They don’t talk about the listlessness.
It’s been around two years since I “got out” of the Marine Corps, and the itch to go back lingers day in and out. But that ship sailed with the breaking of my legs.
I’m a bit of a cripple of sorts (not wheel chair crippled, bless those poor bastards’ souls), though I probably will never run again. I’ll always have a limp in my right leg. No one escapes a broken patella, which the doctor describes when reading your CT scan as “kibbles and bits,” without a daily reminder of the fun. Best thing about that was, I broke my hip on the other leg at the same time, dislocating the femur from the socket, and I never even knew the knee broke. The brain can only focus on one extreme pain at a time. After five hours of dilapidated hospital adventures, they ask is anything else wrong, and when I tell them that my knee doesn’t been anymore for whatever reason, I ring around the circus once again. But the point of that is that I’m done.
I couldn’t go back if I wanted to.
When a Marine gets out normally, they tell you you’ll never find anything better, or that you’ll be living on the streets, or that some other God forsaken nightmare will bear itself down on your war-fighter's soul. But truthfully, none of that really happens to anybody anymore. What does happen, is boredom, and a lot of friends who moved on and left you behind.
You see, I never wanted to leave. As almost all who complete their enlistment, I was at the top of my game. A sergeant who ran an aircraft electronic shop. A known name, not just another boot or shower shoe or whatever other commonality of a designation others received. I had worked hard to get there. I was proud of where I was and what I did. I loved the twelve-hour days, and the heat of the airfield. Some of you can see that in my poem and story writing here. The draining suck of intakes in the desert/island/coastal sun. It burned in me. Still does.
When my time was coming, my five years running out, I wanted to stay. I was a lifer, as they call it; one of the few who actually believed in the work and the Corps. Most don’t. Serve their time and bounce. So, when it came down that I couldn’t reenlist, I was at a loss. I was leading the way and teaching all those under my charge, but my running ability from a freak accident was the end of the road. And what came wasn’t just the Corps abandoning me, but everyone else.
They tell you when you’re in your exit seminars that transition out is difficult, especially for Marines. The screaming, fighting, and generally dark humor just doesn’t cut it in the real world. The Marine Corps is a microcosm of anger bottled up to be released in the direction of the enemy. You’re literally always on your toes, waiting for some rampaging Gunny to come mess up your day. They try to pacify you, teach you how to be a person again, not the animal. But it doesn’t leave you. Especially if you believed in it.
And then they forget to mention the listlessness.
Sure, my life is pretty good. I have most everything I could want, and the job I have is stellar. But it feels like nothing. I bled over those aircraft daily. Fought off other likewise ranks to hold the billet I did, literally and figuratively. I won my place. But then the clock said time was up, and the Corps crossed the number off its list. And one by one, every billet I had was replaced by the next hungry candidate who couldn’t best me. And I sat there in the avionics shop, hunting for even the most minor maintenance actions just to feel needed.
But now I’m here, trying to fill the void with difficult work, a degree, home maintenance, and every possible other task I can find. But it isn’t what I want to do. It doesn’t amount to the struggle that I adored living by.
When you get out, everyone tells you how they wish they were in your position, how they can’t wait to throw the uniform away. It still hangs in my closet. Size medium-long MARPAT camouflage, sergeant chevrons still affixed in position, half-inch from each side of the collar. They talk about how much weed you’ll smoke and be free to get high all the time. Haven’t touched that since my first failed go-around in college. Have little intention to, as it never agreed with me to begin with. They talk about never having to listen to the thunderous roar of the F-18 engines again. Those jets still rocket over my house, on their way to Yuma or El Centro. I want to drive that five hours to catch them. I want to bring them in and solve all their gripes. Get grimy again in the sweat and JP5 that still wafts out of my garage cabin when I take out my old military coveralls.
They tell you about the new and better life you’ll lead as a leader in a community. How you’ll always be a Marine.
But they don’t tell you about the listlessness.
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