What should I wear, she asks?
You don't have to get dressed up. Just look neat.
She's been researching and trying to garner information for over a year. Her first attempts result in a letter to me: This is to inform you your child is attempting to......we cannot ....until she is seventeen.
That is still a month away.
So we get in the car and I drive. She is questions all the way. What should I say? What do I tell them?
That you are considering and want to know the options. That's all you need to do right now.
We pull up outside the offices, set in the corner of an older, gold stuccoed, strip mall. The windows tinted black with a different insignia on each door. Doors. Choices.
The story of The Lady or the Tiger comes to mind.
We sit in the parking lot with the summer heat already creeping around us at ten thirty in the morning. She stares at the windows. "In a minute", she says. "Not yet".
We sit. A couple of young men walk up and we watch to see which door they will approach. . One, small and wiry, short dreadlocks, wife beater T, drooping shorts and drooping posture, skulks on. His friend, with short hair, dressed casually but neatly in t shirt and jeans, reaches for the door on the right. A tall figure comes out the door on the left and we silently stalk him as he stands on the sidewalk for a quick smoke. "When he goes in" she says.
He goes in. Let's go, I say, "it's hot and I have stuff to do. They'll probably just give you some information." You aren't old enough to do anything yet so there's nothing to be nervous about, says mom,with my stomach sinking. She sits, very still, then suddenly bangs her head on the dashboard twice. She grabs the door handle. She says, "Let's go."
We cross the short distance, I'm smiling and chatting like we're relaxed. It's all bravado. I'm so uncertain. What am I doing? I don't know if I'm doing the right thing or not.
I reach for the handle and we enter the door on the left.
Inside it's cramped and cool. The same tall young man greets us, "Hello, can we help you?"
I wanted to get some information, she stutters, for after I graduate next year.
Certainly, I'll be with you in a moment, have a seat. I glance at the black leather love seat covered in toy cars from a basket nearby. He swoops down and gathers the them. Thomas the Tank Engine catches my eye just before the hand sweeps him up and away. She loved him when she was little.
I smile at her, "look it's Thomas", and sit down awkwardly. Don't cry, I think. She stands. Stiff. Her arms crossed, her face inscrutable. And waits. A small child wanders the office while his mother chats with another young woman at her desk. I'm afraid to make eye contact with anyone. I think, "he said to sit, she's not following directions." "You should sit down," I begin to tell her, but then he is back. Shaking hands, introducing himself, asking her age.
I'll be seventeen in a few weeks, she answers. Her school? Hey, I was just assigned there he grins! I'll be starting this year. How do you like it? It's alright, she answers, uncertain. He leads her to a small desk against the wall and turns to face us. I hang back until he says, you come over too mom, pulling up another black metal chair. We sit facing him with our backs to the room which is a relief. I don't know where to look. The cold edge of the metal chair is an anchor I cling to. I don't know what to do with my hands. He asks questions. When she will graduate? What does she want to do? What are her interests? Why? Why is she here? She sits up straight and rigid on the edge of her chair, a posture I never see her use. In response to a question, words come out of her mouth,
I blink. Seriously? Who are you? I wonder to myself.
They latch on to her Brazilian jiu jitsu training, as I knew they would, bringing up their extensive martial arts program. She tells them being an instructor would be her ultimate goal but we all know she would be used where they say she is needed most. She asks which path would be most likely to take her in that direction. He can't discuss that in detail, just yet, but lets her know everyone is trained in martial arts. She may have a chance someday at this dream job. He finds out she is writer. We are both a little taken aback when he begins to recite Robert Frost. A piece of The Road Less Traveled. She could have finished it for him. She's too shy to presume to.
I listen and watch. With certain answers I see him sit up, a touch more alert. I know she is hitting it right. I know, because I have read and researched along with her. And I know they aren't just words. She is not saying what they want to hear. She is saying what is in her heart.
I tell myself, Don't Cry.
To my surprise they send her into another room for a reading and math test. A preview of what would be on the real test. I thought maybe they would give her some pamphlets. Tell her they would see her at school and would talk some more over the coming year.
