“I just can't do this anymore…” my girlfriend told me in between sobs on the phone. “This is just too much for me.” Make that ex girlfriend…
Nearly every Rat at VMI who matriculates with a girlfriend (or boyfriend) has their heart broken at some point in the 6 months that is the Ratline. It's pretty much inevitable. Your sweetheart at home can only wait so long. The infrequent contact, the changes to the mind, body and spirit, the stress and the constant reliance for support proves to be too much for many college age young women. They are growing and changing in a much different way than their Rats at VMI. This is to be expected. However, mine came at the worst possible time.
My relationship with a girl I went to high school with ended over the phone after two years. I had snuck into JM Hall (the cadet chapel) right before exam week in December of my Rat year. I was at a really low point in my life. I was getting a D in Statistics and equally struggling in Chinese, was taking all kinds of abuse from my cadre and the Rat Disciplinary Committee daily, knocking out hundreds of push-ups a day, constantly screaming knowledge at the top of my lungs, eating horrible food and coming back to a roommate who I clashed with quite a bit. There were so many times that I told myself I was going to transfer after this semester and that this wasn't worth it. My life seemed like a nightmare and I've never felt so depressed and empty in my life. At least my brass and shoes were shiny and I could march well….
So it was not a fun time in Rat Forbes’ life, but I'm not trying to make you feel sorry for me. The truth is, my experience was not unique at all. My 470 classmates can tell you the same story. Some had parents die, others were in danger of flunking out, while some were more worried about making ends meet for their family. We all suffered. Together. And it is because of them that I was able to find the inner strength to stay and finish strong. Why? In a word: Love.
Everything at VMI is a team activity, and I mean everything. You're constantly relying on one another for support in the classroom, in the Ratline, on the sports field, in military exercises and most importantly, you rely on your Brother Rat for emotional support in one way or another. If you quit, or leave the Institute, you impact so much more than just yourself. You might have been someone's support, and didn't even know it. Or maybe carrying those sandbags and logs up the hill will be a little bit tougher without you there to help. Or perhaps the cadre will put more pressure on your roommates without you there to share the heat. If you quit the team, you're hurting so much more than yourself.
So you keep going. And sometimes it isn't for yourself. It's for your Brother Rat to the left or right of you. You just put one foot in front of the other. Keep. Moving. Forward. No matter how bleak things might seem, you just keep grinding. Because it is love that holds you together. It's love that makes a 20 mile ruck march doable. It's love that allows you to laugh with your roommates after a sweat party (Google that one) and commiserate together during Hell Week. It's all love.
So back to newly single Rat Forbes… I walked back to barracks and strained (also Google) my way to my best friend's room to tell him what happened. He was able to cheer me up like any good friend would. It was that night that it really sunk in. I lost a girlfriend that night, but I had 470+ brothers at my back. And nothing is ever going to change that.
So if you take anything away from this, know that you are loved. And no matter what life throws at you, no matter how hard it may seem, you will always have people around you to catch you when you fall.
Rah Virginia Mil’. 18...