No, actually, he or she almost certainly didn’t. You just heard what you wanted to hear.
In spring of 1981 I enlisted in the United States Air Force. That was the culmination of a series of events, and the beginning of another series.
First, some background. I grew up in a “broken home.” My parents separated when I was about three. Some time after that, my mother remarried. I have some isolated memories of that period and it seems like it was a good time but it didn’t last. For whatever reason, my mother and this other man separated. We moved to a little house in Portsmouth Virginia which my mother shared with one of the women she worked with (she waited tables) and her two children.
Shortly before I entered school, my mother married yet again to a Navy sonarman who served on destroyers. Neither my sister nor I liked this guy. We much preferred her other suitor, who was also in the Navy. He proposed to her shortly before shipping out and my mother did not want to give him an answer in that rather narrow time window. My sister and I (I was like six. My sister was four) urged her to accept the proposal but she said she had time to decide. My argument was that if she waited, then the other guy would convince her while the preferred guy was out.
Damn, I was awfully perceptive for a six year old. Not only did I peg that the other guy would convince her to accept his suit, but that it would prove to be a really bad idea.
For a while everything seemed okay. Oh, there were some hints. When I was bullied at school, he didn’t do anything positive–not even to the extent of teaching me to defend myself.
Then, for reasons that I will not go into here, he lost his job as an officer of the Portsmouth City (Virginia) police and he moved back to his home in Cambridge, OH.
That’s when the problems really started. You see he was an alcoholic. While we were in Virginia, he wasn’t drinking, at least not much, but on return to Ohio he started drinking a lot and he was a mean drunk.
Another nice little bit is that he brought home a nice little present from a “side piece” (I believe that’s one of the current terms for a person with whom one is breaking ones oaths) and gave it to my mother. He got himself taken care of but never said anything. We didn’t find out until my mother literally collapsed on the floor and had to be rushed to the hospital where they found the damage was so extensive that she needed a total hysterectomy, plus the removal of one of her ovaries.
And yet my mother stayed with him. A modern term for that is “co-dependent”.
In that timeframe, his treatment of me was harsh, but did not rise to the level of physical abuse, at least not by the standards of the time. How he treated my mother, OTOH, that was a whole other ballgame. I remember lying awake at night, listening to him coming home drunk, their fighting, the smashing sounds that I learned later were of a porcelain lamp being broken over my mother’s head.
And still she stayed with him. For years. I was thirteen when she finally left him and made it stick. And while she had the occasional relationship after that, she never remarried.
The upshot of all that was that I never had a good male role model in my life. I never had anyone to show me what it was to be a father, what it was to be a man. And when I started growing up and the folk around me were growing faster, there was no one to explain that puberty hits different people at different times. Some come earlier and some, like me, come later. Frustrating as it is, it’s not something wrong. And most importantly once it did come I would catch up. Nobody to help me understand what was going on when I was the last one in anything related to gym class. Years later, looking back I could see that I was basically just one year behind. But then? I was just a wimp, physically inadequate, completely incapable at anything requiring muscle.
As it happened, I did catch up. There were signs that I was starting to catch up at the tail end of the Freshman year. They had a track and field block near the end of the year and while my running was pathetic, one of the last things we did was high jump. As student after student dropped out from failing to clear progressively higher bars. I was still in. This despite my horrid form (I was more hurdling than high-jumping). Then there were just two people in–me and one other. And the other guy was on the track team specializing in high jump. I eventually failed twice at 4′ 8″ (Having cleared 4′ 7″). The other guy managed 5′ 4″. Not great numbers, but compared to anything I had ever done before? I was actually pleased at that fluke. If I’d had the practice to get good form, I probably would have been close, at least, to that other guy.
That year, however, was the last year of mandatory physical education and I firmly put it behind me. After all, what was the point? Despite the fluke there with the high jump, I was just a physical wimp, right?
Yeah. I had severe self confidence issues.
Years later, I’d completed school, tried to get into college (my grades and test scores were fine but…well, that’s another story) and didn’t. Worked for a bit in food service–bussing tables and washing dishes–and decided to join the military. Talked to a recruiter. Took the ASVAB’s. Practically aced them (lost a few points in the “administrative” category so I was not qualified to be an accountant or a disbursement accountant–not that I wanted to.
But I was physically a wimp. Of course I was a wimp. I knew I was a wimp. The physical demands of the Army, Marine Corps, and Navy intimidated me. I was too wimpy for them. I knew it. (That I was wrong didn’t enter into it. I knew it.)
So I joined the Air Force. I had a plan. I had always had an interest in electronics. Abusive stepfather was also a Ham radio operator and the one good thing he did do in those years was teach me some basic electronics. So, at the advice of a friend, I was going to go into the Air Force and study electronics, take the longest school they have with the idea that electronics is electronics so the longer school I would have more to build on once I got out if I didn’t decide to make the military a career.
My recruiter, however, had other ideas.
Did I mention I had self-confidence issues?
He presented this alternative option, something called “Cryptologic Linguist.” It sounded intriguing. I would be working with radios and recording equipment. I would be sent to a language school to learn a foreign language. (I’m sure you see where this is heading.) I’d have to pass a background check for a top secret security clearance. (Got it now? Nothing I’ve said here is not in the actual field description that I was handed as a potential recruit.)
Oh, and I would be able to enter in April rather than have to wait until September or later for the electronics fields (and I was out of work so that mattered).
He just sort of mentioned that if I signed up for six years, because of how long the training was, I’d get an automatic promotion to E3 on graduation of Basic Training and a $2500 bonus when I finished technical training.
That sounded like a lot of money to a kid just out of high school whose only experience is with jobs paying 1980 minimum wage.
Did I mention I had self confidence issues?
I took it. Not the worst mistake of my life, not even top ten, but probably in the top twenty.
What he didn’t tell me was the long hours of boredom. Of time spent sitting, waiting for something to happen. And you can’t. do. anything. but. wait. Some people an handle that. I can’t. I had a friend (different but related field) who described it as he could “turn off” his brain and just trigger whenever what he needed to respond to happened. I can’t.
I went quite slowly mad. My performance led to a counseling session where I was rated “not eligible to reenlist”. And, well, the suicide attempt (not stemming from not being eligible to reenlist; I was perfectly happy with that; the feeling was mutual) lost me my security access and I ended up working in building maintenance (what was called “casual status”) for the last few months of my enlistment.
Then I was hit by a car. But that’s another story.
So, no, my recruiter never lied to me. I heard what I wanted to hear and, frankly, I was young and stupid (but I repeat myself), and simply did not have the self-confidence to stick to my plan. But none of that was the recruiter’s fault. He was just doing his job, and doing it well.
I’ve talked to friends since who suggested other areas that I might have been much better suited for. And I sometimes wonder how things might have gone had I taken a different path–like say sticking to my original plan. Even if my military career had gone no better, I would have been in a much better position no separating. (The only thing “marketable” from that cryptologic linguist field was the security clearance, and I’d lost my access so that was right out.)
And, yet, for all the trouble, that process started a sequence of events that, in the end, led to the wonderful daughter who’s currently napping in the next room. With that in mind, looking back, even if I could, I don’t think I’d change it, not if it meant I wouldn’t have that daughter.