I inhaled the fresh Carolina air before we strolled into the disinfectant hospital. Large lines of wannabes spread across the first floor. Yet, organization and structure were still in place. We were told where to start, where to stand and when to move. There was a command for everything. We stood in the very first line at the receptionist desk. We had to be checked-in before we could go any further. The receptionist at the front desk stamped our hands, typed our names and cuffed our wrist with a paper band that stated our names in purplish pink ink. We were firmly informed to get in line nearest a wall over to our right. Miller and Walker stood together quietly talking while I slowly moved over toward the line.
A fairly large white female nurse dressed in all white yelled at us to hurry the hell up and get in line. She also informed us that she would kick our tired assess out of the hospital if we ever moved that slowly again. A young white female nurse paced forward as if she had somewhere to be. As she advanced toward me, she told me to move out of her way. I eased aside her, so she could pass.
I was first in line ahead of Miller and Walker. A young black female, portraying her early twenties, migrated down the line to monitor our temperatures. I assumed she must have been only a medical assistant because of her young appearance. I spotted her immediately because of her bright colored scrubs. She carried a tall, metal carrier alongside her that resembled a coat hanger rail. The top of the rail stemmed out like a hook for a hanging jacket. She held an old-fashioned, simple thermometer to take our temperature in her right hand while she used her left hand to pull the rail on wheels. Three separate containers were attached to the rail. She used each of them to transport the blood pressure monitor, her plastic guards, and the small wastebasket in the bottom container. She had everything she needed to monitor our temperature and blood circulation. She often smiled as she provided 600mg of Ibuprofen to the wannabes who needed it. She retrieved the medicine from the left waist side pocket of her gummy bear printed scrub. The minute she approached me, she smiled. Although she seemed friendly, I was certain that she gave commands too.
“Get off the wall!” she projected.
She only raised her voice slightly. She didn’t seem aggressive at all. I didn’t even realize I was leaning against the wall. My throat was only slightly sore and my ears only made a loud clicking noise anytime I swallowed. No real pain. The medical assistant made note of my 99.7 degrees temperature and my blood pressure.
She moved along the line to the next female behind me with the slightly white-coated face. I hadn’t really focused on her face until I turned sideways and glanced beside me. She had thick, jet-black hair and droopy eyes. She looked sick. Her eyes even looked weak. I acknowledged her sickliness prior to the nurse recording her temperature of 100.1 degrees. Her thick white lips peeled noticeably. She looked sad enough to cry as she towered over me at six feet. Once the medical assistant finished with the sickly wannabe, she moved down the line to the next.
“You look so sick.” I said, feeling bad for her.
She mustered up a satisfactory smile and turned away from me. The medical assistant finished taking the temperature of everyone in our long line quickly. She handed the essential paperwork on the clipboard to the older heavyset nurse dressed in all white with comfortable crock slippers. The nurse’s hair appeared tightly braided into an ethnic design on her head. The nurse displayed a dark complexion and she also appeared stern in her disposition. She escorted us to the waiting area without a smile.
The atrium consisted of a waiting room that held nearly eighty to one hundred seats arranged tightly together in a snake-like row. We were required to sit together without leaving a single seat vacant. We placed our duffle bags under the chairs, built with no armrests, where we sat and waited to see the doctor. We would all have to manage to keep our arms pressed against our bodies. We remained quite the majority of time with nothing else to do besides look around and try to stay woke.
The hospital corporal roamed around the waiting area shouting out commands that prompted us to seize the talking and to change seats. I only gazed at the eighteen by twenty-four-inch photography on the walls. All the pictures on the wall revealed non-commissioned officers conducting training in their military setting. The officers in the setting appeared more like posers dressed in uniform, rather than actual drill sergeants at a training installation.
Just then, I looked over to my right at the young white male who sat next to me. The moment I acknowledged him, I could feel that he was purposefully trying to ignore me. He wore basic training goggles just as I did. It didn’t matter to me that he was ignoring me. It was common.
To the left of me sat Miller and to the left of her sat Walker.
“I’m ’bout ready for lunch chow.” Private Miller said, as she leaned in nearer to me.
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” I replied.
We slid our duffle bags underneath our seats and moved over one seat to the left within our row of chairs.
“Battle, you’re always so quiet,” Private Miller replied.
We got up and moved down to the next seat on our left.
“I know you ain’t shy. So you can stop pretending. This just ain’t for you.” She continued.
