Growing up, he never had many friends. His peers were destined to become drug addicts, and he never fit in with that crowd. He was always fighting with his siblings. He was the youngest, and always felt he had to try harder to get the same kind of attention and friendship. His parents tried, but they couldn’t fill the gaping hole that was growing inside of him.
He was walking home from the bus stop one day when a bunch of kids his age decided to try and jump him. He was on the ground, being kicked repeatedly, when his older brother jumped the curb in his car and nearly hit two of the kids beating him. His brother proceeded to pummel the ones that didn’t take off.
For the first time in his life, he knew he was cared about. Family just had a funny way of showing it.
He spoke to his brother later that night, and was told curtly, “Get lost.”
He didn’t mind as much, anymore. He felt like he belonged. The emptiness inside started to shrink away.
He was in high school, and he had just moved to a new town. Nobody knew him. He had a chance to reinvent himself, to be popular, to be liked. He tried for a while, but the hole inside had started growing again. His siblings were graduated, moving on with their lives, and he was all alone starting over.
He played sports. His teammates partook in good-natured ribbing, and he felt like he belonged again.
Something changed, but he wasn’t sure what. He became more withdrawn, and his popularity as “the new kid” faded. He got into fights. His grades slipped. He was suspended. He almost got expelled.
It was his junior year, and he was walking home from work. A couple guys he went to school with started giving him shit as he passed them on the street. He tensed up, ready for another fight. He was still playing sports, but he wasn’t any kind of all-star. He was just there to fill the hours.
As the two guys drew near, ready to fight him for some reason unknown to him, he heard squealing brakes, and then an engine roaring into reverse. One of his teammates was in the car with his brothers. All four of them.
They piled out of the car and stood at his sides, facing down the two goons. The other guys ran.
His teammates’ family adopted him as one of their own. Dominicans don’t do anything in half-measures. If you’re a friend, you’re family, and that was that.
The hole inside started to shrink again.
He spent a lot of time outside of work, school, and sports at their house. He went to parties.
He learned to drink. He learned to dance. He learned to fuck. He remembered what family was like.
He was about to graduate. He never went to prom, never went to a Homecoming dance, never went to social functions where there were a bunch of people from school. He was comfortable with having his small circle of friends. He felt like he belonged, and he did… but there was still something missing.
Graduation came and went. He had 10 days to get his affairs in order, because he had enlisted in the Marine Corps. Just like his brother.
Boot camp was hell, at first. Everyone was the new guy, and despite the efforts of Drill Instructors to promote a sense of camaraderie, cliques still formed. He was on the outside of all of them. He had no friends in a very hostile environment. He kept his shit together, and graduated, earning the title of Marine.
But the hole inside was still there, surrounded by anger at his treatment.
He went to the Infantry Training Battalion, and he found out on the first day that all of his instructors had deployed with his brother. He was held to a higher standard, and he wasn’t allowed to forget it, as the instructors screamed it at him at least once a day.
He graduated ITB, and he was going to his brother’s unit… except he wasn’t. His orders changed the day before he was to go, and he went to a different unit altogether.
He was stuck standing gear watch outside the barracks while everyone else was checking in.
He was about to eat lunch, when he heard a faraway voice shout, “Is that box chow? Fuck, I haven’t had one of those in a long fucking time. HEY, BOOT! I’LL GIVE YOU TEN BUCKS FOR YOUR BOX CHOW!”
He didn’t get his ten bucks.
He was in the worst possible place to be. Hell on earth. Dante’s Inferno had nothing on this shit. He was a boot in the Marine Corps Infantry, during a time of war.
He kept to himself, and he studied his training manuals, his notes, and he did his best to avoid any attention.
He was walking back to his barracks from the 7-Day when he was surrounded by a bunch of lance corporals smelling of booze. He was 400 meters from his room, but he knew he was going to get his ass kicked.
He was in the middle of his 50th pushup or so, when he heard someone shouting his name. “Hey, dumbfuck! Get the fuck up and get over here!” He looked up and saw his squad leader standing on the second deck catwalk with a beer bottle in hand, and he started getting up to go.
He didn’t realize he was back on the ground until the pain in his side registered. He was being kicked again, repeatedly. He heard shouting, but couldn’t make sense of it.
He had had enough. The kicks stopped raining down, and he got up as quickly as he could.
His squad leader was a lance corporal, but he was a third award. He had been around the block a few times. He was beating the shit out of the one that had kicked him first, but the other guys surrounded him and started to hit him in the back, snagging his limbs and trying to take him down.
He jumped in to back up his squad leader. That’s what family does.
He was sitting in his squad leader’s room, using a cold beer can to ice down his busted lip. He was being congratulated by the other seniors in his platoon. It was a close call at first, but someone else in the barracks had noticed, and let their guys know. They flooded outside and jumped in, stomping motherfuckers out.
The hole inside wasn’t shrinking, it was filling up.
His wellbeing depended on these men, and he had proven he’d have their backs if it came down to it.
Hell on earth wasn’t hell on earth anymore. He was still punished when he fucked up, still expected to know his place as a boot, but he had found a sense of belonging, so he took everything with a grain of salt.
He “deployed”, constantly being loaned out to other units for their crap. 4 times, 3 months each. He didn’t do shit but MCIs and online college courses, with the occasional hip pocket class thrown in. He was still a boot, but he’d been around for a while, so he was accepted as one of the guys.
He’d just finished up another school. He got back to his unit, and found out that he was going to deploy to Afghanistan. The workup sucked.
He was on his third month in. Firefights were a regular thing, and he had been blown up a few times. He was on post-blast recovery on Leatherneck when he got word that his best friend had been schwacked. He cried.
Another friend was hurt badly, both legs gone, but he was still kicking. He went to the Blue Side hospital to see him, and sat with him for hours before he had to go.
He watched through his glass as the third round disappeared into the spiderhole. No more shots were fired. They moved on the compound, found the blood drying on the mudhut’s walls, and followed the drag marks to another compound. One hard knock later, and they found the remains of the guy that had been trying to pick off his buddies.
He spat on the corpse.
He was five days out from EAS, and he had dropped his pack.
He was saying goodbye to all his friends. He went home to his wife.
She cheated. He left.
He was losing himself in the drink, day after day. The VA gave him 100%, but he would trade it to be back with his friends in a heartbeat.
He spiralled down, down, down, into the hole that had once been full.
He missed his buddies. They knew him best, and he didn’t have to mince words with them. Bluntness was the order of the day, around them.
He got a job that preferred veterans, and it seemed like a patch on what he missed, but he couldn’t get out of this funk he was in.
He started surfing Facebook on one of his many sleepless nights, and he looked up his buddies. Many of them were just four hours away. He reached out to them.
He was in a bar, surrounded by the guys he’d deployed with, and he felt like he was at home.
The night grew long, and as the drinks flowed, the bluntness that they had all had to repress for their civilian lives started to rear its head.
Several of his friends told him how close they were to eating a bullet. He was quiet, for a minute, and then told everyone that they were going to meet up like this at least once every 2-3 months. They all agreed.
He was with them again, and they were all crying. On the headstone was the name of the guy that had missed the last meetup.
His heart was broken, but he was determined to not lose any more friends if he could help it. They were his family, and nothing could change that.
You may be in a bad way. You may be enjoying life. You may be rich, poor, or just straight in the middle.
Remember the people you deployed with. Call your buddies.
Even something as simple as a phone call could save a life.