“I hate you. You have ruined my life,” screamed my little boy. It was hard for me to remember that precious little boy that he had been. “How could you do this to me?” he cried.
“This” was delivering him to the recruitment office. It was Carl, my husband, and my last ditch effort to get him straightened out. The principal at the high school said they would no longer take him back. He had been suspended three times this year and it was only January. He had already been arrested once for petty theft and twice for malicious vandalism.
The last arresting officer told us of an option that he had heard of other parents doing which was to enlist the problem child into the military. “A few weeks in Basic Training and a year of duty would teach him some discipline,” he told us. Would it work for Mike? Time would tell. Carl and I had agonized over this decision. How does anyone purposefully send their blood away from them?
Mike threw himself against the seat back with a loud sigh. “This is your own fault, young man.” Carl calmly spoke to the windshield. “We warned you that we were going to take action if you couldn’t keep yourself out of trouble.”
“Sending me off to the Marines is action? Hell, I might as well have gone to prison!”
“Watch your mouth in front of your mother. The military might be able to teach you what we apparently couldn’t do.”
“Mom,” Mike whined, “You can’t just send me away. Please, Mom. I will try harder.”
My eyes filled with the tears that never seemed to be too far away lately. I bit down on my lip to keep from begging Carl to let us just go home.” Carl must have known what I was thinking, because he opened his door and announced, “Let’s get on with this. There is no going back now. Everyone has had all the chances they could have.”
“Mom,” Mike cried tearfully this time.
I couldn’t look at him. I just shook my head and opened my car door and stepped out of our car. As I closed the door, I tried very hard not to turn around and look at him. Standing beside the closed door, I took a deep breathe and prayed for the courage it would take to get me through this.
“Come on,” Carl said as he opened the back door.
“Yes, FATHER,” Mike sneered as he threw himself out of the car. He stomped to the door of the office. “You will regret this, I promise you,” he glared at his father and then walked into the reception desk. “Mike Henderson reporting for imprisonment,” he informed the young private sitting there.
The private looked at Mike and then at us. He nodded slowly to us as if to acknowledge our pain and then asked Mike to take a seat. “The Sergeant will be with you as soon as he is off the phone.”
Mike sat in the chair that was the furthest away from the desk and slumped forward in defeat. My heart broke as I watched him run his hands through his unruly brown hair. He had refused to cut his hair for months and it looked terrible. We had begged him to cut it before we came here. It would look like he didn’t take any pride in his appearance, we told him. “They buzz it off anyway,” he said. No amount of pleading or cajoling on my part would get him to cut it.
I walked over and sat beside him, trying to put my arm around his shoulders. He just shrugged my arm off and turned away from me. Needing to keep my hands busy, I worried the strap of my purse.
“Mr. and Mrs. Henderson? I am Sergeant Madison,” the giant announced. Maybe giant is an exaggeration but it couldn’t be far off. I am 5 foot 8 inches and felt like a dwarf as I stood up in front of this man. His uniform looked as if it had been pressed before he walked into the room. “You must be Mike,” he said gruffly as he extended his hand towards our son.
“Yeah,” Mike replied sullenly, refusing to look up.
“Soldier, you are going to need to show a little more respect than that if you don’t want to spend a lot of time doing KP duty.” The brusque, no nonsense way he said it made Mike look up. Mike eyed Sergeant Madison as if trying to measure how far he could push him. Finally, Mike stood and shook the outstretched hand. “Yes, I am Mike.”
“Good, good. Let’s go into my office,” Sergeant Madison responded. He smartly turned on his heel and led the way to his tiny office. There were only two chairs in front of the desk, so I stood and let Carl and Mike sit.
Sergeant Madison waited until everyone was seated before he began, “Mike, I understand you have been having some problems lately.”
“Not really,” Mike mumbled.
“Excuse me, Soldier, I didn’t quite hear you.”
“I said not really. They are the ones having the problem,” Mike sneered.
“Why is that?”
“They want me to go to school and get good grades. That just ain’t my scene, man.”
“So what is your scene?”
“I don’t know yet. I have to find it.”
“That is at least honest,” the Sergeant responded. “So you think the military might help you find it?”
“No, THEY think I might find it. I think I can find myself in a whole lot better ways.”
“So you don’t want to be here?”
“He.. heck no, this is definitely not for me.”
“You are a quick study, Mike. I think you intended to say something that you know I would have dressed you down for saying. I am thinking the military might be a good choice for you. You would have the opportunity to see the world, try a variety of different jobs and get the education that your parents want for you. All paid for at the expense of your government.”
“Really,” Mike asked. He had never thought about the traveling opportunity.
“There is great opportunity to travel around to other countries like Germany, Japan, or some of the other exotic places like Hawaii or Fuji.”
“Wow,” Mike thrilled. I had not heard him this excited in many years. Maybe Carl was right after all. This could be a good thing for Mike.
