And In The Beginning, There Were No Judgments

The act of writing is deeply personal. The words flow from the writer’s head, placed on paper or typed on a screen, only to be held close to the writer’s heart for fear of societal judgment of their most personal thoughts. If a reader studies the works of an author, they can see into the writer’s soul, exposing good and bad. And typically, writers don’t want to be judged; they wish to create or share, to teach others or heal themselves.

The author of A Million Little Pieces wrote about his personal experiences in a riveting book, only to be crucified when it was discovered that some of the stories were expanded beyond his experiences into a fictional realm. So a writer must take care to hold themselves close in their writing. Don’t expose much, don’t expand the stories to seem likable, don’t reveal the multifaceted factors of a person’s character that cause the person to go from a likable character to a relatable character. People are drawn to Melanie Hamilton and appalled with Scarlett O’Hara because identifying with Scarlett forces the reader to identify characteristics of their own that are unlikable.

In writing about personal experiences, a writer will water down the relatable characteristics to seem more likable, to escape persecution of their wrong doings. But what if an autobiographical author told the truth? Could a reader grow to like the unlikable character and accept that everyone, including themselves, is completely flawed? Or will they close the book and judge the writer as they ready themselves to commit their own flawed acts?

The Dinner Party

Luigi gently closed the door behind him until he heard the click of the latch. He removed a single key from his pocket and locked the door. Stepping gingerly down the stairs and away from the stoop of the red bricked colonial, he placed the key back into his pocket and set off down the street.

He was looking for his guest for the dinner party he was throwing tonight. Everything had been prepared already, and the rest of the dinner party was waiting for the special guest of honor to arrive. The sidewalk was full of the grey slush that accumulates during the wintery months in New England. Luigi’s feet crushed the snow and ice into darker grey footprints as he walked intently.

When he reached town, he looked around for his expected visitor. Dozens of people were walking throughout the streets of downtown, gaily walking hand in hand and gazing at the brightly lit windows showing their Christmas wares. The crowd was amassing towards the giant tree that would be lit tonight. Luigi’s gaze passed over these happy people with disinterest.

And then he saw her.

She was leaving the main department store with a large box under arm. Her hair was dark red, reaching her waist, and it swayed from side to side as she walked. Around her waist was a thick leather belt tied to hold her winter coat closed to the cold. He had seen her wear that coat years ago, when she had vacationed in Eastern Europe. She set off down the snow-filled street. A grin came across his face as he tried to catch up to her.

She was walking down the alley at the end of town when he finally caught up to her. Feigning a pant, he called out, “Hey, hey, wait!”

She turned around to meet him.

“Hello. Do I kn—“

Her voice was cut off by his hand covering her mouth and nose. Her fists beat against him as she struggled to escape his grasp. Luigi watched her eyes widen and felt her body writhe against his as she fought.

“Shhh…it’s okay. We have to hurry; everyone is waiting.”

A panic stricken look crossed her face before she collapsed into him. He caught her from falling and scooped her onto his right shoulder.

“Can’t have that pretty coat of yours ruined, can we? Don’t worry, I’ll get your package.”

He bent down to get the box she had dropped in the struggle. Putting it under his left arm, with her on his right, he set back off to the house.

When he reached the stoop again, he set the box down before gently leaning her against the door as he reached into his pocket for the key. Unlocking the door, he carried her over the threshold like it was their wedding night.

“Look, everyone is here, waiting on you.”

Luigi carried the woman and placed her opposite of the head of the table. Her wide-eyes looked directly ahead…until he walked outside to grab her box. When he came back in, he saw that her head had lolled back.

“Oh no, no, no, that won’t do. How will you entertain our guests?”

He placed the box on the table and ran to straighten her head. Once he was satisfied with her position, he looked around in alarm.

“Dinner starts at seven! I have to get started!”

His next moves were meticulous. It was important to place everything just so for the dinner to occur without a hitch. The wires were attached to small pads and placed in specific locations. The wires were then looped overhead and then connected to the control device at the head of the table. It was an intricate network of wires that ran down the length of the table.

Once Luigi was satisfied with the positioning of the wires and pads, he went to the kitchen and brought out the foods. Roast beef, mashed potatoes with gravy from the beef drippings, steamed carrots, and fluffy dinner rolls. He poured the wine, and as the clock struck seven, asked his dinner guests if they were ready to be served. With a slight touch of the control pad, everyone nodded enthusiastically.

“Wonderful, wonderful! Everyone, I’d like to thank you for joining me tonight to celebrate Emily and me as we begin our lives together.”

With a touch of the pad, everyone clinked their crystal glasses together. Luigi smiled at his guests, taking in each of their faces in turn.

