Against The Grain

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Chapter 23

I started praying when I saw the wannabes picking up those bayonets. I prayed that not a single one of those bayonets would penetrate my flesh. To the left of us was the obstacle course full of tires and standing logs. Drill Sergeant Mayor demonstrated to us the gestures we’d use to puncture every tire and standing log within the obstacle course. The tires were hung on the logs by nails.

We were set off on the course with our bayonets in hand. I ran into the course as instructed, yet I was careful not to fall into a filthy mud puddle. Drill Sergeant Mayor walked over close to me as I stabbed at the standing log that had been dampened by the rain.

“Kill!” I shouted.

I wanted to roll my eyes, but I didn’t. I wanted to only touch the wood without force, but Drill Sergeant Mayor watched me very closely. He stood nearer to me, so I’d make some kind of effort.

“Louder, McCoy!” Drill Sergeant Mayor shouted over the mantra of wannabes.

“Kill!” I repeated louder than before.

We were to puncture each log twice and then move on to the next one. The dangling logs reminded me of hanging cow flesh inside a slaughterhouse. I moved to the next, hoping he wouldn’t move with me, but he did.

“Come on, McCoy! You gotta feel it!” he hollered to me.

I stood there gaping at the heavy log in front of me, trying to muster up enough strength to do it the way he wanted.

“Kill!” I yelled, as I stabbed the log.

Then I turned and headed toward the next one.

“No, you gotta come back in do dis one ’gain!” he yelled within six inches from me.

Private Green stabbed at the log behind me. He’d proceeded through the puddles towards the log that I’d just stabbed at, but he stopped dead in his tracks once he heard the drill sergeant say I had to go back to the log that he’d aimed to attack. I turned back around carefully and trotted over to the log to do it again quickly.

“Kill!” Iyelled,as I stabbed the log.

I then turned and headed towards the next log. Now Green could have it. I didn’t have that kind of anger inside of me. The anger I possessed, I didn’t want to take out on the log.

“Kill!” I yelled at the next log.

Drill Sergeant Mayor finally marched away and I could tone down my performance. I could feel the rain tapping against my skin. The bubbled drops stuck to some things, dripped from others and collectively fell to the wet ground. The dreary weathercast over the sky and the temperature remained low. I listened to the rain continuously falling down on us.

My eyes became fixed on Blackstone, who cursed to herself as she stabbed through the tires on some of the logs. Wood shavings and rubber debris split from her log, flicking me in the face. I watched her for a brief moment very still. Then I jogged to another log.

I watched as Private Johnson practically stabbed his entire blade into the tree and then he was able to pull it back out of the log, making it look effortless. He moved through the logs quickly while I moved to my next log.

I noticed the other three platoons stabbing away at the logs with all their might. Without words, I just gazed at them in amazement. Private Rodriguez was so quick he was the first one in our platoon to finish. He first guzzled down a drink at the water buffalo. Then he smiled as he spoke to Drill Sergeant Wilkinson at parade rest. Private Martinez hustled up from behind him and wiped the sweat from his face. Martinez was finished with the course as well.

I moved to another log without forcing my knife into it. Drill Sergeant Beacon spotted me and instantly marched over yelling,

“Kill!”

I stabbed the tree twice and glanced back at him for approval. Drill Sergeant Beacon laughed and walked off down the line, as I stood in front of the log. He continued on pass Private Green who remained directly behind me. Drill Sergeant Beacon said nothing to him. Instead, he only moved along to find the next one to drill.

Green had finally become fed up with me. I was prohibiting him from completing the training at the speed of most of the males. He stomped around me and placed himself on the log in front of me. Erickson and Johnson quickly followed behind him.

The rain had completely stopped, but the clouds still lingered up above. Yet on the bright side, the bayonet obstacle was finally over. We had about twenty minutes to drink water, wait for others and stand at parade rest until the drill sergeant instructed us otherwise.

