Dead Men Tell No Tales Redux: In the Beginning

If you have no idea what’s going on, start at the About page.

Let me begin by stating something that should be obvious. No one’s memory is perfect, as in, the events I end up discussing as I go through the history of my life may not have panned out in reality exactly as I described them. Odds are, if people who were involved at the time end up reading (and commenting), we are going to remember things differently. I’m not here to try to discern the factual reality of the events that transpired, because frankly, that’s immaterial. What matters is how I remember them, and how that shaped the decisions I would later make and the perspectives I would later take. While talking about the actual truth of what did or did not happen may be profitable towards mending bridges and reconciling – and I’m all for it – that’s a sort of tertiary effect of this exercise that I am not counting on happening.

So we start at the very beginning. I, obviously, don’t have a very cohesive memory of my early childhood, and my recounting of it relies heavily on vaguely remembered stories from other people interspersed with my own imperfect recollections. But something needs to be made clear up front – up until about the age of 12 I was more or less what I would consider a relatively normal, healthy, happy young boy. So far as I knew, we were a more or less regular family, and my mom loved me the best she could, my dad did the same, and while the kids may have fought amongst themselves from time to time, that’s just kind of what kids do. With perfect hindsight there are some things that stick out in this relatively idyllic early part of my life worth mentioning, and that’s what this post is going to be about – but by and large the take home point here is “relatively normal.”

I would not begin to become personally invested in music until I was about the age of 12, but music has played a very critical part in my thought life, and has often been the only reliable outlet I’ve had for emotional expression and release. Because of that, depending on what I’m writing about, I may include an obtrusive link to some song you’ve never heard of or don’t like, and spend way too much time talking about the lyrics and instrumentation solely to trigger you. And to begin this grand tradition, enjoy a link to Dream Theater’s Solitary Shell, which I would choose as an eerily accurate (and later eerily prophetic) sort of “theme song” for myself after first hearing it. And while obviously the lyrics are meaningful in and of themselves, you won’t get the full power and weight of the songs unless you listen to them for yourself.

He seemed no different from the rest
Just a healthy normal boy
His momma always did her best
And he was daddy’s pride and joy
He learned to walk and talk on time
But never cared much to be held
And steadily he would decline
Into his solitary shell

When it comes to my early upbringing, I do not know whether or not I cared much to be held. But by the time I heard the song (sometime in the early 2000s), deprivation of physical intimacy was already a fact of life I’d come to accept, and so the lyric rang very true for me. Moreover, at that same time, I was already descending into a “solitary shell,” and I don’t know how early that trend started, but I’ll talk about its possible origins in just a bit.

The first thing I want to discuss is that I grew up in an ostensibly Christian household. We regularly attended Church as a family and as youth we were actively engaged in Sunday school and likely a number of other church activities I don’t recall too well. I remember my brother – 8 years my senior and a half brother technically, though we’ve never thought of each other as such – even being in some kind of a teaching or leadership position in the Sunday school. I remember taking great pride as a youth in memorizing and reciting scripture, earning badges and trinkets and baubles and praise for such performances, and doing my best in church-organized plays and things like that.

One of my earliest personal memories – vague though it is – must have been from when I was around two or three, given what I know about my age at the time I lived in this particular house. I can remember praying to have Jesus (like most people, I didn’t then have any idea that Jesus was not the Messiah’s name, or even what “Messiah” meant, or that his last name wasn’t Christ, and on and on and on – but none of that stuff matters for a child, necessarily) enter my heart.

Importantly, I can remember making my own decision to be baptized (which I was) and more importantly I remember being quite young (but old enough to understand the implications of the decision) in front of the congregation taking a vow with several other similarly aged youths to never have sex until I was married. I don’t know whether hand jobs and masturbation on my part have rendered this vow broken, but to this day I’ve not had intercourse with a woman (before you ask, neither have I with a man, nor am I interested in such a thing) – and, I might add, not for lack of trying or desire. (I am 27.) But we’ll get into all of that in due time.

As a boy he was considered somewhat odd
Kept to himself most of the time
He would daydream in and out of his own world
But in every other way he was fine
[INSERT CHORUS HERE – the lyrics are not as relevant to this stage of my life]

From a very early age I developed two poignant methods of escapism. One was an active imagination fostered and nurtured by primarily, I think, my brother, directed towards the end of creative writing. I very much admired and looked up to my older brother, and tellingly, he was a bit more of a father figure to me than my own father was. My father, I am told, was engaged in rearing me as a baby and infant and very young child, but when it came to who I remember going to for advice on anything – especially when it came to matters of masculinity – my first real role model was my brother. This was the birth and origin of a trend that would follow me for the rest of my life, where I would choose a role model to emulate and do my best to make decisions the same way they did and simultaneously win their approval, sometimes at the expense of what I personally wanted to do.

