Wednesday, March 20, 2013

As You Were

As some of my peeps know, I’m writing a book about my Army days. I started writing this 15 years ago, just a year after my discharge, but so many different circumstances prevented me from finishing it. This year I decided to pick it back up and finish the damn thing. I’m very close to a very rough first draft, and I’m confident I’ll actually have a completed manuscript by the end of this year. What happens to it after that matters to me far less than the knowledge that such a huge part of my life will have been documented all in one place.

I kept a diary for that year, and I have letters that I had written home throughout my enlistment. This initial process has been just typing it all out chronologically and outlining specific things that were important to me at the time.

When I began this story, I was 20 years old and had been discharged less than a year prior to sitting down to write it all down. The tone back then was very much one of disgust and bitterness towards an institution that I felt had ruined my life. Back then, I was still raging against a machine that I held responsible for what I thought would be a lifetime of unending physical and emotional pain. I spent a great deal of time writing about boyfriend drama and the inconveniences of being forced to salute officers I didn’t like. I thought this story was to be an expose of what really goes on behind the scenes of the military and to discourage young women from joining.

Only now, at 35, am I able to look through the eyes of my 18 year old self and truly see that that wasn’t the real story. As maturity and life circumstances have changed my perception of the world, I’ve come to realize that I was an entitled, self-obsessed child playing at being a soldier. I’ve joked to other former soldiers that they were in the “real Army,” and I was in the “pretend Army,” and that is absolutely true. I fashioned a reality for myself then that didn’t fit with what the Army line was. I shined my boots and ironed my uniform, but the whole time I thought all of it was beneath me. I used to brag that I had never saluted an officer and gladly took the pushups thinking that I was rebelling against conformity. Which would have been a radical statement had I not volunteered for the whole damn thing.

I put myself in unsafe situations, treated those I loved quite brutally, and spent a great deal of time feeling sorry for myself because of things that had happened to me. Things that I took zero responsibility for, placing all blame on others so that I could continue to wallow in the precious self-loathing that made me feel special. It’s only now that I can see just how truly emotionally explosive and damaged I was at that time.

In Basic Training, I was assigned to watch over a girl who had tried to kill herself in front of us, and I wrote in my diary about how pathetic she was and how nervous she made me. Months later, when I was so overwhelmed and depressed that I tried to do the same thing,  it was too late to be the compassionate person she had needed in those moments.  There is an actual moment, while watching some of the hospital patients in the psych ward on base playing basketball, that I realized they were no different than I was, and that moment paralyzed me with fear that I would be found out. I learned to contain my crazy and step outside of myself long enough to survive.

And that ended up being the real story. Not a story about how horrible the military is for women. Not a story about all the injustices that were done to me by the powers that be who wanted to destroy all of my individuality.  Through time and distance, I have discovered that the true story behind all of this is in what happens when an immature, depressed, and fragile child is given a rifle and taught how to kill another human being. Who is told it is her responsibility to keep her country safe from “the enemy” but has such little knowledge of the world outside her small town that being dropped in a foreign country to carry out that action would have been laughable.

Finally being honest about the person that I was and how that shaped my perception of the experiences I went through has really helped me reconcile many of the traumas that I associated with that time. This story may end up being one of healing and growth.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Living the hell out of this life

This year has been all about changes for me. Changing not only my look but my universal outlook as well. The last few years have been stressful and sometimes overwhelming, and I am aware that I tend to let that stress fester inside of me until I look on the outside how I feel on the inside. A mess. That first year of homeschooling was a buffet for the inner critic, and she often feasted on my insecurities and fear. And then I decided to quit feeding her. It really was that simple. I may inadvertently throw her a crumb here and there, but that bitch is starving.

So, while I am starving the hell out of the voice that spent a lifetime trying to convince me I was ugly, stupid, awkward, chubby, I have begun feeding the voice that tells her to shut the hell up. And what I’ve noticed is that the quieter the inner bitch gets, the more confident I feel. I am probably too damn old to wear some of the clothes that I wear now. I know that people stare at me when I go out in my old lady glasses and victory rolls, but I feel fucking fabulous, so I don’t care. I’m having the time of my life, and my friends don’t seem too embarrassed to be seen in public with me, so I’m going to continue to devour as much fun and freedom as I can until I decide to stop.

I used to sit at home on the couch every night watching TV until I was too tired to move, and then I would drag my frumpy ass to bed wishing I had enough energy to go out. Now, even if I’m exhausted from teaching my kiddo, doing the housework, shopping, blah, blah, I will force my old, tired ass into a cute outfit and paint the town with a friend. And I have never once regretted that choice. Because I have the best friends around, who not only support and encourage me, but are always down for a good time. Last month, my buddy Kate and I went to see a very cool band in Chicago called Honeyhoney. Kate is my go-to gal for concert shenanigans. She loves music as much as I do, and she never gets embarrassed if I dance like a jackass. She is the cat’s pajamas.


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We were crazy close to the stage – it’s a very small venue – and the band is still so unknown that they genuinely seemed surprised every time we applauded. In a later post, I will discuss how the banjo is the perfect instrument, so you can understand how much I geeked out watching this band.

A few weeks later, I invited my good friend Jane out to dinner, and we hit up a Cajun joint in Plainfield called MoeJoe’s. Lucky for us, we got what the hostess referred to as “THE booth.” We sipped on hurricanes, and I binged a bit on sweet potato fries. They play excellent music before 10 pm – a little bit of Stevie Ray, Johnny Cash, and even some Pink Floyd. Then, they cleared out the front part of the restaurant, a DJ came in, and the place became Douchebro Central. We quickly got the hell out of there. Once Ke$ha remixes come out, I gotta bail or I get stabby.

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Now, I am certainly not a believer in “things happen for a reason,” but if I did, Jane would be one of those people that I was meant to be friends with. She was my son’s special ed teacher at a school he never should have gone to. I immediately connected with her, and while Perrin was attending that school, I would often tell John that it was a shame Jane was his teacher, because I would totally want to hang out with her. So, after I pulled Perrin out of school to homeschool him, I emailed her and asked her on a date. From that point on, she’s been a pea in my pod.

One day soon, I hope to get my homegirl, Debbie, to come out with us. And then I will force her into a picture.  Ren Faire is right around the corner, Debbie. You shan’t avoid my camera forever.

I spent way too long in a cage that I built, truly believing that there was no longer a point to trying to be pretty or expressing myself because I stopped mattering. I allowed my life to revolve around parenting or housekeeping or any number of obligations that gave me an excuse to stop living.

I am not dead yet. I choose to live.