The busboy’s coming!

I had a good day.  My shrink left me a message stating he sent me a 90-day refill of Prozac.  Yay!  I talked to my former section leader from my first permanent duty station in the Army.  She’s the first female leader I ever met.  My part of the conversation entailed explaining my decision to quit the VA.  The rest was her giving a brilliant lecture on common sense, followed by a few compliments to my intellect, chased further by utter disbelief in how one can be so smart and (ignorant) at the same time.

It made me sweat a little while Skyping.  I could easily stand before 45 and elaborately flip him the bird with a goofy grin on my face.  I couldn’t stand in front of my former SFC (Sergeant First Class) and do anything I knew was wrong, rude, or improper in any way.  I understand it, but not fully.  It’s based on respect, but it’s a particular type.  It’s bestowed with confidence, a bit of awe, and incredible loyalty.  Suffice to say, I’m not quitting the VA.  Instead, I’m going to make it safer for me to get care.  I purchased a handheld voice recorder.  I’ll bring it with me and use it when necessary.

I’m fairly sure once it’s seen the grapevine will spread the word, and I won’t need it any longer.  The vast majority of people who work there are not racists.  I only know of one and suspect another.  It pisses me off how just a few ignorant fucks can cause me so much grief.  My SFC reminded me of the POC wearing the uniform right now.  I don’t want any of them to have to put up with this shit when they return, especially if I can do something about it.  So I will.  I’m quite pleased about the refill.  I’d love to have my creativity restored, but avoiding severe episodes of depression is better.  No contest.

All you saved was the pea pods?

Victory in a meadow.

Growing up in a predominantly all-white community has helped me better understand what it’s like for my local peers to first encounter a person of color.  In my first twelve years of life, the only people of color I met were a few Native American parents of foster siblings, and my little sister, Heather.  (I don’t count Heather.)

Everyone else was Caucasian.  My teachers, neighbors, friends, family, everyone.  It was all I knew so, of course, it was normal to me.  Basic training was my first experience with diversity.  I stared a lot.  I got bullied by a black woman from Miami who claimed I “talk proper.”  While I tried to process this, the other women stood up for me and shut her down.  It was my first experience with social politics.

My first assigned buddy was a black woman.  We despised each other within a few minutes of the meeting.  She called me an oreo, and I told her she needed glasses.  (I know, I suck at comebacks in real time but think of hilarious zingers after sleeping on it.)  I remember putting all my energy into preventing myself from bursting into tears.  I failed.  Repeatedly.  Throughout the whole eight-week course.  (And that’s not counting the time I spent working one-on-one with a Drill Sgt learning how to walk right before I could begin basic training.)

I was assigned a different buddy since we both objected vehemently.  I got a Mexican-American woman whose English needed some work.  My Sesame Street Spanish served me well.  She was the best buddy I ever had.  We complemented each other well and conquered each challenge by working together.  I also befriended a woman (named Heather!) who was the glue that held our platoon together.  She had bright red hair and a few freckles.  She could find the funny in anything.  I learned so much from her.  Thanks to her wit, we laughed as much as we cried.

I loved serving in the Army.  Acquiring PTSD was my only reason for getting out.  It murdered my eligibility to serve.  I had both positive and traumatic experiences.  I learned a great deal about humans, war, and reality.  I lost my innocence in every sense of the word.  I recognized my vulnerability and gullibility.  I had known before I reenlisted that my reasons for joining initially were adorable at best.  In those initial three years, I grew up.  I entered a child, and before my first active duty enlistment ended, the child in me surrendered control to my adult self.  The military has converting children into soldiers down to a science.  Soldiers are adults.  The process was painful but fascinating.

I remember the day I realized I had a friend from every group identified by the government.  I ate chocolate cake for dinner that day in celebration.  I celebrated because I thought it meant I was safe from ever being called a racist.  I felt like I won some unspoken challenge in life.  This is something I tie to my upbringing.  It’s a subtle conformity to institutional racism.  Subtleties usually fly over me.  I fear I’m too distracted to grasp them regularly.

This recognition of my contribution to the problem of racism is extremely hopeful progress in my journey to being the best possible me.  Now that I’m aware of where I’m fucking up, I can consciously avoid it in the future.  I have several previous posts in this blog where I, unfortunately, demonstrated my ignorance.  When I gain new knowledge and annihilate the ignorance, I’m tempted to go back and remove anything I said that I now realize identified me as an ignoramus.  I chuckle, then leave it.

Another thing I learned in the Army;

 It never hurts to have a reminder handy for those times you’re tempted to shove your head up your ass.

My previous posts remind me, humble me, and (something that might be) embarrass me.  I’ll never forget the day I had to carry a giant cardboard ID card everywhere I went for losing my military ID card.  My Sgt took many liberties in drawing the highly unflattering photo on my large version.  I struggled to keep assholes from yanking it away and running off.  (Losing the giant card would have been devastating.)  People kept honking and scaring the shit out of me.  I was a nervous wreck that day.  I never misplaced a card of any type since.  Or keys.  I guess it was worth it.