The second method of escapism was hoisted upon me even while I was fresh in the womb, which was video games. My mom actively played video games all throughout my pregnancy and my brother was, in his youth, a somewhat avid video gamer. As a baby/infant/what have you, he would often hide the first player controller behind his back while he gave me the second player controller; he would be playing the game but “tricking” me into thinking that I was playing the game. I started playing them for myself at a very early age, and got into relatively complex games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior which required a lot of reading and rudimentary math skills to enjoy. Because of this my parents quickly got tired of having to read things for me, and in order to continue playing video games I learned to read well in advance of going to preschool. My brother was primarily, as I recall, the one responsible for that kind of a thing, and he would continue to foster a love for learning and particularly literary skills as I grew – which, had he not, I probably would be much worse off today, since public education did everything it could to make me hate learning. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

If we return to the first verse of our theme song, specifically the line about retreating into a solitary shell, I think I can estimate the origins of that in my life. Due to financial follies, our family moved around my hometown like clockwork, pretty much once every three years. For whatever reason – and, having talked at length to both of my parents about this, I’ll never truly know what happened or why it happened – bills would stop being paid a year or two after moving in and then by the third year we’d get kicked out and the process would repeat. The end result was that, until the 4th grade, I was in a different school district every time this happened. So I had one set of friends in preschool, then brand new people to befriend in kindergarten, then brand new friends to make in 1st-3rd grade, and then brand new friends to make again in 4th grade.

This had two effects. One, I learned how to get along easily with people, but two, I detached from making strong emotional ties to anyone because I couldn’t trust that they’d be around long enough for the investment to be worthwhile for me. What was the point in getting super attached to any particular friend if I kind of knew in the back of my mind I might not see them next year because we’d be moving? This just reinforced my tendency to retreat to fantasy realms, be it my own personal creative fiction or video games, and bear in mind that at this time video games were very certainly not cool or socially acceptable like they are today. I was certainly considered “somewhat odd,” though had my own way of dealing with people who tried to bully me and as such never went through a lot of bullying. In fact many I went to school with seemed to perceive me as one of the “popular” kids – an irony that would weigh very heavily on me. But. We’re getting ahead of ourselves again.

One very poignant example of me actively withdrawing from my peers for no real good reason – and beginning a trend of treating people who wanted to get close to me and could’ve possibly been good for me poorly – happened in the 4th grade. I remember it was one of the early days of being new to the school and I hadn’t really made a lot of friends yet. It was recess and I went over to the swing by myself and just kind of sat there. I must’ve looked sad because I remember feeling sad and unprompted a girl innocently came over and tried to ask if I was ok. Her name was Allyse, and unbeknownst to me at the time, she would grow up to be a stunningly attractive young girl and woman. None of that really mattered to a socially stunted prepubescent boy and so I kind of curtly told her off and that was that. This, too, is the origin of a pattern that would repeat.

In the town I grew up in, elementary school ended at 5th grade and middle school began at 6th grade, meaning you were dumped into larger social pool and had a change up in expectations, class structure, etc etc etc. Middle school was also where the more or less relatively innocuous childhood with which there was no major unhappiness began to become unraveled. As such, it is best left for a separate post – one I may write and publish immediately, but one that should be separate nevertheless. Before I do, because I don’t want to reuse songs in future posts (beyond perhaps mentioning them again in passing), allow me to finish analyzing the rest of the lyrics and how they would describe and even come to predict my life.

He struggled to get through his day
He was helplessly behind
He poured himself on to the page
Writing for hours at a time
As a man he was a danger to himself
Fearful and sad most of the time
He was drifting in and out of sanity
But in every other way he was fine
[SLIGHTLY ALTERED CHORUS]

In school I quickly developed a habit of falling behind in work only to rush at the last possible minute to get it all done in one frenzied burst. I suppose if I were to try to explain it, it was a way for me to add a certain degree of challenge that was otherwise completely lacking. As for pouring myself on the page and writing for hours at a time – it’s something I still clearly do, though especially earlier in life I often did it either developing fiction (which, as I grew older, was mostly just an outlet to express my inner turmoil) but later became this sort of introspective nonsense that no one has ever given a shit about.