“So the travel interests you, good, good. What kind of things do you enjoy? Maybe we can find a job that would fit your likes.”
“I don’t want to do anything with math or science. I liked my writing classes but my teacher was always on me about my grammar. The one thing I thought I might like to do someday was to be on the radio. You know, the guy who determines what records to play and announces them?”
“I understand what you are saying. Maybe a communications job? I think maybe you could write copy and do some of the broadcasts. You could be the one who delivers the radio to the commander for transmissions between groups. Does that sound like something good to you?”
“Yeah, I guess that wouldn’t be such a bad deal,” Mike said. Apparently he didn’t want the Sergeant to see how eager he was.
“I think that would be a good fit for you,” Sergeant Madison said. He flipped through his file jotting down several notes. “How would Thursday sound to start?”
“Thursday?” I asked. “That is the day after tomorrow. Must he go so soon?”
“Mrs. Henderson, that is when we have the next bus heading down to Fort Smithson.”
“What is there?” asked Mike.
“That is where your basic training would be done. That is where you learn how to be a soldier. Once you’ve completed basic training, you would have a quick break at home and then you would go off to learn your military skill.”
“How long is this basic training?” Mike asked.
“It is six weeks.”
“That isn’t so bad,” Mike said. “Sure, I could do that.”
“That would be great. You will just need to show me your birth certificate to prove that you are 18.”
“I’m not 18, not for another 3 months. Is that a problem?”
“Not really. You can still sign, but it will require your parents to sign as well. That would just show that you had their permission.”
“They want to get rid of me,” Mike huffed. “They are probably disappointed that they can’t leave me here today.”
“You know it is nothing like that, Mike,” Carl reprimanded.
“That is right, honey,” I said. “We love you; we want what is best for you. We are sure things were only going to get worse for you.”
“Yeah, right. Will you sign? I might as well do this and get out of your hair.”
“We will sign, son, if that is what you want us to do,” Carl answered.
“It isn’t what I want, is it? Just sign the paper and let’s get this over with.”
Mike signed the paper that Sergeant Madison had on the desk. Carl placed his signature on the line below Mike’s.
“Do I need to sign?” I asked.
“No, Mrs. Henderson, we only need one parent’s signature.”
“Yeah, mom. This way if I get killed, it will all be Dad’s fault,” Mike joked.
“Don’t even joke about that,” I gasped. “You know I don’t want anything to happen to you. Carl, let’s think about this some more first.”
“Nothing is going to happen to him, Karen. The marines will make a man out of him, you’ll see.”
“But,” I began.
“No buts, Karen. This is it. Mike and I have signed and it is now a done deal, right Sergeant?”
“We could tear this paper up if you would like?”
“No, this is fine. What time do we need to have him here on Thursday?” Carl asked.
“1300 hours would be just fine.”
“Thirteen what?” Mike asked.
“I will explain it to you on the way home,” Carl said. “We will teach him time before Thursday.”
“What should I pack for him?” I asked.
“Underwear and toiletries is about all he needs. The marines will provide him his uniforms and boots. You might want to pack some good thick socks for him. Some new recruits have trouble with blisters.”
“I will do that. Maybe I will put in extra bandages in case he gets blisters,” I said.
“No disrespect, Ma’am, but a tough soldier doesn’t need any bandages.”
“If you insist,” I reluctantly said, knowing I would pack them in his things anyway.
“I can take my transistor radio, can’t I?” Mike asked.
“No soldier, you won’t need a radio during training. Once you have been deployed and if you end up stateside you might want one, but there is no need until that point.”
“Okay”, Mike said dejectedly. Mike didn’t go too many places without his radio. It was his birthday gift and one that he treasured. Not too many of his classmates had a radio and it made him feel like he was a top dog.
“Thank you, Sergeant” Carl said as he reached to shake the man’s hand. “We will see you Thusday at 1300 hours.” Handshakes completed, we walked back to the car. Carl had a much livelier step as did Mike. This time I was the one who was hesitant.
“Come on, Mom,” Mike urged. “I need to go see my friends and start packing. I have a lot of people I need to go see.”
“You need to save time to go see your grandparents as well, young man,” I said.
“Mom, Thursday is going to come awful fast. Please, please don’t make me,” he whined.
“You heard your mother. This is not negotiable. Just be glad that you only have one set of grandparents in town,” Carl ordered.
“You don’t have to spend a lot of time there, but I think we could just go now. I think it would be better if you told them the news in person,” I compromised. “Really, it won’t take long at all.”
“I suppose. Five minutes, can we just spend five minutes?”
“I don’t want to rush, but we will try to keep it short,” I answered.
Mike fidgeted in the back seat, I am sure he was impatient with Carl’s slow driving. What a big difference from the drive here. I never thought that he would be this excited about the military. Maybe Carl was right. Time would tell.