There was Charlie and Diane, the owners of this lovely home who were so willing to let him use their telephone one dark night when he claimed to have a flat-tire. They were elderly and well-to-do. They were also very easy to overcome.

Next to them sat the neighbor’s gardener, Dillon. The garden shears had come in handy to take down the tall and in-shape man.

Facing him was beautiful Emily, wide-eyed.

On the right of the table sat the twins, a boy and girl, who he had come across during one of his evening walks around the neighborhood. The girl had screamed as Luigi strangled her brother before she was silenced by a knife across her throat.

Immediately to Luigi’s right was the small boy he had lured inside with candy. The boy’s lips were still tinged blue.

Luigi looked around with pride. This dinner would be unforgettable.

“You may not know that I have spent years wooing this woman, and she finally said yes!”

More shuffling of excitement from the guests, expect for one. Luigi looked down the table to see that Charlie wasn’t participating in the responses. When Luigi reached Charlie’s side, he noticed that the pad that should be attached to Charlie’s right hand, generating his movements, had fallen to the floor. Shaking his head, Luigi reattached it to the proper muscles on Charlie’s body and walked back to his chair. He touched the control pad once more, and Charlie joined everyone else in clinking his glass. Satisfied, Luigi continued his speech.

“We have decided to get married immediately! Tonight!”

Luigi waited while his guests all showed a form of surprise. Emily’s face beamed with a wide-eyed grin.

“The ceremony will take place after dinner. But before we dig in, why don’t we see what sweet Emily has brought us tonight?”

Luigi picked up the box that Emily had been carrying when he picked her up for dinner. Opening the box, he revealed two ornate silver candlesticks, intricately woven to hold three candles each.

A touch of the pad and Emily smiled serenely, ever the gracious hostess.

“Emily, you have outdone yourself indeed.”

Luigi placed the candlesticks on the dinner table and placed six candles in them, lighting them with the lighter he had in his pocket.

“Candlelight is much better for a dinner party. Electricity is used in all of the wrong ways these days. There is nothing to compare to a lovely candlelit dinner among friends.”

Luigi smiled at his guests and raised his glass.

“To Emily, may she always bring such light to my life.”

The electrical wires buzzed as the rest of the guests jerkily raised their glasses.


How To Convince Your Partner To Become Polyamorous

When people find out that I’m a polyamorous woman (capable of having more than one intimate relationship) and married to an alpha-male, they tend to gravitate towards the same questions:

“I think I’m polyamorous too! How did you convince your husband to consider opening your marriage? How do I convince my partner to become polyamorous with me?”

After some long consideration, I decided to write a post about this topic because so many people think I’m capable of guiding the way. So here is my foolproof plan for convincing your spouse to join you down a polyamorous path:

Step 1: Don’t.

That’s it. That’s my plan.

Look, hearing these kind of questions makes me internally cringe so hard because I DON’T have a good answer and people aren’t going to like that I think polyamory isn’t for them. It is not because I believe I am emotionally or morally superior to a monogamous person, at all. It is because we live in a monogamous society, folks, and the level of crap that I get about being polyamorous is beyond what I discuss on this blog. How can I give someone the steps to opening their marriage only to have their entire life implode?

I’ve had tons of conversations with people in monogamous relationships who wish to be poly. The number one thing I attempt to discern is WHY they wish to go down this path. Here are some of their (paraphrased) responses:

“He’s never around.”

“I’m unhappy and think that another partner would help.”

“She refuses to do certain things in the bedroom now that we are married. And I NEED certain things.”

“I met someone I think I want to be with.”

Now let’s take a look at those responses. On a personal note, I probably fell between “he’s never around” and “I met someone I think I want to be with.” Loneliness and attraction to another can quite obviously lead someone into thinking about possibilities of another life and another way. But if you have in your mind any one of those reasons and attempt to approach your partner with the idea of opening the relationship, what do you see happening? They will probably want to know why you don’t think they are enough for you, right? And do you know what ANY of those reasons will make your partner feel like?

That they aren’t enough. That they are failing.

I’ve been on the receiving end of a similar conversation before with my ex-husband. I was crushed that I wasn’t sexually enough for him and he wanted to swing. My response of being confused and crushed will be a similar response to you going to your partner with ideas of polyamory. Why? Because most people don’t understand that the desire to love multiple people doesn’t (or shouldn’t) stem from a lack of love for their current partner.

