Forty-one years ago…
I was pulling into the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Los Angeles about this time early in the morning. My mother drove me, as I did not even have my drivers’ license.
I had few friends to speak of as I had not been allowed to forge the friendships that most kids do, so it was just my Mom and me. (I learned later that the friendship situation was not because of Mom, but I will tell that story later. )
A few days earlier, Mom threw me a surprise going-away party. Some of the friends/acquaintances I did have showed up, but for the most part it was attended by the adults who were my mother’s friends, or adult relatives, and people we knew from my mother’s shop, a Curries’ Ice Cream Store.
My parents were already divorced My father did not attend, and I am not sure now if he was even invited.
When I called him several weeks before my 18th birthday to tell him I wanted to join the military and needed his signature on the paperwork (women needed parents’ permission until the age of 21), he got angry and refused to sign it.
“There are only two kinds of women who join the military. Whores and lesbians. Which one are you?”
I did not know what either of those two types of women were (yes, I was that naive) , but I knew it was an insult to me. I went to the dictionary to look them both up.
I called my recruiter and lied to him that I did not know how to reach my father. I remember distinctly using the words, “he abandoned the family.” At 17, I suppose I felt justified in using those words.
My paperwork was pushed through with a waiver for paternal consent.
So, here I was finally on my way to freedom from a crazy, mixed-up family to a life of me making my own decisions. Of course, I see the irony in that decision today.
As my Mom pulled around the circle of the MEPS center, I remember not wanting to have her walk-in with me, but simply drop me off. Secretly, I wanted her to put her arms around me and tell me that she did not want me to go. I do not remember if she came in with me or not.
That whole day is a bit of a blur, though I remember raising my hand and taking the oath of enlistment. I remember a lot of paperwork. I also remember waiting around for a lot of time.
My clearest memory of that day is being on the airplane, my first plane ride. I was off to San Antonio to Lackland Air Force Base for Basic Training and was the day I, with many others, were off…
…into the wild, blue yonder.
One more thing that I remember very clearly of the day was my mother and I both crying at the MEPS Center, though I do not remember if it was in the building or out in the parking lot. She did not generally show her emotion, nor did she speak a lot of it, either, but I will never forget her last words to me before I had to do all those things needed before I was processed…
“My baby is growing up.”