On Hardship…

Hi, My name doesn’t matter, but you
can call me Marsh. It’s a nickname. I got it back when I was doing
some cool training with the U.S. Marshals, some special operations
soldiers, and Canadian Mounties. We were doing the usual stuff, run around, sneak around, make the toy guns go pop pop. But I gained an audience as I tried to improvise and use the old native American trick of dashing between trees and boulders to make the enemy think there’s more of you than of them. The guys watching me (and laughing) said I looked like a rabbit, like that crazy one in Alice in Wonderland… the march hare. Well, these guys lack imagination. We were in a marshy wooded area, so the nickname was Marsh Hare.

Rewind a couple years and I’m in the United States Army. 19D! The armored scouts. I had the terrible misfortune of earning the privilege of playing daddy to 10 soldiers. I had a nice rotation, usually send one out to be a squad leader for another squad every couple of weeks, and get a new guy in his place. This one week, I had tried unsuccessfully to get fired from my position. I wanted to be just another Joe. I tried to get fired by messing up a few things and neglecting some other things . . . it didn’t work.
I was hanging out in the courtyard with a few of my team, just smoking and chilling, making senseless conversation. Out of the blue a strange N.C.O. Shows up and drops off a new guy. No introduction, nothing to say I needed to pay attention. Just another random army thing as far as I was concerned. So this guy walks up to me and pushes me out of the way with his shoulder. Oh well, it’s the army, people are people. In his mind, though, it was my fault and he needed to confront me for my disrespect. He yelled, I don’t remember what, and punched me right in the mouth! Yeah I know it sounds bad, but when you’re a war dummy, getting punched is just another day. I think my lack of reaction pissed him off more though. He decided it was time to fight it out. That’s when he found out I was the boss of all the guys standing out there, and they made sure he knew their loyalty. That was also just before he found out he was my new team member. Hehe, good times. Anyway, he made a turnaround and became an exemplary soldier.

Because of my unique training
protocol, which included learning the value of life, yes, I taught my
men to not kill if there was a way to avoid it. I taught them that if
they couldn’t find a way to avoid killing, they weren’t worthy of the
title of a warrior. I pushed them hard and they pushed the Army out
of my way when I needed it. We were a tight-knit team, brothers to
the end. After a while I was fielding phone calls from their wives or
family members, playing family counselor when times were tough.
That’s when I earned the nickname Big Poppa. My guys had begun to learn just how often I took punishments from higher up the chain of command – punishments that were meant for them. I never brought it up, but soldiers talk. I made sure they had a great experience in the worst places men can go, and they made sure I had the space I needed to do it. A reciprocal effort, everyone contributing in whatever way they can. That’s how a team works. Rewind a little bit more, not too far, just a little. I’m a United States Marine, I just got pulled out of duty for heat stroke. I’d been hospitalized 8 times in one year.
Marines can’t be used if they can’t handle the sun. I was in a
holding unit stateside, working part-time in the Naval Hospital at
Camp Pendleton, California. I gained about 15 pounds eating the fancy base chow. I tried sneaking into the gyms to get a workout but I kept getting caught. Rather than face charges, I just got fat. I thought it was the end of my military career. The military was all I had really ever hoped to accomplish. I was in a bad way mentally. Depression was a shadow on my mind. I had the best job in the best military, wore the best uniforms. But, I was going to get sent home before I could really even get started. I mean, I never even got shot yet. What was I going to tell my family? I was a failure. I knew it wasn’t my effort or skills that failed. I just couldn’t handle the sun. Rewind some more, I’m 17 years old. My older brother tells me to grab a jacket and my bike. We’re going for a long road trip. I was like, ah man I don’t feel like it. He was like, I don’t care how you feel.
You’ll be glad you did it later. We biked and biked. Miles rolled
by, I saw places I hadn’t seen before. After about 4 hours, I started
to get worried, but there was no way I was going to wimp out, or bike all the way back by myself. As the sun started to go down, we crossed a river and he pulled off to the side. I followed him as we walked our bikes a little ways off the road. He sat down and said, we’re sleeping here for the night. No tent, no sleeping bag, no dinner. I don’t think I need to explain how pissed and miserable I was. This was the stupidest crap I had ever been involved with in my life! We woke up and biked some more. Past the huge algae filled lake, up into the hills. Lots of hills. Hot sun, gravel roads. I think it was maybe late afternoon and I hadn’t had a drink in about 12 hours or so. I was going terminal. I remember vaguely that I had tried to drink from a stagnant roadside puddle, and he had beat me up to keep me from it. Over the hills, finally to the top. The ride down was no picnic, trying to gauge the right amount of braking and not burn the pads out. But it was easier than going up. Finally, a couple of hours before dusk we reached a clean river. It was so delicious. I drank maybe two mouthfuls and passed out on some wild grass and pine needles. Needless to say, we made it home. It was a long grueling trip and I was in no way prepared. I was too proud to let him know I was mad at him for it. So I played it off like it was cool.