If you are unhappy with your partner or yourself and think that you need another person to add to that sad mix, please don’t kid yourself and ruin multiple lives. If you think you and your partner are capable of long, arduous, revealing, soul-searching, empathetic, respectful conversations, and you wish to approach them about the idea of having an open relationship, here is my advice:

1. Make sure that you aren’t doing this to “solve” any problems already within your relationship. Asking a third to join your jacked up relationship is cruel for everyone.

2. Read some Heinlein to get a feel for how a polyamorous relationship should be (respectful, full of communication, and lots of love. I suggest Time Enough for Love (beware, some pretty odd themes pop up, so ignore those) and Stranger in a Strange Land).

3. Make sure you are having this conversation with your partner BEFORE starting a relationship with someone else. Because the intent to eventually discuss your desire for polyamory with your partner does not make you any less of a cheater.

4. When you finally decide to have the first of many conversations, be respectful of your spouse’s mindset before you shake up their world. Are they stressed about work or the kids? Don’t be selfish and bring it up then. Wait for a good time when it is just the two of you and you have lots of time and space to jump into this discussion.

5. When you lay out your WELL-THOUGHT OUT argument for why you want this lifestyle, read the room to see how they are reacting. If they are throwing things at you, perhaps it’s time to lay off the heavy stuff until they calm down.

6. Make sure they understand that you don’t love or want them any less. Make sure that you emphasize that they are not lacking in anything (hmmm, this makes me want to write a post about how others’ flaws or lacks of certain interests don’t need to be addressed by their monogamous partner because holy shit, that’s a lot of pressure for one person). Make sure they understand that it isn’t them, it really is you and your desire to fill the world with more love.

7. Get ready for anger and tears and threats and suspicions. I was lucky enough to have a very observant husband who did not react in any of those fashions but other people who have had these discussions have not been so lucky. If you have been respectful of them in your relationship, then this step might be a little easier. If you have already started a relationship with someone else, this discussion is going to end in pain.

8. Don’t lie or become defensive to your actions or desires. Understand that your partner will be questioning a lot of things about themselves and your relationship with them. Ride the wave of emotions and let them figure it out with your help (if they want it). Realize that while you were sitting there thinking about the kind of life you want, they were living in the life that you promised them. That’s a lot for a person to watch crumble to dust at the sound of your honest desires.

9. Realize and discuss with your partner that there are many flavors and levels to a polyamorous lifestyle. Nothing is a set path so go down the one that can make both of you happy. Maybe your spouse doesn’t want to know anything about who you’re dating. Or maybe they are fine with getting a huge house and raising everyone’s kids!

10. Don’t be surprised if they walk away from the relationship. Polyamory isn’t for everyone, and it’s hard for a monogamous person to remain with a polyamorous person.

As long as you are honest and respectful and constantly communicating, maybe it’s possible for a monogamous couple to transition into a polyamorous relationship. Understand that there will be highs and lows to the process. However, remaining honest with yourself and your partner about what you both want is the best thing you can do for any relationship.

Let me know if you have any questions or if you need help finding a divorce lawyer.

Books for Young Boys (or Girls)

A coworker asked me for recommendations for his son, who is around eight years old. These books are probably good for eight to twelve year old boys (and girls, because books are for everyone!). Since I spent the majority of my childhood reading, I have lots of suggestions. I promised him a list, and here it is!

Please read these books, or at least SparkNote them, before you give them to your children to read. Some of the themes are dark and your child might have questions. Isn’t that the point of reading? To ask questions, experience tough situations, and grow without leaving the comfort of your house? The ones with * have been turned into movies or TV shows, but I swear you better get your kid to read them before they see the movie or show!


The Hardy Boys*– With 58 “canon” books and over 130 additional titles, these brothers solve mysteries and learn life lessons in the 1950s. They sometimes team up with Nancy Drew, another famous sleuth with her own series of books. The original books are slightly racist to reflect the times (they were written awhile ago) so look for the republished editions for politically correct versions


Dinotopia*– over twenty published books about a utopia where dinosaurs and people live in harmony; cute and fun and they published editions with awesome illustrations

Rooftop Rascal0001

Rascal– a boy rescues a raccoon and tries to overcome loss in his own life (death of a parent); this is based on the author’s life


Three books about an abused dog and the boy who loves him; this is probably the first book series that hit seriously adult themes with me as a child (abuse, neglect)


Shiloh Season

Saving Shiloh


Bridge to Terabithia*– two children create a land of imagination to escape their own lives; it is a story of friendship and sadness; be prepared to speak to your child about death of friends


A boy discovers that his miniature Indian toy becomes alive when he places it inside of a magical cupboard and must learn about the Indian’s needs; this series taught me a lot about empathy to cultures that are not our own