I don’t classify my friends by political groupings any longer.  I know diversity enriches my life.  I like being surrounded by it, but I’m also okay with living in a community that doesn’t have a lot of diversity.  What matters is recognizing it’s positive for everyone.  The only superior race is homo sapiens.  We changed the face of our planet, for better or worse, and climbed to the top of the food chain.  This is our planet, and I hope we spread to much more in the future.

When a person creates something that propels mankind forward, that victory belongs to all humans.  The same goes for the athlete who achieves a world record.  And the scholar who wins the Nobel Prize.  The writer who captures our imagination so profoundly we believe the story is real.  The actor that makes us laugh, then cry.  The comedian who’s so funny you laugh and cry at the same time.  The artist who captures an idea and paints it on a canvas.  These are humanities victories.  These are proof of our awesomeness as a species.  We don’t worship people, we share what makes us amazing.  It’s in all of us.  All humans.  It’s in you.  It’s in me.

Knowing this makes me love people.  I know everyone I encounter has awesome in them.  I hope they show it off.  It’s a connection between all of us, and I think we should all celebrate it by eating chocolate cake for dinner.  You in?

A little respect. For I am George, King of the Idiots.

Today was long.  I’m not enjoying a 5 AM start time for work.  We agreed today that our newest team member will adjust to different hours starting next week.  The purpose of her hire was to be our phone representation.  Most of our clients are on the west coast.  None of them have ever needed to phone us at or anywhere near 3 AM.  We negotiated more suitable hours, and next week I’ll probably be less of an airhead.  Probably.

Even in the Army, we didn’t run until 6 AM.  That mean waking up at 5:45 AM to use my toothbrush, (with toothpaste applied the night before).  I slept in my PT uniform, and could put on my kicks and dash out to formation, where I would strategically tie them while doing warm up exercises.  Sleep was precious then, and I could sleep pretty much anywhere, anytime.  One time in basic training, I thought I was being so clever by sneaking in some ZZzz’s while pretending to tighten up my bunk from beneath it.  I heard abruptly cut off laughter, and opened my eyes to see my Drill SGT’s face inches from my own.  I’m fairly certain I lost about 3 years from my life expectancy from that moment of sheer terror.

Hopefully, the rest of the week will fly by.  I don’t have enough to do this week, and it’s messing with me.  I’m conscious of working too quickly for my teammates, so I’m deliberately holding back from jumping to another project.  I walked the circle a lot.  Being in motion seemed to help.  I did several Twitter fly-by’s, and tried to play a few hashtags.  I’m a very casual hashtagger, but it’s mostly because I usually need several examples before I understand how to play whatever tag is going around.  Ironically, the few times I’ve done a funny one, it was where I misunderstood the tag.  I think.  I’m too literal.  And knowing I’m too literal doesn’t seem to make any difference, which kinda pisses me off.

Fortunately, the people who play regularly are generally pretty kind, and will favorite some of my attempts.  I’m pretty sure some of them are pity favorites, but I’ve decided that’s just fine.  I take it as, “You keep hanging in there!  You’re bound to tweet something funny someday!  Here, have a favorite!”  Or something similar.  I’m just glad I saw a tweet early on that was making fun of people who gushingly thank anyone who retweets or favorites their tweets, (because that’s totally something I could see myself doing).  When I understand the tag, and can also think of a tweet, it’s a good feeling.  It’s like solving a mini puzzle that leads to a new puzzle.  I love puzzles as much as candy.  Maybe more.

I’m rambling because I’m embarrassed.  I want to rage against unexpected things, but that would be a waste of energy.  When I’m in my apartment, I keep my entry door locked, and then don’t worry about being fully dressed, as it’s just me and my cat.  When I get home, I tend to take off my shoes, socks, and jeans.  I’m on the top floor, so even if I walked past an open window, nobody would be able to see anything private.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m a bit of an airhead.  Well, tonight I proved it.  I walked down the hallway past several closed apartment doors, to the trash chute.  It’s in a little room near the middle stairwell.  When you open the door, the light comes on automatically, (motion detector).

Up until that point, it didn’t occur to me that I was in only my t-shirt and undies.  Technically, nothing private was exposed, I suppose.  But this was an accident.  I saw my reflection in the door to the chute.  I could feel myself start to shut down, but I didn’t.  I bolted from the room and walked quickly back to my apartment.  Nobody opened their door.  I hope nobody looked out their peephole.  When I was 3 doors away, I heard a nearby door unlock, and I ran the last few steps.  We have electronic locks, so there was no key fumbling.  I was in, and then I did that thing I’m always whining about.  I slammed the door.  Sigh.

