Friday, October 11, 2013

Day 20: Winds of Change

    I felt it today. An internal earthquake. It was small at first, then as the seismic waves began to pulse, it shook me to my core. Something gave, and in that place, something else grew.  I don't know just what yet, but something has changed. Change is always good.

    I feel electrified, I am excited, and scared. There is always fear. New experiences always bring in a few unsettled waves to push you farther from your comfort zone. I know that things can never be the same, so I choose this moment to remember where I am, where I came from, to look back on.

   I don't even know where to start. My childhood? That is too cliché. I can begin my first day of college, when I began to know that I alone was going to be the force in my life...

    August 23, 2006. All I can remember is the drive. The last few moments actually. My mother and my step-father (a saint among men for taking in a 17 year old, when he had no kids of his own, and no obligation to me after my dad and I had a bad fight and I got kicked out) drove me to Elmira college. I remember being relaxed, excited and very happy. Until we got on the campus. Then a fear like I had never experienced before took hold of me. I was nearly paralyzed, and utterly panic stricken. I began to repeat over and over to my mom that I couldn't do it. I begged her to take me back home. (Yes, we are still talking about me) She laughed. And laughed some more, I was being ridiculous, so she had every right. I'm sure it was funny. But in that moment, I felt surely I would die.

    Fast forward a few weeks; I'd settled in, made amazing comrades and truly began to wonder of my worth. I did not date in the year or more I lived with my mom and step dad, so I was excited that I finally had the option. Although I was interested in plenty, I always wondered if they were just teasing me. All awkward teenager-suppressed and all that. Aside from my many social circles, and the 2 jobs I maintained in the campus café and diner, my studies were amazing. Some of them sucked. I didn't particularly enjoy the mandatory core classes. I don't even remember what it was called. Then there was the mandatory freshman English 'class on Saturday morning' yup. That one sucked so badly - I had to do it twice. Yes, I failed my freshman college English course from shear laziness and lack of desire. In all honesty the prof. weirded me out. No excuse.

    With all of that, I had my sanctuary. My art class. 3 hours, a few days a week. I honestly don't remember if it was 2 days or 3. Or 2 days one trimester and 3 days the next. I remember that I wasn't very good at actual drawing or painting. But what I was good at was vision, and learning. I learned techniques that have never left me. I had a natural knack for thinking outside the box, but the actual technique and action had to be learned. We had a pass-code-after-hours art studio, available to all the art students. I spent so much time in there. I can still remember standing outside talking to Johnny, freezing my ass off while we smoked. I can remember the hours I spent staring at my paintings in the painting section of the studio, then the hours in the drawing studio. How I grew with each piece....

   I loved that college. Loved it more than I can say. It was my first home of my own doing. My first experience in being my own person. The first time I had been stripped from any blood relative. No brothers to threaten my boyfriends, no sisters telling me I'm doing it wrong, no parents to scold me when I made a mistake. Aside from my family, Elmira College had the most influence on who I would become. After 9 months at a wonderful school, with 8 short weeks before the end of term, the financial department told me I had to find $10,000 or I could not register for sophomore year.

  I was devastated. After the scholarships, grants and financial aid, there was nothing to help me. I turned to the only other thing I knew. The United States Marine Corps. I had never endeavored to be a Marine. Never did I ever think of myself joining the military, any branch. I had 2 reasons to join. The first of which was to get money for college. I could pull four years, and get a free ride. Easy-Peasy. The second, I realized I had never heard "I'm proud of you" from my father. If I did, I don't remember. I know I have daddy issues. I still love my dad, and I do not doubt that he loves me.

   With the final weeks of school coming to a close, I found a recruiter. Sgt. Moore, I believe. In Elmira (he was related to one of the owners of our favorite beer store) Once I decided, there was no looking back. I was set. Now, I know I am stubborn. back then I thought I was easy going. As long as I got my way, which was the best. I filled out mountains of paper work, I wanted to be communications, but due to some... discrepancies on my record, they pulled it and offered me Combat Engineer. With an ASVAB of 83 to boot. I went home, no longer feuding with the majority of my family, as I was nearly the entire time in college, I stayed with my dad, we talked, and talked some more. About so many things. My dad has a wonderful ability to be incredibly real about life. A lot of people see it as pessimism, it's just realism to me. Then again, I have known him my whole life. Maybe I'm just used to it.

    I had to travel back to Binghamton NY for MEPS, and boot camp directly after. The day I left, my recruiter gave me my paper work to go in Comm. How my life would have been different if I stayed in the Combat Engineer, I will never begin to guess. I left for 13 weeks of Marine Corps recruit training on June 6th 2007. I would never again return home, I would never be the same.


