I sometimes hate myself for what my spontaneity gets me into, it's always "act now, think later" with many of my decisions. I always dreamt of college as a kid but being an immigrant, my parents can't afford to send my two siblings and me to college. One day in my senior year, a Latina Marine Corps recruiter came to visit my school. Having the realization that "she was just like me" gave me hope for a brighter future, to have a chance to have a career—a real job. After a few meetings with the recruiter, I took it upon myself to take the oath with little discussion about it with my parents. Not only is it the challenge that I'd enjoy, but the post-service benefits which included paying my school tuition. I mean why not sacrifice just four years of my life to not be in debt for the rest of my life. In my eyes, this is the best choice I can make. This is my first "adult" decision and my life as I knew it, would never be the same again.
Its November 27th, 2011, other young adults and I make our way down to Parris Island, South Carolina via plane where we will be transformed from kids into United States Marines. This isn't as glamorous or heroic as it sounds, and no amount of Hollywood military flicks can possibly prepare anyone for this experience. Upon arriving at Parris Island, we are greeted by a Marine wearing his impeccable uniform, his infamous green smokey bear hat, and a big stack of ribbons on his chest which I have no idea what they mean. "Maybe it's the number of people he's killed," I thought to myself. He begins to yell at us in a croaky and menacing voice, "LISTEN HERE RECRUITS! YOU'RE GONNA FLY OFF MY BUS AND SPRINT TO THOSE YELLOW FOOTPRINTS. GOOD TO GO? READY? GO! 20, 19, 18, 17…." For that moment in time, as he was counting down supernaturally fast, my body went into full survival mode, while in my mind I was combatting with anxiety. "What the heck did I just get myself into? Is it too late to back out? I want to quit, but I can't. I definitely can't go back home without finishing this, I'm going to be disowned for sure if I don't finish. I can do this. I AM NOT A QUITTER!" I don't know how but I managed to teleport from my seat on the bus to the famous yellow footprints, yes, I felt like my feet moved that fast. The crisp night air is different here than back home, you can feel the despair in the atmosphere of the thousands of recruits on the island. Standing in a large group outside under a peaceful night sky, inches apart from the person next to me, I can't help but to feel alone and afraid. We're ordered to proceed inside the receiving building where the smell of industrial pine sol slaps each person in the face as you enter. I did not sleep that night—not because I couldn't but because I wasn't allowed to. In the middle of the night, we're handed our uniform and boots that we were going to wear during our time here. Being forced to wear them, makes me realize that this is actually happening—this is not a bad dream.
The following day we are walked in a group by a female drill instructor from the receiving building, to our new squad bay (a.k.a. our new house.) The squad bay is a large room with bright fluorescent lighting that has about thirty bunk beds on the left and right sides of the room with two big black wooden boxes at the foot of each bunk bed for our personal storage. We all line up at each bed alphabetically and stood there emotionless waiting for their next set of orders. Next thing I know, we are stripping off our old way of life, literally. We begin to strip down naked as they tell us, step-by-step. First, it's our shirt, then our pants, then our socks, we stood there in bras and underwear, and finally, we took those off too. Standing barefoot on the cold concrete ground, all of us, 60-something girls are completely naked and vulnerable. We weren't allowed to look around, but our eyeballs grazed from left to right, up and down looking at everyone's bodies. Under this unforgiving lighting, our life stories were visible to everyone, from old scars, tattoos, and physical insecurities. Big boobs, little boobs, innie belly buttons, outies, some hairy, some not, some big feet, some ugly feet. Each one of us is inspected by the drill instructors to make sure all scars and tattoos were accounted for, and then we went to shower. Yes -- shower-- we went in two batches, 30-something adult women in a shower together. The shower was a 10-by-10-foot white subway tiled room with two tower shower heads and that pesky fluorescent lighting. I had never accidentally elbowed so many boobs in my life. This is just day one of breaking down our mental barriers...out of 70 training days. Yep. I had 69 more to go.