An orange glow from the outdated carpet fills my vision as I force open my eyelids. I rub my eyes and gaze around the room from the couch where I’ve slept for the last five weeks. Empty beer cans, pizza boxes, crumpled cigarette packages and red plastic cups litter the floor. Discarded reminders from last night’s party – one in an endless stream of all-nighters since I graduated from high school last year. A stranger is sleeping in the fetal position in one corner of the room. His Judas Priest concert t-shirt is nearly torn from his back, and he is bleeding from a fresh wound on his left knee.
The stifling heat and my sweat dampened shirt tell me that the sun rose hours ago. My mornings haven’t started before noon for well over a year. Today is no different. I swing my feet to the floor, stretch and light a cigarette. I have a splitting headache, and my mouth is so dry I can barely swallow. Just once it would be nice to wake up without a hangover, but I don’t dare back out of a party for fear of public ridicule.
It doesn’t matter what day it is – not that I could remember anyway. I’ve been willingly unemployed for months and have nowhere to be. I cannot remember why I quit my last job. Most likely because it was Wendy’s. Flipping burgers, going home smelling like grease, working evenings… any complaint was a good enough reason for me to leave a job. How many jobs have I left in the past year? I can’t remember. The jobs in this dying town aren’t worth staying at anyway.
The kitchen is in worse condition than the living room. The sink is overflowing with dirty dishes. Macaroni and cheese is drying in a pot on the stovetop. The floor is wet with spilled beer, and the entire house smells like a bar. My god, who lives like this? I rummage through the fridge looking for something cold to quench my thirst. Cherry Kool-Aid. That will do just fine. I walk outside in my bare feet and sit on the concrete steps of the trailer.
I light another cigarette and scan the trailer park. It looks different today for some reason. The underpinning is missing from well over half of the trailers. I hadn’t noticed that before. Did we do that in our drunken stupor last night? The grass is knee-high in some yards while others are bare of any groundcover. How many of the neighborhood cars actually run? Most have flat tires. Or no tires. It’s not like their owners need them anyway. Most of them are unemployed, too.
My old man has been on my case for months to do something with myself. Get a job. Go to school. Join the military. He doesn’t care, but it kills him to watch me waste my life away partying. None of those things felt that important to me. Fun was the only thing that mattered. Until recently.
The above story is true. All of it. It describes the state of my life twenty-two years ago. While I was having loads of fun, I wasn’t going anywhere. I wasn’t doing anything. Granted, I was a kid, but sooner or later we all have to grow up. That is what I decided to do that day while I sat smoking on those steps. That was the day I decided to join the United States Marine Corps. It was a decision that would forever alter the course of my life.
The next day I was in a car with Corporal Coffee. He had driven nearly two hours to pick me up. I had long hair and was likely hungover when we walked into the St. Charles, MO recruiting station. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I sobered up quickly enough when I met Gunny Foster. The Marine Corps mascot is a bulldog named Chesty, and Gunny looked just like him. He was short, ugly, packed solid with muscle, and he growled when he spoke. He had a wad of chewing tobacco in his lip and even drooled a little. Just like a dog. Everything about Gunny screamed Marine. He had a foul mouth. A horseshoe haircut. Tattoos carved into his thick forearms. He was a bad dude.
Gunny was talking with another potential recruit when Corporal Coffee escorted me into the office. The kid was a mess. Skinny and frail. Coke-bottle glasses. His neck extended straight down to his elbows – bypassing his non-existent shoulders. Squirrelly. I couldn’t say much given my appearance that day, but this kid didn’t look like Marine Corps material to me. Apparently Gunny agreed because a few seconds later he picked up the phone and dialed. He grunted something into the receiver and hung up. A few minutes later an Air Force recruiter walked into the office. Gunny told the kid he should go with him, and he did.
Gunny Foster didn’t have to do too much recruiting with me. He asked me why I was sitting in his office, and I told him I wanted to enlist. I said that I could be ready to go within a week. Stone-faced, Gunny responded by asking if there was anything wrong with me that would make my dick fall off. Seriously. That is what he asked me. I told him that I didn’t think so. He then pulled out some paperwork for me to sign, and that was pretty much it. I had just “joined” the Marine Corps.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I gained another a family that day. An untold number of new brothers and sisters. A family comprised of the best friends I’ve had before or since. A family that grows each time I meet a fellow Marine. Not a day has passed since I got out that I don’t think about my time serving. Not a day has passed where I don’t think of the people I served with and how I miss them dearly. I got out of the Marine Corps over sixteen years ago, but in my heart I never left.
“Once a Marine, Always a Marine.”
Today is the 239thbirthday of the United States Marine Corps. All around the world, Marines young and old will come together to celebrate what makes us special. If you know a Marine, make sure to tell him/her “Happy Birthday.” We might be 239 years old, but we never tire of hearing it!