On February 13th, 2010, I decide to go to class despite not feeling up to the task. For approximately $5, I purchase a small leather-bound journal in which I can take notes or write. I’d been sketching in my on duty log book and thought I could use the new journal to help me clear my head. I’d had a lot on my plate and I was overdue for some head clearing.
During class I can barely pay attention to the lecture. I’m more worried about the background noise of my life – a false rape accusation from internet blogger Lady Raine and a project to help improve my command climate namely. Months of research and learning seemed to be congealing into one unified theory. Communication processes seemed to lie at the heart of my troubles, personal and professional.
In a sense, reality is constructed as people decode the world around them. The words we choose to use and the way we choose to present ourselves are ultimately irrelevant – all that truly matters is how other people perceive us. Language is notoriously slippery and some might argue a poor vehicle for communication geared towards perfect understanding; there are too many words, too many definitions for the same word, too many vagaries. I had created a mental model designed to free people to think outside the box, which I called “dividing by zero,” and most of my class time on February 13th is spent thinking about this model and writing about it.
Sometime on February 14th, I complete a post which I call “The Organization of God.” I begin to think I have discovered an eternal and divine secret. I dub my discovery ‘eternal language’ and start sharing it with several of the Marines I serve with. The idea is relatively simple – if anything can be represented using a single line, then it is safe to say that infinity can be represented using a single line. And if we take three lines and make a triangle, we have found an efficient way for organizing ideas – after all, the triangle is one of the strongest shapes for building. But we can take three triangles and structure them in such a way as to maximize efficiency, in a pattern that mirrors the “TriForce” from the popular video game series The Legend of Zelda. This only requires us to draw three more lines but we get 12 lines in total.
The power of this mental model was that anything could be represented using a single line. So you could define the ideal Marine as having three different traits – Honor, Courage, and Commitment, for example – and that would make a triangle. And you could take two other Marine triangles and create the ideal small Marine group (fire team). But you could also take that group and represent it using a single triangle, each line in the triangle representing a Marine, to build the next larger group (squad). This process allows for infinite regress (you can continually define Honor, for example, by building a triangle that makes Honor) and infinite progress (the entire Marine Corps might be represented by 12 lines).
I haven’t slept or really eaten much since going to class on the 13th. I’m too excited about my idea, and it seems to me that I’d found a way to beat sleep and beat eating as it was anyway. More data needed to be collected, however, before I could be sure that I’d solved the secret formula that allowed for miracles – something which seemed entirely rational and possible to me at this point.
Around February 15th, I decide to go and test my model. I try to get LCpl R., one of my closest friends, to come and test the model with me but he’s too busy playing Dante’s Inferno. On my way out of the building, I run into LCpl P. and LCpl C., and ask them to come do some exercises with me. They agree and we head out together. We go straight for the pull up bars, as pull ups are my least favorite exercise and the bane of my Marine Corps career – therefore they are the perfect target for my model. I explain the method for tackling pull ups – we were going to apply my triangular model and do three sets of three pull ups. We get on the bar and do the first three without any trouble. “I’m feeling pretty good,” I say “how are you guys feeling?”
“Good. Let’s do another three.” We knock out the three pull ups without any trouble. A little more back and forth and we knock out the next three as well. I drop down off the bar and start throwing my arms back, stretching out my muscles, while I pace and talk. “That was pretty easy, wasn’t it? So in theory, we just proved to ourselves we can do three pull ups, no problem. So four pull ups shouldn’t be all that hard, now should it?”
They respond favorably and we do four pull ups, which I begin to struggle with. We drop off the bar and I suggest we all verbally count our pull ups as we do them, loud and clear, so that we all know we’re doing them together and getting them done. So we mount up and do our four pull ups, which we are able to get done but I lag behind slightly. We dismount and I try to get fired up. “Four pull ups isn’t anything at all, is it!? This isn’t hard at at all, is it!? We’ve got this! We can do this! This is simple!” We finish the four pull ups and drop off the bar.
