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January 1, 2009 / Maleesha Kovnesky

Part 1: The Fog

INTRO:  This is the first in a series of posts about why I decided to join the Marines.  In reality, it’s not a big deal.  People sign up every day.  In fact, that is one of the things that made it easier to handle…the thought that “thousands of others have done this, so I can too.”  But I get asked the question all the time, so why not just write it down?  Hey look!  A blog!  I think I will put it here.

I faced a LOT of crap for my decision.  I wasn’t the “type,” people said.  It didn’t take me too long to figure that there is no type.  And I can honestly say that joining the Marines was the best decision I ever made. 

The story will come in parts.  Feedback would be great; I would hate to pour my soul out to the world and just get a few tumbleweeds blowing across my screen.  And I know you don’t want to see a Marine cry.  ******************************************************************

It hurt to think about the future.  Maybe hurt is the wrong word.  I tried to think about the future, but I couldn’t.  I wanted to think about it.  All of my friends and classmates had plans and hopes and dreams, but when I tried to peer into my future I saw nothing but fog. 

In retrospect, I was burnt out at the ripe old age of seventeen.  It sounds silly, but  I had spent my high school years burning the candle at both ends.  I had worked since junior high (about 4 1/2 years, essentially 25% of my life at that point), I dove deeply into extracurricular activities at school as well as in town, and any time left that I had I spent with friends.  I remember feeling a great need to be busy.  I didn’t have parents that pushed me to do anything; in fact, if I wanted to participate in anything other than school, I had to find a way to get there and back myself.  Yet still, I felt an overpowering need to excel, and apparently I was shooting for quantity, not quality. 

Now that I can look back and learn from all of these things, I can see that I was a product of a severely dysfunctional family (but I love, love, love them anyway!), but often a first born kid with brains in that kind of situation ends up an overachieving, hypervigilant busybody.  Part of this was an unfulfilled childhood desire to Make The Family Proud.  But at the time I didn’t understand that there was nothing in the world I could accomplish or become that would change how things were at home.

I was a Good Kid, for the most part.  Good grades, president of lots of school groups, AP class whiz, didn’t have to try in school because it just came naturally.  I had no interest in smoking, drugs, or attending kegs.  (Some days I really regret not finding myself a pot fiend and smoking myself silly.)  It just wasn’t me.  I wanted to be President someday.  Or at least a very distinguished diplomat.  Or something.  It was hard to say what I wanted to be, with all that fog in the way.

Though I was a Good Kid, I had a Naughty Streak.  I often snuck out of my house (Note to Parents: Please don’t allow your teenage daughters to stay in the room with the sliding glass door).  I would feed the dog a treat and let it run loose, so she wouldn’t bark at me as I sprinted across the backyard, into the alleyway, and out into the street where a friend (who was also sneaking out) would pick me up.  We’d roll the car to the corner with the headlights off, then start it up and drive away in a rush, our nerves buzzing with the excitement of the possibility of getting caught. 

We never did anything awful on our outings.  Usually we would go to a 24-hour diner type place, order some fries with gravy, and talk the night away.  The worst offense we committedwas Sign Stealing.  We never took stop signs, because we were decidedly responsible sign stealers.  But anything else was up for grabs.  We especially enjoyed taking signs and setting them up on our other friends’ lawns so that next time they would know that they better sneak out with us too, lest we take revenge on their parent’s landscaping. 

When I finally got caught sneaking out, (oh boy) my dad installed a security system on my door so it would sound an alarm throughout the house when I tried to escape.

So I rewired it. 

He is partially to blame; many of my childhood memories are of him teaching me how to play with electricity in his workshop.  To this day, I drool in the general direction of Radio Shack, especially the little packets of LEDs.

I was restless.  I wanted to escape. 

One day at a mandatory career fair, I wandered up and down the aisles of college reps, recruiters, and union job kiosks.  I remember looking at all of the different jobs, feeling as if I was floating.  It seemed so final.  It felt as if I had to make a decision right then and there.  But I wasn’t interested in going to college, at least right then.  I didn’t want to spend an asston of money to attend classes.  Hell, I didn’t want to go to the free classes, why on earth would I want to pay for them?  I was not ready. 

bueller

I knew in my heart that if I went to college, I would have dropped it before the first semester ended.  And I knew that if that happened, I would spend my future slinging hash in a truck stop.  I would wear a name tag that said “Flo” and I would start wearing eyeshadow in varying hues of blue.

waitress

I rounded the corner to mozy down the next aisle.  A light came on and the angels started to sing.  Below the halo of light shining down from my epiphany stood two Marines wearing dress blues.  I felt as if I giant magnet was pulling me toward their shiny buttons, their red pinstripes, their gung-ho reading material.  The fog lifted a bit, and I felt a glimmer of hope. 

