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January 14, 2009 / Maleesha Kovnesky

Part 3: The Clearing

Missed it?  Read previous chapters on the Stories page


The Delayed Entry Program (DEP) allowed me to sign the paperwork to enlist, but not get shipped off until a later date.  I still had to finish my senior year of high school.   

Since there are few women who join the Marines, there are only ship off female recruits four times a year (compared to every two weeks for the men).  I had to choose between June and August of 1996.  I thought I would enjoy one last summer in Montana, so I chose August. 

I graduated high school and was free of the pressure coming from every direction.  Anyone who thought I was crazy…well, I would probably never see them again.  No more counselors asking me if I wanted to off myself.  I spent the summer with a new boyfriend.  I worked all the shifts I could at the restaurant.  I stayed up into the wee hours of the night, each night, wondering if the decision I was making was the right one.  I had been so certain, but as August 11 neared, the the butterflies in my stomach evolved into angry herons. 

I loved my boyfriend, and he said that he would be there when I got back.  He said he liked the fact I was enlisting in the Marines, or at least he was smart enough not to say otherwise.  I began to envision other paths…I could stay in Montana, get a job, become a wife.  What was wrong with that?  Lots of people did that. 

I was guilt ridden about leaving my family.  I felt as if I were ditching them.   In my teenage eyes, I held the family together.  I was the one to rush people to hospitals.  What would happen if there was another table saw accident?  I was the one to be counted on, always.  What if something happened to my little brother?  How would my mom hold it together without me?  I felt that if I left, everything would fall apart and it would be my fault.  (Now that I am older and more educated on the matter, I know this is a common feeling for firstborn children raised in chaotic environments.  But at the time, it hurt my insides.)

In all of the chaos, my friend Carli was a sunny patch.  She rode with me to Helena to DEP meetings, where recruits practiced their push-ups and ran the mile and a half required to join.  The recruiters gave it their best shot with Carli, trying to convince her to come along for the ride, but she was destined to become a doctor.  Besides, her mother would have NEVER let her sign those papers.  She and I had a lot of fun on those road trips, and even if she thought I was crazy, she never said so.   


Time passed, and suddenly there was one week before I was to ship off.  It was a sunny summer afternoon.  I was laying on my parents bed, staring at the ceiling.  My parents were outside on the front porch, having a conversation.  The windows were open and I could hear every word.  They were talking about work and bills, but suddenly the topic turned to me.

“Do you think she’ll really go?” my mother asked.

“No way,” my dad sneered.


“F*** no, she won’t go,” he said.  “She never finished a damn thing that she started her entire life.”

I couldn’t breathe after hearing those words. 

I knew that it wasn’t true.  I felt like I had spent my life trying so hard to do everything right, and here, a week before I was leaving home for good, I found out that everything I had ever done didn’t register.  Why had I ever bothered?  I had spent the whole summer worrying about leaving my family, when in fact, this is how they viewed me?  Did they know me at all?

Something clicked.  Everything became clear.  I knew that I was doing the right thing.  There were no more doubts.  I wiped my tears and tiptoed out of the room.


I had to spend my last night in town at a hotel, which I find exceedingly harsh. Though the military processing station was in my hometown, I would have to stay at a local hotel and meet my recruiters for breakfast at 4 AM, so they could deliver me to the airport and ensure my butt got on the plane. 

The eve of my depature was a lovely one.  My boyfriend serenaded me with the Marine Corps Hymn on the bagpipes.  We went to a nice, fancy dinner with my family.

Then I checked into the hotel.  The room was green.  The TV was old and the picture on it was warped.  I shut the TV off and tried to sleep.  I don’t remember if I ever fell asleep that night.  I doubt it.

The recruiters picked me up and we ate breakfast.  It was awkward for me.  The government paid for the pancakes.  The recruiters drove me to the airport.  The sun wasn’t up yet. 

My family met me at the tiny Butte airport.  There were hugs and tears (not mine).  My dad didn’t say much.  I wondered if he was surprised I was getting on that plane after all.  I hoped so. 

An announcement was made–the flight was ready for boarding.  I gave everyone one last hug and zipped over to the ticket agent.  I looked back.  My dad had the oddest look on his face as I walked through the metal detector.  He came to attention and gave me a sharp salute.  Then he hurried out the doors.  I wouldn’t see him again for months.  And when I did, I would be a Marine. 

The plane took off. 

I will never forget the feeling of pure joy I felt, watching my hometown disappear beneath the clouds.  I remember the fluffy white clouds, and the blue sky, and music playing in my head.  It was a high.  Every part of me was happy.  My fucking toenails felt giddy.  I was leaving.  I was out of there.  Finally.  I wasn’t worried a bit about what awaited me on the other side. 

