decisions and have just ran with them. I decide I want to do something and that’s it, there is no stopping me. I am going to do that at whatever cost. I made the snap decision to move to Chicago in 2010, on my way there I changed course and ended up in Nashville on a snap decision. I made the snap decision to smoke weed because I wanted to be around someone more (that was a mistake). I made the snap decision to join a pyramid scheme (that was a much less expensive mistake). I have broken up with girls on a whim, for no other reason than I decided at that minute to do it. I moved to Florida on a snap decision I made one February morning and ran with it until the day I pulled out of Nashville. I have taken vacations on a megrim, which I would recommend for just about anyone, especially if you can leave your mobile at home. It is 100% liberating. None of these decisions though were as brave, or mindless, as the one I had made on this particular Monday.
I also convinced myself I had decided this for all the right reasons (Nobody can lie to me better than myself). I had put a lot of thought into this decision (yeah, through my first two periods and lunch. That was a long thought process when making a life altering choice). I was doing this for the money, the experience, the G.I. Bill and the training to do something I had always dreamed of doing. I saw this decision as a ways to a means, instead of admitting to myself what this really was. This was the first time I had figured out how to do what I really do best, and what I really do best (even to this day) is run away from my problems.
I was a 16-year-old kid, about to be 17, but I thought I was an adult (Now I’m in my thirties and I think I’m a kid). I was short and skinny, but full of energy. I was pretty good at swimming. I liked to write a lot of stories I made up in class while I was supposed to be paying attention to whatever lesson was being taught. I enjoyed making people laugh when I could get people to see the real me, which never really happened at the time. I liked to play baseball or basketball in the backyard. I hated my little sister’s boyfriend because I thought (knew) he was a douche. I spent time at night thinking about what it would have been like to be one of the popular kids who didn’t seem to have any problems in their lives, and got invited to parties at the pretty girls houses instead of an occasional phone call to find out what the English homework for that day happened to be. I was almost 17 and still wondering when that amazing day would come in which I would finally get my first real kiss (December 14th, 1996. Yeah, I know the date. It was in a rated-R movie, which I bought the tickets for legally. I was able to buy tickets to any movie, other than in an “adult” theater, before I got my first kiss). I was a teenager, a kid, and that evening I would be walking into my parents house with a contract they had to sign in order to allow me to leave for the summer to go to Basic Training for the United States Army. These were the actions of someone who was born to run away.
The next few months were a blur. It was a series of tests, and processing, and different meetings, and paperwork I had to turn in. On top of all of it I still had the rest of my junior year of high school to worry about. Luckily, if you had a “B” average you got exempt from taking exams. That year I think I had to take two. It should have been three but my English teacher bumped my grade a point since I was going to be heading to basic training in Ft. Jackson, SC., the same base her son went to a few years before. This was her way of thanking the troops for their service and I was happy to be the recipient of the thanks.
Oddly enough, during this time I had begun to see a girl named “Shannon” (for all of you who are fans and think you recognize that name from other stories, that’s because it is the same Shannon from those stories) I had met through Young Life. I was a little excited to finally have a girl interested in me, so much in fact I was willing to do things I found to be pure torture, like go and watch her play in a high school soccer game. That’s how I wanted to spend a Saturday afternoon. It was all worth it though for the “meaningful and wonderful relationship” we shared over the next month or so before I left for Basic. It was apparently so special, she didn’t even show up to my going away party my parents threw for me. In all fairness though, like four people came who weren’t adults, so I can’t really blame her too much for that one.
Then came the day, that terrifying day. I didn’t have a summer break. The day I finished my junior year I jumped into the backseat of my parent’s car and they drove me to MEPS (military entrance processing station for those of you who have never had the joy of going to Basic). They took me to my hotel, hugged me goodbye, I’m certain there were tears (from them, not me, because, you know, I’m manly) and drove away, leaving their 17-year-old son in the capable hands of the United States Government because he needed to run away from his problems.