The Indian in the Cupboard*

The Return of the Indian

The Secret of the Indian

The Mystery of the Cupboard

The Key to the Indian


Phantom Tollbooth*– Legitimately the BEST book of word play and puns for children; I reread this last year and still enjoyed it just as much; it also teaches about numbers and grammar and how to not be lazy


Boxcar Children- over 150 novels that follows a family of four orphaned children who learn to survive in a boxcar. The original nineteen books are set in the 1920s and 1930s of America


Where the Red Fern Grows*– A boy gets two coon hunting hounds and raises them. The love that the dogs have for him ends in disaster. I still cry remembering the end of this one (death and love of animals)


A boy survives a plane crash in the woods and must survive in the wilderness with only a hatchet. This series covers his adventures and eventual rescue and wrestling with his demons. (survivalist)


The River

Brian’s Winter

Brian’s Return

Brian’s Hunt


Another boy runs away to a mountain to live off of the land. His life is similar to homesteading. It was cool to see how he survived in the wilderness out of choice.

My Side of the Mountain

On the Far Side of the Mountain

Frightful’s Mountain


So You Want to Be a Wizard– an eleven book series about a boy and a girl who enter a world with powers; it was fantasy and pretty cool.


Rules for a Knight– Sir Hawke is a knight who writes letters to his small boys to tell them how to appropriately act in the world. It is full of parables and lessons to learn as a boy.

Leave any other suggestions you can think of!

(Yes, I’ll be doing a post on girl’s books as well)

My Suggested Reading List For Adults

I was asked to provide a list of books I would recommend to a friend. Now, this task is not something I take lightly. People ask me for book recommendations occasionally, but not as much as I’d expect since I read constantly and have for 24 years. Perhaps they know I’ll scoff at modern romance novels and fake vomit when they say their favorite author is Nora Roberts. Call me a book snob. I don’t care. There are much more diverse and amazing books out there to stretch your mind. When someone asks me for a book suggestion, I start to panic. What if YOU don’t like a book that I loved?! Will our friendship survive? Probably not.

If I suggest a book specifically FOR YOU, keep in mind that I try to take into account your personality, your likes and dislikes, and what I think you could use a little more of in your life. But this list is different. They are books that I either loved or learned immensely from. So here, in no particular order, is a small list of the books I think are worth a read:

-Ender’s Quartet by Orson Scott Card– the entire series is about ethics and morals and religion and science. The ideas in this science fiction quartet are actually the basis for my religious beliefs (no, I’m not a scientologist; read the books and then we can discuss). The Ender Universe has sixteen novels and thirteen short stories so strap in!

·         Ender’s Game

·         Speaker for the Dead

·         Xenocide

·         Children of the Mind

-Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff– religious educational fiction that teaches the elements of Taoism by using Winnie the Pooh characters

-Boys Adrift : The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men by Leonard Sax– non-fiction, self-explanatory; a little scary but maybe I’m a tad over-reactive as a mother of a boy

-Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins– fiction; kooky, witty, and so interesting; He is such a strange author, but solid story-telling. Hope you have an imagination.

-Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein– science-fiction; transformed MY life and it was the first adult science fiction I read at 17; made me realize that there are other ways to think about relationships and love that society will never accept

-Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts– LOVED this one, partially because I found it on my own; Author claims it is non-fiction but people who are characters in the book disagree; story of an escaped Australian convict who goes to Bombay and experiences life; it is a long book> worth it. There are few books that give me a relationship with the characters. I didn’t want this book to end. He wrote a sequel called Mountain’s Shadow which is actually downloaded onto my phone but I can’t seem to get into it.

-Art of Racing in the Rain– the only new-age fiction that I like; story of a man and his dog; 10/10 will cry

-Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck– short and heartbreaking; a classic; it brings up an interesting view of where society draws its lines

-Devil In The White City by Erik Larson– Non-fictional story of the serial killer at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893; super creepy, super cool

-The Stranger by Albert Camus (pronounced Ca-moo, don’t make the same mistake I did and call him Cam-us and get laughed out of the room)- a fictional and philosophical story of a man who experiences life; a foray into existentialism; look for the many hidden meanings; you may have to read multiple times

-Bernice Bobs Her Hair by F. Scott Fitzgerald– cute and pithy short story that made me laugh. I identify with Bernice…

-Breaking “Innocence” by me– non-fictional account of a female Marine who went to war young and made a lot of bad decisions (selfish plug)

-Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand– non-fictional account of an Olympian and Japanese prisoner of war during World War II. It is amazing what humans are capable of enduring. I cried, a lot, but this story is simply amazing. Sometimes justice isn’t done.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte- a fictional classic about a woman who doesn’t abandon her morals and suffers heartache through the actions of others. This book is pretty awesome.

