42. Rest in Peace

Rest in Peace

A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.

Isaiah 42:3

I entered the main building of the restricted area after my day off. Something wasn’t right. Everything was quiet. When I looked around, almost none of fourth platoon could be found. The air felt sad…solemn…empty. I looked to my right to find a team leader from fourth platoon. He sat alone at a table with a shadow of guilt hovering over his vacant stare. 

We were comfortable with our sexuality in RTT and it especially showed in the restricted area. A bunch of dudes wearing short-shorts all bunked in the same corner, working out together shirtless, sunbathing on the roof, laughingly smacking each others’ butts on occasion, and of course, Manazir’s shenanigans tricking the guys into looking at his testicles, all might cause one to question if any of us were straight. Not that there’s anything wrong with dudes liking dudes in the culture these days, but as far as I knew, we were all quite straight. We just walked up to the line and stood there without flinching.

My first encounter with Wright in DM school, where we aided each other in the application of tanning lotion and subsequently aloe vera, was more norm in RTT than exception.1 Guys would grab or smack each others’ assess and shout things like “Hot damn!” or at the very least we’d mimic once again the movie Dodgeball’s character White Goodman’s move where he high-fives his workout partner as they pass each other and swoop their palm to each other’s buttcheek, followed by a loud shout. 

The guys poked, prodded and grabbed other areas too. For some reason, my anatomy was endowed with abnormally large, much-stronger-than-they-look pec muscles. I looked like I could toss 315 on the bench press no problem, when in fact I almost never advanced past 225. 

When I began working out back in eighth grade, excitement swelled within me when I noticed my boobs began budding. For some reason though they never stopped growing. Some of the guys therefore requested to fondle my chest having been separated from women for up to a week.

“Hmm,” Manazir contemplated, his right hand cupping my left pec while slowly bouncing it. “I’d say you’re a solid B-cup!” 

Harris, who often flicked my melons without consent, one upped Manazir when he coined the nickname D-Cup Crank. I guess if I were born a woman, I’d probably have a huge rack.

Wright continually pushed the boundaries of sexuality norms. One day while eating lunch he spoke up.

“Dude.”

“‘Sup?”

“What if I got my legs jacked and shaved ‘em?” I couldn’t say anything but laugh at such a random unsolicited comment.

“Well…” I began, trying to stop chuckling, “Then you’d have shaved legs.”

“Yeah man. I’m gonna do it.”

Some time later when back at the main side of base I knocked on Wright’s door.

“Come on in!” he shouted.

“Yo, where are you?” I asked. Once I entered, I scanned to my right then my left.

“My gosh this is taking forever!” Wright said. As I continued turning left, I spotted Wright wearing silkies with his left foot propped up waist-high on his bathroom sink, knee bent, hunched over with a razor scraping the underbelly of his inner thigh.

“So you’re finally achieving your dream of shaved legs?”

“Tryin’ to. I’ve been at it for over an hour.”

“Yeah I bet the first time would take a while.”

“You gonna try it?”

“Uh,” I said, glancing at the many reddened nicks in his partly shaved leg, “I’ll pass.”

When the Vibram five finger shoes became a fad, essentially allowing one to run barefoot with a plastic protective layer to prevent injury, Wright was the first and perhaps only one to jump on the bandwagon. These shoes, if you want to call them that, force the user to run with their forefoot contacting the ground when most traditional runners strike with their heel. Though there’s nothing wrong with it, forefoot running increases the demand on nearly every muscle group in the calf, ankle and forefoot, which is why many who used these ended up injuring themselves.

When Wright bought them he barely reduced his mileage to ease his transition to the Vibrams. After maybe his third run he limped in agony to our corner. Not sure whose idea it was, but in about three minutes Wright was laying on his stomach while I found myself along with two other dudes rubbing lotion up and down Wright’s silky smooth shaven legs to massage his sore calf muscles.

Because most of us were quite fit, we’d check each other out, usually jealous of the guy’s physique as anyone seeking an unrealistic body image might. Other times, we just checked ourselves out in the mirror. While in the bathroom with Lorens, we finished up with our usual shirtless protein shake consumption, then I turned to him.

“Hey bro,” I spoke in my Arnold Schwarzenegger accent, “Do you have a sewing kit? I believe I’m rrrrripped!” I flexed, emphasizing the final word.

“Haha!” Lorens keeled over for a few seconds. He got up speaking with his own bodybuilder accent. “Do you like eggs?”

“Oh yeah, for sure.”

“Because I’m totally yoked!” We both howled with laughter. I hadn’t heard that one.

There were enough of us with solid bodies and decent enough smiles that we seriously considered making an RTT calendar. Schreiner would definitely be the cover model, possibly followed by Wright or maybe Garcia. I imagined this would be something similar to a firefighter’s calendar where they wear heat-resistant pants with the only thing strapped to their shirtless upper body being the suspenders.

We could do something similar with the guys unwrapping their flight suits and tying the sleeves around their wastes with a puckered-lipped seductive gaze. For my pose, I’d be laying on a couch,  legs opened up, elbow resting on the armrest and hand under my chin with a thoughtful stare wearing only a boonie cover and short shorts. Though the idea of an RTT calendar never dissipated during my time there, sadly we never got around to it. 

We dominated the gym nearly all day in the wire. But, as is with any public space, we were required to share it with the platoons pulling shifts in the restricted area. Most of the time they did workouts too, but occasionally, they used it as a great spot for punishment. 

As I made my exit for my day off, movement and a racket to my right caught my attention. Glancing inside the gym, I noticed a team leader from fourth platoon screaming at some frightened boot as he was forced to do burpees in his full gear. The kid looked miserable and humiliated as the rest of his team stood around watching, laughing and yelling. I didn’t think anything of it. Boots get thrashed all the time for doing something stupid.

Once I returned after my day off, I could hear a pin drop when I entered the building. The same team leader hazing the young Marine in the gym when I left now sat alone in the empty eating area with a thousand-yard stare. He was pale.

I made my way back to my bunk.

“Hey guys, something wrong?”

“Yeah,” Patton said, turning towards me in the swivel chair. “Some kid from fourth platoon shot himself last night.”

“What?” I asked.

“They found him in the grass by a hill this morning. He got in trouble for some shit and he must have snapped.” 

I thought back to the scene in the gym. The kid in the gym was the one who swallowed the muzzle of his M-16 and pulled the trigger. The Marine Corps is ruthless. Perhaps the more tender hearted personality such as mine has no place in an institution so rough and unforgiving. The warrior ethos is tough, and needs to be, but some who end up in the military can’t take it. 

Though the team leader blamed himself, I didn’t blame him. The compassion that comes so naturally enabling me to notice a hurting soul is not common in a congregation of killers. We need to be ruthless. We need to punish weakness and incompetence in an effort to make each other better because lives depend on it. However, the endeavor to push the weak among us to their limit is dangerous. We don’t know where the line is for the other… when they will break.

For some reason, I’ve always noticed the outcasts, perhaps because I’ve been one for so many years. In a world where fuck ups incite scathing curses, insults and physical pain, I vowed to always seek deflated souls to fill with a puff of encouragement. Though my tendency always had been to comfort hurting sinners like me, in that moment I doubled down on my instinct. 

I felt sorry for the kid, wondering what hell he must have endured in his mind to push him to that end. Then I thought of the ghostly team leader. Though it may have been a vain hope, I prayed for the team leader and the grieving family could find comfort and that the young man would rest in peace.

  1. If you missed it, I wrote about this here

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