Against The Grain

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Chapter 5

White phase came around in just a couple of weeks. That meant time was definitely moving into the future—thank God! However, I stayed so absent mind all the time that I wasn’t really there anyhow. So by the time white phase arrived, I was certain that everyone knew I wasn’t going to conform to the military culture. In response to my behavior, they treated me horribly and in response to their treatment, I deliberately remained apathetic toward their hatred. I became an existing wall for every time they laughed at me and talked about me. We were all as comfortable as we were going to be. We all knew each other within our platoon and we all knew what to expect from each other.

“ . . . Who you mean, McCoy?” Clinton called out loud enough for me to hear.

She glared over at me to make sure I’d heard her call out my name. Her and Blackstone stood between their bunks and began bad mouthing me.

“She’a lil’ punk ass white b!$@&! I don’t even know why she here!” Clinton spat, as she turned and glared at me.

My adrenaline began to pump and I became so angry that I had to start moving around. I lifted from my bunk and moved over toward my wall locker, so they couldn’t look at me. Chapman was my bunkmate who stood right next to me. She regarded me with a red-hot face full of embarrassment. Chapman appeared solid and slightly tall like the majority of the females. Her skin was tan and her hair was golden blond.

I glared over at Kennis because she laughed at me the loudest. Everyone else seemed embarrassed for me. My heart began pounding hard against my chest. I was trying my hardest to remain resistant to myself. I stood there at my wall locker fighting my natural urge to care about what she’d said. Although I could feel my flaring tonsils, I did my best to swallow my pride.

“She’a marshmallow!” Private Blackstone replied.

“Yeah, I know right!” Private Clinton laughed.

“She ain’t gone do s#!%!” she jeered on.

I moved toward my bunk and looked over at them. Clinton flashed me a big smile from her blemished face. They both stood looking at me from their bunks. My jaws began to clench, so I turned around and eased back onto my bunk to keep them from seeing it. They’d made me so irate; I couldn’t stand it. Yet, I didn’t feel like I could say a word. I was dumbfounded and I felt like the coward that they labeled me. I was certain that they were enjoying making fun of me and trying to make me feel weak. Just then, Williams eased on over towards my bunk.

“You talk so good,” she began.

“I tryta talk proper when a answer da phone, but it don’t work. I can’n talk good if I try.”

I peered up at Country, but I didn’t respond to her comment. I was stuck on what they’d said about me. So, instead of continuing to try to talk to me, she carried herself to the bathroom. Country was my height with dark chocolate skin and she was as sweet as she could be. She wore her uniforms sloppily and she often times stumbled around due to her legs. Although I said nothing to her, I still appreciated her support.

Clinton and Blackstone were good at spitting out the most hateful words they could possibly fathom, but they weren’t the only ones. Kennis was the boldest of them all, in my opinion. I knew things about her because she bunked next to me on the left-hand side. I could get along with her, but she would use the word, ‘nigger’ like it was going out of style—and it definitely wasn’t.

On another night during personal time, we had a conversation nearer to her wall locker.

“Kennis, you got any black friends?” I asked her.

“I mean, you ever talk to any black people?” I continued to question.

“I think you’re all niggers, but I f@#%ed a few,” she admitted.

“My best friend used to hate niggers with me, but now that’s all she ever steals from black girls,” she taunted.

Kennis remained by her wall locker as she spoke at a monotone.

“I don’t know how you do it. Y’all are just so f@#%in’ ignorant! That’s too bad for you.” She responded, emphasizing the word ‘you’.

Chapman turned away from her wall locker and shot Kennis a sour expression. Chapman’s upper lip arched and her face turned cherry red again. Yet, I wasn’t baffled by Kennis’ words anymore. I had built an invisible wall and she hadn’t put a dent in it. Chapman rolled her eyes, slammed her wall locker door and ran off towards the bathroom, eyeballing her along the way. Kennis sneered back.

Chapman had maintained good relationships within the team. Her ability to be a social butterfly made her favorable over any of the other white females. She proved to be indifferent in regards to race. While Kennis, on the other hand, called out racial slurs to herself while she raided her own wall locker every morning.