      I graduated as a PFC (thank you 22 college credits, that's the only thing you've ever done for me) on August 31st 2007. I only lost 5lbs in boot camp, while others shed by the 10s, but visibly I was lean. And I do mean lean. I spent 10 days boot leave at my dad's (where he told me he was proud of me, didn't feel like I thought it would) and was off to MCT (Marine Combat Training) for 21 days. MCT was some of the coolest training I have ever gotten. All we did was learn about weapons and survival. We did patrols, firing movements, hikes, and knowledge, always knowledge. All the things you have to know to be a Marine. We made up songs (called ditties) to memorize the parts of weapons, or styles of them. M-16: Keyword: L-M-GAS Lightweight, Magazine fed, Air-cooled, Gas-operated, Shoulder fired weapon. Awesome, right?

Then all of a sudden it was over. We graduated MCT, learned the digits corresponding to our MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) mine was 0623. And no one had ever heard of it. That is how small my field was. TRC-170 operator. Muxster. I woke up one morning in North Carolina, and 24 hours later I was waking up on a bus at 4 am to be processed in to Twenty-Nine Palms Marine Corps Base.

    This is where I met my husband. Roughly 12 hours later, running around with a broom, like an idiot, in his green on green PT gear. Sweat bottoms. Saying "Just look busy and they will leave you alone. See, that's what the broom is for!" Jack-ass. I hated him and his stupid crooked smile.

   Our love story has been told a thousand times, I will pass over it.

I spent 2 months training in my MOS, then I was shipped to my duty station. Camp Pendleton, CA. 9th Crime. I mean Comm. 9th Comm Bn. December 3rd 2007. I went home for Christmas that year, to tell everyone I was engaged. As proper recourse in my family, they hated him automatically. I came back, did 2 field ops in as many months, and was awarded a Meritorious Mast, because I know my shit. And, I'm awesome, just fyi. I loved my MOS, and I knew it up one side and down the other.

  My husband and I married between my first and second field op. Shortly after found a little apartment together, and made house. Soon I began to prepare for a 3rd field op, working 18 hour days, and incessantly SL3-ing our gear. I was the only female in my platoon. It didn't occur to me that it would become a problem until it did. I had an incident in my teen years that started to come back in my memories. With a vengeance. I began having a hard time focusing on my work, being around my fellow marines. The mental breakdown was such that I began to lose my grip on reality.  They would talk among 'men', make jokes, and other platoons had problems with male and female marines fraternizing. I was questioned as to my knowledge of the matter, since I went to boot camp with one marine in question. I never realized my problems with authority until I could do nothing about it. I never realized my issues with men, until I could do nothing about it. I was trapped in the Marine Corps, and I had zero options. I was going to deploy with these very people, over seas, where the rules of war take over.

     My paranoia set in. My husband would cradle me in bed at night as I cried. I couldn't speak. I had no idea how to change the ideas from emotions to words. I was being eaten alive by a paranoia I could not control. I had no words for it, I had no idea what was going on. I had never been so panicked, scared and trapped in my entire life. The day I realized I might have a problem was a day of safety brief. For those of you who don't know, a safety brief is the most miserable 8 hours filled with information very few regard as important and killing you libo (free) time. Everything from "wear a condom" to "don't drive drunk" At this safety brief that beautifully sunny day, they began to talk about anxiety, depression, and panic attacks.... It had stuck a chord so strongly I thought my body would shake the ground with the reverberations. I sat on the floor with marines surrounding me, shaking uncontrollably and crying the entire time. Not once did anyone say anything to me. I was so scared that the speakers were talking about me that I could not say anything. I could not accept it as my reality.

    As all bad things do, the situation escalated quickly. It got to the point where my corporals would take me into the office to discuss my pros and cons (how good are you doing/areas to improve) That I could not look at them. I pushed myself hard to be a good Marine, and as their job, they pushed me even harder. Finally one of them asked "are you scared of us?" I had a 100% crazy lady breakdown, then and there. It wasn't their fault, they were genuinely nice people, but paranoia doesn't care.

Eventually, as things got worse, I made them worse. (If you want that story, go ask someone else. That is not what is important here.) When I finally began to accept what I could not change, and the fires began to smoke and die, I got help, and with that help, I got out of the Marine Corps. I was mentally too unstable to maintain it. I was active for 16  months, General under Honorable Discharge.

     We stayed in California until my husband got out of the Corps as well. From there we moved to Nebraska, (story for another time) lived in several different abodes there for 2 years. Found out we hate the cold, and we were miserable, so we moved to North Carolina. Where we reside now. This is the longest we have maintained the same house (2.5 years) We have a large group of amazing friends here, and a community to fall back on. The lives we have built here are amazing, borderline perfect. Yet, we are still young and have much to learn. I am grateful that I learn like I do, ever changing, ever adapting. I do not regret my choices in life thus far. Aside from maybe being too scared to get help. Help has made all the difference and I am happy to say, it took years, but I can maintain myself even under pressure these days. A calm happy place makes all the difference. Where do I go? Why, back to Twenty-Nine Palms of course. Where I believed myself invincible and wore that title proudly, as I do to this day.

From humble beginnings and all that. Have a blessed night my friends! I truly hope you enjoyed this one!

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