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January 5, 2009 / Maleesha Kovnesky

Part 2: The Storm

I took a lot of crap for my decision over the next several months.  At first I didn’t mind telling people what I was going to do after high school.  When asked “Where are you going for college?” I would reply, “Actually, I’m joining the Marines.”  The typical response was one of these three:

  • Silence
  • “Uh, why?”
  • “Are you @%&* crazy?”

However there were many more responses and I even remember many of them.  Among my favorites:

  • “Wouldn’t the Air Force be easier?”
  • “Don’t let them turn you into a lesbo.”
  • “My (friend, uncle, cousin, brother) joined the Marines and HATES it.”
  • “My (friend, uncle, cousin, brother) joined the Marines and he got shot.”
  • “My (friend, uncle, cousin, brother) joined the Marines and he got butt raped in the shower!
  • “You’ll lose all of your creativity.”
  • “You’ll have to follow all those rules.”
  • “Why would you want to kill people?”
  • “You don’t seem like the type of person to do that.”
  • “You really seem like the type of person to do that.”

Sometimes, people’s reactions hurt. 

My boyfriend of two years was angry (and probably hurt) that I was leaving.  I hadn’t even considered him in the decision, I will admit.  I was seventeen and the last thing on my mind was getting married and poppin’ out curtain climbers.  To make matters worse, HE was the one who had an uncle that got shot in the Marines in an accident at the armory.  So he had valid reasons to think I was an extraordinary idiot.  We fought and fought and pretty soon we broke up over it. 

There was this guy, “Abe,” a longtime patron of the restaurant that I worked at.  He was an older man who came in every day with his wife.  He would order pancakes for dinner each and every night.  His wife was stricken with the early stages of Alzheimers.  After he and his wife finished their meals, he would place a quarter into my hand, close my hand with his, and say “Now you save that for college.”  I guess I must have had close to five years worth of quarters from him (I am sorry to report that most of those quarters were probably spent on shoes).

My senior year of high school was coming to a close, and Abe came into the restaurant to have his pancakes.  When he was finished, he came up to the register to pay.  He winked at me and smiled.  “Graduation next week,” he said with a Cheshire grin.  “So what university did you decide on?”

“I’ve decided to go into the military,” I told him, handing him his change (ensuring he had his quarters, as was the norm).  “The Marines, actually.  I leave in August.”

His smile didn’t disappear, really.  It hung on the top of his chin for a while, then slowly reabsorped into his face.  He looked at me strangely, like there was something wrong with my face.  He stared for a long time without saying anything.  Then he turned around, slowly, and walked out of the restaurant.  That was the last time I ever saw Abe. 

alone1

One afternoon during high school I got a note that I was to report to the counselor’s office.  I wasn’t sure what it was about, but I was certain it couldn’t be anything bad.  I was involved in so many committees and councils and things that it most likely had to do with some extracurricular something-or-other. 

I reported to the counselor and he asked to speak with me privately.  His expression was one of concern.  I followed him to a small room.  He closed the door.  I sat in a chair and rested my arms on the round table.  There were no pictures on the dull beige walls. 

“How are you feeling today?” he asked.

“Fine, I guess,” I said.  Up until the point you took me into this room, I thought.

“What do you want out of life?” he asked.

I don’t remember what I said.  I do remember feeling quite blindsided.  Usually when I got called to the office, it was because I was getting an award or something like that.  This was weird.

“I don’t know?”  I really didn’t, suddenly. 

“If you could do anything in the world, right now,” he continued, “what would it be?”

I think I said something about going to theater school, then moving to Hollywood.

“Then why are you going in the Marines?”

I couldn’t answer.  Was it that odd?  Was I committing an act of freak by signing those enlistment papers?  I had my mind made up, and I was fine with my decision…but here was this balding, bespectacled adult who emitted the scent of Old Spice and wore a sweater with a collared shirt underneath, he probably drove a nice car, and his gaze at me had the weight of the Titanic…he couldn’t possibly know where I came from…could you blame me for suddenly being confused?

