12. Reborn

Reborn

Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.

Proverbs 26:11

I skipped wrestling the next year, instead I tried track and leaned out after I got better at running. Though I beat every personal record with each JV 100-meter hurdle race, I didn’t continue the following year. During this time is when I began pumping iron during my weightlifting elective and exercise became more enjoyable. 

After finishing track and my lifting class, I still remained active. Exercise was the one healthy hobby I didn’t quit. Running and weightlifting were the only productive ways I coped with my stress. From ninth grade until graduating, I worked out consistently, three to four days per week. I wanted to look like my favorite cartoon character Goku from Dragonball Z. He has a power level of 9,000 and can train in a 50x gravity hyperbolic chamber for days on end. My goal was to be as fit as the muscle-bound, crazy-haired hero.

The quest ended with mild success as I could never pass 135 pounds at nearly 5’ 10’’ due to the fact that I drank coffee and played video games, often skipping breakfast and barely eating lunch. Sure, I would swallow several slices of pizza for dinner, but I’d feel guilty as my tender conscience was persistently influenced by all the fad diets that came and went in our house. Mom always tried new ones. I thought too many carbs and fat would turn me into Jabba the Hut. 

 My time from 8th to my final years of high-school progressed in a blur. I continued slaying demons in Diablo II throughout middle-school which became a gateway drug to other games. Because of this, I was clueless about life in the real world. I got out from time to time, but I only developed a sliver more confidence than my mother possessed back in her childhood. 

By the time the second semester of my sophomore year rolled around, my friend Johnny, who’s tall body, large features and deep voice defies all stereotypes from his country of origin China, invited me to try out a new game called World of Warcraft. Every day that we sat together in art class he pressed.

“Hey de Coup, you gotta play WoW, I know you’ll like it.” Having had a break from games for a while, I knew this was a bad idea.

“Naw man, I shouldn’t. I know what’ll happen,” I nudged.

“It’s like Diablo II but better!” he pushed.

“I know, that’s the problem. I’m going to get lost in it and never come out.” After at least ten years of returning to my vomit, I knew what it tasted like and was certain I couldn’t resist once it oozed down my throat.

I gave in. Once I started WoW there was no going back. The hours I spent on WoW dwarfed the time spent on any other game. I would frightfully type the /played command while online to see how long I spent on each character, including the sum total of all time spent in cyberspace. If I strung together every hour I wasted escaping reality in that game, it would be around one year. Eight or more hour marathons were not uncommon. I spent twelve hours straight on Christmas day of my senior year on WoW. I felt sick afterwards.

Undoubtedly I was addicted and I became further sheltered and socially handicapped after re-entering my two-dimensional prison. I remember watching the senior classmen standing in circles chatting with each other, thinking what do people talk about? I had no idea. Sometimes I’d hear my friends talk about “sick” cars, having no idea what distinguished a crap car from a nice one.

I should have known better, because nice cars were not uncommon in Eastlake high school. By my senior year, Sammamish brimmed full of affluence. As I grew up, the city of Sammamish, stationed on a plateau, became an uphill aristocratic oasis ballooning with residents and money. The rapid gentrification occurred as all the rich Microsoft and other tech nerds wanted to move to a calmer suburb rather than sticking in the Seattle grunge. Many of my classmates received new or sporty used cars. One young lady received a BMW hot off the assembly line for her sixteenth birthday. I at least knew fresh Beamers were nice. She then complained that the car sucked because maintenance was so expensive.

When my junior year came, the popular girls kept talking about the fancy out of state colleges they visited over the weekend. Not just the girls, but the guys too were heard gleefully sharing which universities they toured, what their top pick was and where they decided to go.

The concept of college vaguely occupied the back of my mind. I knew this was supposed to be the next step, but had no idea how to get there, or why my classmates were investigating colleges when we were only juniors. Don’t they know we have one more year before we graduate?

While I was busy with World of Warcraft and unsure about college, Austin’s issues worsened again. He tiptoed toward, slipped, rolled and then careened down the same ravine as dad. At sixteen, roughly the same age when dad started drinking, he followed suit. 

He downed his first beer with his friend at the time, Frank. On another outing with him, the two joined Frank’s neighbor, Glenn who set up an outdoor man cave. With a fire crackling, a television blaring and ninety-nine proof apple liqueur, Austin’s head spun with booze. During the next visit, the spinning turned black. Lights out.

His junior year Austin met a girl named Jess. She had two pals, beer and weed, though Austin mostly hung out with the former. The two of them advanced their alcohol consumption together.

Like any idiotic endeavor young people embark on, stupid is never enough. Tier two moron must be achieved. Austin’s imagination lit up with the bright idea of sharing a bottle of Bacardi 151 with Jess. Apparently he wanted to go for the Olympic gold medal of getting wasted. 

While at home, I received a phone call.

“Hey…rrrrRyan, we need some HLp,” Jess seemed panicked. 

“What’s going on?”

“Ausssstin psssd out!” her nearly indistinguishable words became more frantic.

“Where are you? What happened?”

“At thhh pock.”

“The what?”

“Thhh pork!” 

“The park?!” I shouted. 

“YEsss, yes the perk….”

“Okay, I’m on my way.”

The eastern border of our yard touched the three-hundred foot path to East Sammamish Park. After I leaped over the chain link fence between our side-yard and the park, I jogged down the pavement. I laid eyes on them in less than thirty seconds. 

There they were, behind the rectangular bathroom hut, an area providing minimal cover from walkers moving west and no cover for onlookers coming from my direction. Austin laid on his back, head tilted up with his mouth wide open as a baby bird might look if it passed out before mommy fed him. Jess fumbled her way up from laying on top of him, climbing to her hands and knees with her left breast hanging out, the first real boob I’d ever seen. 