Rewind
rewind rewind.

I’m 5 years old. I’m in my room getting dressed to go outside. My mom walks into my room and asks what I’m doing so I tell her. I lost some of my G.I. Joe’s in the mud when it rained yesterday mommy. I need to go find them. She looks confused.
Honey, it’s night time. It didn’t rain yesterday, and you don’t own
those toys. But I was convinced, I remember it clearly. My toys were
buried in the mud and I never saw them again. I woke up from another dream on another night and I really had to pee. On my way to the bathroom, I saw my mom at the end of the hall running the vacuum. I hid from her, scared to death. She must have caught on that I was acting weird because she found me behind the couch. I was crouched in the corner trying to back away from her. She asked me what’s going on. Eventually, I had to tell her. I saw you with a giant rats tail mommy! I know you’re not my real mommy! I don’t think I need to explain that this hurt her feelings a little bit.

Welcome to the rabbit hole. I guarantee that it is way deeper than you thought it was. Let me show you some of it.

At the age of four, the last time I saw my father was when he said goodbye from the front door of the house. Right after the weird dream of my mom with a tail. At five I had a new dad. Lesson Ground Zero: Dads come and go at random. I didn’t really know him and didn’t really try to. None of it made sense to me. But he did give me some new things in life, like healthy food and an older step-brother and step-sister. For the next several years, they beat me up, scared me at night, and blamed some of the dumbest crap on me. When I tried to complain to mom and dad, I was told that I was blowing things out of proportion. Lesson 1: My feelings don’t matter. Growing up in several public schools, since we moved like once a year, I never really finished any of the lesson plans, and never really made close friends. Nothing was permanent for me. I remember getting mocked in a polite way by a concerned student in 5th grade. He asked why I was always trying to be funny, and told me that I might be funny if I didn’t try so hard. Lesson 2: Don’t try to fit in. Lesson 3: humor is overrated.

In middle school, since I was such an introvert, I really only had a couple of friends. The family had managed to live in the same school zone for 2 years, but I spent most of my time playing alone in the woods or reading books. The TV was not an option. In High school, I skipped the 9th grade but made up for it by doubling up classes in 10th grade. I had acquaintances in all the clique groups, I was so socially inept that I didn’t even know I was supposed to pick one clique. My issues with math had me pulling extra homework hours to try to keep up. I had a part-time job after school, so I didn’t have much time for friends. My boss was a retired Navy Corpsman. A medic that worked with the Navy SEAL teams. He used to argue that atheism was the most logical response, and interject with his awesome battle stories. All the while dragging around his oxygen tank and telling me not to ever smoke cigarettes. He lost a lung from smoking.

I stuck it out with physical conditioning and track for all 3 years that I was in High School. I graduated with extra credits and a good GPA. Lesson 4: Hard work pays off. I graduated with a diploma on July 7th and reported for Marine Corps basic training on July 10th. My life was about to begin! I was stoked, no more pathetic crappy life. Now was my time… oh crap. Off the bus and onto the yellow footprints. And I instantly regretted my choice. Hehe, good times.

Why do we shave our faces for boot
camp? Because we shave our heads for sanitation, and if you shave your head, you shave your face.

I don’t know what day that was, but the
Sargent said it in a calm and official voice. So we accepted it. I
think we were mostly just tired and didn’t care either way by this
point. Then it was off to the sinks for a shaving lesson. We even got
nail clipping lessons and learned the finer points of tooth brushing. Lesson 5: When you think you’re a man, a more manly man will show you the truth.

Basic wasn’t too bad. I just hated the shared toilet situation and the open showers. The two weeks when the hot water didn’t work really sucked, but it was dead summer anyway. The food was actually kinda good, and I got in better shape. I learned that heavy packs are hard on the shoulders, and bad boots are hard on the knees. Wake up, run three miles, go to a class. Practice marching. Eat breakfast…

It was hard, but not impossible. We had a prior service guy join us halfway through. He had been an ensign in the navy and a Sargent in the army. He couldn’t handle the Marine Corps boot camp though. They said it had something to do with when he was in the navy, his job was pushing a button on a battleship and getting radio confirmations that he had killed a few hundred men. I guess long range killing gets to you. Lesson 6: Look your enemy in the eye before you kill him. My platoon sucked. We were always getting in stupid fights, always getting in trouble. Our Drill Instructors were losing their minds trying to forge us into a cohesive unit. One guy tried to hang himself with his bed sheet. He failed.