One time I overheard Kennis taking trash to Williams. She started making fun of the way she spoke. She told her she talked just like a monkey. Williams only rolled her eyes and continued moving over to her wall locker. I believe she ignored her because she was certain that she’d have another confrontation right around the corner. The sad part is that none of the rowdy black females ever stood up to Kennis about the racist comments that constantly flew from her mouth and I knew they’d heard her mouthing off at the rest of us. Private Clinton, Blackstone, and Mendez only stayed in their pack. Yet, Kennis never said anything to their faces either.

Miller, on the other hand, was a complete rebel. Miller did whatever she wanted to do, whenever she wanted to do it and I knew Price hated her for just that reason. Yet, in order to keep the peace she never really verbalized it too much. I believe Price refrained from saying anything to Miller. Her butch appearance provided the impression that she wouldn’t be moved, but I thought she was pretty laid back and friendly.

“… ’Em silly a$$ dy%@s ain’t got no morals. They don’t follow God and live a good Christian life like I do!” Private Clinton spat.

Clinton, Blackstone, and Mendez laughed while they all looked over at Miller. Private Miller couldn’t help but know they were talking about her.

“ . . . that’s da reason we got problems wit’ other countries now!”

I hadn’t caught the beginning of the confrontation, but when I came out of the bathroom I could see Clinton giving Miller a hard stare down while Miller stood tall in front of Harvey’s bunk. Private Harvey was Miller’s heterosexual friend from fourth platoon and I’d barely noticed her she was so quiet. I’d just exited the bathroom with the intentions of avoiding the social crowd. Yet, I couldn’t help notice Miller standing over on fourth platoon’s side of the bay having a meltdown. Her eyes appeared glossy and full of rage. She looked like she wanted to hurt Clinton. Private Walker stood up on our respected side of the bay and rushed over to support Miller as she began pacing back and forth between the bunks. Miller suddenly punched her fist into Harvey’s wall locker, leaving a noticeable dent in the metal. Harvey only sat there quietly while Miller continued to pace.

“You ain’t gone do s#!%,” Private Clinton provoked.

“Carpet munchin’ a$$ b!$@&!” she spat.

“What! B!$@&, we can do dis’ s#!% right now! I’d rather be a dy%@ than ole ignorant nappy headed a$$ h@&!” Private Miller called back to her.

Instantly, Harvey and Walker started laughing aloud. Private Brown couldn’t even refrain from laughter. She laughed at Miller’s comeback too. Every last one of us looked up at them with anticipation, expecting a fight.

If these were our future soldiers . . . I wasn’t trying to be like them, I thought.

The males were no better. They’d get into fights over the same type of racism and prejudice. Every other day a male came out of the barracks with a new bruise. Therefore, it wasn’t a big deal if the females fought too. Many of the wannabe females aimed to compete with the males anyhow. The males seemed to take pride in their wounds, but the females used words like bullets. I couldn’t always pinpoint prejudice and racism from the individual males because we weren’t allowed to communicate with them.

Dear God,

Praise your name! I come to you tonight feeling down, Lord. Yet, my attitude has at least improved some since I been here. I can’t believe how much I can tolerate. My goal is to work hard and climb. I’m not yet sure of my destination, but at least I’m making an effort. I’m so sick of people thinking I’m ‘too good’ for them, but I really don’t want to encourage their wicked ways. I don’t know what to do about it. It’s not like me to change who I am for anything or anyone. I would love to make friends, but it’s not safe. They’re vicious pit bulls like they’ve been labeled. I would have to be one of them, dear Lord. I would have to see things their way . . . I don’t know, God. I don’t know if I can honestly do this.

Among us young Americans in the twenty-first century—prejudice, racism, and injustice are still prevalent. O’ great Lord, most high, I know that power only begets more power, heavenly father. Forgive us, for we know not what we do is wrong. I know that many of us have pride in being American. Lord, look at us. There are those who come to this country and live in America by choice. So I know that we have opportunities here, but Lord I’m not willing to sacrifice myself for the sake of this country. I don’t think that’s your purpose for me anyway. I don’t believe this to be a religious war. I don’t believe that war should still be happening in the first place. Do you think this is population control, Lord? We’re divided as humans and it’s only causing more injustice. Some of us are only fighting to maintain power ahead of others. Others don’t know what to do, so we just go along with it. There’s so much hate, dear God. Please hear my cry, O’ Lord! Guide me, lead me and protect me. Praise your most precious name. Amen.