The bit beginning after the line “Writing for hours at a time” is eerily prophetic. For those that don’t know me, that more or less became my life – I’ve been in the psychiatric ward 6 different times and the government often considers me a legal danger to myself, which means I have no rights when it comes to the types of treatment I receive.

Both choruses also apply to my life, though I didn’t take the time to type them out and analyze them. Consider that your bit of homework, casual reader – if you even exist – since it should be pretty easy to piece it together if you follow the rabbit trail I’m building.

In Exile

[This is a chapter from my unfinished memoirs. Enjoy. Events focus mainly on 2007, in particular August to October 2007, though I believe this was actually composed some time in 2009.]

Growing up is such an odd sensation. As a kid, I remember thinking that the day I’d be an adult was so far off – incomprehensibly in the future. And I remember thinking that I would just magically be different – all of the sudden I was to become infinitely wise, strong, perceptive. The transformation from child to adult, boy to man – as if I were to go to bed one night and wake up the next morning forever and irrevocably different, improved.

Those of us who have grown up know that this is so very much not the case. It feels like I haven’t even grown up at all; merely gotten older. And yet, looking back, one can see the ways in which they have grown and changed. The arrogance of adolescence, the desire to rebel and all the angst and self-righteousness. Oh yes, how I’ve changed.

I remember thinking how oppressed I was in my youth. Not literally oppressed, but more…suffocated by my mother and her presence. She seemed to loom over me, choking out and stifling my ability to be motivated about anything. Any time I would start writing something new, any time I met a new friend, any time I met a girl I’d fancied, it seemed like I would have some particularly nasty fight with my mother, and like that I was sapped of all energy and willpower. I remember wanting to get out of her house as quickly as possible.

And at the age of seventeen, after several failed attempts and foiled plans, I finally did. It was around the time that I confirmed my departure that I began compiling this tome, and over the past three and a half years I have added to it periodically. In its inception, I viewed myself as moving away to Utah and living some great and fabulously successful life. I was to meet women, perhaps date them and settle down with one of them. I was to complete my long unfinished novel. I was to write about my terrible childhood and my wonderful adventures in Utah. It was to be unique – perhaps one of the first accounts of someone who grew up so intimately on and with the internet, so engrossed in professional video games, so nerdy.

Things, it would happen, did not pan out that way.

Upon arriving in Utah, I started volunteering at Nathan and Paul’s gaming center in downtown Salt Lake City. I wanted to find a job and a place of my own to live at as soon as possible – I was then staying with Nathan at his parent’s house as he too looked for a place to move his family – but Nathan insisted I be patient. He was in the midst of preparing for his magnum opus to the Unreal Torunament 2004 community, UTLAN, which would commence in August and was to be hosted at his gaming center. It was to attract some of the best players in the community from all over the country.

Initially, I was excited to be in Utah. I would often walk around the large and (relatively, in comparison to Bellingham’s downtown area) clean downtown area. I delighted in finding the local sights and attractions, getting to know the transit system, finding good restaurants to eat at. The managers at local restaurants came to know me by name and would give me discounts or free food. It was a good feeling to be known. I tried applying at a few places to work in the downtown area but never got a call back.

UTLAN 2006 came and went. Overall it was an extremely fun event, though stressful to prepare for. I met a lot some disparate and interesting people – the coolest of whom was probably a William Moyer, who has since become involved in politics. He was very intelligent and animated, and though a bit sarcastic, he was pretty friendly. All 40 or so people who showed up had a very good time, and online disputes were put aside as we all shared in having a good time. We went out to eat as a group and everyone seemed to bond. Of course, the old rivalries flared back up over the internet once everyone went home, but people were looking forward to UTLAN 2007.

It was about this time that Nathan’s parents popped some unexpected news on me – I was to leave their house within a week. Apparently, they had told Nathan I was to only stay for two weeks, while he gave me the impression that I was going to be able to stay for a month. Thankfully, Nathan’s brother Paul and his wife Melanie hosted my unemployed waif of a self while I looked for employment and an apartment, preventing me from a very unwanted return to Bellingham and high school.

Employment came quickly and in the beginning of August I started working part time at the mall, selling and repairing watches and clocks. I still volunteered at the gaming center, but would quickly stop as the brothers closed it down. I saved up enough money to get an apartment, and scored a centrally located one.

