“What in the fuck is this? Are you God damned kidding me? I told you to get wet and fucking sandy. Didn’t I? That’s a piss poor excuse for wet and sandy. You’re going to fuck around and kill a teammate from your team, aren’t you?” the instructor bellowed as he pointed at my wet and sparsely sand covered torso.
I closed my eyes, opened my mouth, and attempted to scream, “No sir.”
The sound emitted from my mouth was scratchy and weak. I had completed the five mile run in an unsatisfactory time and was being punished for it. The human mind is simply incapable of comprehending the depth of the physical conditioning necessary to complete training to become a Navy SEAL. Regardless of a recruit’s intent, devotion, desire or perceived state of readiness prior to arrival; to actually be physically, mentally or emotionally prepared would be impossible.
He pointed toward the ocean and began screaming a blood curdling howl, “Run back out to the US Navy’s Pacific Ocean and dip yourself in it Jack-off. The Navy built this beach for me to drown you in, did you know that? I’m sick and motherfucking tired of screaming your name. Get wet Jack-off, and get sandy. Wet and fucking sandy. Lives depend on it.”
The instructor’s voice had become horse during our short duration of training. I was certain the sound of his strained vocal cords was solely due to my lack of ability. He had spent the majority of his time screaming at one person and one person only.
Exhausted, I ran as fast as I could and dove into the ocean face first. As I landed, sand and small sea shells filled my mouth. I closed my eyes to protect them from the salty water and waited for the next wave to wash over me. Now soaked from head to toe, I rose from the beach and ran the distance from the edge of the water to where he stood waiting. Satisfied I would be relieved of my punishment and sent to join the remainder of the class, I planted my boots firmly in the sand and attempted to stand erect. He stared at me as if I had committed a sinful act. His eyes resembled what I expected the devil’s to look like. As his face began to quiver from what was undoubtedly a fit of anger, he opened his mouth and did his best to scream.
“You’re not going to make it. You’re a fucking idiot. Please do us both a favor and D.O.R, Jack-off. Drop out. Ring the fucking bell three times and go join the fucking Army. You’ll never be a SEAL. I gave you simple fucking instructions, Jack-off. Wet and motherfucking sandy. You ran to my fucking ocean and washed your stupid self off, didn’t you? You took a fucking bath in my God forsaken ocean. I gave you two tasks; two things, Jack-off. Wet and what? What was your mission?”
I stood and stared, confused.
Go get wet Jack-off and get sandy.
Wet and sandy.
I had forgotten the sandy portion of his instructions. Five days into this phase of training and I would likely be killed by the instructor in a fit of rage. If not, only two and a half more years of punishing training and I would be deployed as a Navy SEAL. I parted my lips and moved my sandy tongue to the roof of my mouth, attempting to clear it of the debris from the beach.
“Wet and sandy,” I responded in a gravelly tone.
He crossed his arms over his massive chest, “Are you fucking sandy, Jack-off?”
I lieu of responding, I dropped to the surface of the beach as if my legs had been cut from underneath me. Flat on my back, I frantically flipped my arms through the sand, doing my best to cover every respective inch of my wet torso with the small granules. Satisfied my entire body was completely covered; I scooped up a handful of sand and dumped it onto my wet face.
He’s not screaming, he must like what I’m doing.
I reached out and retrieved another handful of official US Navy sand. I opened my mouth and released it onto my face. As the sand filled my mouth and fell into my throat, his voice broke the silence.
“This is the first thing you only half fucked up today, Jack-off. In the time it took you to complete the task, I’m sure no less than three of your teammates would have been killed. You’re only concerned with yourself. You’re wet and sandy, but three men have died in the process. Outfuckingstanding. Get out of my face. Go away. I feel ill. Your incompetence and lack of desire is making me sick,” he barked.
I jumped to my feet and attempted to run. As I brushed the sand from my eyes, I saw my class standing along the beach in the distance. Assembled into seven-man boat crews and holding rubber rafts over their heads, their bodies shook from exhaustion. My tired legs quivered underneath me as I attempted to propel myself forward. As I stumbled toward my class in an unintended zig-zag pattern, my mind filled with wonder. Without a doubt, upon my arrival yet another instructor would start punishing me. In the eyes of the instructor and the US Navy, at least one of the teams would be one man short until I arrived. In my mind this class would always be one man short.
