To say that Army life contrasts with civilian life doesn’t capture the vast difference between them. Basic training was as shock to the system even for me. We were yelled at and threatened. My hair was shaved off along with my mustache and it was a new me that looked back at me through the mirror. We were prodded thru like cattle through different stations as we were issued standard Army gear, uniform, boots, steel pot, canteen, etc. We received equipment including a ruck sack that included even a blanket, a shovel, wet weather gear. At this point in the journey I tried to stay low and just try to not get yelled at. We were dropping to do push ups for any offense that the drill sergeant deemed. My home in Los Angeles might have been on the moon at this point because I felt so far away from my family and my former life.
We were issued a small new testament version of the bible. I read it mostly every night where I prayed that I “would be delivered from the valley of death”. A sense of camaraderie was starting to develop among my platoon and the other recruits in the barracks. Real basic training hadn’t even started at this point unbeknownst to me.
The standard issue of equipment was done at a large scale and now we were broken down to smaller units. We were stuffed in cattle cars with all our new gear and brought into another part of Fort Knox. Another town if you would. It was here that basic training started.
The human tendency to ruminate on the past without consideration for the future. A bad joke played on us because all we have in the end is the now. The past doesn’t define you and at times it feels like you’re a prisoner to it, but it’s gone never to return.
When I got to Fort Knox, KY in the winter of ’88 I was full of wonder and excited for my future. I had enlisted in the United States Army. I was 18 years old and had joined the Army on a whim. You know those advertisements that the Army would send in the mail? The ones saying “We do more before 5am, than most people do all day”? yeah, that’s the one. Don’t ask me what I thought was so appealing about being up at 5am. I guess I wanted to belong to something & maybe learn some sort of skill on the way. I didn’t score very high on the Army aptitude test. There was no one to tell me that I should study. I just went in and took it.
When I got to Fort Knox it was late at night and it was cold and windy. I had a thin wind breaker on and I was cold as shit. What was I thinking coming from Los Angeles on a Greyhound bus across the country and didn’t even have a proper jacket. This would be the first lesson of many. Always be prepared and have with you what you will need. We didn’t sleep that night as they prodded us into WWII barracks, I was scared. I knew no one there, but I knew that I would be ok. I was waiting for the fun to start.
I’ve always liked books. The first books that I read with frequency were Dick & Jane, Encyclopedia Brown, and the Holy Bible. When I was young my parents would visit garage sales quite often. I found out early on that I could get my hands on some very good books. Some of the books probably didn’t have a kid of my age in mind as a reader.
What I’m trying to stress is that reading allowed me to enter worlds and experience events like I’d never experienced them before. I especially liked horror and the feeling of being scared. My father hated the genre and my mother loved it.
One of the books I picked up in a garage sale was The Demonologist a book about Ed & Lorraine Warren. I remember reading this book from cover to cover in 1 day. I couldn’t sleep all night because of the stories I read in there. I was terrified and looking back at it now I think it’s funny.
I was transported by the books that I read and I learned about other worlds, sometimes they were fantasy and other times they weren’t.
I went to live with my aunt in Queens, New York to finish out my senior year in high school. A hot New York summer was coming to an end as I made my way out of the plane at Kennedy airport. I called my aunt on the phone first speaking with my cousin Mario. “Is your mom home” I asked. My aunt and her husband Mario arrived to pick me up. I remember driving through the streets and the NY neighborhoods so strange and new to me.
I slept that first night in NY and in my dreams, my mother came to me. I felt her and could smell her…and her voice. She called out to me and I was happy. Life was good. I woke up then in a strange bed and a strange house. Wait I heard my mother call me downstairs and I knew it couldn’t really be her. For a millisecond I remembered what she sounded like because I heard her voice once again. It hit me then like a punch to the head, it was my aunt, she sounded exactly like my mom. I never noticed until then that their voices were identical and for a moment I paused.
The summer after my mother died was a solemn event. My grandmother Hortensia came to live with us for a few months. I didn’t really know her but I grew to like her although she had some funny ideas like you shouldn’t eat the seeds inside tomatoes. These were bad for your stomach. I also remembered that she used to talk a lot. As our life came to an end here in Sun Valley there were many things that we needed to do.
We sold the house that I had lived in since I was 9 years old. I remember sitting in what used to be my sister’s room, it was empty and all the furniture had been cleared out. It was empty and hollow and felt like my soul.
My mother’s death brought with it many changes. I was 16 years old. I was left with my father and my sister. My relationship with my dad was difficult. It wasn’t very good. I went to live with my aunt in New York to finish my senior year. This was very hard for me because I had to leave all my friends some of which I knew from back in elementary school. During this time I still believed in some form of religion although I wasn’t a regular church goer. I remember that my cousin was an altar boy and at the time he was no angel, it was ironic.
Some people believe that there is no good nor evil. Relativism seems to be the popular. I understand that there can be evil, but that the line between evil and good is bleary. There’s a lot of gray. When I was a child I believed in monsters. There was most certainly a devil who would devour me lest I pay proper homage to God.
I was very aware of fear. Fear would rule my childhood for many years. Sometimes fear is indistinguishable for what you don’t understand. Fear would be the beginning of phobias. When I was 16 what I would consider the greatest of all fears for a child became living truth for me.
My mother died.