“I’m just using the military for my benefit,” I replied, plainly.
I checked beneath me to make sure my duffle bag was properly secured under my seat. Then I glared back up at Miller.
“I’m sick of the way they treat me.” I quietly protested.
“I know. I’m surprised you’re still here.” Miller admitted.
“I’m not surprised. They’ll put up with me. They’re the ones in need of people. They’re just looking at us as numbers anyway. I’ll be a number they won’t forget. That’s for damn sure.” I chuckled.
“Oh yeah, I’ma end up leaving before you do.” Miller said, shaking her head up and down.
“I’m not leaving.” I declared.
“Oh yeah, well I am! I decided I don’t need to kiss their asses.” She informed me.
“Well, you at least gettin’ out honorably, right?” I asked her.
“Nope.” She simply stated.
I began staring at her in bewilderment. She would be discharged other than honorably for being openly gay in the military.
“Miller, you mind if I call you by your first name?”
“I don’t mind.” She said, kindly.
“Melody, I respect who you are as a person. You’re strong. The military would be foolish not to allow you to become a member. You’re good at the warrior task and drills.”
“Thanks, Bren.” She replied.
We rose from our seats, collected our bags and moved to the next seat. We then secured our duffle bags underneath our seat before we sat back down.
“Yeah well, really try to plea for an honorable discharge.” I encouraged her.
“They gone give me a general,” Private Miller explained.
“Which is gone eventually turn into a dishonorable. I told ‘em, I don’t even want that. I told them if they gotta problem wit’ who I am, then dat means they don’t accept me. If dats da case, they might as well send me on home with a dishonorable. I can be on my own. I’ll find something else for me to do then,” she sternly stated.
She paused for a moment as if she were deep in thought.
“This supposed to be the land of the free.” She stated.
Her voice raised an octave or two before she realized that she was getting heated. She immediately stopped talking about it.
Eventually, we made it to the front of the line. We moved up a couple of seats just before lunchtime, at exactly noon. In the corridor, the doctor’s offices were shut. I watched as the lights went off at exactly noon. Lunch was distributed to each and every wannabe in a methodical fashion. Our meal was provided to us within a styrofoam container once again. Our all-American lunches consisted of milk, a cup of fruit, a pack of three cookies, chips and a sandwich. One of two different kinds of preserved meats were spread onto two slices of bread or crackers and smashed together to make a sandwich. We ate Chicken of the Sea Tuna and Oscar Myers cold turkey slices. Each packaged meal provided a random flavor of Pringles potato chips and a pack of either Chips Ahoy or Oreo cookies. This particular lunch was better than eating MRE’s in the field any day. I ate my entire lunch in five minutes tops.
1400 hours had come around by the time I had the privilege of seeing the doctor’s nurse. The petite Asian nurse used a stethoscope to listen to my breathing and then she checked my ears with an otoscope. She then reached into one of the upper cabinets, pulled out a brown bottle and glanced at the label. She swiftly grabbed another instrument from the drawer and walked over closer to me. The nurse gently caressed my left ear with her chilled fingers and pressed the tips of them on my temples, tilting my head sideways. She leaked five drops of fluid into my left ear and quickly retrieved a cotton ball from the pocket of her emoji scrubs. I slightly angled my head in the other direction and she repeated the procedure in my right ear.
“You can lie back until I tell you to get on your feet.” The unnamed nurse replied.
“Thank you!” I said.
She ignored me while jotting down information on her clipboard.
“Answer the questions,” she began.
“Do you drink?” she asked.
“No.” I told her.
“Do you smoke?”
“Any kinds of anxiety or panic attacks keeping you from sleeping at night?”
“Do you hear any ringing or disturbing noises throughout the day?”
“I hear ringing in my ear some time.” I replied, just making it interesting.
“What company you with?”
“369 Delta Company.” I said.
She walked over to the counter with the clipboard in her hand and left it there. She made her way back to me as she quickly slid a thermometer out of her pocket.
“On your feet!” The nurse replied, projecting her voice clearly at a low volume.
I slid off the recliner and stood on my feet as the doctor walked into one of his many offices. The title and name Dr. Coon were there in white letters within the black nametag on his chest. He was an elderly man standing in front of me as I stood on my feet like the nurse commanded me. The skin on his cheeks hung off of his face like drapes on a curtain rail.