Graham and I had agreed to join the Navy together. We went to the barber and had our long locks of hair buzzed off as a team. We walked into the recruiter’s office side-by-side, and after an assurance of being able to receive our training together, joined under the US Navy’s buddy program. We were inseparable. We were invincible. We were best friends. Settling for nothing short of becoming Navy SEALs, we began training at home as we waited for the day we were scheduled to ship off.
Graham never made it to training. An accident a week before shipping out ended his life at seventeen years of age.
I closed my eyes and attempted to find a few ounces of inner strength. As my boots dug into the loose sand, I swung my arms and screamed. Now in an all-out run toward my class, I mentally prepared myself for what may be next.
The only easy day was yesterday.
KARTER. “Hi my name’s Karter and I’m a drug addict.”
“I think I’ll just listen.”
“Thanks Karter,” the group said in unison.
The thought of a group of people attempting to shove God down my throat and assuring me if I didn’t find him, I couldn’t make improvements to my life was a bit more than I was willing to try to listen to.
To me, God had always been a ghost. Something half the people believed in. The other half was split in two, the portion who wondered, and the portion who didn’t believe.
And I didn’t believe in ghosts.
“Karter, you need to share,” she strung my name along until it was two five-second long syllables separated by one overly long period of silence.
I slowly turned to my left and looked over my shoulder in disgust at the counselor who partially blocked the doorway into the meeting room. It was day one in what was to be a twenty-eight-day drug rehab program, and I was attending my first twelve step meeting. My problem wasn’t drugs. My only real issue, if there was one, was my mouth.
“Isn’t it some form of invasion of privacy? You being here? I think you should be in your fucking office and let us advance through this program at our own pace. This meeting is for addicts, not assholes,” I smirked slightly and blinked my eyes repeatedly.
“I am an addict Karter, just like you. Please share with the group. Anything. Say something, even if it’s a small something,” she pleaded softly as she crossed her arms in front of her chest.
The group remained silent as they waited for me to speak. The room smelled like the combination of a cafeteria in a shitty hospital and a wet can of coffee grounds. I rolled my eyes and turned around. I surveyed the numerous faces and eventually became focused on the wicker basket in the center of the table. I stared at the small pile of folded pieces of paper and considered what to say.
I looked around the room.
Sixteen, including me.
All I needed to do was complete the program, go in front of the judge and convince him I was a drug addict. If he believed me to be in the process of recovering, I would get my driver’s license and my life back. Even I should be able to make it twenty-eight days.
“Hi my name’s Karter and I’m a drug addict,” I paused and raised my fingers to my mouth.
As I nibbled what little black polish remained on my fingernails, I began to explain what happened to the best of my ability. I’ve never really had a problem talking to people, but I didn’t care much for authority. The staff member standing in the doorway with her eyes fixed on the back of my head was grinding on my nerves.
“You know how there’s always someone who seems more interested in your business than they should be? Some absolute asshole who is repeatedly peering over your shoulder? Maybe it’s simply a figure of speech and they’re not really behind you taking your inventory,” I paused and glanced over my left shoulder.
“But they’re watching you none the less, waiting for you to fuck up,” I said as I turned and faced the group.
Heads bobbed up and down like they were on springs. Several people gave some form of slight verbal confirmation. I took a slow aggravated breath through my nose as I thought of my bike being in an impound yard, undoubtedly being rained on while I was attempting to entertain a group of fifteen has beens, fuck ups, and wards of the legal system.
“Well, those types of people seem to flock to me. One of them called the cops and I ended up in a psych ward for an evaluation. My only way out of the psych ward was to admit I was an addict. You know, give them a reason for me being there. So, that’s what I did. The judge required I attend a treatment program. This one was twenty-eight days instead of thirty, and I thought I may make it twenty-eight, but I had my doubts about thirty,” I grinned and raised my eyebrows as I looked down at my fingernails.
“Glad you’re here, Karter,” someone said from across the table.
I looked up. He was staring at my tits.
“Stare much?” I asked as I pulled my hand from my mouth.
I’d like to dig your eyes out, you douchebag.
