I remember when I was 15 and I wanted to see the whole picture. The whole thing, all at once. Why are we here? What are we doing? Where are we going? Who will I become?
I wanted to be a physical therapist or an athletic trainer or something that used my hands. I thought I’d go to Slippery Rock and join the crew team. I wanted to show my strength and be a person someone could rely on in high pressure situations.
I still can’t remember why I chose to join the Army. I was fearless then. Or maybe I didn’t care much about myself. I know a lot of it had to do with me wanting dog tags, but the rest is really a mystery. I was in the final picks for the Governor’s School for the Arts, which was a high honor, but I was afraid that going there would test me in ways I wasn’t comfortable with. I was good with shading but really no other form of art, so why would I waste their time? Maybe I would have then chosen art school after and become an interior designer.
Instead I chose the Army and with it the unknown of what I’d be asked to do.
When I was 16, I went through a horrible phase, as most 16 year olds do, where I was confused and frustrated and couldn’t see beyond the next day. Again, I wanted to see the whole picture, but at the same time, I didn’t want much to be seen. I knew that if I just flew under the radar, I could get by.
A year later, things proved to be the same since the last thing you ever want in Basic is to be seen. You want to keep your nose down and do your work. Which worked out well, since, let’s face it, the majority of the time was spent with my nose to the ground. Literally.
In yoga today we did a pushup series twice, once in sun salutations and again in back work. One of the members said, “Wow, I remember when I could do all that on my toes.” I thought to myself, well I can do it on my toes, but my wrists don’t like it much.
I think that is from the Army. I remember when we had to do pushups on the drill sergeant’s time. Down. Wait. Wait. Wait. Up. Down. Wait. Wait. Wait. Up. I prided myself on the fact that I could. I could hold low. I could push up. I could do what they told me to do. I could do it all, because as long as I did, I could be unseen.
I had a best friend there. His name was Brown. I still get sad when I think about him. We pulled each other through some of the worst shit you could imagine. For example, one time Drill Sergeant decided to play a game with me and dropped an open canister of tear gas in my fox hole while in the field. Brown, who was the platoon leader at the time, knew it was coming so he warned me right before it was dropped, and I had my gas mask on in time with little damage. D.S. was impressed enough and left me alone the rest of the three days out in the field. When I had to do my final ruck march, Brown knew my hip was busted up good, so he kept walking back to me to tell me how much further we had, even though no one else knew. He’d say, “Keep going, Reed. Only another three miles.”
When we graduated, we exchanged numbers and we promised to keep in touch.
I remember the next time I saw him, he pulled up to the gas station off I-80 in his pickup truck and stood there waiting for me to get out of my red Ford Ranger. I ran to him and we hugged for what felt like forever. We had a friendship that was built on trust and camaraderie. There’s really no other way to describe it. When you go through what we did, if you get along, you hang on to that.
He had a girlfriend, I had a boyfriend. We were friends and I never thought anything more of it.
We kept in contact via phone and email for the next year. We would talk about everything. His girlfriend had long since left him and my boyfriend and I were on the outs. We jokingly talked about him moving to Pittsburgh because that’s where his best friend was after all. When he was deployed to Iraq, I would get random phone calls at 4 am from him telling me he was safe, that he missed me, and to wait for him.
Somehow things got lost in translation and I never caught on to the fact that he thought of me more than just a friend, and when he came home from Iraq, I was living with Matt. I guess I never really grasped on to the concept of “wait for me.” We had never had a romantic relationship, so while I truly could have seen myself falling in love with him, I wasn’t there when he was.
I haven’t seen or talked to him since. He was hurt, and I can’t blame him, and that’s where our friendship stopped.
I miss my friend.
In this day of technology and Facebook and Twitter, you’d think it’s easy to find someone. But, I don’t even know where to start. He has a generic name followed by the fact that he was deployed twice and I don’t even know where he’d live now. I don’t know where to begin.
Last week I had a dream about Basic. It was a memory. In the middle of the ruck march where it became twilight, we came to an open field to our left and woods to our right and the sky was lit with a million stars. We took a water break there. Everyone was looking at it. Just staring. Brown came up to me and, while we weren’t permitted to talk, we just smiled because how could you not at that sight? We had been through hell and back for almost 10 weeks. When I dislocated my thumb, he put it back in. When he tripped on a run, I helped him up. When D.S. cut off six inches of my hair because of a violation, he told me it didn’t look that bad. When we battled in pugil sticks, he didn’t go easy on me. In fact, he busted my lip open pretty good. We were there for each other.
Part of me fears that where we have been and where we are now are so different that perhaps it’s best to remain unseen. I don’t know if he’d be proud of the Reed I am today. I wonder if I am the way I said I’d be.
Jacob Brown, of Basic Training, Alpha 2-10, 4th Platoon Renegades, Ft. Leonard Wood, MO: I really miss my friend.