Salt Lake City is basically a giant grid (including its suburbs) and extends all the way down south into the suburb of Sandy. Road names generally follow a numbering scheme and are centered on the Mormon temple in downtown Salt Lake. The first road west of the Temple is West Temple, and the next one is 100 West, then 200 West and so on. It is like this in all directions. I believe it is State Street that runs straight into the Temple, with Main Street next to it. State Street is a north-south avenue that extends all the way down into Sandy. Sandy starts at about 9000 South, and the suburb I lived in, Murray, started at about 4000 South. My apartment was at about 4700 South and State Street – centrally located. I was about a ten minute walk from the train station and a three minute walk from the nearest bus stop.

I lived above a playhouse that featured a cabaret theater and a dinner theater, specializing mostly in musical comedies that were written and produced in house. It was an island of liberal thinking in a sea of conservative thinking and Mormonism, and was a pretty cool place aside. The apartments were owned by the same gentleman that owned the theater, and he quickly took a liking to me and offered me a secondary job working in the box office at the theater. I took it, less for the pay and more for the ability to see free shows and get a discount on the food (which was quite good). I quickly repaid Paul and Melanie a sum of money, something like $300 to $500 in thanks of their housing me. They were surprised, expecting nothing – but I couldn’t let their kindness go unpaid, especially on such short notice.

Another perk (and unseen curse) was the staff there. The cabaret side of the operation employed attractive young girls, ages generally from 16 to 19 (though some older college girls also worked part time, as they had been working there since they were in high school also) and provided me ample opportunity to flirt. My advances were unsuccessful, much to my frustration and confusion. Hindsight has elucidated my failures to me (I didn’t care about my appearance, I was intentionally awkward, I relied too much on humor and intellect and not enough on being personable) and I’ve discussed the particulars of my romantic foibles in detail elsewhere here.

When I first started working at my job at the mall, I looked like a mess. I wore the same shirt most days, didn’t know how to properly tie a tie, had a scruffy and unkempt haircut. My boss quickly took me under his wing, gave me some fashion sense and even took me shopping for some good dress clothes once. He was about ten years my senior, and we hit it off as friends. He was also recently relocated from out of state – having managed a kiosk in Boise for five years with oustanding results, the company felt he was just the man to run its number one store after the former manager there was promoted to a higher position.

The both of us weren’t exactly quick to warm up to the local populace – too conservative and Mormon for our Godless, liberal upbringings. As time worn on, we spent more time hanging out after work – I’d go to his apartment and we’d watch movies or recordings of concerts together. We’d go out to eat or go out to the movies. He started getting into the guitar (an old hobby of his) and began to play his favorite metal songs – a technically enviable feat. He even showed me how to play a bit, but I never really took it up. He even took me to my first concert – an all day metal festival.

And so it was like this I wasted away days, weeks, and months. Working 40 to 80 hours a week, getting better at hawking my wares and repairing timepieces new and old, buying things I didn’t need to fill voids I couldn’t heal. My life was going nowhere, fast. I had intended on going to college sometime in the future.

But that future never came, as I didn’t want to go into debt and did not have the time to really seek it out anyway. Transportation was an issue, as I never had a car and had to rely on public transit. I met women, it is true, but none of them seemed to fancy me, and I found that I couldn’t work up the courage to ask them on a date anyway. Where was I to take them? What was I to do with them? I wasted just a few days over a year mulling around in Utah until I woke up one day – shortly after having been promoted to assistant manager at my retail job – with an epiphany: I was going to wind up exactly like my dad.

There had been talk in the company of my abilities and my rather rapid rise to the assistant manager position – at the number one grossing location – and I was slated for the next promotion to manager in the area. At first, I was rather smug with this news, being the renegade and idealistic high-school drop out that I was. But when I realized that my father, in his youth, had foregone higher education in order to manage another retail operation…and when I recalled his life successes (or lack thereof) I immediately became discouraged.

What was I doing? Where was I going? I had wasted an entire year in an unfamiliar state. I had made few friends. All I had to show for my time was an increasingly large collection of media – books, music, video games, and a faster computer. My life felt very hollow. Where was the magnificent change that was supposed to occur? I was away from my mother, after all. Wasn’t that the source of all my weakness? Wasn’t that the reason why I hadn’t finished my novel, why I couldn’t get the money to go to St. John’s?

Apparently not.

The company I worked for continued to rot. The upper echelons of management continued to make rather unpopular decisions, blaming lower-than-expected profit margins and sales figures on its stores and the employees working in them. (This was ironic, as the Wall Street journal was running articles about how retail sales were at an all time low as the economy recessed.) Many, including myself and my manager, became fed up with the way we were treated. I couldn’t imagine trying to forge a career for myself with this company. College was out of the question. It seemed like the military was my only option.