Disability Day of Mourning

Today is Disability Day of Mourning.  There were lots of posts on Twitter.  There was a list of disabled people who were murdered by family members by date, name, and cause of death.  I skimmed the list to see if the little girl who lived across the street was on it.  She wasn’t.  Her name was Rachel, and she was 9.  Her mom took her into their basement and shot her, then herself with a shotgun.  Rachel was Autistic.  My sister, Heather, was her babysitter.  Naturally, the whole neighborhood was shocked.  Murder is not an acceptable way to cope with disability.  There are no excuses.  Nobody has the right to steal someone’s life.  Especially not that of a child.

Even when I was serving in the Army, I firmly believed that killing someone is wrong.  I didn’t claim conscientious objector status, because it wasn’t an issue for me.  There was only one incident in which a weapon was fired intending to hit me.  That weapon was practically a relic, and it’s shooter was only 15.  Of course I didn’t return fire.  I told on him, and he got smacked by his grandfather.  I got an Article 15, but it was just company grade, and not my first.  That Iraqi boy’s life was totally worth 14 days of extra duty and restriction.  Other than that, I was what is commonly referred to as a “chairborne ranger”.  I spent the majority of my military career in various schools.  I enjoyed it.  My motivation came from finding out that in the event of chemical or biological warfare, the first person required to remove their protective mask and gear was the person least mission essential.

I didn’t want to be that person, so I made sure I had crucial skills.  I eventually became the NBC NCO (Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Noncommissioned officer).  That alone pretty much guaranteed it wouldn’t be me.  The often denied chemical and biological agents used in Desert Stormy by Saddam Hussein caused a lot of people to get sick, and some passed it on to family members.  It’s only recently been acknowledged by the VA.  They tried to pull a Vietnam/Agent Orange again.  Fuckers.  It takes 10-20 years for the VA to overcome denial.  Unfortunately for Vietnam veterans, it’s apparently a recurring condition, as they’re dumping programs for them left and right of late.  Fuckers.

I don’t regret my service, though.  I learned some crucial lessons.  I learned that maintaining American freedom is not the reason we’ve participated in wars since WWII.  That’s just the lie that gets suckers like me to volunteer.  It works well when you couple it with the bullshit they teach in public schools.  I was 17 when I shipped out for basic training.  I was a young, naive 17-year-old with an extremely sheltered childhood and undiagnosed Autism.  I bought into the whole “protecting my country’s freedoms” line.  This is an embarrassing admission in hindsight, but I joined the Army because I wanted to be a soldier so I could help prevent war.  My high school debate training left me thinking that I was good at stating my case, and convincing others to adopt my views.  Shut up.

So it was an eye opening experience, but one I needed.  I literally grew up in the Army.  It was so painful to accept the fact that America isn’t the best country ever.  That we have a bloody, horrific past, just like pretty much all other nations.  That as a nation, America is a teenager who hasn’t yet figured out where she fits in on the world stage, and has shitty boundaries.  I’m sure plenty of other people had this figured out by age 17, but I didn’t.  It was like finding out there’s no such thing as Santa Claus all over again.  I remember watching CNN, and being floored by the fact that they were lying their asses off.  I had assumed if it was on the news, it was true.  Shut up.  So yeah, I had to grow up.

I also learned how to embrace and love hard, demanding physical labor.  The feeling of being completely exhausted, and barely able to walk after a hard day of work is so good.  I learned that my capabilities are far greater than I ever imagined.  I learned how to cope with incredible fear.  I shake, cry, hyperventilate, and emit strange moaning sounds when I’m extremely afraid, and I can still function despite it.  The first time I experienced this was when we had to throw 2 live (REAL) grenades over a wall in basic training.  We stood inside a bunker with a thick plexiglass window to observe those who went before us.  Every time, we’d duck for cover when the shrapnel flew at us and embedded in the plexiglass.  It was loud, it smelled badly, and I was terrified.  I was in the middle of the line, and when it was my turn and I was handed 2 live grenades to put in my LBE pouches, my legs were like Jello.

I walked so carefully and slowly, trying to make sure I didn’t trip.  It was a short distance to where my Drill SGT waited by the wall.  We were told to throw them like a shotput, not a baseball.  All we had to do was pull the pin, and project the grenade over the top of a wall that was probably around 10′ high.  It was a very simple process.  However, our Drill SGTS told us the horror stories of the Private who threw the pin and kept the grenade.  When I finally made it to the designated spot, I pulled out the first one, pulled it’s pin, and threw it as hard as I could.  It probably went about 2 feet beyond the wall.  Then my Drill SGT grabbed me and shoved me down against the wall, and lay over me.  This was standard procedure.  I got back up, and started crying.  I asked if it was okay if I just threw the one.  It was not okay.  So I threw the other one pretty much exactly like the first one, bawling my head off the whole time.