This list is constantly growing, and if I know you, I might suggest completely different works.

The picture at the top of the blog is from Bluestocking Books located in Hillcrest, San Diego, California. It is a cute local bookstore. Check it out!

Protecting Your Children From Molestation And Other Sexual Abuse

Molestation is a very sensitive topic for most decent human beings. This might be because molestation is associated with inappropriate sexual behavior towards minors, our children. As a parent who cares immensely about this subject, I want to share some suggestions to other parents, guardians, and other caretakers of children that I believe curb the ease with which predators target children.

It is never a child’s fault for being molested. Sexual predators aim for a particular type of child to “groom”, and all we can do is try and educate our children, and ourselves, to be aware of things that make them “easy prey”. Here are the suggestions:

1) Teach your child the proper names for their genitals.

It is not a “special spot”, a hoohah, a vajayjay, or any other ridiculous name. It is a vagina or a vulva. It is not a turtle, a johnson, or your stick. It is a penis. Stop using euphemisms for teaching body parts to your children. Using “pet names” for a sexual organ on a child makes diagnosis and identification of sexual abuse harder, which is difficult already with a small child. A future predator might be put off by your child using a medical term for their genitals instead of encouraging the use of a pet name.

2) Empower your child to wash their own privates.

Once your child is old enough to hold a loofah or washcloth and mimic scrubbing, have them wash their own genitals. You supervise to ensure they are cleaning themselves thoroughly, but intervene less and less as they get older and have more control over their ability to scrub.

3) Be aware of everyone, both sexes, all ages, and their interactions with your child.

Molestation doesn’t just happen by the creepy man down the street. It happens by family friends, family members, older siblings, and other children on the playground. Neither sex is free of suspicion. Try not to leave your child alone with anyone until your child is vocal enough to tell you what happens when you’re not around. Employ babysitters and daycares with complete camera coverage. Some daycares allow you to log in at any time to view your child. That is a great peace of mind for parents who work and trust others with their children.

4) Discuss consent, personal space, and privacy.

No one should touch your child without their permission. Don’t force your child to hug or kiss anyone that they don’t want to hug or kiss. I can’t stress this enough, especially for family members who think they are entitled to affection from your child. Forcing your child to kiss and hug a relative to prevent harming the relative’s feelings teaches your child that their consent is not necessary for intimate interactions. This is NOT okay. This allows predators to make a child feel like the predator is owed affection. This kind of twisted thinking is exactly what predators use to manipulate and coerce a child to do what they want. Family is not exempt from consent, parents included.

Teach your child about appropriate personal space and privacy. If someone wishes to be left alone while they undress, that should be allowed. Don’t barge in on your child while they are getting dressed or undressed. While nudity is not shameful, some children do not wish for the world to see them naked. That should be respected.

5) Foster positive communication with your child.

Don’t let your child be afraid of your reactions to what they may tell you. This goes beyond molestation and extends into drug use, alcohol, bullying, etc. Be the parent and expect respect from your child, but also give it. Listen to them when they speak and encourage them to tell you things without immediate judgment or fear of punishment while they are still in danger. Get your child to safety and then teach them with intellect and the maturity that your years hold. This kind of communication begins in very early childhood. Be someone your child trusts and they are going to be more willing to talk to you about things that may signal a possible predator.

6) Trust your gut.

No matter what, listen to your gut and remove your child from a bad situation. The worst that can happen is that your child will be safe. That isn’t so bad at all.

If you think molestation has already happened to your child, remove your child from all questionable situations and see a doctor immediately. Call the police along the way to the doctor. If you don’t report sexual abuse to the police, you may be responsible for further child abuse to someone you can’t protect. Don’t blame your child or cover it up because of who may be in trouble when the molestation is investigated. Believe. Your. Child.

The Soul Collector- A Female Marine Boot Camp Story

Imagine that you are hit repeatedly in vulnerable places on your body to conduct “body hardening”, which damages your nerve receptors to prevent flinching from the pain when you are struck. Imagine being thrown, flipped, punched, verbally degraded, choked and thrown up against the wall, slapped, spat on, stepped on, sleep-deprived, and starved.

Then imagine being taught how to defend yourself. Imagine being taught how to kill with your bare hands in less than eight seconds. You know how to go with less food, you know how to keep hiking for over ten miles on less than three hours of sleep. You know how to ignore the pain of the broken bones in your body as you keep. going. You are trained to do more with less. You are taught how to kill. And your body wants it. Your body is heightened by your own physical pain that you are ignoring and you want to kill.