My grandfather had been a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Marine Corps. The Marine Corps had always had a mythical presence in my childhood – any time the Discovery channel ran a program on them, I watched it in awe. The world’s finest fighting force, they seemed to routinely undergo the most intense training imaginable. They were heroes to me. The way kids dream about being President or an astronaut or a rock star – that was the way I felt about the Marine Corps. It was a flight of fancy, something I thought I would never be able to accomplish. I even remember confiding in Sara that it was something I envied, though never seriously considered doing.

But as my situation worsened, as my life wasted away in a maelstrom of apathy and discontent, I began to consider it. The Marine Corps. Me? On a whim on one of my off days, I caught the train down to Sandy, Utah and looked around for the recruiting office I heard was nearby. I had already done some research and read some books – it seemed like everyone who enlisted in the Marine Corps found it to be one of the best decisions of their life. All of the complaints about the military – getting screwed over by recruiters, the government not meeting its end of the bargain, getting screwed out of your job, getting your contract jerked around and on and on – seemed not to mention the Marines, but instead dealt with (chiefly) the Army (and following that, the Air Force and Navy). Perhaps it had something to do with the relative size of the forces – with the Marine Corps being a mere tenth the size of the Army, it was probably easier to manage incoming recruits and take care of its Marines.

The mall the recruiting office was attached to was under remodeling at the time, and I had a hard time finding the entrance to the office. I must have looked like a rather poor recruit – tall, lanky, I weighed maybe 160 pounds at the height of 6’5. The staff noncommissioned officer in charge (SNCOIC), a gunnery sergeant of eight years (a rather meteoric rise to that rank – on average, it takes a Marine some twelve years to become a gunnery sergeant, and often longer than that) looked every bit a Marine to me. The first thing he said to me that day (aside from asking me my name, or perhaps he overheard it as I talked to another sergeant) was “Well, Donner, if you join, you’ll never have to pay for sex again!” Ah, the Marines. So crass. Just what I was looking for, being so tired and fed up with political correctness and neonazi feminism.

The sergeant that I spent most of my time with, Sergeant Baker, had me pick four name-tag sized tabs from a group of tabs – reasons why I wanted to join the Marine Corps. I picked college, challenge, financial stability, and physical fitness. There were no tabs for “overcoming a debilitating amount of depression,” “rehabilitation from a year of customer service,” “an anger at mankind one wants to express with a rifle,” and so on. Upon seeing my tabs, Sergeant Baker said “College and money, huh? If those are your chief reasons, you’re probably better off serving in the Air Force.” And he spun his chair around, as if to say I should leave.

Marine recruiters are good at what they do. It is their job to find the best young men for the Corps, and despite popular opinion, the application process is rather stringent. Even for enlisted Marines, there are strict requirements, and while I was in the process of enlisting, I saw several potential recruits weeded out or turned away by the Marines working in the office. Even in a time of war, Marine recruiters have a keen sense of duty and want to make sure that they are sending only the best candidates into their beloved Corps. One way that they do this is by making sure a potential recruit truly understands and appreciates what he is doing.

Lots of people turn to the military for the benefits and the benefits alone, and the Marines are acutely aware of this. Of the service branches, the Marine Corps offers the fewest benefits to its recruits (saving them instead for those looking to re-enlist, and even then the other branches often offer better bonuses and incentives). The Marine Corps prefers its Marines enlist and reenlist based on a willingness to serve, on a willingness to be the best of the best, based on the intangible benefits of pride and confidence that being a Marine offers you.

It wasn’t just college that I was looking for. I wasn’t just looking for financial stability. I still remembered the fanciful dreams of my youth – the mystique and myth of the Corps, that group of superheroes. I told Sergeant Baker that if I was going to join the military, the Corps was the only branch for me. Hearing that, he turned around and we got down to business.

By the time I left that office several hours later, we had an appointment set for me to undergo my enlistment, undertaking all the necessary physical and academic exams. Sergeant Baker enrolled me in a local adult education school so that I could finish up my last year of high school and get the degree that was necessary for enlistment. I felt like a different person. I was anxious and scared at the same time. Within the week, I would be signing a contract stating that I was going to enlist as a Private in the United States Marine Corps.

Nobody I knew (and still talked to) could believe it. My manager in particular said I would never make it – he later apologized, explaining that he was just stressed out and worried about what my departure from the store would mean for him. We were pretty good friends outside of work, and he, like me, did not have many people he spent time with in Utah. He quit shortly after I went to boot camp.