Another important lesson I learned in the Army was how to let go.  How to let go of people, stuff, and places.  I had friends who got orders to move to other countries.  I literally lost everything I owned when moving back to America from Germany.  I lived in Texas, Maryland, D.C., Virginia, Germany, and Saudi Arabia.  I went on field problems in 29 Palms, California, and Yuma in AZ.  I went to basic in South Carolina.  Suffice to say, I’ll never be a hoarder.  I don’t allow myself to get overly attached to objects.  There are other important things I learned from my Army experience, but these are the ones that remain helpful.  There.  I’ve managed to refocus in order to prevent my grief over the murders of so many innocent disabled people from crushing me.

Military Memories

So much for sleeping tonight.  I went to bed and lay there for a few hours with my eyes closed.  Even my cat didn’t buy it.  She started walking on me, then licking my arm.  I thought only dogs did that.  It’s not a pleasant sensation.  It made me start laughing, and then there was no point in staying in bed.  It’s warming up and the wind died.  -6 F with no wind is no big deal.  We don’t get the wet cold like on the east coast.  The gym opens in about an hour.  I can feel the Depression Monster riding my back, telling me it’s too cold to walk over to the gym.  I won’t be cold for long.  When I finish running and walk back to my building, it’ll cool me off.  I’m hot blooded anyway.

The debate was fun to live tweet.  I have followers who support candidates other than Senator Sanders, so I read lots of opinions.  I love that people got so passionate about what they believe and what’s important to them.  Also, I refuse to write a person off as someone I can’t relate to based solely on different political views.  Most of the Trump supporters I read on Twitter are decent people who think he’d make a good president.  I disagree, but don’t find that a valid reason to hate someone.  I shed my blood, sweat, and tears for all the people of my nation, regardless of the fact that I was duped into serving in the first place.  It was a life experience that paid for itself in wisdom gained.  I don’t regret it in the least.  I went in an incredibly sheltered, and naive teenager.  I got out with a chronic mental illness (PTSD), a newfound confidence in my abilities, a world view, and a strong sense of personal accountability.  It was worth it.

I also learned how to make any activity fun.  I had a rough time adjusting to the military at first, because I asked too many questions, and made unsolicited suggestions.  I thought, “because we’ve always done it this way” was not a sufficient reason.  I got in trouble for thinking a lot too.  Whenever you get called out, and your reason is, “I thought it would be more efficient to do it this way”, or anything else that starts with, “I thought” or “I think”.  At first, I felt picked on, and unfairly treated when I’d get extra duty for these behaviors.  My childhood proclamation, “It’s not fair!” was pathetic in the Army.  It just made whoever I said it to laugh.  Which would make me angrier, rinse and repeat.  Finally, I decided I was going to act like I loved doing extra duty, thinking I was using reverse psychology on them, and they’d see me having fun, and not give me extra duty again.  Yes.  I am embarrassed to admit this.

So pretending to have fun somehow became actually having fun.  The acoustics in a military latrine are awesome.  When I had 14 days of extra duty once, there were 3 of us that got in trouble at that time.  We got caught racing vehicles in the back of the motor pool.  They were M113’s and it was a training unit, so it’s not like we were speeding.  It was an ironic race that began spontaneously as we were lining up vehicles.  And I have to say, it was so worth 14 days of extra duty.  I loved driving tracked vehicles.  So we started singing while we cleaned the latrine, and making up new words for songs that were currently popular.  We ended up laughing really hard, and having a good time.  We continued doing this for the whole 14 days, and were good friends by the time we finished.

We had a 1st SGT who had a thing about making sure whatever you did on extra duty was menial and a waste of time.  The latrine we scrubbed for 2 weeks was in barracks that were closed for destruction.  Other times, I had to dig deep square holes for the first week, and fill it back in for the second.  I guess the pointlessness was part of the punishment.  Eventually I got tired of being teased by my peers over getting in trouble, so I learned how to shut up and do it the traditional way, even if it was stupid.  I stopped making suggestions, and stopped playing with military equipment where I could be observed.  Instead, I started to volunteer for everything, and in doing so got to do a lot of really cool stuff.  I remember volunteering to go with the advance party to set up for a field problem in Fort Bliss.  We used a scoop loader to dig the bunker, which was super fun.  We also spent most of a day trying to disprove the theory that a Hum V can’t flip.  It totally can if you really set your mind to it.

We had to do some sand construction to make it happen, but we made it happen.  I also learned how intense manual labor can be incredibly satisfying.  When you work so hard that your legs shake, and you can’t lift your arms over your head, it feels awesome.

I’m Just a Nucular Girl

I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  I loved it.  It was so good.  I laughed several times, and cried twice.  J. J. Abrams pulled it off big time.  If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it.  I won’t give anything away, of course.  I plan to see it a few more times while it’s still in theaters.  I will be buying it on bluray as well.  The Star Wars merchandise marketing is at an all time high.  Star Wars soup??  In order to discourage such behavior, I’ll only be buying homemade things from Star Wars at Etsy from now on.  I have a lot of items from past splurges, but enough already.  When they sell Star Wars chips, it’s gone too far.