I was light.  Every burden I had ever known was lifted the moment the wheels of the plane left the ground.



Leave a Comment
  1. Allison / Jan 18 2009 6:50 pm

    I’m hooked on your stories.

  2. David / Jan 18 2009 1:16 pm

    Thank you for another nicely written installment of your Marine story. Nice juxtaposition of your dad’s overheard mean comment and his sharp salute. Us dads can be a little overbearing at times, but we must NEVER forget to let our children know that 1) We love them, and 2)We love them and are proud of their accomplishments, and 3)We love them. 🙂

  3. teeni / Jan 17 2009 10:53 am

    Wow! This was incredible and very well written. I have often had those feelings about my family when I was younger – about holding them together and all that you described. I had no idea that was a common feeling for firstborns in chaotic environments. I am not the firstborn but was thrust into a firstborn situation for a long period.

    Anyway, this whole post was interesting. I’m so sorry your dad said something that may have hurt you but I am sure he was having a hard time with it all too. It seems like it worked for the best though since it made you redouble your efforts and determination. The whole boyfriend situation sounds postworthy too. I can’t even imagine what feelings the two of you were experiencing.

    It must have felt like starting a new life when you were on that plane. Like all new doors were opening for you!

    It did feel like a new life! And really, it was. And there are lots of boyfriend posts coming soon. I am sure my husband will really enjoy those. (Loveses, babe!)

  4. Madame Monet / Jan 16 2009 6:38 am

    I’m waiting to hear of your Dad’s reaction to when you came BACK as a Marine. By the way, had your Dad been in the Marines? (If you mentioned this, I’ve forgotten.à

    Madame Monet

    Hello friend. Yes he was (is) a Marine, a Nam vet with the flashbacks and the messed-upness to go along with it. He is my very favorite dad, though, so it’s cool.

  5. bluesuit12 / Jan 14 2009 6:47 pm

    This post made me both sad and happy. Sad about what your father said and that you heard it but happy that you were going out and doing something on your own. Can’t wait to hear what happens next.

  6. Christine / Jan 14 2009 6:01 pm

    This actually made me feel a little melancholy, thinking back to times when life seemed to hold so much promise.

  7. MamaPeg is Watching Out for You / Jan 14 2009 5:40 pm

    Thanks again for sharing your story. I can’t imagine how bad it felt to hear your dad’s words. I had to admit, like Mike, I couldn’t think of a time I might have said something like that about our son.
    Stuff like that sometimes makes us more determined to succeed.

  8. morethananelectrician / Jan 14 2009 2:43 pm

    I remember leaving and being frustrated that my plans to leave my family behind was thwarted by my brother who signed up for the same MOS that I had, which only had one class every six months and we were going together.

    Looking back now, even though he came along, it was still the best move to make. It isn’t a move that works for everybody. The landing on the other side is when the fun starts and some cool stories.

  9. Aaron Brown / Jan 14 2009 2:43 pm

    What a compelling, wrenching, well told story. Every time I see one of these posts I drop everything and come to read. Wow. Next chapter soon, please.

  10. Mike Goad / Jan 14 2009 12:34 pm

    Your story made me try to think if I had ever said anything like that about my kids, whether they could have heard it or not. I can’t recall anything like that.

    I can’t imagine what hearing that must have felt like since my dad was never a significant part of my childhood and, during my teen years, lived almost 1500 miles away with very little contact at all — still painful after all of these years. When I went to boot camp in San Diego, I was a lot closer, but didn’t let him know that I was there.

    I can still remember my flight from Houston to San Diego. They flew us “standby” and the only seats available was in first class. Lots of room and free alcohol. Only time I ever flew first class.

  11. crisitunity / Jan 14 2009 10:55 am

    What a terrible thing for your father to say, especially about a daughter who seemingly did all the right things.

    Even if what follows is disillusionment, I am so happy that you had such a terrific moment on the plane. I know how that feels, a joyous leaving.

  12. ian / Jan 14 2009 10:52 am

    This is a fascinating tale. I’m glad you’re sharing it. Looking forward to the next installment!

  13. shmode / Jan 14 2009 10:45 am

    Strangely enough, I have a bit of tears in my eyes from this. What a shitty conversation to overhear, but damn it fortified your decision more solidly in your mind.

    To read that your dad saluted you was what got me. Here’s this rough ol’ guy who had said you wouldn’t go through with it finally giving you the respect you deserve.


    I’m waiting on the edge of my seat, reading the fluffier posts of yours in the meantime, to read the next edition.

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