I sauntered over to the nearer porter potties with Private Chapman. I had to change my maxi pad. Everyone discarded their bayonets into a cardboard box and the obstacle instructors counted them to ensure that every knife, which was handed out, was received back. We kept our weapons stacked as we stood at parade restin formationwithout them. I stood silently and waited at parade rest, unlike the wannabes.

Even Private Chapman began talking to Private Curitan, who stood beside her. However, my focus was somewhere else. I knew what would happen next and I wasn’t looking forward to it. I was suddenly nervous. Chapman stood beside me and she noticed my expression of worry. She studied me with concern. Finally, she smiled to encourage me to do the same. I smiled for her, but the rhythm of my heartbeat escalated.

We were told to ground our gear, right then as we stood in formation. That meant we had to ground our helmet, LBE, and flack vest. It felt good to have all that weight off my body.

“You ready, McCoy?” Chapman asked.

I just knew I hadn’t shaken my worried expression from my face. I only lowered my head and remained quiet. By the command of the drill sergeants, we were rough stepped further away from the bayonet logs and deeper into the wet field. We were to stack our weapons and assemble into a 360-degree circle, following our platoon leaders. I slowly moved along with them, forming into the wide circle. Secretly, I hoped to somehow disappear into thin air. Yet, I only held my head down and moved along into the 360.

“Move!” Private Curitan shouted at me.

I glanced up and saw PrivateCuritanbehind Private Chapman demanding that I move faster. I hustled to catch up with Private Peterson in front of me. Peterson was just as invisible as Parker and Nguyen most of the time. I watched Butler and Kennis standing next to each other as our platoon formed into the 360.

I watched the Puerto Ricans who always found a way to stand nearer to one another. I just knew they would stick together. I saw Garcia, Gonzales, Santiago, Rivera, Rodriguez, and Fluentez in their pack. They were laughing, joking, giving high fives and getting their egos pumped. In other words, they were preparing themselves. Santiago was not always with the Puerto Ricans. His ethnicity was Dominican and Black just as Clinton’s ethnicity was Puerto Rican and Black. He usually stuck with Reed, Williams, and Davis. However, he seemed to be accepted in both groups. The Blacks and the Puerto Ricans always got along well.

Reed and Davis were both clowning around just like the Puerto Rican males. Immediately, Drill Sergeant Mayor yelled at them to calm down. Carter and Price stood near to each other and kept their cool. They both held their poker face on thick. Their situation was typical. They were two white people who considered themselves thebest,until it came time to fight face to face. I could see a masked speck of fear in Carter’s eyes, but he did his best to mask it. Although she tried her best not to let her fear show, I could see Price taking in a hard swallow from where I stood. Blackstone and Clinton were excited. I knew aggression was second nature to them and fighting was only the icing on the cake.

“Are you motivated, pit bulls!” Drill Sergeant Mayor yelled out.

“Motivated, motivated, downright motivated! Whooah! Whooah! I wanna kill somebody!” our platoon blurted out.

“Y’all ain’t motivated!” he hollered back.

“Motivated, motivated, downright motivated! Whooah! Whooah! I wanna kill somebody!” they blurted out again.

I just stood there with my arms folded, silently. I watched as Carter stared me down right along with Drill Sergeant Mayor.

“If your motivated then get down and beat yo’ doggone face!” Drill Sergeant Andrews hollered out.

I laughed as just about everyone else got down in front leaning arrest position. Drill Sergeant Mayor looked at my unmoved disposition and shook his head from left to right as if I were wrong. Yet and still, I failed to believe that I was wrong. Quickly, I kneeled down and lie into front leaning arrest position in the itchy, wet grass and I began pushing like the rest of them.

After we were relieved from push up position and our third platoon ring became rowdy. Drill Sergeant Andrew quickly silenced them. Once they were quiet, I heard noise coming from the other platoons in their respected 360s.