I did buy a Star Wars cup at the theater, but forgot that I could use it to get free refills, and tossed it on my way out.  Oops.  Oh well.  The movie was worth the cost.  I went to the show that began at 10:40 PM.  I ran before I went, so I was pretty relaxed for the movie.  It turned out to be a good strategy for me.  Usually, I want to leave about 40 minutes into a movie at the theater.  My attention span is lower than my ability to be in a crowd.  The theater was so packed that they made us scooch over to free up any empty seats on the ends.  I went alone, as I always do for movies in the theater.  I can’t stand it when people talk to me in the movies.  Going alone prevents that.  I ended up between a group of programmers (could tell by their conversation), and two goofy geeks who made me laugh with their comments before the movie started.  I arrived about 30 minutes early to get a good seat.  I was right in the middle of the theater, yay!

They showed a lot of commercials before the movie started.  The guys on my right were like MST3K with their comments.  I laughed out loud several times because I can’t remember if it’s proper to laugh at strangers while they are sitting beside you or not.  I think it’s okay, because they laughed with me.  We applauded at the end.  I didn’t see a single person who wasn’t wearing at least a Star Wars t-shirt.  I wore one I got on Teefury with Luke and Yoda drawn like Calvin and Hobbes.  And I wore my Adidas Star Wars kicks, and some Levi’s on which I sewed an R2D2 patch on the back pocket.  They announced on the news that we weren’t allowed to wear masks or carry light sabers.  I wasn’t going to, anyway.  My light saber cost $200.  No way I’m going to try and keep track of that for over 2 hours.  At least I remembered my wallet when I left this time.

I don’t like movie theater popcorn.  It’s so greasy and it gets on my hands and face, and is so salty it makes my lips hurt.  The guys on my right offered me some out of the unbelievably huge tub they purchased.  I shook my head and smiled, hoping that would translate to, ‘No, thanks.’  I had my unbelievably large Coke to deal with.  I spilled some on my shirt because they overfilled it, and it was so big I had to tilt it to get a sip from the straw.  The guy on my left gave me a handful of napkins to sop it up.  That was kind of him as I didn’t get any.  I was surprised by the number of people who showed up so close to the time it began.  Seriously? You thought you would get a stadium seat by showing up now? Hell no!  Go sit in the front where the seats don’t tilt back, even though you are so close to the screen you’ll leave with a migraine.  Sheesh.

I know this is South Dakota, and we rarely have to worry about things selling out.  But this is Star Wars!  The first 2 showings did sell out.  I gave away my tickets to the 7PM showing to some boys who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to see it.  I also gave them my Star Wars movies on DVD since I have them on Bluray now.  They hadn’t seen them yet, and I told them they had to watch all of them before going to the new one.  They were so thankful, they made my heart melt.  I knew I’d still get to see it eventually, so it wasn’t a big deal.  But they were tearing up and thanking me over and over.  I’m glad they got to see it first.  They left a message on my machine that they watched all the movies first.  Their Dad watched with them, and took them to the movie.  I gave them 4 tickets, 2 adult, 2 children.  They gave the other adult ticket to their Dad’s friend.  I’m glad it wasn’t wasted.

I love other people’s kids.  So cute.  I can’t make babies, but I don’t think I would be up for the job anyway.  So I’m not upset that my woman parts got fried in the Army.  It was my fault, anyway.  I was in the desert near El Paso on a field problem.  I was a private, and was forced to sleep in a pup tent with my roommate.  I’m terrified of spiders, so we used about 20 cyalume sticks to light up our tent.

I’m still not sure if it was a good idea, as we were sitting in our tent talking when I noticed a black tarantula crawling up the side of the tent right by my roommates face.  In complete horror, I stood up and ran, tent draping over me for the first hundred feet or so, until I whipped it off and kept running.  I ran so far, I got lost.  I’m a distance runner, but when you add adrenaline to the mix, I’m like Florence Griffith-Joyner.  After I managed to calm down a bit, I followed the sound of the generators back to our site.  Unfortunately, I sat down beneath a big ass satellite dish to reorient myself to where my pup tent was supposed to be.  I felt the microwave penetration.  It was a weird sensation of heat from my center that radiated outward.  As I was experiencing this, I remembered the warning we’d been given about getting too close.  I should have sprung up and run away from them at that point.  But instead, I sat there for another few seconds, and then slowly walked away.  I thought my exposure was too minimal to cause any long term damage.  I’m not sure if it was that incident, or another in Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland.  Either way, I’m sterile.

I saw in my medical records at the VA that I was exposed to nuclear chemicals, radiation, and microwaves.  Deep down, I still hope that the combination will still result in my having super hero powers at some point in the near future.  I’d like superhero speed, strength, and a staff of geniuses to invent awesome gadgets to assist in my new crime-fighting career.  I think I’ll call myself Nucular Girl, for personal amusement.  The crime-fighting, giggling at her own name, super heroine.  Yes. That will do.

