There is something else that happened that first week of naval basic training in the summer of ’92.
I fell in love for the second time in my life.
I have loved three men while on this journey called life. Sadly, I know I have spoken those words to others; besides those three men.
You see, I didn’t always know what love was. And honestly, I went on a long quest to understand the idea of love.
I needed to.
Some may understand this. Some may be able to relate. Some have never taken that journey; they have always known what love is.
Boot camp is a lonely place. There are no comforts. There is no familiarity. There is no family. There are no friends.
It became a reality that all we had, at that moment, was each other.
This is the story of how it all began….
We were in the barracks. He spoke to me in Spanish.
He didn’t look like he knew Spanish. I bet he learned that phrase 5 seconds earlier; while he sat on the floor with a few other guys. He was a fast learner; most of the time.
It was a risky move. He handled it with tact. He was very good with words.
I remember I stopped walking when he spoke to me. I had been walking by him. I turned around, smiled at him and asked, “What does that mean?”
He had dark eyes and dark hair. He was tall, very tall. He drew me in; hard and fast. His name was Eric.
I quickly learned that he had more passion than anyone I had ever met in my life. Whatever he did, if it was something he was passionate about – he gave it everything he had; plus some.
We flirted. We started talking. We went deep quickly.
Before too long, we started writing letters to each other at night. In basic, most people had a penlight so they could write letters while they lay in their bunks at night. There were days when this was our only opportunity.
These were our ‘getting to know you’ letters. I don’t have many of them anymore. Most we disposed of because fraternization in our company was frowned upon; actually, more like a ‘zero tolerance’.
They were trying to integrate males and females without what they considered ‘consequences’. It wasn’t a realistic approach, but then again… there are a lot of policies that aren’t realistic. Perhaps ideal, but not necessarily realistic…
I don’t think we were really talking about the future yet. I think the drinking fountain is what changed that.
We had a drinking fountain in the barracks. He was behind me. When I went to get a drink, he pinched me.
That one move was a monumental point in our story.
Had I not known him at all up to this point that would not have flown too well with me. I think he knew this. He was very good at figuring out women and how to approach them in a non-threatening manner.
Someone saw him do it; the pinch.
I knew the guy sort of. He stood down the line, to the right of me. He made conversation with me from time to time.
He went to the CC’s (company commanders). He told them what he saw. I often wondered if it was because of zero tolerance or because of ulterior motives that he chose to go to them.
The always angry female CC got angrier than I have ever seen her. But it was nothing compared to what I experienced later with others. They do not like it when you break their rules. They try harder to break you.
He got called in the office first. I was called in second.
She wanted our version of what happened; individually. He lied. I did not.
We knew it wasn’t over when we left our office. We knew this was going up the chain of command. We knew there would be consequences. Our CC’s told us this wasn’t over. We had to wait until the next day to find out our fate.
He wrote me a letter that night. This letter, I never disposed of; even though he instructed me to. I still have this letter. There was an admission of his disappointment in me that I was honest in my first meeting. There were ideas on how to handle the situation. Ultimately, he ended with giving me freedom of choice on handling my end; as well as giving me his contact information back home “in case worst comes to worst”.
The next day, phone calls were made to the big house.
We were marched outside; somewhere else on base. I had never been to that part of the base before; neither had he. We stopped marching at the very official looking building. My heart was pounding.
We were made to stand at attention in the hallway, outside her office. She was very high up in the chain of command. We had never met her personally. This wasn’t exactly the way you wished to meet her.
It seemed like eternity that we stood in that hallway awaiting our judgment; our sentencing. I knew there would be consequences for this; I just didn’t understand yet why I was in trouble. I was the pinchee, not the pincher. Did I really do something wrong? I didn’t quite understand everything at this point.
She made it very clear to me when I got my turn in that office.
He went first. I heard him some while he was in there talking. She yelled at him. Eventually, he yelled back. When he came out, he was angry. He said something to me even though he wasn’t supposed to speak to me. I don’t remember what he said, but I know he pushed the limit, the boundary, with that officer when he did that. I don’t think he cared.
I went in as he was escorted out.
I only remember bits and pieces of that meeting. She asked me what happened. I didn’t choose his suggestion. I told her the truth.
I was at the drinking fountain and he pinched me. She asked me why I didn’t report it. She explained to me very overly enthusiastic that this was called sexual harassment. I remember I didn’t quite agree with her. Perhaps in their eyes it was sexual harassment, but wasn’t it my choice to decide if I felt it was harassment?