The next morning at 0400 hours I awoke with the rest of them. We dressed in our PT uniform and stood as a company at the position of parade rest in the cold February weather. We waited for our drill sergeants to step out of their downstairs offices into our company area. The temperature was so cold that I couldn’t feel my hands nor could I move my fingers. My throat was already mildly sore, but now it was painful. An unbearable ache began to inhabit my ear. The pain felt like a screw rupturing my eardrum.

Meanwhile, the usual chatter took place among us. I just wished everyone around me would shut their mouths. The accountability report had to be finished before I could go to the hospital. Therefore, the squad leaders of each squad had to make sure all of us were present before we could fall out of formation at the drill sergeant’s command and create a separate ‘sick call’ formation for those of us heading to the hospital.

It didn’t matter to me that I’d gone to the hospital on ‘sick call’ so often that I’d barely trained. Whatever I needed to do to keep the days passing swiftly was fine by me. Drill Sergeant Andrews had once used the term ‘sick call slave’ to label the wannabes who would rather go to the hospital than participate in training. I didn’t care. I hated when he said ‘sick call slave’ because the word slave illustrated ownership and cruelty. Slavery was a hardship, but skipping out on training and going to the hospital was easy.

I just began to tune out the people around me. I ignored them so much that it was almost like they weren’t even there with me. I developed only selective hearing, but I definitely heard the drill sergeants when they asked us if anyone was going on ‘sick call’ in the mornings.

Price was my squad leader. She didn’t like me much at all. She broke out of her stance and headed over toward me between the ranks.

“Going to sick call again today, huh?” Private Price asked.

She exaggerated the word ‘again’ as she stood directly in front of me like a drill sergeant.

“Umm-hmm.” I responded to her snotty remark.

“Why?” she asked, sharply.

“Because I can.” I replied, quickly.

What could she do about it? I thought.

She glared at me and shook her head from left to right as she tightened her lips. She then sucked her teeth, turned around and strutted back to her place in formation. I didn’t have the energy to deal with her. I involuntarily swallowed, feeling the soreness of my throat.

Finally, a drill sergeant stepped out of one of the warm and toasty offices.

“At ease!” our entire company shouted.

And just like that, all the platoons were quiet. The drill sergeants casually exited their platoon offices. They began to group together in conversation while I wanted them to hurry up and get to their platoons because I was ready to go to the hospital. However, their attitudes seemed to be casual. They could take their sweet time talking and joking with each other while we waited on them, simply because they were the authority. I took another hard swallow and I could feel myself growing hot.

The drill sergeants finished up their leisure conversations and they began heading over toward their platoon, ready to take charge of the day. Drill Sergeant Cole was a blond-haired, blue-eyed female drill sergeant from first platoon. She didn’t look like the military kind. However, she was still in uniform with the rest of them. She marched over and took charge of first platoon the way our drill sergeants took charge of our platoon.

“Platoon Attteeenhoon!” Drill Sergeant Andrews called.

“Reeepoorrrt!”

“First squad, four present, two on sick call.” Private Price reported.

“Second squad, all present, all accounted for.” Private Green reported.

“Third squad, five present one on sick call.” Private Kennis reported.

“Fourth squad, all present, all accounted for.” Private Davis reported.

“All those going to sick call, fall out!” Drill Sergeant Andrews commanded.

I took one step back on my right foot with my hands stiffly at my side. I pivot left on that same foot, then I walked between the first and second ranks to the left of the formation to exit from it.

Drill Sergeant Andrews gave us about 10 seconds to fall out of formation and reform into our own formation in the back of the concrete breezeway beside our platoon. He stood and watched us without much expression. As we created a segment of three, I’d have gladly stood next to Miller. She was a sweetheart. The only problem was the female standing loyally on her other side. Walker was like her sidekick and I wasn’t interested in being around her at all. As a matter of fact, she made my stomach turn. She was the same as Kennis—a racist. An anxious pain began to grow in the pit of my stomach and I took another rough swallow.