We used to get these crazy punishments too. One day we had to take everything out of our barracks down 2 flights of stairs, and stack it all outside like it was inside. Bunk beds, footlockers, and all. But oh we were too slow, so our next punishment was to run like wild headless chickens. The D.I. Yelled a direction and we sprinted/scrambled to get to the correct wall. Keep in mind that there are about 80 of us. On a tile floor, in the summer. With no AC. The sweat becomes a problem.

“Port SiiiiiiiiDE!”

Scramble spin slip fall crawl run

“Starboard SiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiDE! Hurry
up ladies!”

Scramble slip fall slide roll run

“QUARTERDECK MOVE!”

I think it was about 30 minutes into it that I finally noticed the irony. I started laughing while trying to run the right direction.

The DI asked me what the hell was wrong
with me. So I told him.

“Drill Instructor! I think it looks
hilarious that 80 grown men are running in circles like scared little
girls cuz one guy is yelling directions!”

His face looked shocked for about one-millionth of a second. Then he chuckled and said, “Come here, you!”
He motioned with a finger to be quiet. “Shut your mouth and get
over here.”

I thought I was going to be murdered, but he just agreed that it was funny and told me to go guard the furniture outside. Lesson 7: When confronted, man up.

These were the lessons that shaped the first 20 something years of my life, I subconsciously adapted to them and let go of whatever got in my way. If it was fear or anger, closeness to others… I let it go. After my release from active duty in the Army, I remember reading in the newspaper about my guys that had been blown up by mines and IEDs. I know a few of them got shot. I honestly don’t know if any are still alive. I consider these guys to be the first casualties of my failures. I will carry the weight for the rest of my life. But life never stops rolling along, and the next list of casualties was my wife and young children. I didn’t adapt to the home life well, and my mind was eaten raw from the knowledge that my guys were getting chewed apart on the battlefield. Poor excuses, I know. I tried, I worked second shift at a lumber mill trying to be normal. I got in a car crash one time after work. 2 am mid-February in Eastern Oregon, flipped the car and had a concussion. The sheriff patrol found me passed out on the side of the road 2 miles from my
car. I came home from the hospital feeling pissed that death wouldn’t take me. How many times does a guy have to die to stay that way?
Anyway, I got home hoping for some home comfort, but my wife had
bailed on me, taking the kids and everything we owned. I was left
with the clothes on my back and nothing more.

My brother-in-law helped me out, and
eventually, I ended up living in a camper with no electricity or water
for a few months before I moved on with my life.

More stuff happened, but I think
sharing it at this point would just make me sound pathetic. I’m not
looking for sympathy, just sharing my life.

None of this is important though, It
won’t make the world a better place, it won’t help anything
whatsoever. So what to tell if the simple story of your life can’t be
used for the better?

It started when I was 4 or 5 years old. The vivid dreams. Waking and not knowing the difference. But I think the events of my parents’ divorce and then the new stepfamily experience got in the way for a while, occupying my mind with the commonly accepted mundane reality. As I grew up, I had strange encounters with things that I can only assume are demons and angels. We don’t really have another way to describe them in English. Most of my experiences were shared in some way by other people, so I had no trouble distinguishing them as reality. Even though I am an avid
scientific mind, I know for a fact that my experiences were real. It
can be argued about 1,000 different ways that I am either insane,
severely deluded, or schizophrenic. I get that. I understand the
science behind it. But I also know that science is done by people,
and people don’t know everything. Just because you can’t see
something doesn’t mean it isn’t real. It also doesn’t mean that no
one else can see it.

So, why am I sharing all of this?

I think I just needed to get it off of my chest, really. But I also
think that someone will read this and maybe come to some sort of
epiphany. Reality is extremely fluid. For example, if you reject the
idea that there is a God, you will never encounter any evidence of
his existence. On the other hand, if you believe in God, you will see
evidence everywhere, moment by moment. My reality is that I am
capable of amazing things, have had a pretty rough life, and have a
vast horizon of potential. I am pursuing the greatest potential, even
if it costs my life. I will achieve all that is possible for me. I am
determined and won’t be stopped.

Today, I deal with fibromyalgia,
degenerative disk disease, chronic lower back pain, knee problems, a torn abdomen, damaged eye, sensitivity to light and heat, and
clinical depression. My goal is to make sure that none of these
issues are apparent when I meet someone. I want to rock this life out to the max and make it so that when people find out I’m a crippled failure, they will be freaking mind-blown.

If you enjoyed this piece,
let me know in the comments or email me. I’m looking to become part
of a community. I will walk with you, will you walk with me?

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