“It’s only three years. Don’t change… be yourself you crazy bastard” — page 1 of my journal
I have never been a religious person. Even though I was raised in a Catholic household, it never interested me or made any sense. But when I felt that sharp twist and heard that loud POP! I do remember mumbling whatever words of prayer I could think of. I was begging, pleading to anyone who might be listening “not now, not me”.
Joining the Army was always something that I had considered my whole life. As a little kid growing up in the shadow of 9/11, I had always been instilled with the idea that I must serve my country. When I think about it now, it was definitely fear that drove me to join the military. The memory of my mother crying in front of our television as the first tower collapsed still haunts me to this day.
However, by the time I was a senior in high-school, military service was an afterthought. I wanted to see the world, I had already made plans to visit New York to see my cousins and then I planned on moving to Boulder, Colorado to do god knows what. It didn’t matter that I had no plan, I was an adult who was free to travel at my own leisure.
I didn’t have good grades in school. I never really cared about school; it was too organized and relied too much on order that I was unable to respect. I was not going to college, much to the dismay of most of my family. It just seemed like four more years of a system which I could not adapt to.
My future was more or less up in the air. I was in a complete free fall, the way I prefer it. My family constantly harassed me with inquiries about what I was going to do. Was I to go to community college? University? Get a job? Join the Armed Forces?
The last one really got me. I can remember numerous times where I was approached by army recruiters at my high school and I also remember laughing in the faces of each and every one. Well, almost everyone. I did convince one that I was a Canadian student on an educational visa which prevented any further harassment. The Military to me, was a way for those with power to keep their power by sacrificing those with no power. My opinions were strong and no one who knew me would have told you that I would have joined the army.
Joining the army was a rash decision. I was confident in my decision but it was definitely a mistake. My whole plan was to complete my three years, go to college and take advantage of the medical, health, and retirement benefits for the rest of my life. I was going to play the Man and beat him at his own game.
So when I signed my papers and said my oath, I was confident enough in my decision that I felt comfortable enough to forgive the abuse of military might that this country is known for.
But one month later, sitting in a hot Georgia classroom and being told I was the tip of the spear, indifference was fading. What I saw next however, epitomized the surge in nationalism that this country saw in the early 21st century. BAM! BOOM! My eyes and ears were subjected to six minutes of non-stop violence. Dead bodies, explosions, American flags draped over caskets, all while the Gipper himself spoke about the strength and courage of the USA. He spoke about liberty and fighting for freedom.
I felt light headed, and the room began to spin. It was as if I was on some strong hallucinogenic. I tried to close my eyes, praying I would wake up from this nightmare. This wasn’t for me. I couldn’t do this.
I was able to keep my feelings of doubt a secret for the lost part. I did have friends who apparently we’re sympathetic to my attitudes toward the military. Talking to them was a key part of me being able to make it as long as I did.
I began to try and forget the video and my thoughts about it faxed with each passing day. My attention shifted to being the best I soldier I could be. I shot well, did what I was told, and did the best to make sure I was physically fit. But the skepticism always came back.
But then my ankle twisted, and I heard that pop.
After that fateful day which ensured the end of my military career, I began to question everything. I watched my friends grow as soldiers but lose a piece of humanity each time they returned to the barracks. They adapted.
My friends who I was able to speak freely with at the beginning of training now treated me as an outcast. I was injured and was no longer able to continue my training so they had no reason to talk to me.
The weeks following my injury were especially strenuous. Doctors were unsure as to whether they should hold on to me or if I was a lost cause. I had no reason to go on personally, but the military wanted to make sure they squeezed each and every last bit of usefulness out of me. After weeks of being stuck in a limbo of sorts, I was finally told I would be discharged.
It was bittersweet. I was glad that I no longer had to suppress my personal beliefs, but at the same time I realized I was all the way back at square one. I had no idea what I was going to do.
Even then I felt more comfortable with the uncertainty than I had before. I learned a lot from the Army. I learned that it wasn’t for me but most of all it taught me to be confident. The first thing I did as an adult was make a huge mistake, but I was able to correct it. I felt like I could do anything.
After another month of waiting, I was finally free. I remember the agony of that one and a half hour bus ride to Atlanta. “This is dream” I kept telling myself. Even when I was sitting at the bar in some brewery, enjoying coffee and a Marlboro, I still couldn’t quite believe it.
My opinions and morals had been tested for months and now I could do whatever I wanted. Sure, I was back at square one and I had no plan, but that was best part. I could do anything. I was free to think they way I wanted, and do the things I wanted to do. Maybe I’ll go to college, maybe I’ll work, or maybe I’ll just travel the world. Fuck, who knows!
But whatever it is, it will always be something I want to do.