Sergeant Baker helped me get in shape for boot camp. When I enlisted in August 2007, I was what was referred to as a “triple threat,” I could not meet any of the three requirements of the Marine Corps’ Initial Strength Test (the necessary requirements for a recruit to pass in order to proceed with training in boot camp). They require a recruit to perform two dead hang pull ups, perform forty-four crunches in two minutes, and to run one and a half miles in thirteen minutes and thirty seconds. The run and the crunches came quickly for me, as I was not particularly out of shape – I did a lot of walking and have never been very fat. My biggest problem was that since my freshman year of high school, I had not done anything particularly active with my life (like a sport or active hobby).

Even though I was not physically in the best shape, the Marines at the recruiting office were behind me every step of the way. Sergeant Baker took me to the gym whenever he could and helped get me on a training regiment. The gunnery sergeant in charge of the office expressed his confidence in me, and reminded me that nobody cares more about one’s career than oneself. “Even if you aren’t in the best of shape for boot camp, don’t let that get you down, Donner. Just work at it as hard as you can. One day you’ll get there. That’s what’s important. Four years from now, when you’re re-enlisting and looking at picking up Corporal or Sergeant or, hell, who knows, maybe Staff Sergeant, nobody will be asking what your PFT (physical fitness test) score at boot camp was.” (The Physical Fitness Test is the test Marines run semi-annually to assess fitness. It is used for promotions. A minimum of three dead-hang pull-ups, 55 crunches in two minutes, and three miles ran in 28 minutes is required to pass. For a maximum score, a Marine must perform 20 dead hang pull-ups, 100 crunches in two minutes, and clock in their three mile run at 18 minutes or below.)

The encouragement and support I received from the Marines and fellow poolees (those of us who enlisted into the Delayed Entry Program, and were going to boot camp within a year) was remarkable and refreshing. Never before had I felt like I had had so much support. And the things that I felt I was accomplishing at the time were remarkable also. I had never felt like I was achieving so many things so quickly. Within two months, I went from failing all three events of the IST and being a high school drop out to having my diploma and being above average in two of three events. The other event, pull-ups, would prove to be the bane of my existence for some time to come yet.

But Sergeant Baker wouldn’t see me discouraged. “Even if you can’t get your pull-ups before you go to boot camp, they’ll usually let you continue on in training anyway. Then you’ll have three months to get your three pull-ups down so you can graduate. The worst that can happen is you’ll get dropped back in training to the Physical Conditioning Platoon, where you’ll stay until you can meet the requirements.” This didn’t seem all that bad.

I’ll pause here in the narrative for a moment. I’ve always wanted this work to be a selfless examination of myself and my past, as my memory is extremely spotty and I want something to refer back to later. I tend to bottle up emotions and feelings and forget about them. Then I wonder about the decisions I’ve made, and have no emotional context to understand them in. It can be a difficult process recreating my life, sifting through all of the cracks and crevices I’ve hidden myself in. Because of this, I want to discuss a less flattering part of my enlistment process.

The entire time I was in Utah I was (as should be evidenced elsewhere in this work) extremely depressed. Depression is something I am and have been very familiar with. I have grown accustomed to it and do very well hiding it. It surprised me, sometimes, the depth of it. A random event or memory could trigger a huge emotional response in me. In Utah, I remember sifting through some old journals or maybe my yearbooks, and suddenly something clicked. I was rendered immobile for the rest of my weekend off from work – I didn’t leave my apartment, I slept 14 or 15 hours each day. It was somewhat frightening. I began to shy away from self-examination, self-reflection, or brooding of any sort, as it made it rather difficult to live life.

Another time, I was browsing Barnes and Noble, looking for something interesting to read (as I had taken to reading as a way to pass the time to and from work) and stumbled across the book “I Don’t Want To Talk About It – The Secret History of Male Depression” by Terrence Real. I spent one tearful evening reading the entire volume and was again rendered immobile by my emotional response. I wanted desperately to talk to someone about my response to the book, but no one returned my calls or seemed interested. I didn’t want to talk to a psychologist, as talking to someone who is paid to be your friend and make you feel better seems a rather silly thing to do. So my emotional response to that tome was another thing forgotten to the sands of time.