She didn’t like my rebuttal. I wasn’t trying to be difficult. I knew I had broken the rules by not reporting him. And yet, I was willing to pay the price for this one. We just didn’t see eye to eye on it.
I remember she got right in my face. She yelled at me. She told me the story of how hard women have fought to get where we were in the United States military. I remember feeling ashamed. I remember feeling sad that I may have disappointed the strong women. I wasn’t trying to alter history. I wasn’t trying to be rebellious. I remember she made me cry.
The verdict was given to me. I would be removed from Company I036. They were going to separate us. I was moving to Company I039. He moved to Company I041. What this meant is that they moved us back in training. I got one extra week. He got two. It pushed our graduation dates back. It also meant getting banned with humiliation from our company, from the friends we had made and starting all over with a scarlet letter in a new company.
When I was escorted back to the barracks, he was on his way out with his seabag already packed up. He couldn’t speak to me, but his eyes met with mine. He said a lot, without saying a word.
I remember the guy down the line from me came to me while I was packing. He told me he was sorry. He told me he didn’t think I would get in trouble. He told me he didn’t want me to get in trouble. He told me he didn’t like Eric.
I was escorted to Company I039 once my belongings were packed. I didn’t get to unpack them right away. My memory is a little sketchy but I believe the CC’s in my new company were both males. I only remember one. The blonde one. I remember him because he was the one that I spent the most time with on day one in Company I039.
Removing me from my company and sending me back in training wasn’t the only punishment I got for not reporting the pinch. He took me to the basement of our barracks.
I remember it was just him and I. I think I was there for about 4 hours, but I’m not positive.
I did more body builders in those 4 hours than I did throughout my entire stay in boot camp. I thought I was going to die. I felt like I wanted to die.
I remember running in place for a long time. I remember he screamed at me to get my knees up higher. He was always changing his mind on what he wanted me to do.
I struggled with pushups. It was one of my greatest weaknesses during boot camp. I remember my arms shaking to support me. He would make me stay in a certain push up position until everything burned. Honestly, my whole body burned.
There was a point when he had me in the push up position and he knelt down to me. He got really close to my face. I do not like people in my face; especially angry people. He was so close that when he screamed, his spit would land on my face.
I remember what he said. He was trying to figure me out. He was searching for an Achilles heel.
He screamed so loud and so close to my face.
He was good. He was searching for hurt. I knew this game. I was not a stranger to this game.
He didn’t scare me when he did that. I was more tired and miserable than I was scared. However, when he tried to find the hurt, I became angry with him.
I remember looking him square in the eye and yelling back, “NO SIR!” as loud as I could, hoping I could return the spit favor in my overzealous response. I really don’t like being spit on.
Honestly, I don’t remember what happened to Eric when he got sent back in training. He rose though. He became the leader in Company I041. I forget the title of this position. It is a position that is selected by the CC’s.
From the beginning our relationship seemed against all odds.
I wasn’t quite sure what would become of our relationship once we were separated. I wondered if he would be mad at me for telling the truth.
We rarely saw each other anymore. We would see each other while waiting in line sometimes; outside the mess hall. Sometimes we saw each other on the grinder (that is where we exercised outside). We never had another conversation face to face while at basic.
A few days after we went back in training, I received a letter from him in the mail. They had separated us. They had punished us. And yet, we still found a way to communicate.
We wrote letters to each other a lot in boot camp. We just changed the way we exchanged them. It was a huge risk; for both of us. I hadn’t known many people that took risks for me. I don’t think he had either.
That summer of ’92, while we wrote letters and mailed them to each other, we planned our future. We knew that I would be graduating a week earlier than him. We were very thorough in our planning.
After graduation, I was going to fly home and get my car. I would stay for a few days and drive down to Florida from New York. I was going to watch him graduate and we were going to Louisiana; where he was from. I wanted to know more of his story. I wanted to know where he came from. I wanted to meet his family and his friends. We would have a little over a week until I had to report to my A-school, located in Tennessee.
In one of my letters to him I wrote this,
“I love you Eric. Nothing or no distance, no time and no person will ever break the bond between us. I have your name inscribed on my heart and your face etched in my memory. We will not look at this as goodbye, but as “see you later”.
I never did make it to his graduation. I hit a fork in the road on my way to see him down in Florida.
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