I have no clue what compelled me to approach the man dressed in a beige dress shirt and a pair of blue pants with a red line running vertically on the sides. It was as if some higher consciousness had complete control of my body and programmed me to the direction of the well-groomed stranger. After all, it wasn’t like I did not have a plan with my life. I had less than six months left to finish my associate in arts and I had already applied to various universities outside of the state of Florida. I was going places.
September 7, 1998 was the last night for the first time in my 21 years of existence that I would not be sharing a bed with some family member. I tried to get as much rest as possible, because I had no idea what would be awaiting me, but my mother’s sobbing cries that filled the 800 square foot 2-bedroom apartment I shared with my 4 siblings and step-father made it pretty challenging.
When the recruiter knocked at the door in the very early morning, I gathered all of the belongings I would be bringing with me – an ID card, some money my late grandmother gave me to ensure I ate, and my glasses. I slowly proceeded to hug all of my siblings. I remember hugging them with both fear and confidence. It would be at least three months before I would see them again, and despite the fact I was considered to be of legal age, I felt like a small girl lost in a public setting searching high and low for my family. I questioned whether leaving my family was the right decision. I mean, the norm for women in my Latin American culture is to leave the nest only if you’ve gotten married. And even when you do leave the nest, it’s not supposed to be too far – you move away a block, or close to your in-laws. But here I was, defying my cultural norms and wondering if my family and friends were right about my decision to join the United States Marine Corps – that I would regret it.
The three months I spent in Parris Island, SC were life-changing. It wasn’t that it was challenging because of all the physical demands. On the contrary, the physical demands were simple compared to the mental transformation. It was no longer about me. It was about conforming to the core values of the Marine Corps – Honor, Courage, Committment. I was no longer defined by my socioeconomic status, my nationality, or my intellectual abilities. My true worth was measured in the way I followed orders from my superiors, followed through with the mission at hand, and my fidelity to my country. In fact, I was to go as far as giving up my life for it, the highest form of honoring your fellow Marines and Country.
At Parris Island, I didn’t just get to run, wear combat boots, shoot rifles, rappel off a tower, enter a gas chamber and inhale CS gas, go on ten-mile hikes in the middle of the night with an extra 80 pounds, jump off a diving board and swim in full military gear, learn hand-to-hand combat, and conquer the confidence course; I also got to go on my first dental visit (and had all four of my wisdom teeth removed at the same time with only a local anesthetic – ooooucch), and visit the gynecologist – I know, I know, too much information, but they help perpetuate the circle of life. Furthermore, I got to meet women from all parts of the nation with different accents – women from Massachusetts to Texas-and life experiences – recent high school graduates, to single mothers.
At the time in which those three months were happening, I yearned for each day to pass with the speed of lightning; however, now I look back at that time in boot camp with fondness. It was the start of a new path that would bring so many blessings to my life. Blessings I would have never known had I not stepped outside my comfort zone and faced the fear of the unknown. And that decision serves as a constant reminder in my everyday life of what lies behind the door when I am feeling terrified to open. It was indeed, the best decision I ever made, and it answered the question I had when I hugged my family good-bye. No regrets.
Have you ever had to make a decision you were so terrified to make because you were unsure what the outcome would be like?