The drill sergeants then assigned us into weight categories. We reassembled our 360 so that we stood near the wannabes in our weight category. I was in the same weight category, as Kennis, Butler, and Nguyen just like before. We were the female featherweights of our platoon.

The first volunteers were Martinez and Johnson. Martinez remained full of energy and he practically came skipping into the ring. He was the most optimistic young Mexican male in our platoon. He laughed slightly and I could tell it was nervous energy. Martinez always took it easy and he was such a joker. Johnson looked as serious as he always did.

The opponents shook hands and then they began to fight. Johnson immediately grabbed Martinez with both his long arms. They began using their arms and legs to push each other in the opposite directions, like a tug of war with their strength. Martinez kept pushing forward, but Johnson seemed stronger. Martinez’s gripping feet tore up the grass and created mud within our circle. Martinez quickly tried twisting one of Johnson’s arms, but Johnson moved backward in order to keep from getting twisted. Quickly, Martinez kicked him in the stomach and Johnson partially folded.

“Come on, Johnson. You can do it!” a female voice yelled.

Martinez gave him time to come back and all of it happened in less than a minute and a half. Johnson proceeded to kick Martinez back and Martinez grabbed his boot. Johnson almost lost his balance before he regained his legs. Martinez swiftly flipped Johnson onto his back in the mud while Johnson used both his legs to lock Martinez into a tight leg lock. Johnson used his leg strength to fling Martinez down flat into the muddy dirt. They began to tussle in the mud trying to pin each other. Martinez was mostly trying to get his legs out of the lock as he demonstrated centipede-like movements. Martinez quickly succeeded in getting out of Johnson’s stronghold.

Drill Sergeant Andrews took a couple of steps forward and out of respect, the males eased out of their fight. Johnson’s face held an expression of embarrassment. Martinez, on the other hand, hopped to his feet immediately. Drill Sergeant Andrews approached Private Martinez and lifted his hand in victory. All of us stood cheering for Martinez. I didn’t think it would happen that way honestly. I’d never seen a Mexican kid beat up a Black kid.

Johnson swung himself upward in a disorderly manner. He appeared frustrated and embarrassed that he’d lost. He moseyed on over to where he previously stood within the 360. Drill Sergeant Andrews directed Martinez over to what became known as the ‘winner’s circle’. Private Martinez was the first one to rush over to the designated area.

The next combatants were Private Carter and Private Gonzales. A few people made comments, but I couldn’t hear any of them clearly. I already knew what the outcome would be. Gonzales was going to cancel Carter like a bad transaction. I’d overheard Fleshman talking toCuritian. Fleshman explained to Curitian that he ‘already knew what this fight was about’. It seemed that they had some unfinished business from a previous confrontation in the barracks. I watched as Garcia then requested to fight Carter. Yet, Garcia wasn’t in the same weight category as Carter. Either way, Carter was going to get his butt whooped. I believed everyone knew, underneath their thick skin, he’d lose the fight. Even the wannabes who cheered for Carter knew he’d be defeated. I could feel it. There was almost no point in watching the fight.

Gonzales punched the crap out of Carter, thrusting his fist deep into Carter’s stomach as if he were trying to punch a hole through him. The platoon became rowdy. Some of the wannabes were mad and some encouraged it. Carter was pretty much done right then and there. Gonzales placed his thick arm around Carter’s head and seized him in a headlock. Then suddenly, Carter began to push back. He bull headed all his weight onto Gonzales, knocking him down into the mud.

“Get him, Carter!” Private McCarthy yelled.

But Gonzales didn’t unlock his grip around Carter’s head. The two of them ended up sideways and muddy before Carter finally used his hand to tap out. When Gonzales let go of Carter, everyone could see the bright red blood dripping from Carter’s head.

Gonzales stood to his feet in one swift rise. Carter slowly rose to his feet and it seemed as if his body were aching. Carter was just as muddy as Gonzales, however, Gonzales was able to laugh about it.