But I still remember my morbidity during the time I was enlisting. For a long time, I had come to some conclusions about my own death. It was probably seventh grade when I’d decided that I would never kill myself – suicide was quitting, I’d reasoned, and I wasn’t going to quit. It was some time later that I justified my lack of healthy living on the notion that, while I wasn’t going to quit life, I wasn’t going to exactly do my best to prevent my own death, either. I became fixated on a sort of passive suicide, a sort of killing myself through unwise living – the apex of which was to be my enlistment in the Marine Corps. What better way to die without killing myself, than putting myself directly in harm’s way in a war zone? Brilliance. Sheer brilliance.

I have been a believer in the notion that there is beauty in everything, even death. There is a tragic beauty in the oblivion my brother drank himself into – a beauty he and I both understand. I understand his attraction to it; when I was conducting an “interview” with him for a school project in high school, I became alarmed when he stated that he was drawn in to drinking by his fascination with the beauty of oblivion. I had, at the time, been considering taking up the bottle myself – I was about the same age he had been when he had taken his first drink – and this deterred me. I had always assumed that my brother’s alcoholism had been a direct response to my mother’s emotional abuse, but to hear my brother tell it scared me.

There is beauty in everything, even death. I wanted a beautiful death. This life I was living was so completely unsatisfying. American living was so completely unsatisfying to me. Why bother going to college, when all one can hope to do is make more money and buy more things? Where was the virtue in that? Our ancestors fought and died for freedom, liberty, for a noble and beautiful idea, in order to change the world forever. We fought and died for the latest electronic gadget and the prettiest estate. What was the fucking point in life?

Success in American culture was based on a disgusting infatuation with value – value defined not by intrinsic quality, but by how much money something could generate. “Good” music was not necessarily well composed, performed, or emotionally stirring – “good” music generated a lot of sales. Good writing was not necessarily perceptive, striking, or emotionally stirring – good writing generated a lot of sales. Anything “good” was something which generated a lot of sales. Even in public debate, be it the lunch table or on the internet, followed this notion – disputes over whether or not something was “good” often boiled down to how successful that particular thing was commercially.

Military service seemed like the only place I could escape this ubiquitous lust for wealth. Here were the men and women who still believed in freedom and liberty, in giving up their lives for something greater than themselves. Here were the men and women of noble character and virtue, fighting to protect those who were too weak to protect themselves. Politicians be damned. Even if you were tossed into a war you didn’t agree with, you could still fight to make sure the Marine to the left and the right of you had a chance to go home to his or her family and his or her loved ones. Selflessness – a necessary trait for anyone in the military, perhaps THE necessary trait.

There seemed to be a purpose that resonated with me and aligned with my tastes, then, in military service. And the morbid side of myself was placated – what better death could I have, than one in which I died serving my country and fighting hand in hand with my brothers-in-arms? There is beauty in all things, even death.

I didn’t tell my mother I was enlisting until it start to come down to the wire. I needed a copy of my birth certificate, and she was the only one who had access to get me one. I didn’t even call her to tell her. I emailed her, stating rather curtly “Hey mom, I’m enlisting in the Marine Corps so I need a copy of my birth certificate. Please send to this address, thanks, John.” I did not reply when she required further inquiry; she stated she was sending it and that’s all I needed.

Initially, I was slated to fly to boot camp sometime in the middle of September, shortly after my 19th birthday, but I didn’t feel ready enough as the date drew near. I had procrastinated on my high school diploma (I didn’t end up getting it until two days before I flew out of Utah for California!) and I didn’t feel like I was in shape physically (still unable to perform even a single pull-up, a source of constant frustration and shame). Therefore, the intelligence job I had selected became unavailable, as I was going to be enlisting in a new fiscal year (as fiscal years apparently began in October); I temporarily selected a “Data Network Specialist” MOS and that was that.

I put in a lot of notice to my job – perhaps a month or more – as even though I was growing to dislike the decisions higher management was making, I felt like I owed the company quite a bit. They had taken me in without a high school diploma and when I was still 17, and had been quick to promote me and place me in a position of authority and responsibility. I started making eight dollars an hour, flat, and left making about $15 an hour (often more than that, thanks to overtime they let me have) after commission factored in. I helped a new manager get the store ready for his reign, as my manager went to a slower mall. I quit at the end of September and prepared to fly down on October 21st.

My last free month spent as a civilian was a strange time for me. I had absolutely no time – twenty days or so to enjoy my freedom – and all the time in the world, because I didn’t have to go to work. I worked on preparing myself physically and mentally for boot camp. I read as much as I could about what to expect – getting several books about the military and Marine Corps boot camp. In particular I read “The Few and the Proud,” a series of interviews with current and former Drill Instructors, and I read the (then) new Counterinsurgency Field-Manual. And I debated my choice of Military Occupational Specialty in the Corps. Data Network Specialist was something familiar and safe – dealing with computers. There was a future after my service in that. But it was boring and I didn’t want to be stuck doing something boring for four years.