Fun fact: One day I was looking for a new writing style. I didn’t know what to do. I had yet to start writing the autobiographical tales I am writing now. I was taking this English class and I had to write a short story about something I had done in my life. This is a segment of that story and how I came up with the idea to write the things I write now. Enjoy:
“There I was. Standing perfectly still, soaking wet, in the scorching South Carolina sun having just sprinted through a rainstorm that had disappeared as quickly as it had come. The bag I was carrying that held every item I had been instructed to bring with me – nothing more, nothing less – was soaked through. I remember thinking to myself that it was starting to feel as though the bag weighed more than I did, at my lean 130 pounds (yes, I was a tiny, tiny kid).
I looked around at the guys with whom I would be spending the next few months. I was by far the smallest, albeit not the shortest and I remember thinking to myself I had made a huge mistake. Most of them were taller than I, and the few that weren’t were much bigger than I had ever thought I could be. I felt like a twig in a forest of red woods. I silently cursed the genes and late blooming tendencies of my familial line.
The pit that had been growing in my stomach felt like a rock, resting uncomfortably in place as I thought about all the fun things I could be doing with my summer. My friends from high school would be out partying, drinking, camping and going to the beach. I would not be doing those things. I would be alone. I would have no access to phones, emails, text messages, or Facebook (because it was 1996, we didn’t have these things). The only way I could contact people would be through letters. The old fashioned kind that nobody ever sent anymore. I swallowed hard, as I slightly panicked for the 1,000th time that day wondering if my list of addresses had gotten soaked in the down pour we had all just been ordered to run through.
It was unlike any movie I had ever seen. Just like they had warned me many times before that day, nothing could have prepared me for what the experience would be like. We were instructed to march, single file, to where we would be living for the next nine weeks. Their voices boomed through the air, echoing inside my head, as every decision I had made leading me up to this moment came flooding back like a gag reel of bad choices. Was my desire to run away a valid enough reason to be where I was standing now? Did I choose this path because I really wanted this life, or just because I didn’t want my own?
They continued to yell at the young fresh faces that walked (completely out of unison) by them. Insulting each one personally, working on tearing them down little by little, in an attempt to break their spirit. The barrage of spewed hatred cut deep as I passed by. I realized all the bullies I had dealt with throughout school did not have the ability to personally hurt me the way these men had in only a few moments without even knowing me as a person. To them, I wasn’t a person. I was scum. I was the lowest of the low. I was a grunt that hadn’t proved myself to the world yet and odds were I would fail trying to do so.
We ran through a doorway being instructed to take a right as soon as we entered the building. I followed the young boy in front of me as we ran up two flights of stairs. One of them yelled at us to go down a hallway and fill out the rooms as we passed by them. I did as I was told, as did every other terrified, nervous, anxious kid.
I followed the kid in front of me into room 248 and he and I stood next to a bunk bed at the entrance to the room. I could feel my heart beating in my chest. I was tired, exhausted even. I was sweating from running in the South Carolina heat, but the new clothes that they had outfitted me with, soaking wet from the summer rainstorm, were giving me an awkward chill.
Outside of room 248 I could hear them yelling at other kids. Kids that weren’t quite capable of following the instructions on which room to enter and which bunk to stand next to correctly on the first attempt. I swallowed hard but didn’t want to appear too frightened in front of the people I would be spending the next few months living with. I did my best to put on my game face, the one I learned in swimming when I thought the person in the lane next to me might be a little faster than I was, and took a quick look around at the seven other kids that I shared that room with.
Hoveland, Jackson, Warren, Gaebel, Marsden, Beresford and Schindler, the kid I followed into the room, solemnly stood next to their respective bunks. I could see it across their faces as well. Each of them was trying, just as I was, to hide it. It was universal. The unsettling terror that was burrowing a hole in my stomach was being demonstrated over the faces of who would soon become my best friends. A nervous lip bite translated to a nervous anticipation. A thin glean of sweat across the brow was a muddled fear. They were all just as terrified as I was at that moment. They were all second guessing their decisions, just as I was. They were trying to hide all of these fears and emotions by putting on their own versions of their game faces.”
Those guys. Jesus. I haven’t thought about many of them in a while. I’m friends with a few of them on Facebook. Even took a trip once to see Beresford (another one of my endeavors in running away from my problems). That day seems like a lifetime ago. I was 17. That means that day happened 17 years ago. It was a lifetime ago (You all couldn’t see the pause I just took as I came to that realization but, wow, mind = blown).