Drill Sergeant Mayor eased through the mud and lifted up Gonzales’ hand in victory. However, Drill Sergeant Andrews suddenly shouted out that he wasn’t lifting up his hand to proclaim him as the winner. He said that the Puerto Ricans didn’t want to be a part of the team and since they had their own team, one of the other Puerto Ricans should lift up his buddy’s hand in victory. He then hollered out that he didn’t give a damn about any of them. Drill Sergeant Andrews said it so that everyone could hear him. No one said a word. Carter was told to stay near the side of the circle so that the medics could assist him. Price was directed to go get the medics and Carter was directed out of the ring.

I swallowed hard. The next battle would probably be a female opponent and I was beginning to panic. Before I could get out a dear God, Drill Sergeant Drake called Private Mendez into the ring. Mendez didn’t mind. She was ready to go. Mendez stepped on out into the ring. She almost slipped into the muddy patches of grass that the wannabes beforehercreated. Mendez smiled and turned to see which girl she would be competing against. Drill Sergeant Drake scanned her eyes at the group of females standing closer together within the middleweight category. She paced around the cluster of potential female opponents. Private Blackstone grabbed the opportunity to make a request while Drill Sergeant Drake stood in front of her. She requested for Drill Sergeant Drake to place Private Kennis in the ring with Mendez. Blackstone shouted out Kennis’ name. I peered over at Kennis’ face as she stood closer to me than them. I wanted to laugh, but I refrained from it. Kennis appeared so frightened, it was as if she’d seen a ghost. Her face turned flush and she began to shake nervously. Out of my peripheral vision, I saw her slowly moving backward. I couldn’t hold it in any longer and I began snickering aloud. That’s just what she gets for calling people ‘niggers’, I thought.

“Yeah, Private Kennis!” Drill Sergeant Drake called out.

“You get your behind out there.”

Kennis shook her head ‘no’. She wasn’t going out there to fight Mendez. However, refusing to follow the drill sergeant’s instruction was considered ‘disobeying a lawful order’ according to the military. Butler even had to laugh at Kennis’ scary behavior. She appeared like she wanted to piss herself. Even Nguyen began to laugh at her. I glanced over at Drill Sergeant Drake and finally, I saw laughter gush through her stern disposition. We laughed out loud for a good couple of minutes. The platoon waited for a second to see if Drill Sergeant Drake would make her fight. Yet, our drill sergeant only turned her back and moved along, without insistence.

“Pussy!” Drill Sergeant Andrewsreplied,as he continued walking pastPrivateKennis.

“Chapman is gonna do it!” Drill Sergeant Andrews commanded.

Chapman swiftly turned her head and glanced back at our drill sergeant with astonishment. She then turned back around, went ahead and ran out there. She seemed to have run out there because she didn’t want to upset Drill Sergeant Andrews. We all knew how crazy he could be.

Private Chapman and Private Mendez prepared themselves for their fight. Chapman wasn’t too serious. She smiled while they shook hands and then the fight began. Chapman put on her game face and so did Mendez. The Puerto Rican males cheered Mendez on because she was the only full-blooded Puerto Rican female in our platoon.

Chapman and Mendez began to feel each other out in their small circle. They both seemed to be anticipating who would make the first move. Chapman did it! She made the first move. She jabbed Mendez’s shoulder while Mendez reached up and grabbed Chapman’s arm, quickly twisting it. Chapman had to swing her body around Mendez to keep her arm from getting locked. She swiftly kicked Mendez in her inner leg and Mendez immediately let go, but she rushed Chapman’s body forward causing her to fall down to the mud. Then Mendez mounted on top of her. I quickly covered my hand over my eyes because I didn’t want to see it.