Then he said:

“Look.  Someone reported to me that you are suicidal.  Are you suicidal?”

“WHAT?”

doesn't this kind of look like a bellybutton?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He folded his hands together on top of the round table and leaned in for effect.  “Have you thought about killing yourself?”

“God, no!  Who said that?”

“A concerned friend,” he said.  “I can’t name names.  But I want to make sure that everything is okay with you, and that you know that if you need to talk, I am here.”

I was shocked. 

I am not sure seemed worse; thinking about suicide (which I wasn’t), or thinking that everyone around you thinks you are thinking about suicide. 

“Can we talk about this military thing?” he asked.

“No,” I said.  “I really don’t want to.”  This was going too far.  What was so demented about this decision that no one could believe or accept it?  Why did college have to be the norm?  Who in the world told this upper middle-class counselor that I wanted to kill myself?  What would make a person assume that joining the military meant I was suicidal?  Suddenly I wished for boot camp to be over with so I would have the skills to track down the offender and decapitate them with a paper clip.  I walked out of the counselors office, red faced and fighting back tears. 

When everyone is bombarding you with questions, it is hard not to ask those same questions of yourself. 

Was I doing the right thing? 

What if everyone else knew something I didn’t?

Why do all high school counselors smell like Old Spice?

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15 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. megan / Jan 22 2009 8:01 am

    You have such a knack for writing…your story is really coming alive. Like the others before me, I have to compliment you on the story of Abe. Very moving.

    It’s interesting how people react to others’ decisions. I find it interesting the wealth of negative reactions to your joining the military. A generation ago (had you been a boy) you would have been celebrated for your decision to protect your country. How times change…

  2. Allison / Jan 18 2009 6:46 pm

    I’m very perplexed by Abe’s reaction.

    I believe a job requirement for high school counselors is to be complete and utter dorks totally out of touch with reality.

    (If you’re a high school counselor and you’re reading this, then you’re probably the exception.)

    Yeah, I was too. It hurts my feelings more NOW than it did then, I think….

  3. Madame Monet / Jan 16 2009 6:35 am

    I’m looking forward to going on to Part III.

    Madame Monet

  4. Lisa / Jan 12 2009 8:07 pm

    Love it…

  5. shmode / Jan 12 2009 5:10 pm

    I admire you for your guts to go through with it anyways, even after all that negativity. Being Canadian, we don’t have a separate entity of the marines, it’s all armed forces, but I considered joining the ‘Air force’ branch, but stalled after one conversation with my mother. While I don’t regret my decision, I admire yours.
    I hope there is future installments!

  6. Becky / Jan 9 2009 3:56 pm

    You know, when I heard that you had decided to join the Marines after high school, I admired your guts for jumping in feet first and trying something different. I’m sorry now for not telling you that then!

    🙂 Hi Becky. Thanks for telling me now. Really! I hope you are doing well. Getting a lot of snow?

  7. David / Jan 8 2009 6:35 pm

    Yay! Part Two already.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughtful recollections. I was quite taken by the way you described Abe’s reaction to your decision. It makes me really wonder about him and why your choice should hit him that way. Nice writing maleesha. 🙂

  8. smalltownsmalltimes / Jan 7 2009 9:02 am

    Very interesting post…but I’m still curious, why DID you join the marines? I would love to learn more about that. Is that in part 2 or is there a previous post I need to read?

    Of course…Part 1! Click on the “Stories” link up at the top to get there…

  9. Greg / Jan 6 2009 5:37 pm

    Awesome post! I think it’s a great idea and I admire you for making that decision and going with your gut. I admire your foresight. In fact, I wish I had done the same thing back then.

  10. MamaPeg is Watching Out for You / Jan 6 2009 4:35 pm

    I think it’s funny how adults seem to think they “know” what younger adults are thinking. The mother of a sophomore boy died in early November after battling breast cancer for 8 years. He is in the Tech Club and hangs around a lot after school. His dad is doing a wonderful job trying to keep things balanced.
    The other day a male teacher came in and started saying things to him like “You don’t have to put on a happy face for anyone. I know that it must have been hard to get through the holidays without your mom.”
    Hello, Asshat! All things considered, his holidays were probably just fine because his mom wasn’t suffering. The student has told me that on many occasions. But how dare you try to tell someone you know how they feel!!!
    People can be so weird.
    I hunger for the next installment.