The Marine Corps taps into a person’s primal desire to survive. It tears a person down to their barest minimum to break them before training them to be killers. The MC takes people from around the world (yes, the world), from all different backgrounds, and breaks their spirits together over the course of twelve weeks. Some people break faster than others. Some people need to be taken to the tree line and given a little more attention to get to the Marine Corps’ desired state of broken.

For me, I took extra attention. What was used to break the softer recruits didn’t work on me. I grew up with a dad who screamed and yelled, who verbally and emotionally abused me and my sister and my mom, and who shot firearms INSIDE of the house while we were cowering upstairs. I was used to being yelled at and hit. So the Marine Corps drill instructors’ psycho actions were just a regular Tuesday for me. It worked in my favor for a long time. I didn’t flinch, I didn’t care about being forced to do push-ups until my arms gave out, and I just ran faster to get away from the weaker crowd and the drill instructors intent on making the weak strong.

The drill instructors saw me though. It is hard to hide in a platoon of 35 women and five drill instructors, especially when you are the guide, or the leader of the recruits. As the guide, it was my responsibility to lead the rest of the recruits and to be the prime example of order, discipline, and perfection. I was seventeen, and couldn’t lead a cat out of a wet paper bag. The drill instructors punished me with every single other recruit who was punished to teach me leadership. If Sanchez was a little slow, I had to run sprints with her. If Bullock lost her canteen cup, I was taken to the pit with her. Everyone else’s mistakes were my own, which is the epitome of leadership. If your subordinates mess up, it is your fault. The Marines taught that lesson through physical pain. But it still didn’t break my spirit. Physical pain can be borne indefinitely, or so I thought.

During range week, when we hiked through the swamps of South Carolina to reach the range and “learn how to shoot”, I broke my ankle. It was during an early morning hike of probably six miles. We had our rifles and our packs, and we were walking through dark and wooded paths in the swamp. As guide, I also had to carry the guidon, or the troop identification flag. It had to be carried a specific way when marching, with your right hand holding the flag pole closer to the bottom, positioned with your thumb pad directly on the thumbtack, while your left hand clasped closer to the flag. You held that thing perfectly while you marched, next to the company commander, and you didn’t look down.

The company commander was speed walking. She didn’t have a pack or a rifle or a guidon. She was going for a stroll and wanted the recruits to move quickly. So we moved. And we sang cadence. And we didn’t look down. Blindly marching, I led the company with Speedy Gonzalez, and stepped straight into a hole. The snap was audible, and my yelp wasn’t muffled enough to not gain the attention of one of my five drill instructors. Still marching, my voice quivered to the cadence and tears welled in my eyes. The DI offered to fire me, in less than tactful terms. I picked up my pace and kept going.

Range week was horrible. My combat boot kept my right ankle together as much as possible. I would tie it tighter each day, imagining it was a removable cast. I had to get my bunkmate to pull my boot off at the end of the day because my ankle had tripled in size. The known distance (KD) range is broken into three different yard lines to shoot and qualify from. The 200 yard line required shooting standing up, kneeling down, and sitting. 300 was kneeling and sitting rapid fire, and 500 was the prone position, belly down and legs splayed. Standing was fine, sitting was fine, and prone was fine. The kneeling was the most excruciating pain I had felt up to that point in my life, including the body hardening exercises where we beat the living shit out of each other. I was forced to fire dozens of rounds in the kneeling, with my weight on my broken ankle as I kneeled upon it. I couldn’t move to any other position because it just wasn’t allowed. After a time, I crouched to where I wasn’t putting any weight on my ankle. It was less steady and my aim suffered immensely, but my ankle wasn’t screaming at me.

On the fifth day, qualification day, I was doing fine…until the kneeling position. The same DI who heard me on the hike from Monday stood behind me, and when she noticed that I was protecting my ankle by hovering, she shoved me down onto it by slamming my shoulders down in full force. As my eyes watered in pure pain from broken bones moving around damaged tissue, she smiled at me. I began to anticipate each shot as I pulled the trigger, aware that the kickbacks would cause further pain on my ankle.

Anticipation is probably the number one reason people miss when they fire a weapon.

I failed the range by two points. I unq’ed (pronounced “unk”). I was unqualified. When “every Marine is a rifleman”, this was unacceptable. I knew they were coming for me. I was publicly fired as guide before the hike back to the squad bay. Public humiliation was really no big deal since I was eight and had accidentally farted on the cute boy behind me while performing a fish dance rendition of some classical piece. So I still wasn’t mentally broken, although I was scared shitless that I would be dropped from the platoon.