“Uh, Jess,” I gestured for her to put her potato back in its sack. “My mom is on the way, she will be here any minute.”

Once the car arrived, Jess staggered toward it while we dragged Austin, threw him in and brought him into his room. This is where I learned to lay someone on their side who’s passed out drunk, just in case they vomit they won’t aspirate.

For my parents now, the cat wasn’t out of the bag, it followed the cow springing beyond the moon. Once he recovered, they were furious. He knew this, and during my junior year he packed up his belongings and left with Jess to help her run away to a friend’s house in San Diego. This would work out well for him because he already swore in to enlist in the Corps a few days prior and could be checked in by driving a short distance to base rather than take a flight. 

While en route to California, Lee notified Austin that he’s no longer welcome at home. Austin blew him off. He wasn’t coming back. Once plans went sideways though with Jess in SoCal, his confidence plummeted again. The thought of arriving at boot camp in rubles to have drill instructors turn collapsed bricks into dust didn’t sit well with him. Austin figured he’d get chewed up and spit out. Maybe he’s right, many recruits find less than honorable ways to null their enlistment before they finish bootcamp. He backed out at the last minute.

Word eventually got around to me that he dipped out on bootcamp, but I was slipping into a bad place myself. When I wasn’t engrossed in a game I felt a persistent sense of inadequacy as I felt unprepared for life. By November of my senior year, I started getting nervous. Nearly all of my peers planned the course to their next diploma, while I was clueless where to start.

How do I apply for a college? Which do I choose? What is a college credit? I was completely blind. Having had no guidance about this process, I looked up the Christian college Seattle Pacific University. With about five percent of the application completed and realizing my family had no money to pay for it, I gave up. Financial aid wasn’t even detected on my radar.

Some time after my poor attempt at applying to college, a Marine recruiter wearing his dress blues stationed near the stairs at the school cafeteria caught my eye. The Eagle Globe and Anchor I’d carried in my pocket for nearly five years ushered me towards him without my knowing. I spoke with the man and we started a conversation. He invited me to lunch the following day. I agreed.

The Marine took me to Himitsu Teriyaki, a joint only a few miles down the road from school. He opened a fancy, colored folder with pamphlets of flashy uniforms, blazing guns, VA benefits and more. It is hard to say if I knew I wanted to join the Corps or if I felt I didn’t have any other options, but he didn’t need to say much. I knew I’d enlist in the military. I figured I may as well pick the best branch.

He scheduled an ASVAB1 the following week. Once completed, he informed me I qualified for any occupation. As I searched through the many options, one stood out: presidential security. Marines in their sexy uniforms are posted all over the Whitehouse, hang out in the President’s getaway in Camp David and salute the Commander in Chief when he exits the helicopter. They also receive a one of a kind badge on their uniform upon completing their duty. I needed to qualify for top-secret security clearance, but the sergeant was optimistic. Maybe the shelter of video games helped me avoid trouble that would have otherwise disqualified me.

A presidential contract at that time was essentially a five-year Marine infantry contract that ensures an interview in boot camp. Selection is not guaranteed though. If not chosen, the enlistment defaults to a security force contract. After completing infantry and security training, the security force Marine either goes to nuclear security or FAST.2 A billet is a temporary duty assigned to a Marine during an enlistment. Oftentimes these steps are required for promotion past the rank of sergeant.orld. The only reason it is a five-year contract was because the war continued ramping up and they wanted everyone to have time for at least one deployment after completing their security billet.3

With the recruiter continuing to press me towards committing and my compliant personality never resisting, within two weeks I signed my life away for five years. My mom cried when I told her. I had previously expressed desires of becoming a chef or a pastor. Now I would likely be shipped off to war after learning how to kill bodies. Dad expressed concerns too, and rightly so. He knew I was a kind, sensitive and timid person and the military, especially a branch as ruthless as the Marine Corps, couldn’t possibly be a place for someone like me to thrive. I don’t blame either of them, both responses were valid.

This didn’t bother me though. I knew I was going to do it. Hearing that Austin backed out made me resolve all the more to follow through. Seeking to be a man of integrity, I signed and committed to follow through with my signature to volunteer five years in service of the government. I signed up for wrestling under the heavy hand of a Marine, lost every match save one, hated every second of it and never quit. So I unpacked my leftover resolve from five years prior to fuel me for the next five. Even if I hated it as much or more, I would never quit.

I further justified my decision when a wisp of wisdom managed to float its way in the wide open space between the canyon walls of my skull. I knew I wasn’t ready for life. The Marine Corps would be an opportunity to dive through a wormhole to patch in my gaping holes of maturity, discipline and life experience I should have developed by then. This would be a time warp where five years of service would inject me with fifteen years of maturation in the civilian world. My parents raised me the way they knew how. Now I needed something more. I needed to catch up in the race with my peers. They were miles ahead by this point.

All I knew was that I knew nothing, and that was enough. I was ready to embrace the flood of the unknown, ready to be swept away. The next five years would be an adventure I could never have imagined, and through this journey, though not without much agony, I would be destroyed and reborn. 

  1. The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is the universal test requisite to join any US military branch that is used to determine which jobs an applicant qualifies for
  2. FAST stands for Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team. A FAST platoon is featured in the movie based on a true story, Rules of Engagement, with Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson, a highly recommended legal drama.
  3. A billet is a temporary duty assigned to a Marine during an enlistment. Oftentimes these steps are required for promotion past the rank of sergeant.

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