“Hey, McCoy, wuzzup?” Private Miller greeted me.

“Wuzzup, Miller?” I responded back quietly with a bashful smile.

Walker just ignored my presence and in return, I said nothing to her. I knew it would be a good day for me because I was headed to the hospital. The required uniform for the hospital was our physical training uniform.

“Rrrright face!” Drill sergeant Andrews called out to the well and able wannabes.

Our platoon immediately faced right with the intent to march out onto the PT field. The right face command was also supposed to be disrespect toward those of us who were standing in the ‘sick call’ formation. Their backs were turned to us and we were the ones who were getting left behind. I could see the other platoons were turned right and beginning to range out of the company area as well.

All the other ‘sick call’ formations in the company stood behind their platoons just like us. The three other formations consisted were majority female. Most of the time, the males worked through their minor colds, aches, and pains. Majority of males refused to go to the hospital because attending the hospital was considered weak.

Private Ward broke rank from her platoon’s ‘sick call’ formation and swiftly walked over towards ours. The entire company had not yet marched out of the caved concrete perimeter before she walked up to Miller and gave her a hug followed by a quick peck on the check.

“Hey, wuz up Walker!” she finally greeted her with a smile.

She then turned toward me and smiled.

“Wuz up, McCoy!” she perked.

“Wuz up, Ward!” I perked back.

Miller held her girlfriend around the waist as if she were a trophy. Drill Sergeant Wilkinson shot the two of them a glare as second platoon paraded by us. I thought he would walk over and stop them from holding each other, but he didn’t. My ears began to ring as the company proceeded to move out of the concrete barracks. I could hear them calling cadence once they exited the platoon area. The drill sergeants marched aside their platoons if they were commanding it. Otherwise, they patrolled in the rear.

“Come on, battles! Let’s go to sick call.” Private Miller said to all of us as we watched the company move past.

We headed towards the stairwell in a casual cluster. I could see Miller and Ward holding each other’s hand.

“Stop right there!” Drill Sergeant Cole shouted, as she appeared in our path.

We stopped. Her face appeared flush and her eyes were squinted. She advanced toward us as we stood in a short closed in segment. I really didn’t feel like dealing with this, but I didn’t have a choice. She took the time to stare down both Ward and Miller. Then she looked at all of us.

“I want both of you,” she replied, pointing at Walker and me.

“To get upstairs and get ready!” Drill Sergeant Cole commanded.

Both Private Walker and I eased away and headed up the stairwell. I turned around and glanced back at them as I moved. Drill Sergeant Wilkinson then sauntered behind both Ward and Miller.

“What the hell are you two doing?”

I overheard Drill Sergeant Cole scream at the two of them.

Walker saw it too. We both turned back around to face the stairs and slowly headed up them. We journeyed through the red double doors of the bay without words and hurried to pack our duffle bags in case we had to go to med quarters. I had to pack my toothbrush, toothpaste, and my journal. My journal was needed in case I felt like writing a letter to God, my only true friend.

Eventually, Miller met us upstairs in the bay. She aired over to her bunk and wall locker where she and Walker immediately began to socialize. We all took nearly five minutes to pack our duffle bags and regroup at the red double doors to exit our bay.

Walker talked the entire time we migrated out of the barracks and she only talked to Miller. I had not a clue what they were talking about because I never paid Walker much attention. I thought she was boring and stupid. So, I knew she wasn’t talking about anything important. Miller was the one I’d shared my thoughts with whenever I could get her alone.

“What you goin’ to sick call for, McCoy?” Private Miller asked, once Walker finished babbling.

“I don’t know. Just to do it,” I lied, nonchalantly.

“I’m tired of them. So I’m going to sick call to get away. I’m just glad I didn’t have to give Private Price an explanation.” I told her.

“Yea, super soldier, she’s a loser.” Private Miller replied.

“Why you call her a loser?” I asked, curious to hear her opinion.

“She thinks she’s better than everyone.” Private Miller explained.

“She ain’t s#!%!” Private Walker chimed.