That night, I was awoken to covers being snatched from my body and a disembodied voice that told me to get the fuck into the head (bathroom, for you civilian types). Scrambling, I sprinted while the DI who had shoved me onto my broken bones on the range hissed threats into my ear. She pushed me against the wall and kicked my ankle a few times, asking if it hurt. Refusing to give in, I kept saying “no, ma’am.” If I was smarter, I would have acted like my spirit had been broken by my disqualification on the range. Instead, I kept up my spirit, which gave her the desire to break me for good. She had all night. I couldn’t scream for help, that would have shown weakness and surrender. I was already supposed to be broken. This was Week Eight of training. Most girls broke by Week Three.

We stayed in that bathroom for what felt like an hour. I ran the length of the bathroom, bones crunching away. I did pushups. I did jumping jacks (practically one-legged). I whisper-screamed my responses to her. Everything out of her mouth was said to mess with my head. I tuned it out until she found the one thing that hurt. “You failed today. No one is surprised. That’s all you are and that’s all you’ll ever be: a failure.” She didn’t notice at first that she had found the chink in my armor. She didn’t notice until she started saying other stuff like I was a piece of shit, which just reminded me of everything my dad had called me growing up. All it takes is one comment to chisel away at the crack in someone’s facade. She had called me a piece of shit before, but this time it was well-placed after identifying my biggest fear, and showing me that I was, indeed, a failure. I had nothing to prove her wrong. I was unqualified on the range and I was fired as the best recruit after holding the title for over a month. I lost the meritorious promotion that would have gone with graduating as the guide as well. I was a failure, and I got into my own head.

Supposedly verbally and emotionally abused children have a tape that plays in their head on repeat with the shitty stuff they have been told. My psychologist taught me that when I was 16. He worked hard with me for one year to try and break the tape that was on repeat of the things my family and classmates and church mates had said to me. First he made me tell him everything that I had been told or called or blamed for. Then he made me promise that I would catch myself with every self-deprecating internal comment and try to logic out why it wasn’t true and to remind myself and repeat back that I wasn’t everything I had been called:

Lazy, selfish, crazy, tissue in the wind that blows away when there’s work to be done, Lolita, fickle, unwanted child, the reason my parents fought, cheater, weirdo, waste of space, Femme fatale, vivacious, narcissist, slut, too young, five-head, cunt, liar, bitch, impossible to please, draining, rude…a failure.

So the DI had tapped into my self-deprecating tape and turned up the mental volume without knowing it. My face must have changed because she stopped short and laughed before taking her right hand and grasping me by the throat. She shoved me into the wall and then slid me up it, by my throat, with one hand. My feet dangled an inch off the floor and I began to struggle to breathe. As one tear leaked from my right eye, she reached up and wiped it away with a finger on her left hand.

“I have your soul.”

She placed my soul into her pocket.

In retrospect, as a demented veteran, this is hilarious. Props to her for breaking me. I understand it’s necessary to provide mentally and physically hardened Marines for the fleet and drill instructors are amazing for this aspect of training. They are ruthless because our lives depend on it, in combat and in life. They break us down, make us tap into our primal desire to survive, and then teach us how to kill. With them, and further training, Marines become the best war fighters on the planet.

When she gathered my soul and delicately put it into her pocket, that drill instructor made me primed and ready to learn how to kill.

Thanks, Soul Collector. You fucking suck.

Side note- it took two years for my ankle to “heal”. Yes, I receive disability for that ankle because I’ll be damned if it doesn’t just give out on me once a week and cause me to fall face first without warning.

Side side note: I qualified on the range as expert the very next week (although Parris Island only allows you to be named a lowly marksman until you qualify in the fleet when you unq in boot camp) and for the rest of my career. Shout out to my husband for teaching me how to shoot when I got to the fleet, even on my shitty ankle. Third award expert. Yes, this is matters to me.

Play It Again, Charlie

Charlie awoke and lay in bed without opening his eyes for a few moments, trying to retain the dream as it slipped away, carrying his happiness with it. He brought his hand up and rested it on the bed beside him. His hands traced the empty space on the blankets. He could almost imagine she was there, her dark hair sprawled out as she peacefully slept next to him.

His roommate dropped a pan in the kitchen with a crash, and Charlie groaned inwardly as his eyes flew open and the almost tangible memory of her dissipated. Boxes were piled around his room in varying stages of packing. Sheets of music were stacked haphazardly with scribbles of his writing below and above ledger lines. Clothes were piled on the floor. He had to finish all of his laundry today, at some point in between the packing and the lessons and the show tonight. There was never enough time.