I watch her walk away, she is nervous. She wasn't expecting this either.
The young mother has collected her child and left. I realize she was there casually. She knows them. She is one of them. I'm not sure what to do with myself. I feel disheveled and messy with my loose pony tail and crumpled linen jacket. I feel like I've come for a job interview unprepared. I ask if I should go back to the couch. Oh no, he says, you can stay there.
He begins to ask me questions about why I think she wants this and how we feel about it. I tell him we are hoping she will attempt the scholarship and go that route. He explains that she can also go that route at a later date with a recommendation or even just have tuition paid for whatever career she pursues. I tell him I stand behind her and her decision. I explain that her Dad is very upset and worried and that I am worried too. My pride is immeasurable but all it takes is to turn on a tv to set the fear in motion.
Don't cry, I think.
But I am honest. I tell them she is very physical. That she enjoys being challenged and reaching a goal that she has to really work hard for. That she is disciplined and focused when she has a goal. I tell them about how long she has been researching and what is important to her. Her values. The tiny young woman sitting at the other desk is listening intently. She asks questions too. She tells me,
"I think the writings on the wall, Mama."
I say, "I know." I think, don't cry.
This young woman is small, with a round face sprinkled with pale freckles, her hair haphazardly pulled back in a ponytail. She seems benign. Calm. Down to earth and casual she feels like home compared the the starched and polished young man. She seems very self assure. She tells me about herself. What she wanted. How she came there. Why she did.
I know this.
When she gets up to leave I notice the slogan on her t-shirt, Pain Is Weakness Leaving the Body.
When the test is over he checks her score and returns to announce that she blew it out of the water and it was about 45 points higher than the average. He is more alert than ever.
He hands her a stack of plastic cards with writing on them. Some things, he says, some estimable people have stated were what they gained from being a part of this. Which, he asks her, best represent what you are looking for?
I read the cards as she shuffles through them and feel a little confused as she discards:
He stares for a moment silently at the cards she laid out:
My heart swells. I bite my lip. Don't Cry!
His eyes are more alert than ever as he points out the purpose of this exercise.
These things are Tangibles: Physical fitness, Technical skills, Financial security, advancement, and benefits, Educational opportunities, Travel and adventure.
They are things that you can accomplish through myriad avenues in life.
These things are Intangibles: Challenge, Pride of Belonging; Leadership and Management Skills;
Self direction, self reliance, self discipline; Courage, poise, self confidence; Professional Development and opportunities.
She laid down no Tangibles. She left one Intangible out: Professional Development and opportunities. One that can certainly be done in the regular workforce.
The other Intangibles can also be accomplished with many avenues in life but she isn't concerned with education and training for a job or career. She wants to fulfill these things for herself in the way she feels irresistibly called to do them.
She just wants to be a Marine.
By the time we leave she is ready to come back in six weeks and sign on the line for the moment she graduates. His face falls ever so slightly when I explain that we won't be allowing her to sign anything while she is still seventeen. It will be a year before this final decision is made. I would prefer she wait another year beyond that. I still don't know if I'm doing the right thing. I should support my daughter. I do. I also feel like Abraham offering her as a sacrifice.
On the way home we discuss once again what has been gone over dozens of times before. The fact that nothing is guaranteed. Not that you will ever be a martial arts trainer. Not that you won't be a paper pusher counting supplies. You do what they want. Not what you want. She says she knows she will probably get screwed over. She says she should just get a T Shirt that says, I'm about to be screwed over, and then she laughs. Horrible things can happen. I know that, she says. And she does know. And just like being screwed over she doesn't care.
When we get home the NROTC scholarship brochure she sent for has arrived in the mail along with a letter telling her, not that she was too young to get information, but that they were preparing the packet to send her when she turned seventeen. I would prefer this. She wants to do it the hard way.
I don't know how to describe the feeling this creates inside me. Inexhaustible Pride. Absolute Terror. They are intertwined and deeply rooted in my heart. My tears are always just at the rim of my eye only dammed by the depth of her desire.
She just wants to be a Marine.
Pride and Fear ask me..."What's that I see in your eye?"
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