However, the platoon went wild cheering and yelling out foul language. I didn’t want to see it. Just then, I heard Drill Sergeant Drake order them to a halt and I was so happy. I uncovered my eyes and watched Mendez hop off of Chapman and onto her feet. Drill Sergeant Drake gaited nearer to Mendez and pulled her hand up in victory. Chapman rose to her feet just Mendez smiled and accepted her victory. Chapman shook off her BDU top. I could see all the smeared mud on her back and I saw that Mendez was a muddy mess as well. Mendez jogged over to the muddy winner’s circle with the rest of the minorities and she smiled the whole while.

The drill sergeants asked if there were any more special request and thankfully everyone was quiet. Just when I thought it was safe and I was free at last, Drill Sergeant Mayor informed us that we would be fightingfourthplatoon. First and second platoon were further away from us. From what I could see in the distance they were already fighting against platoons. I hoped none of these rowdy girls call me out, I thought.

Our platoon waited while the drill sergeants collaborated. We all stood around talking until fourth platoon was ready to fight. Once they were ready, they barged into our circle, forcing us to widen it. They’d left their gear unguarded in their own perimeter while they took up space in ours. I wanted to be invisible so I stood quietly among the wannabes and drill sergeants.

For a moment everyone was talking and no one had actually stepped into the center of the circle yet. I scanned around to see what everyone else was doing. I glanced up to see who had their eyes on me. Clinton sauntered over to Stevenson. My heart sped up in my chest. The drill sergeants were searching for combatants. Drill Sergeant Andrews came to the center of the circle and everyone became quiet.

“First combatants are . . . Price fromthirdplatoon and Stevenson fromfourthplatoon!” he announced.

I sighed with relief at the sound of the announcement. Price swallowed hard and stepped on up to the challenge. She tried with all her might to be as calm as she could. She appeared sad. However, Drill Sergeant Fisher ordered them to fight anyway.

After they shook hands, I watched them for a moment without blinking. They collided into one another just as a roar of thunder rolled in on us. The sound of compassionate sighs spread throughout the circle as we all watched them collide into each other like wild boars. That was the strongest start we’d seen yet. All I needed was some popcorn. If anything, I bet the drill sergeants were enjoying the entertainment the most. I overhead them talking trash the whole time they were watching us fight.

Stevenson reminded me of a Spartan. In Price’s dizziness, Stevenson picked her up and body-slammed her to the ground. Majority of the platoon gave out loud emotional sighs. Even Price’s hair was muddy. I felt sorry for her because she wasn’t going to be getting a shower unless she went to the hospital on ‘sick call’.

Stevenson plopped down on top of Price and I became worried. Are the drill sergeants just gonna let this s#!% happen? I thought. Price finally kicked her over and got on top of her. My platoon roared in excitement, but I didn’t roar with them. I was too busy being disgusted by the sight of them.

Price placed Stevenson in a sort of body lock that would take a fair amount of effort to unlock. Right then, I knew that Price had been a part of the wrestling team in high school. She locked Stevenson into her body with her legs. Stevenson then used her own body weight to fling Price around and around in the muddy field. They rolled in the mud like an actual mud fight. Stevenson’s hands were locked in the tangle as well.

Drill Sergeant Drake stepped up toward them ordering them to a halt. They paused with Price on top. They got up at Drill Sergeant Drake’s command. Drill Sergeant Fisher, Drill Sergeant Chong, Drill Sergeant Price, Drill Sergeant Manning, and Drill Sergeant Andrews all stood together closely. They negotiated for a few minutes before Drill Sergeant Fisher nodded her head and Drill Sergeant Drake lifted Price’s hand in victory. Both platoons cheered aloud. Nobody thought she would win—nobody.

Price limped over to the winner’s circle like she was experiencing severe pain. Drill Sergeant Drake motioned toward Price from behind. Once I caught a glimpse of Drill Sergeant Drake’s face, I could see that she appeared concerned. Price held her hip while she continued limping over to the winner’s circle. That was all she gave the audience. Not a gape, not a look of sadness or any kind of attitude, just a limp.

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