    My thoughts exactly. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just stop talking.

  11. teeni / Jan 6 2009 10:05 am

    People’s reactions admittedly were weird. But on the other hand, I’m sure they thought they were doing their best to look out for you, in their own weird ways. A lot of people have lost a loved one in the military so I think, sadly, that is the first fear that crosses their minds and it’s hard to look at a 17-year-old and know that is a possibility when they are standing right in front of you, telling you that is the choice they are making. I’m not saying it is the right reaction, but just that I can certainly understand some of it. Your friends’ reactions may have seemed sillier but they were coming from fellow teenagers and what do they know? 😉 LOL. I’m kidding. Some 17-year-olds know what they want while most don’t. Anyway, I’m sure it could have been better for you if there were some adult you could talk to who would have listened and taken your desires seriously, plus supported your decision. I’m looking forward to reading more.

  12. Taoist Biker / Jan 6 2009 9:53 am

    I will say that I don’t think any of the top 40 or so in my class chose the military instead of college, but several took ROTC scholarships. (I was from Virginia, so several also went to VMI.)

    The (female) valedictorian of the class before mine accepted a Navy ROTC scholarship at Duke, which came as a complete surprise to everyone except her parents. The moment when she took the stage and accepted her commission still sticks out in my mind.

    Lurk away! 🙂

  13. Taoist Biker / Jan 6 2009 7:41 am

    We had no male counselors in my high school.

    And a buttload of my classmates joined the military – male and female. But it was a high-poverty area, and a lot of those kids saw the military as “a way out.” (For many, it was. For many others, just another waypoint.)

    I can somewhat see the counselor’s concern IF someone did in fact make a credible report that you were contemplating suicide – while it’s pretty weak and tenuous, I have personally seen a very few people I’d say joined the military because of vague doom fantasies. (All guys, though.) But otherwise his action was unconscionable IMHO.

    The Abe story really was very well done…how sad.

    Hi! Thanks for commenting. I lurk on your blog a lot.

    We didn’t have that many people “like me” join the military…those that did were usually the kind that would have otherwise ended up flipping burgers (high poverty as well). For whatever reason, it was a travesty to some people. My art teacher told me I was making a terrible decision, that the Marines is the WORST branch for women. In a way he was right…but I think it depends on the person. I will NEVER forget the looks these people gave me. I can still see “Abe” walking out the door. That was a hard one. He was a regular customer and I can’t believe it ended that way.

  14. crisitunity / Jan 6 2009 7:07 am

    It sounds like the way you were treated by concerned friends and family was pretty awful…but I’m guessing it prepared you for what was coming. The bit about Abe was very sad, very effectively written.

    I am bewildered by the incident in the counselor’s office. Who would interpret “joining the Marines” as “suicidal” and then decide it was his/her duty to tell the school counselor about it? That’s bizarre. Maybe it was your boyfriend getting back at you.

    Also? If my school counselor had asked me what I wanted out of life, I would have had no idea at all what to say. Who the hell knows what they want out of life at 17?

    I have no idea who did it. Boyfriend hypothesis sounds good, but he had graduated by then. I still wonder who did it. It was a hard year.

  15. morethananelectrician / Jan 6 2009 5:19 am

    1. Old Spice? This is (or was) the gift all Dad’s would get from their kids.

    2. Since you were in the military, you know how much easier it would have been to be in the Air Force. When we were in the desert (I was there setting up camps for two months…not real action) and setting up large tents, the Air Force people wouldn’t move into their tents UNTIL the A/C was set up for them. No A/C…no Air Force!

    Heh heh, yes, there are many tales of the A/C hotels the AF was required to have while in the desert. Lots of the older Marines were STILL calling them pansies as they remembered setting up their tents in the 130 degree weather. That’s why we call them (friendly of course) the Chair Force.

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