I seriously considered going in to the infantry. I viewed it as a decision I would always regret and wonder about if I didn’t pick it. I didn’t want to always wonder “what might have been,” if I didn’t pick infantry. But I also worried about the toll it would take on my body, and I worried about not being in shape for it. Ultimately my recruiters talked me out of it, telling me that I would be doing myself, the Corps, and my nation a disservice by picking infantry. They get very few recruits with my intellectual capacity to fill the highly technical jobs in the Corps, as most academically inclined recruits either go to other services (Navy and Air Force mostly) or become officers.

It was in this way that I chose an option entitled “Ground Electronics Maintenance.” I thought I would be doing field repairs in combat on various electronic gear – which my recruiters said may be a possibility. It was a rather large option in which you could wind up in one of several different MOS fields. My specific MOS wouldn’t be chosen for me until just before completion of boot camp. I didn’t pick this field until a few days before I was slated to go, and it wasn’t until the day before I was due to have my final night in Utah in a hotel the military was paying for that my recruiter called to tell me he got me the job – and a $15000 bonus, with it. This was unexpected and good news. The bonus was due to the high academic requirements to qualify for the option – you had to have some pretty good scores on the Armed Services Vocational Assessment Battery.

My brother and I had a rather nasty fight a week or two before I was going to leave. I don’t remember much of the particulars anymore, but I do remember that he compared me and my conduct to my mother. Which was absolutely unfucking acceptable to me. I was the only person that believed in him in my family, stuck through the hard times with him, regularly called to see how he was doing. I felt like, at the time, he had burned the bridge. But our relationship was such that this fight didn’t really amount to much and we’d get back in touch while I was in boot camp.

On my final weekend in Utah, some buddies from Bellingham flew down so that we could participate in one last gaming tournament before I departed. Originally, they were going to play with Nathan or his brother Paul, but both bailed towards the last minute because of familial obligations. It worked out that I could have one last night of good times, and so I did. We each won $500, as we had by far the most experience at the game (being a part of the competitive community, we knew nobody of note was going to be at this tournament). I gave my money to Nathan, being as I wouldn’t need it at boot camp.

I remember my last night as a civilian somewhat vividly. I was stationed at the Ramada in downtown Salt Lake City, an area I was pretty familiar with, as I made frequent visits to the outdoor mall for its restaurants. (In particular, I was a recurring customer of the California Pizza Kitchen here, becoming quite familiar with two of its full-service bar waitresses and two of its managers. I often got free meals.) I was nervous and scared and restless. I tried calling people who were important to me at the time, to get some last minute soul searching done. Nobody answered.

I strolled along downtown SLC. We had been briefed that there was a curfew but my recruiter told me it didn’t matter as long as I was back at the hotel in time to leave in the morning. I went to the California Pizza Kitchen a final time, talking to either Kristy or Suzanna. I bought a book on taoism I intended to read during boot camp. And I waited. My boss and I were to see one last movie together before I was going to leave.

The movie was 30 Days of Night, or something like that. A horror movie about a group of vampires that attack some small town in Alaska as they go through their yearly phase without sun because of whatever planetary phenomenon affects that region of the world. It was a decent film but I was preoccupied – my boss hadn’t been there and I felt betrayed. Why was I so unimportant to people, that they jerked me around like that? Why couldn’t I build a lasting connection with anyone?

Much like when I left Bellingham, I was looking to others to make the decision to enlist for me. If anybody expressed doubt or regret at my permanent departure from their life, I wouldn’t have enlisted. I wasn’t really making my own decisions in life, I was letting other people’s actions and reactions determine my fate. And because no one cared about me, I signed on the dotted line. I rationalized the decision to myself in terms of service to my country, defending freedom and liberty, getting into better shape, achieving something – but at the time, the primary motivation was the lack of a reason to not go.

Maybe boot camp would change me. Could it change me? I hoped to keep in touch with several people who expressed interest to do so as I left – keeping a list of addresses in my wallet. Sara was on the list. I fought myself day in and day out over her – part of me wanting to get over her, part of me drawing on her for warmth and support. Even though she wasn’t an active part of my life, I would find my thoughts resting with my memories of her and the support she offered me in my time of need.

And so it was with these disjointed hopes and dreams and feelings and confusion that I found myself a recruit on Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego from 22 October 2007 to 01 February 2008.