[Originally posted to my blog ‘Point of Tears’ on May 9, 2005.]
For almost seven years, the United States Marine Corps was my job and my life. It also held a large part of my heart. You see, when you are cut away from family, friends and the life you know; social survival requires you to take friends, family and life from those around you. These people, while you live the life of a Marine, are by default other Marines.
Other Marines share common experiences. Your backgrounds may vary, but the intense commonality of boot camp creates a bond that is normally very strong. The psychology of being a Marine, that breaking and building that the drill instructor does in boot camp, make the blood that flows through every Marine the same. That blood can sometimes become thicker than the blood between families.
Now, as a person becomes integrated into the Corps, the “civilian” world becomes an alien place for many Marines. For younger Marines it is like a siren’s call, luring them to wreak havoc on a society that does not really understand them. As you grow older as a Marine though, the “civilian” world loses that pull, and eventually it becomes a place you reluctantly venture.
But there comes a day when every Marine must become a “civilian” again.
My day came more than eight years ago. It was a cold, stark day in January, and I received my orders to detach with a sound of silent despair. It sounded like a death toll to my ears, only for some reason no one else heard it.
Unfortunately there was nothing I could do. So I packed up my house and put it in one truck and my car. I said goodbye to my friends. I got my little “you’ve been great” award every Marine seems to get when they leave a unit. And then I left.
On the day I drove away from the base for the last time, I cried for 500 miles. I had just lost the single most important thing in my life next to my child – my identity. I went from Sergeant Leonard to Cherie. In my years as a Marine, I had forgotten who that was.
Lost, sad and alone I ventured out into the “civilian” world. Bereft of any titles, with only my name to identify me, I had no idea what to do. I didn’t know how to talk, or how to interact with civilians.
Think of it sort of as if you were to go to a part of the world where the dialect is slightly different. Although you’re speaking the same language, you just don’t quite understand what they are saying, or why they are doing certain things.
I didn’t understand the lingo, the rituals, or the hierarchy. At every turn I felt I had made another mistake. I became even more lost, and afraid I would never understand. Time heals all wounds though, and slowly but surely I began to understand.
Eight long years later I can say with some certainty that I have become a “civilian.” But to tell you the truth, in my heart of hearts I am, and will always be, a Marine.