I could sit here and regale you with the entire summer and what it was like to be a kid in Basic Training. I could tell you about people I met (whatever happened to Strawberry, Data, or Sewell I wonder?), or the drill sergeants we had. But the point of the story would be lost in the details.
Around these people, once we got past that first day and settled into the fact we weren’t going anywhere for a while, I was able to be myself. These guys were there to see me at my best (broke company record for most sit-ups in a minute) and see me at my worst (Shannon wrote me a letter saying she had hooked up with someone else. Yeah, I got that letter. Don’t worry. I got my revenge later. You can read a little about my revenge process here). They didn’t care I spent my nights writing on Army approved notepaper. In fact, they condoned it. We were teenagers being trained to kill our enemies and defend a nation. We had to be ourselves and be accepting of who each other was, because if we ended up in war together the guy to my right was going to be the difference between me living and dying, just as I was going to be the difference between him living or dying in the same situation.
That summer was the best summer break of my life. I didn’t like waking up at five in the morning to go on a three mile run, but when you give me an M-16 to play with later in the day and say, “Wright, can you hit that target 300 yards away?” I’m going to be delighted to find out. I went camping, kind of. I slept in a tent for a few days. That counts. I got tear-gassed, that made me want to vomit so it was like drinking a lot. It also gave me a bit of a head rush. We may not have partied in the typical sense but we had some good times shining our boots together and getting to bed by 9:00, 9:30 on the weekends.
I remember this moment during live ammo combat training. I was crawling through some mud under barbed wire as live rounds were being shot above our heads. I was heeding the warning of the drill sergeants of “don’t stand up” (I had felt this was sound advice). I remember thinking I didn’t want to be anywhere else that summer. None of my friends (at the time) could say they had done what I had done.
When graduation came around and all of the families came down to see their children, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, dads and moms graduate there was a communal sense of jubilation. None of us were the same kids we were 9 short weeks ago. We had all grown. Together. There was a bond between us that was never going to go away, or at least that’s what we thought. But like with most summer camps, you meet people, you promise you’ll write and stay in touch. And you do. For a while anyway. Eventually the communications get less. You may call once a year as opposed to once a month, or once a week. The emails all but disappear. Soon you’ll find yourself attempting to remember the first names of the people you found yourself so close to only a few short years ago (17, yeah, I get it, I’m getting older). That doesn’t change how I feel about them. They are still very important in my life and I will always remember that summer together.
We’re all in our thirties now. Some of us have spouses. Some of us have kids. Some of us (whose got two thumbs?) don’t have either. And even though we are spread out across the country and many of us don’t really talk anymore, we will always have each other in some fashion.
I went back home after that (I had to finish high school, they weren’t ready to ship me off to Bosnia just quite yet). My life was better when I returned. I’m not going to say it was perfect, but it had definitely gotten better. I didn’t care what people thought of me so much anymore. I could be myself anywhere I wanted to. It didn’t matter.
That summer taught me a lot about myself. It taught me I can do a lot more than I ever thought possible. It taught me I possess more strength than I knew. It taught me I could throw a live grenade really far, because I didn’t want that thing blowing up anywhere near me. It taught me I could be the best at things, and when I wasn’t the best at things it was ok, because the guy that was the best was on my side. It taught me snap decisions are ok and I have found there rarely are negative backlashes to them (Thinking about it, are there positive backlashes? There has never been a time I have ever thought to myself, “Man, I would really like a good backlashing right now. Can someone please do me like Kunta Kinte? That sounds like an excellent way to spend an evening.”).
All of this was to say I survived that summer and that time in my life. It was a difficult summer, but it was fun at same time. I came back stronger, braver and less afraid to be myself around more people. One Fateful Saturday Night changed my life. It lead me into the Army, which turned into an opportunity where I could learn about myself and grow as a person. Something bad happened, and that situation was turned into a positive. I’m not saying “when life gives you lemons” or any shit like that, sometimes life sucks. The test of who you truly are is how you react during those times. It’s your responsibility to pull yourself out of the muck and mire and give yourself the life you feel you deserve. I wasn’t happy with my life multiple times; to no ones fault but my own. I take responsibility for my mistakes and my decisions because they have all lead me to the person I am today. That person might be narcissistic and sociopathic, but I understand and am grateful for all of the experiences that made me who I have become.