He granted me permission to ‘take seat’ and I boosted my bottom backwards onto the reclining chair.The nurse removed the thermometer in her hand from the plastic case as the doctor made his way over to her clipboard.
“Open.” She demanded.
I opened my mouth just wide enough for her to shovel the thermometer under my tongue. Then she swiftly walked back over toward the doctor.
Once the thermometer beeped, she took wide steps over toward me with the clipboard in hand and snatched the thermometer from my mouth.
“99.4!” She read aloud.
Then she scribbled down my temperature on the board.
“What’s troubling you?” Dr. Coon’s asked.
When he spoke his loose skin jiggled from under his chin. I told him that my ringing ears and my sore throat were bothering me. The nurse handed Dr. Coon a small, thick cotton swab on a stick. He informed me to lie back in the chair and open my mouth. Once I eased back in the chair he moved the cotton swab directly into my mouth and swirled it around on the back of my throat. I had to keep myself from gagging. He then handed the swab to the nurse by the wood end and she placed it into a plastic capsule.
Dr. Coons placed me on a twelve-hour medical quarters hold and I was finally able to leave the hospital. I hadn’t caught back up with Miller and Walker. It wasn’t like we could wait around for each other. So instead, I slowly walked myself to the bus stop with my duffle bag in tow and I began to blend in just fine with the wannabes as I stood there waiting on the bus. None of the wannabes at the bus stop appeared to be very sick at all. They were enjoying moving around freely and congregating among each other. They all sat at the bleachers under the concrete shade awaiting the raggedy white school bus to pull up to the bus post. Both the males and females sat together talking or in other words, ‘fraternizing’ with each other. I decided I wouldn’t try to blend in with the crowd of wannabes at the bus stop. I didn’t care to talk to them because I couldn’t relate to most of them anyway. Instead, I took a detour. I performed an about-face movement and headed on my way.
We were provided the opportunity to shop for necessities within our platoon every once in a while. Items such as tampons, toothpaste, and other small things were acceptable. The drill sergeants would provide nearly thirty minutes for our platoon to shop and gather back into formation. I spotted an attraction and I headed over towards it.
“Fine! Don’t salute me then!” a tall white female captain shouted.
I glanced over at her and offered her a millisecond of my attention. The female captain appeared to be in her early forties, roughly. She marched past me letting out a frustrated sigh. I wasn’t expecting this slim woman to have such an alarming response to my lack of acknowledging her. Nevertheless, I let her frustration drift away in the air like little pieces of nothing.
I walked into another section of the hospital through the automatic double doors. I drifted through the hallway and passed the elevators into the open glass doors of the gift shop. The aroma of sweet candy filled my nose and a happy sensation came over me. I walked into the gift shop with my duffle bag over my shoulder and I headed toward the aisles with all the candy. Baby Ruth, Boston Baked Beans, Kit Kat, Snickers, Trolli’s gummy worms, Lay’s potato chips, Pringle’s potato chips, popcorn, fruit snacks, original beef jerky, spicy beef jerky, teriyaki beef jerky, mini white powder donuts, chocolate donuts, . . . next aisle . . . Hershey’s Chocolate bar, Hershey’s Chocolate with nuts, and finally Mr. Goodbar. Mr. Goodbar remained my favorite candy bar of all time. I grabbed a king-size Mr. Goodbar from the top display in the narrow fourth aisle of the cluttered gift shop.
I walked up to the register and took my small black wallet out of my bag and paid $1.50 for the king-sized Mr. Goodbar. I grew anxious to eat the candy bar because I’d been deprived of any kind of junk food since I’d been here. Warriors in training couldn’t eat candy, chew gum or drink anything besides water or Gatorade. We were mostly provided with water, although we were able to get orange juice when we were in the defact. Yet, I wanted my favorite candy bar because I felt that I deserved it.
Before walking out of the gift shop, I slung my bag over my shoulder and pulled the candy bar half way out of the wrapper. By the time I stepped foot out of the hospital, I had eaten half the candy bar. I continued walking along down the path, enjoying the taste of every large chunk that I’d shoved into my mouth.
“At ease!” a drill sergeant shouted at top of her lungs.
A drill sergeant appeared out of nowhere. She stood tall and fierce in her starched uniform, looking at me as if I were the enemy. I instantly panicked. I knew I must have revealed a look of shock. Her voice projected in a deep and raspy tone. Every wannabe in the thirty-foot vicinity came to a halt. As I was called to stand at ease, I looked around and became aware of how many wannabes stood at ease with me. It was like in the moment they all froze before they realized she was hollering at me.