I Remember

******Trigger Warning********– (graphic violence, homicide)

I’m so tired.  I lay in bed for 2 hours, but didn’t sleep.  I’m on vacation, so I’m allowed to goof off right now.  That was directed at the guilt I’m feeling because I haven’t written any code today.  Last night after I set up my new Xbox One, and waited forEVER for Halo 5 to update, I started shaking.  This has happened before.  It sucks.  I broke into a sweat, and my vision started to go black.  Then I fainted.  I was halfway to the floor by then because I knew it was coming, so I wasn’t hurt.  It’s called a Vasovagal response.

It’s no big deal.  But in the brief time I’m experiencing it, it feels pretty bad.  I’m assuming this was due to a combination of lack of sleep, forgetting to eat, and being triggered.  It’s kind of ironic how I got triggered.  I was watching PBS, and they were doing a show about veterans for the holiday.  I paid attention to the beginning when they followed a few soldiers who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and were home and trying to get on with their lives.  One was attending university, and another was reunited with his wife.  Before I clued in on the fact that I needed to change the channel, they started showing extremely graphic images of dead bodies in Iraq.  I was looking right at the TV when they showed one.

When I regained consciousness probably moments later, my cat was sitting beside me on the floor.  Anytime I’m on the floor, it’s a signal to her that I’m open to playing with her, so she must have wondered what was up.  I sat up slowly, and then got up and made something to eat. I sat at the counter and started eating my peanut butter sandwich, with my cat under my chair.  I didn’t change the channel, I shut the TV off completely, so it was quiet.

As I sat there, I made the mistake of wondering what caused the episode.  Bad move.  My mind threw up the graphic image again, and I pushed it away as fast as I could.  Then my mind started to wander back to when I was in the service.  My first permanent duty station was where I was stationed the longest.  I did a lot of growing up during the five years I was there.  I was pretty naive.  People I worked with directly used to say, “Earth to Special K, come in Special K”, a lot, because my Sergeant said it once, and they thought it was hilarious.  Special K was my nickname there.

I was kind of in my own world, I suppose.  I also would sing without realizing it, and the guys I worked with would join in to bring it to my attention.  Again, they thought it was hilarious.  I got on well with them, though.  My Sergeant was from Panama, and had 2 little boys.  I spent a lot of time with her and her kids.  She was one of the senior NCO’s in my unit, which meant she had a lot of responsibility and power.  She was like a second Mom to me in many ways.  She was the most amazing person I had the pleasure of meeting while serving, and that’s saying a lot, as I met a lot of amazing people during that time.

She was strict, demanded your best at all times, and looked out for her people like a lioness with her cubs.  She made you want to do a good job, because getting praised by her was a rare but wonderful thing when it happened.  I had trouble making friends in the Army too.  I had a lot of friendly acquaintances, but a lot of the women considered me too young to hang out with.  I was one of about 4 people on the entire post who were under 18, which was the legal drinking age there.  So going to the club was out at first.  I spent all my free time at the education center, or with my Sergeants kids.

After our first field problem, I met a woman from Jamaica.  She didn’t like me at first, because I kept following her around, asking her to pronounce words, then giggling when she complied.  She was a medic and was super feisty.  She was married, and had recently given birth to a son.  I must have grown on her, because before long, we became good friends.  She lived off post in an apartment complex.  Her younger sister was coming to visit for her 18th birthday, and I was invited to attend the party.  Our unit had a parade that day, and she was covering it with the ambulance.

As was always the case, about an hour into the parade, I fainted.  I just can’t stand at attention for long periods in 90+ degree weather.  When I fell out, the ones standing around me in formation saw it coming and propped me up until the medics came and dragged me away.  While I was recovering with an IV in the ambulance, she told me her husband was coming home.  He was in our unit before I arrived, and had since been sent to Korea.  Often, if you marry someone in your unit, one of you gets orders to go somewhere else soon afterward.

I rode with her back to my unit and changed into civilian clothes for the party.  I rode with a guy in my unit, and on the way there, we stopped for a bucket of KFC.  When we arrived, my friend was upstairs with her husband, and her sister was sitting on the sofa holding the baby.  I sat down beside her and started playing with the baby.  I don’t know where the guy I rode with was.  Probably in the bathroom.  A few minutes later, I heard some shouting coming from upstairs.  Then a really long, horrible moan from my friend.

Her husband came down the stairs really fast, and ran out the door.  My ride went after him.  I had a really bad feeling.  I knew something was wrong.  My friends sister grabbed my arm tightly, and we both started to cry.  I felt so numb.  I got up and started to climb the stairs.  Her sister started to follow me, and I told her no, stay with the baby.  I went up to the landing, and looked at the bloody handprint on the door.  For some reason, I couldn’t hear the baby crying anymore.  I felt like I was far away, and my body was an avatar I was operating.  I walked into the bedroom, and saw my friend laying across the bed.  Her head was bashed in, and her brain was showing.  There was a hammer on the floor that had blood and hair on it.