I walked up to the booth.  The Marines standing there looked down at me.  “Hello,” one of them said.  “Can we help you?”

“Um, can girls join the Marines?” I said, or something to that effect.  I honestly didn’t know.  My father, a Vietnam vet, was a Marine and he rarely talked about his experience.  On the occassion that the beer really kicked in, my dad would tell me some crazy stories and I never remember women being involved, other than hearing about the kind who wandered the streets of Da Nang with razor blades in their hoo-haas. 

“Of course they can,” one of the recruiters said, as if everyone should know that. 

“So where do I sign up?” I asked.  Their jaws dropped.  I was filling a quota, and had just made their day.  I am okay with that. 

“Don’t you want to hear a little bit about it?” one of them asked me.  “We have some reading material…”

“That’s okay,” I interrupted.  “I’d just as soon sign up.  Is there paperwork or something?” 

The recruiters eyeballed each other as if to say Is she for real?

But it wasn’t a done deal yet, because of my age.  I would have to get Parental Signatures.

***

I walked into my house a new person.  I now had a future.  A damn exciting one, too.  Screw college, that would still be there when I got back.  I wanted something cool.  And it just made sense to me.  I announced to my parents that I wanted to Join The Marines….and hey, can you sign this for me?

marineposter

My mom said she thought it was a brilliant idea.  Something she might have done, had women done those sorts of things back then.   My dad’s reaction was different.  In fact it was one of the few times in my life I saw him cry.  I am sure he was envisioning me getting the whip or something, perhaps he pictured me getting my throat cut by Charlie.  He said that he didn’t want to sign.

I said that if he didn’t, I was just going to forge his name anyway.

He signed it.

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17 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. megan / Jan 22 2009 7:52 am

    I’m impressed with the proverbial balls you had at such a young age to know so definitively what you wanted to do at that moment, and to act on it.

    Looking forward to reading the rest…

  2. Allison / Jan 18 2009 6:38 pm

    I have been saving this series as my special blog reading treat. I love it so far, and look forward to the continued saga :-). No tumbleweeds blowing about this post!

    Thanks for chiming in! I can’t wait to see an albino deer post on your way soon…

  3. Carli / Jan 5 2009 3:54 pm

    I’m happy you joined! I thought you were crazy, but I always supported your decision. Although it was going to definitely put a halt on all my big plans for us to be college roomies, it did give us a monthly road trip to Helena that last summer of highschool. Plus, let us not forget the most important reason you joined….to introduce me to my lovely husband. I think I was mesmorized to his shiny buttons too.

    I remember those trips! We may never get to be college roommates, but there is still time for the RV.

  4. Leaf, probably... / Jan 4 2009 4:11 pm

    Wow… that’s pretty brave! If that was me I’d still be umming and ahhing four weeks later, and constructing an elaborate pro’s and con’s list!

  5. wpm1955 / Jan 3 2009 2:10 am

    Maleesha, what does that mean exactly, that you were “ineligible due to the field of work you were in?” What field was that? Was it some particular activity of the Marines? Or was it just being in the Marines (or any branch of the armed forces) which caused the ineligibility?

    Expat 21

    It is because of the field of work I was in while I was in the military. I ended up in Signals Intelligence, which involves ties to the NSA and CIA and other As 😉 Anyway, since the Peace Corps has been accused of being a “spy organization” by other countries, people with any kind of association to certain intelligence agencies are rendered ineligible. Most military specialties would still be eligible, just not mine. I was very disappointed to learn that.

  6. curlywurlygurly / Jan 2 2009 6:31 pm

    the marines?! my parents lost their mind when i was entertaining the thought of joining the peace corps!

    i can’t wait to hear the rest of this story–i had no idea you were such an adventerous person!!!