“Warrior, why you got dat in you hand? You know doggone well you ain’t ‘posed to have dat! Throw it away, now! Whose yo’ doggone company!” she demanded.
One second past as I hesitated to answer. I glance at her name on her BDU uniform that read Drill Sergeant Baker.
“Who-yo’-doggone-company!” she emphasized again; taking two and a half strides closer to me.
Drill Sergeant Baker was so close to me that I could feel moisture from her breath on my round nose. I still hesitated because I couldn’t even remember the name of my company in the heat of the moment. An overload of chocolate candy smashed against my teeth and caused me to have excess saliva. I could barely swallow. I turned to spit, but the minute I made an unauthorized move she started in on me again.
“Did I tell you to execute? Did I tell you to execute!” she yelled, psychotically.
I stood with my arms behind me and my legs shoulder width apart detained by her authority.
“Warrior! State your company!” she commanded.
“369 Alpha Company third platoon, drill sergeant.” I lied.
“Ya eat crap cause ya’ came from crap! 369 Alpha Company must be a ate up doggone company! You disgrace ya’ company, you weak punk!” she rudely informed me.
“Ya mouth is full of crap because you’re crap! Warrior, go spit out the candy! Ya got more? Throw it away! MOVE!!” she commanded.
My eyes were finally able to break from her appearance. In a rush to the trashcan, I’d turned around behind me and realized that the wannabes had already carried on about their business. There was no one left there feeling stupid, but me. I tried to chew up what was in my mouth, but—
“Stop chewing, warrior! Spit it out!” Drill Sergeant Baker commanded, as if she could see my face.
I could barely get it all down my throat. I faked spitting out the candy from my mouth and I dropped the fourth of a candy bar within its wrapper into the trashcan. I leaned into the trash to try and spit out all the nuts that meshed into my teeth, but the drill sergeant barked at me again.
“Stop chewing and hurry it up!” she loosely commanded with a vicious undertone.
“I see now, you a problem warrior,” she replied.
Drill Sergeant Baker folded her arms as I returned to face her. I repositioned myself at parade rest again while she glared at me, sucking her teeth.
“Who’s your drill sergeant?”
“Drill Sergeant Anderson, Drill Sergeant.” I lied again.
I stood there feeling dizzy in the cold Carolina weather.
“What’s ya name privah?” she asked, as she pulled out a pen and notepad.
“Where you ’posed to be?” Drill Sergeant Baker asked, without waiting for me to state my name.
I inhaled deeply because I needed the air to stay focused. I was sweating.
“Going to med quarters, drill sergeant.” I answered her in a meek tone.
“Dat’s bullcrap!” she barked.
“You ain’t sick, privah!” she shouted.
“Let me catch you ’round here ’gain, I’ma beat da doggone brakes off of you! Now get outta my face!” she commanded loudly.
I stepped both feet together and then back on my right foot. I executed a right face movement. I pulled my duffle bag up on my left shoulder and I quickly moved along toward the bus stop.
Once the bus arrived I hopped on for a ride to medical quarters. I arrived at building 184 Alpha Company. The white bus drove up to the front of the building and dropped us off there. Everyone on the bus was directed to go inside the main entrance and sign into medical quarters. Inside the building, there were more vacant white walls and medical personnel attendance to provide direction.
“Move along the wall. Sign your name and company on the roster; move left down the hall to get your linen, move further left down the hall for your vitals. Move!” Sergeant Jennings instructed.
As we moved down the line, the process remained steady. All the quiet wannabes appeared tired and sickly. To my right, there was an echoing of laughter coming from the nurse’s lunchroom. The laughter came to me as if it were an illusion. Just one scribbled signature, one stop at bedding, and one vital reading and then I’d be in sleepy heaven.
After vitals were all done, I migrated down the hall to the room where a bed was assigned to me. There were others in the room, but I didn’t want to talk to them. I took my time dressing my bed with linen before I climbed onto it. In a matter of minutes, I was out.
In the wee hours of the morning, I took a nice, hot shower. My sore throat had become a little better and my minor headache faded away. After I signed out of med quarter, I began to wait at the bus stop. When the bus arrived, I stepped onto it and it transported me back to the company, without a battle buddy. Just like that, I was back with 369 Delta Company again.