by ML Murray
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Before me stood my mother and brother. “What are you doing here?”
“Is that how you greet your mother?”
“No PDA in uniform.” I tapped my uniformed chest. She ignored everything and wrapped her arms around me.
“I’m your mother and the Army can’t stop me from hugging my daughter.” She announced in her characteristically loud voice that boomed across the courtyard. She always did make a spectacle of herself.
“What are you doing here?” I felt her stiffen at the forceful tone in my voice as I drew away from her.
She wrapped an arm around my 13-year-old brothers’ shoulders. “We got no place to live.”
“What?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “What happened to that money I sent you?”
“I used it to come here.” She smiled, clearly pleased with her decision.
“That was for your back rent mom!” My anger flared. “I live in the barracks. I’m in school. What. Are. You. Doing. Here?” I demanded.
“Your brother and I need a place to live.” She flashed a Machiavellian smile. “I already talked to your sergeant.”
This can’t be happening. Darkness clouded my vision. My chest became tight. My breathing, erratic, as it fought against the violent beating of my heart. My knees threatened to give way to the fear growing within.
I joined the Army to get away from my mother. The manipulative bitch knew I wouldn’t help her, so she enlisted my brother into her scheme. She meant to weaken my resolve. As always, I had to be the fucking adult.
I traded the comforts of an air-conditioned barracks room for a single-wide trailer lacking any shade from the burning sun. I was fully supporting my mother and brother on an E-2’s salary with less than a year in service. I had just recently turned 18.
The air conditioning went out. The landlord wouldn’t fix it. I should have been living in the cooled barracks with three meals a day. Instead, I was forced to accept the charity of my unit. Each week they brought food to supplement the separate rations pay that barely covered food for one.
My drill instructor felt bad for me and wanted to help. He made special arrangements to promote me to E-3 early. A promotion that should have filled me with pride only filled me with shame. It wasn’t earned. It was given out of pity. But I loved my brother and I didn’t want him to suffer. Instead, I suffered and baked under Georgia’s raging summer sun.
I dropped out after 8th grade. Instead, I worked. The army helped me discover a love of science I hadn’t known I possessed. I loved being in avionics school and learning about radar repair and electronics. I was 6 months into a 12-month course and had been tapped to attend a special qualifier school for another 6 months after graduation.
I couldn’t kick my mom out. But I needed to find a way out of this mess. Joining the army was supposed to be my out and she found a way to fucking ruin that too. I had to get out of Georgia and go somewhere she couldn’t.
Three months later, I purposely began failing exams. Failed to complete homework assignments. This led to being called into the Master Sergeants office. A lot of yelling ensued. He bellowed about the great opportunity I was throwing away followed by insults and more yelling.
I didn’t care. I was being re-assigned to somewhere. Now I could tell my mom she had to go because it wasn’t my fault…it was the army’s.
Helping my mother always demanded a high price. I don’t have many life regrets because mistakes are borne of ignorance or not appreciating the impact your choices could have on others. They are something one can learn and grow from.
I regret failing out of avionics school. But knowing that doesn’t change the fact that at 18, I didn’t have the courage to stand up to my mother and say no. If I could relive that moment, I don’t see how I could have made any other choice knowing who I was then. The experience however taught me a few things. I never helped my mother again. I’ve never had a guest room in my home. And never again have I allowed anyone stop me from learning.