I turned around and started to walk down the stairs.  Her sister was in the process of coming up them, and I physically fought her back down the stairs and forced her out the door after taking the baby from her.  I still couldn’t hear.  I just remember it was so bright outside.  Her sister was still crying, but I don’t know if I was anymore.  My friends car was gone, and an ambulance was pulling into the parking lot.  I held the baby in one arm, and her sisters arm in my other hand.  It was the most surreal moment of my life.  And inside, I had a thought that still makes me feel ashamed.

I thought to myself, “She can’t be dead, she promised to braid my hair”.  I hate that I thought that at the worst possible moment.  I felt like the most selfish person who ever existed.  The police seemed to just appear out of nowhere, and one of them was a woman.  She came over and took the baby, then some other police started directing us to the back of the ambulance.  I was thinking they were confused, because I was fine, I didn’t need an ambulance.  Her sister clung to me, but I couldn’t feel it.  They took us back to the barracks.  It was on the news on TV that night.  Everyone in the barracks was so shocked.

It turned out that my friend was cheating on her husband, and someone in my unit wrote to him in Korea and told him about it.  He got leave, came home, and beat her to death with a hammer.  Then he took off when I saw him storming out of the apartment.  The guy I worked with ran after him.  Her husband confessed to him what he’d done, then drove into the canyon in an unsuccessful suicide attempt.  The guy I worked with called the police at the apartment office.  He came to check on me later that night, and explained things to me.  I never even knew she was cheating on her husband.

It had never occurred to me that someone could sleep with anyone other than their spouse.  This is what I meant about my being naive.  The murder divided our unit pretty much into men vs. women.  The guys thought he was justified in what he did.  The women thought it was monstrous.  He was arrested that night, and it went to trial.  Some of the guys had to testify, but I was never told the details.  He got 40 years in prison.  The sister took the baby home to Jamaica where her parents decided to raise him.

We were marched in formation to the chapel, where a pair of her combat boots, her dog tags, her medic arm band, and a photo sat at the altar.  We all filed up to it, one by one, and saluted.  The guy she was cheating with was weeping so hard a friend had to help him walk.  I was the other person weeping the entire time.  I was still in shock, and the crying just wouldn’t stop.  It wasn’t my first experience with death.  Some of the foster babies died in our home when I was a kid.  But this was the first time someone died when I was an adult.  It leveled me.

I started losing weight because I was too sad to eat.  I went down to the supply room in the basement to exchange my linens, and to my horror, the bloody mattress was propped against the wall near the armory.  Apparently, the supply people had to go to the apartment and pack up her stuff and clear out the apartment.  This is a typical example of how the mission always comes first, no matter what, in the military.  It didn’t matter that they all knew my friend, and were shaken up by what had happened.  It had to be done, so they did it.

I took one look at the mattress, and started screaming.  It was really weird, because I couldn’t stop at first.  It was like someone else was screaming.  My sergeant came and got me, and I stayed at her house for a few days to regroup.  Playing with her kids was just what I needed.  The sadness has always remained, but I’ve learned how to live with it.  I still have her medic arm band.  I think about her sometimes.  I have nightmares about it sometimes.  As far as I know, her husband is still in prison.  I sent letters back and forth with her sister for a few years, and in the last photo I got of the baby, he looked adorable.

It’s a violent world, the military.  There were 3 murders connected to my unit during my 5 years there.  But this is the one that continues to haunt me.  Maybe I’ll be able to sleep now that I got it out.

 

How I Became Self Sufficient: Part 2

Serving in the Army was a nice soft landing when I left home at 17.  While most of my duties began with intense training and supervision by higher ranking individuals, as I progressed and began gaining rank, my responsibilities increased.  Once I figured out that asking why was detrimental to my career advancement, I learned to remain silent on the issue in real time, and research my questions later at the education center on post.  My frequent visits to this location resulted in my being in the right place at the right time for more training opportunities.

I took a test to determine my aptitude for learning languages first, then another testing for my ability to decipher code.  This led to my being sent to a few more schools, and a change of MOS (military occupational specialty).  By that point, I had volunteered for anything and everything offered, so leaving my unit for destinations unknown didn’t cause much anxiety.  I trusted that there would be people there who were going through the same new experiences, and others who were familiar and could help us along.

I was a private for longer than most, because I took the hard road.  I went from E-1 to E-2, and then E-3 on the same timetable as my peers.  Then I got busted back down to E-1, and started over.  The reason I got demoted in rank was because I hit the battalion commanders’ Cadillac with a 2 1/2 ton truck.  Let me explain.  A 2 1/2 ton truck has a manual transmission and no power steering.  It’s not something I should have been assigned to drive, ever.  I wasn’t strong enough to steer it properly.  I went up and down curbs and crossed the median line whenever I turned.  I had to stand up in my seat and lean in order to turn the wheel, but I couldn’t make a sharp turn.  When I tried to combat park (back in), I went in crooked, and didn’t know I had struck his car until I saw it bouncing in my side mirror.