I decide it’s time to change the exercise to sit ups, another event in the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test. I ask LCpl P. if he’s okay with doing sit ups, as he is currently nursing a hip injury. We agree to do a number of sit ups – forty or so – at his pace to ensure that he doesn’t hurt himself. I ask him how he’s doing every ten sit ups or so to double check and make sure his hip injury isn’t bothering him. In my head, I am curing him of his injury.
When the forty sit ups are done, I suggest we do double the amount and that we do them faster. Everyone agrees and we proceed to do our sit ups at a faster pace. Every ten or so I ask LCpl P. how his hip feels and he always replies that he’s feeling good. I’m very fired up and excited about what we’re doing, counting each repetition loudly and trying to get the other two Marines to do the same.
We finish and I have the Marines stand up. I tell them we’re going to do pull ups again and we’re going to try for a miracle. As I walk to my bar, I slow my pace down and get an idea in my head – I don’t need to perform the miracle I intend (performing 20 pull ups) in order to prove my system. So I turn on my heel and begin to talk to the Marines, like a salesman or a preacher. “What’s one thing you know is true about LCpl Durden,” I ask them, “One thing that maybe you didn’t like about him?”
I don’t give them much of a chance to answer. “He’s always been smarter than you, hasn’t he? Always been better at school, wasn’t he? And how’d that make you feel? Pretty jealous right? But I’m here to tell you that shouldn’t matter.” I’m standing about three paces in front of them, and all I can pay attention to is the triangle that’s created by our positions, with me at the head and the other two Marines forming the base. “There’s a secret language that explains everything.”
“It’s the language of eternity. It’s simple and anyone can learn it. We’ve been learning it together right now. You can take any idea and think of it as a triangle,” I say, putting up my hands in such a way as to form a triangle, “and this will help you see things more clearly. Look at the space between us. It forms a triangle. Look at the space over there…” I begin pointing out triangles everywhere. I tell them I’m going to help them feel eternity. I picture the triangle formed by our three bodies and I extend my consciousness as far outside my body as I can, so that I see the three of us form a bird’s eye view. We rapidly get smaller and smaller until I call myself back down to reality.
“Did you feel that?” I ask. They give stammered responses. I would only learn later that I was in a state of mania and that what I perceived as happening isn’t what was actually happening, so I do not know what either of these Marines may have said at this juncture. “This has been taught to you before, so many times, in so many different ways.” I thought I had found the common secret that explained all religions. Jesus had twelve disciples, and my TriForce configuration had twelve sides. Plato talked about the eternal form and how orthographies weren’t trustworthy and this seemed to fit perfectly. A marriage of belief and reason. It seemed all powerful – for me, was all powerful.
I viewed every conflict as a battle of logic versus illogic, or sometimes systems of logic competing illogically. My system would unify all logic to one side and forever defeat illogic. I called this the “eternal battle” and I spoke of it to the Marines in my manic state. At one point, I remember putting my foot on the step-up to the pull up bar to elevate myself above my peers and tell them about this battle, and I swear I saw that stretch of land transform and depict battles ancient to modern over the span of about ten seconds – ending in an apocalyptic scorched earth style landscape before reverting back to regular reality.
I tell them I want to let them in on the secret (to eternal happiness, though they are unaware what the secret is) but I’m afraid one of them will betray us. My system at this point is based on the rule of three – every good idea or person is built from three fundamental principles, and every group is built of three solid individuals. If one person betrayed the other two people, I thought, then those two people would be stuck in eternity forever with no way to escape back to reality. After endless back and forth, which involves me whispering in one Marine’s ear while the other has his back turned and so forth, I decide we’d spent enough time “working out” and that it’s time to go back to the barracks.
I notice with an absent mind that LCpl P. doesn’t return with us. In reality this is because he became fed up with my manic antics and preaching behavior and left, but in my altered state of consciousness I worry that I had taken him to eternity and he had found it too good to leave behind. I try to go tell LCpl R. about my successes but he’s still too busy with his video game to listen with much enthusiasm, so I go back to my room to reflect…