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February 7, 2009 / Maleesha Kovnesky

Part 4: Not Scratching

In order to get the cheapest tickets, the government purchased the most awful flight route possible. I left Butte and connected in Seattle, Washington, then Minneapolis, then Atlanta, and finally Charleston, South Carolina. It was a fourteen hour experience.  Like all ordeals, it’s over and done with in the blink of an eye.  I looked out the window to see checkered courtyard of the Citadel.  The wheels of the plane touched down. 

The first twinges of panic appeared.  I wished I would have slept better the night before.  I didn’t know what to expect. 

A tall, dark green Marine was standing inside the airport, practically blocking the ramp, directing any potential Marine recruit to the airport seating area.  I saw some of the people from the plane head for the seats.  The seats were a vivid orange and I thought about a diner I ate in somewhere in North Dakota years before. 

Another Marine instructed us to sit straight, right hand on right knee, left hand left knee.  The seating area was already full of people and they were all sitting dead-still, staring into nothing.  I wondered how long they had been there, waiting for the end of the day to come.  “Your head isn’t moving,” the Marine snapped.  You aren’t scratching.”  There was a quality about his voice that was terrifying.  Instead of his words emanating throughout the room and bouncing off the walls the way sound normally travels, his words were direct, piercing.  I felt his voice hitting my body and entering my bloodstream.

The recruit in front of me scratched his ear.  In an instant, the wolf-like Marine was on him, yelling, asking him did you hear what I said?  you’re NOT SCRATCHING.

 It’s all part of the deal, I told myself, and vowed not to bat an eyelash.  The bottom of my foot itched so bad that my skin was crawling.  I mentally scratched at it. 

Three hours later (it must have been nearing midnight) the Marines directed us to stand up.  We were given simple directions to follow one, and hurry.  This was the beginning of hurry.  I concentrated on not tripping over my own feet as a long line of adolescents who (were probably questioning their decision) were zipping down a flight of stairs to the airport basement.

It was dinnertime.  We managed to form the first of what would be many lines and grabbed a brown sack.  The sack contained a cold sandwich, a boiled egg, and a small carton of red sugar water labeled “Juice Drink.”  We were ordered to eat every bite without looking up, left, right, and of course we were not to scratch or move unless the movement was directly related to consuming the contents of the brown sack.

After the entire room had eaten, the Marines instructed us to put our heads down into our arms on the table “so he didn’t have to look at our nasty faces.”  Or something like that.  I remember the room was silent, and very warm.  I thought about the elementary game “Seven Up” and wondered if anyone else was as tempted as I was to stick my thumb out.  The heat of the room increased.  The vents emitted a gentle white noise.

Just as I was about to enter a dreamlike state, the Marines shouted for us to get up and walk out the way we came.  The buses had arrived, the buses that would take us to Parris Island.

The sauna-like air of South Carolina punched me in the face as the airport doors opened.  The air was thick and laden with the swampy scent smell of rotting vegetation.  It was hot.  It was dark.  My Montana-grown system started to freak out go back! it shouted.  We can’t process this location! 

The heat was on in the bus.  Since it was ninety degrees even at night, I can only conclude that the warmth was provided to make us sleepy.  The bus started moving.  The driver turned the windshield wipers on.  It wasn’t raining…it was just that humid

I am going to die here, I thought.



Leave a Comment
  1. Allison / Feb 15 2009 6:16 am

    I wonder if your “juice drink” was anything like the watered-down kool-aid they serve at vacation bible school.

    Now my head itches.

  2. teeni / Feb 13 2009 11:21 pm

    Yikes, the intimidation. And yeah, I’m glad you didn’t stick your thumb out! LOL.

  3. pikespeakdenise / Feb 11 2009 6:25 am

    I remember Heads Up 7-Up! But in this case you probably would have ended up with a broken thumb…

  4. Paloma Pentarian / Feb 9 2009 3:34 pm

    I went to school in Missouri and arrived (from an airplane in Denver) in late August when it was 98° and high humidity. I still remember getting off the plane and feeling like I couldn’t breathe!

  5. david / Feb 8 2009 11:06 pm

    Pretty scary, that first slap in the face of military life!

    For us Air Force vets, the first day isn’t quite as scary as it was for you Marines – but Lackland AFB (in San Antonio) is one of the only places even MORE humid & sticky than where you were!

  6. smalltownsmalltimes / Feb 8 2009 4:47 pm

    More, more, more????!!!!

  7. morethananelectrician / Feb 7 2009 9:43 pm

    I remember my first day like it was yesterday…this took me back.

    Mentally scratching the bottom of your foot…too funny.

  8. shmode / Feb 7 2009 5:04 pm

    Hard to believe that you kept going on! I imagine it was only the beginning too.

  9. Mike / Feb 7 2009 3:15 pm


    Not a place I’d ever have wanted to be.

    Navy boot camp wasn’t a cakewalk in 1972, either, but, then, I think I’ve blanked out the worst of it.

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