    How funny! I tried to join the Peace Corps after I got out of the Marines…(ironic, no?) but as it turns out I am ineligible due to the field of work I was in while in the military. But I would have loved to have done that.

  7. teeni / Jan 2 2009 3:36 pm

    I really like this peek into your life and mind. It’s neat to see your reasonings and thought process through this. I do feel bad for your dad though as I can certainly understand why a man wouldn’t want to send his daughter off to the military. I can’t wait to hear more. 🙂

    He is proud of me now. 🙂 I am pretty sure he didn’t think I could do it.

  8. expat21 / Jan 2 2009 10:48 am

    Maleesha,

    You also know me as Eileen (teacher in the Middle East) and as Madame Monet.

    And thanks for checking out my new blog!

    Expar21

    I was wondering if that might be you! How in the world do you find time for all these blogs!?!?!

  9. rambleicious / Jan 2 2009 12:42 am

    Wow – you have some serious stones!

    I definitely want to hear more about this!

  10. morethananelectrician / Jan 1 2009 7:32 pm

    I think many people think that people joinn the military because it is their only way, but many people have choices…like you did.

    I am sure your fathers Marine experiences had a lot to do with his reasons…the military went through some large changes in the 80’s. It was so different than when he served.

    Oh I think you are right. Our experiences couldn’t have been more different.

  11. Greg / Jan 1 2009 6:46 pm

    I’m impressed.

  12. Greg / Jan 1 2009 6:44 pm

    Maleesha, this made me both laugh and wipe tears off my face. God bless you.

    Thanks. I guess I’ll put up that second installment after all 🙂

  13. Expat 21 / Jan 1 2009 2:34 pm

    Maleesha,

    I’m really looking forward to this series of posts. I’ve been a long time reader and most enjoy your more meaty articles of this type.

    I’m a teacher and agree with you that a LOT of people are BURNED OUT after high school. Lately, I’m thinking this is part of the reason behind the high drop-out rate/flunk-out rate the first year of college. Perhaps if more kids took time off for a year to work they’d be more ready for college.

    I withdrew after my first semester, worked a year, and then went back successfully.

    Expat21
    “Expat Abroad” in the Middle East
    expat21.wordpress.com

    Thanks for the comment! I have checked out your blog a few times since your last comment. Hope to see you back again!

  14. MamaPeg is Watching Out for You / Jan 1 2009 11:16 am

    Hey, Maleesha. Thanks for sharing. I’m not sure how, at the age of 17, you had the clarity to make such a life changing decision. So many students graduate high school to attend college without knowing what they really want to do. Like you, my husband enlisted at 17. He felt like he didn’t have a choice. It was 1969 and his birthday was the first number drawn for the draft that year. But he knew college wasn’t for him and he figured if he was going to end up in Nam, he might as well do it on his terms, more or less.
    I wonder how many bloggers could write books about their experiences. This post is an excellent chapter.

    That is kind of what my dad did. His number wasn’t first, but it was near the top, so he enlisted in order to choose the service he would be in.

    Also to this day I am not sure it was clarity…some days I really do think they got me with the shiny buttons…

  15. David / Jan 1 2009 10:26 am

    Thanks for this nicely written memoir Maleesha. Look forward to further installments.

    And of course, thanks for your service too. Good Kid indeed 🙂

  16. Mike Goad / Jan 1 2009 9:45 am

    Thank you for serving!

    I never considered the marines when I was trying to find my way away from a dysfunctional family and no future. The only military choices I considered were the air force and the navy. It was 1971 and if I went army or marines, I would have eventually ended up in Nam.

    As it was, I joined the navy, stayed in for 9 years, with my last 3 1/2 stationed at the Naval Reactors Facility in Idaho.

    Lots of people tried to steer me toward the Air Force, but I wanted to Go Big. I got to go in between wars…missed any sort of that. Looking at the situation today, I am glad about that. I came very close to going to OCS and making a career out of it.

  17. david / Jan 1 2009 3:11 am

    *salute*

    I have no doubt you made the right choice – and I thank you sincerely for your service.

    But damn, girl – the MARINES?! You probably kicked more butt in one month as a Marine than I did in 20 years in the Air Force!

    (note to self: never piss Maleesha off…)

    Hey, thanks. Thank you too. I *could* have considered the other branches but it just never occured to me. I was probably entranced by the shiny buttons. 🙂

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