In case it’s not obvious, this was an epic fuck up.  I was semi famous on our post because of this incident. It was the story of the month and spread like mad.  When I realized what I had done, I pulled forward (doing even more damage, oops).  Then I reached into the glove box and got the accident report form, and began filling it out.  I wasn’t upset or nervous.  It was over and done, and I couldn’t undo it.  So I suspect when the brigade commander came outside and saw his car, I must have looked perfectly calm. The fact is, I was.  I knew what to do, and I was doing it.

To me, if you know what you’re doing, and doing it, there is nothing to be upset about.  Apparently this is not the typical reaction.  The MP’s came and took my report.  The B.C. didn’t say a word to me.  He just kept staring at his crumpled mess of a Cadillac.  Then I was ordered to return to my unit and see my commander.  So I walked back.  It was about half a mile.  I went directly to his office, and knocked on the open door.  My commander lost his shit very loudly.

He was furious.  It took everything I had in me not to laugh.  He looked like the Pillsbury doughboy.  Bald, chubby, and pale white.  It was widely giggled about behind his back among us privates.  I managed to keep from laughing, but not smiling.  This made him even more angry.  He screamed at me that as long as he was in command I would never get another promotion.  Then he sent me out of his sight, and back to my office.

By then, his driver, who apparently overheard the phone call between my commander and my battalion commander, spread around what had happened.  When I walked into the office, the two guys I worked with started applauding and laughing.  It made me laugh too, until I saw SGT Charles’ face.  Then I started to cry.  She was scary when she was angry.  I respected her more than any officer by a long shot.  She started shaking her head slowly, and told me she couldn’t protect me from this mistake.

I had only just gotten my PFC (private first class) rank.  I didn’t even get a single paycheck with the new increase.  I got another company grade Article 15, with reduction of rank to E-1, 14 days of restriction and 14 days of extra duty.  The restriction part meant I could only go to work and my place of worship. Fortunately for me, that commander got relieved not too long after that.  He was an asshole who looked down on enlisted personnel in general.  He learned the hard way that NCO’s are the backbone of the Army, and if you treat them poorly, they will do nothing to help their superiors look good.

Things like recovering items that fell off trucks on the way to 29 Palms.  Things the commander signed for, and is responsible for.  Things that cost millions of dollars.  The commander who replaced him was so hot, he made Denzel Washington look ugly.  And he thought I was funny, much to my giddy delight.  He was good to our NCO’s, and everyone else.  He was good at motivating people, and increased the standards of pretty much everything.  When you support your commander, everything runs more smoothly, equipment is well cared for, and the soldiers are happy and motivated.  It makes a huge difference.

I regained my rank quickly, as I was super gung ho.  Not just because I had a crush on my commander, either.  I was a good soldier after that.  SGT Charles took me under her wing and started preparing me to become an NCO when I was still a private.  She encouraged me to do correspondence courses, and attend college at night.  I was young, and I could sleep anywhere.  I had a tight routine, and so much confidence I was almost cocky.  I won’t go into why I ended my Army career right now.  Suffice to say, I acquired PTSD and was no longer able to serve after several years.

When I got home, I lived with my mom again.  It took me a full year to regain my desire for independence. I started out slowly, attending one class the first semester, and increasing my class load as I went along.  I also resumed OT, and my mom pushed me a little to regain my confidence.  It felt a lot like starting over, but it was easier the second time around.  From then on, I took small steps, and progressed in my schooling.  I became even more obsessed with computers.  There was a lot of new software available, and I started doing animation, and other creative digital endeavors.  I also worked on my social skills online with a few friends after my mom passed.

Once I learned the basic skills required to maintain a home, I had an aide who helped me stay on track. She helped with errands and coping with unexpected things such as having a repair person enter my home, etc.  Improving my confidence in my own abilities was key throughout my transition to independence.

I realized my obsessive interest was the best way to begin a new career.  I did a lot of research, and visited some schools with my sister.  I won a scholarship, and was accepted at schools I only applied to as a joke. I was lucky to be able to pursue my interest at the school of my dreams.  I stayed with a military buddy while I attended.  I finished my schooling this year, and have since been thinking forward to my future.

I’m moving to Denver soon, where I’ll be teaching other kids on the spectrum who are interested in computers and programming.  I’ll also be working toward building a retreat for both children and adult autists and their families.  I think it’s important for us to network, and keep up the fight for our rights in this world.  I see a future where we help each other grow and gain independence.  And that’s basically how I became independent.  There are several alternate ways of achieving this, but this is what worked for me.