He threw on an old comfortable tee shirt as he swung his legs out of bed. He tossed his long blonde hair back, shaking it out of his eyes before running his hands through it to smooth it slightly. He didn’t have a mirror in his room but he didn’t need one to know how he looked: tired. The past three months had been a marathon of events that left him stressed and even more excited that today was his last full day in the town he had lived in his entire life.

He had to leave. The music scene was stagnant here, and while the musicians were great, it felt like everyone knew each other and were running the same old songs gig after gig. Everyone with true promise had left for greener pastures in the last few years. If he didn’t get out now, he knew he would sink into the same schedule as the old men and women working the halls for years without a real break. Their lives weren’t judged by him, but he knew he could be more, and so he was leaving.

He rubbed his eyes viciously for a few minutes while he sat on the edge on the bed. Music floated through his head as he woke fully, and he immediately snatched up his guitar and played a few bars of what had come to him. He scribbled occasionally between playing. His bare foot tapped to keep time, right heel working up and down. An hour passed before he realized it, and he scrambled to write down his last thoughts before he grabbed his laundry and walked to the hallway and tossed a load in the washer.

His roommate had left during his morning musical musings so the house was empty as he headed to take a shower. He didn’t sing in the shower this morning. He hadn’t sang outside of a gig or a rehearsal in a few months, which was unlike him. He didn’t feel like singing since Daisy had her accident.

The accident itself was sudden and unremarkable. The effects of the accident were anything but unremarkable. There was bleeding around her brain. The blood pooled and affected her ability to communicate coherently. Because of who he was to her, he had to wait for her texts instead of running to her while she was hospitalized. Her sudden absence from his life after three years had shocked him into realizing how helpless he was to help her as she recovered from the surgery.

The water streamed down his face as he remembered how adamant she had been about him staying away from the hospital while she recovered. Some might argue that shame humiliates a man the most; it weakens his drive in life as it is revealed to everyone how incapable he has been to adhere to social or cultural norms. But Charlie would argue that helplessness is worse than any shame. His helplessness in this situation had humiliated him more than any shame. Perhaps his helplessness would evolve into shame and even more humiliation, but his helplessness stayed between Daisy and him. There was no public shame that he wasn’t there for her, but it was glaringly evident to him that this situation had taken away his ability to be a man. A man is a protector, someone who will fight the rest of the world to defend his home and loved ones. What does a man do when he is forbidden to show the rest of the world that he loves and is willing to protect someone? If a man can’t protect and defend, is he even a man?

Charlie had spent days trying to find a way to get to the hospital without Daisy’s husband finding out. The ideas were harebrained and irrational and never came to fruition. Daisy had to recover without him. What happens when a woman realizes that the man she loves is unable to protect her fully? It doesn’t matter to a woman that he might be trying to protect her from ruin. Women want complete and utter proof of protection for their love. If a woman suffers and isn’t protected, a part of her will always remember that he wasn’t there. The love will crumble, at least hers will; his love will suffer from the knowledge that he was helpless. No one wins. How can such an unremarkable accident tear apart a love that was so…good? Even if she recovered fully, their relationship wouldn’t.

He turned off the water and let the last drops leave tracks of slippery wet down his chest. Toweling off, he looked at the time with alarm, threw on some pants, and quickly head into work to teach his students.

He was late. Par for the course with these poor students. Charlie was ever the creative artist who didn’t like being tied down by a schedule. The world didn’t work like that though, so he had tried to adjust his inattention to time over the years. On days like today, when his head is in his music and on Daisy, it was easy for him to lose sight of the time and hard for him to care.

He went through the day in a funk, telling each student at the end of their lesson that he wouldn’t be teaching them anymore. Each upset face only fueled his mood, and he was glad when the last student dejectedly walked out of the studio. He had promised that he would try to make it to their recitals as he wasn’t moving too terribly far away, but the students knew, and he knew, that it was an empty promise. Creative humans are terrible at keeping commitments.

He rushed home to grab his equipment for the gig he was playing that night. It would be his last performance in the town for the unforeseeable future. When he walked in the door of the house, he remembered his laundry and quickly threw it in the dryer. Luckily it hadn’t mildewed.

He played that night to an amazing crowd of energetic people who swayed and danced and sang along. His mind stopped worrying about his future, about Daisy, about how he would scrap up enough gigs in the coming months to pay rent…. He felt each note travel through his mind and out of his hands and he let himself go. Everything would be okay if he had his music. Every emotion that he felt could be manifested into his music. He could play the feelings and get lost without getting lost in them. Music was good like that. You could lose yourself but only for as long as the song was playing. Once the song is over, the crowd wants a different tune. There are no repeats during a live performance.

So he played.