I hurried over to the bench and took a seat as they followed behind me. I placed my green duffle bag down beside me on the concrete bench. Both Walker and Miller stood instead of sitting down.

“So what happened to Ward?” I asked Private Miller.

“They made us separate. No big deal!” Private Miller stated, shrugging her shoulders.

I glanced at Miller as the sun appeared in the sky from behind a moving cloud. Her already light skin appeared brightened from the early morning sunrays soaring through the clouds. Just then, the white school bus cut around the corner and drove up to the bus stop.

The white female bus driver looked at us like we were pathetic. So, I looked down to avoid her expression. I only followed behind Miller, who followed behind Walker. We all moved to the back of the bus like some juvenile delinquents in our gray fatigue prison sweats. I threw my duffle bag down on the bus seat right in front of them and sat down.

“McCoy, wut’d da drill sergeant smoke you for the other day?” Private Miller asked, looking over the bus seat.

“For something I’ll do again tomorrow.” I heard myself blurt out, surprisingly.

I sat with my back against the window and my legs spread across the seat. I pulled my duffle bag in my lap. Walker sat forward while looking out the window at the grassy knoll surrounding the 21st Regiment of 369th Delta Company.

“Yea, McCoy, datz wut I like about you! You just don’t give a f@#&.” Private Miller replied.

“Look at da graffiti. It’s 416th Bravo Company.” Private Walker blurted out.

“Kid with da BCG’s last week, 416th Bravo Company, 1st platoon, Ohio kid.” Private Walker recalled.

“Fag!” she suddenly replied.

Walker tapped me on the shoulder.

“McCoy, we got IED training in the field next week after BRM, right?”

“I suppose.”

“Jesus!” Private Miller complained.

“That’s my fave and I don’t even think I’ll be here for it.” She continued.

Miller looked at me with a straight face.

“I’m getting kicked out!” she blurted.

Miller then looked over at Walker as if she could do something about it.

“If you go, den I’ma go too.” Private Walker confessed.

“Ward said she would go A-wall wit’ me if I wanted,” she shared.

“Dat it’d rock! You know how awesome that it’d be?” Private Miller asked.

“F*@$ yeah!” Private Walker encouraged.

I slightly smiled upon their loyalty to one another and then I turned my upper body around toward the bus window. I longed for that type of loyalty and acceptance from another person. I’d made no real friends in the process and the rejection I’d received most of the time made me feel horrible.

“Why are they givin’ y’all such a hard time?” I asked, already aware of the answer.

“Because y’all are openly lesbian?” I continued asking, knowing my answer was right.

I just needed to hear it.

“Yeah, that’s exactly it!” Miller confirmed.

Miller began to chuckle as both Walker and I gazed at her.

“Yeah, but I’m f&$%ing gay! Heather Ward is my b!$@&!” she said, emphasizing the word ‘my’ with an ‘ah’ instead of a ‘y’.

Immediately, we all started laughing.

In that moment, I felt good! I needed to laugh. Miller was my friend too. Her and I kind of understood each other. I loved the fact that she was such a rebel. The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy remained in effect and she didn’t care. She was openly gay and in return, she endured a good amount of ridicule from the drill sergeants and the heterosexuals.

I shifted my body forward as the bus swung around a corner at the stoplight. The bus driver took a few more turns down unfamiliar streets and soon we were traveling down several outlandish back roads. The bus drivers usually drove through back roads and I believed they did this in order to make it impossible for us to memorize the route. I was certain we could have arrived at the hospital quicker on the main roads.

“Aye, yo’, McCoy,” Private Walker called to me.

She stood up in front of her seat. I slightly turned my neck to look her directly in her face from behind me.

“Why’d you join the army anyway?” Walker asked me.

“Because this country is going through a recession. I mean, I need to eat. I need to survive. I know I don’t know a lot about the world, but I’m true to self. I’ll keep it that way! I don’t think it has to be this way.” I replied.

Walker sat back in her seat as the bus driver slammed on the brakes in front of the hospital entrance. We all jerked forward before exiting the bus in the same single file line, carrying our duffle bags on our shoulder.

Note from Author:

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