His gaze immediately shifted to the person beside me. I shook my head lightly and looked down at my nails. It seemed all men were the same. If a girl was anything remotely close to attractive, men didn’t care who she was. Immediately, their minds shifted to thoughts of sex. I liked sex as much as any man if not more, but I generally wanted to know a little about who I was going to be fucking before we got started. Generally speaking, men gave me an ice cream headache. If I had my bike and a blank canvas, I didn’t so much need a man.
I sat and admired my tattoos silently as several people spoke. When a man from across the table began to speak, either the beginning of the story or the tone of his voice captured my attention. Whichever it was, I looked up and listened intently as he began. The more he spoke, the more attentive I became.
“My name’s Bill, and to me this program’s simple. Breathe in, breathe out, and don’t take a drink between breaths. As easy as it is, I seem to fuck up regularly. I’m seventy-two, and I’ve been in this program for forty years and in treatment half a dozen or more times. I’ve drank all my life. Well, as soon as I was old enough to lift ‘em up and pour ‘em down my throat,” he paused and looked at each person in the group individually for a split second.
He looked down at the table and began to speak, “I was celebrating the Bicentennial. 1976. Most of you probably weren’t even born yet. I was headed home from the bar out on west Kellogg – it was before they built the elevated highway. So I remember hitting this cat on the way home. Vaguely. Just a little whump. It kind of woke me up. I blinked my eyes and shook my head, wondering what a cat was doing on the highway.”
His voice was quiet and gravely as if what little time in his life he didn’t spend drinking, he spent smoking. Something about his story caused me to listen to each and every word. His calming tone was like the man who does the Meat it’s what’s for dinner commercials. As he sat and stared down at the table, I waited for the rest of his story.
“It was about three in the morning when they woke me up. Four of ‘em. They wanted to see my truck. I stumbled to the garage and opened it, not sure why they were so damned worried about a homeless cat. It must have been some special cat. Still today, I remember thinking just that. Must have been some special cat. So I opened the garage door. The first one who got to the front of the truck vomited. Right there. He just pushed his hands onto his trouser legs and threw up right there in my garage. I don’t really remember what all the rest of ‘em said, but when they turned me around to put the handcuffs on me is when I saw his leg. It was kinda under the bumper, caught in my brush guard,” he hesitated and wiped the tears from his face.
The room was silent. As he rubbed his eyes with his index fingers, he cleared his throat. After a short moment of silence, he continued.
“You see, the cat I hit wasn’t a cat. It was a kid. He was nineteen. He was trying to change the tire on his truck was what they told me in court. He was going home to his wife and their newborn baby. He worked the night shift at the diner that used to sit at the intersection of Edgemoor and Kellogg. The other day would have been his birthday. I woke up drunk the next morning. The sixth of June. Tough thing to forget, killing someone. I suppose all things considered, we probably ain’t supposed to forget. Probably ain’t so much God’s will to let us to. Well, that’s all I got. Hope it helps one of ya make it out of this disease alive.”
He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and blew his nose. Several people wiped tears from their eyes. I raised my hand to my mouth and nibbled the tips of my fingernails. I’ve always been fascinated with what we remember and what our mind chooses to set aside as either useless or unworthy of recollection at a later date. Without a doubt, Bill’s story would stick with me for a lifetime. I moved my hand to my chin and stared at him blankly as I thought of his misfortune.
Often, words come out of my mouth before my mind has time to apply the brakes. Because most of my thoughts are good, it’s generally not a problem. Generally. Inevitably, there are times after I’ve spoken when I wish I would have been able to catch myself, bite my lip, and prevent me or others from being embarrassed.
“What was his name?” I asked, “the nineteen-year-old boy?”
All eyes shifted to me. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked. It didn’t seem inappropriate at the time, but as everyone stared I wondered about the consensus of the group. He lowered his hand from his face and leaned forward in his chair as he stuffed the handkerchief into his pants pocket. He sniffed again loudly and narrowed his gaze as his eyes focused on mine.
“You know Karter, that’s what’s strange. I can remember the day it happened like it was yesterday. I can remember the name on the officer’s uniform who handcuffed me. I recall the smell of the vomit. Hell, it’s still stuck in my nose. But now? Now I can’t remember his name. Can’t really say when it was I forgot, but I did. Don’t rightly know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s the truth. Any more, he’s just become a date. June 6, 1976,” he sighed as he shook his head slightly.
I pursed my lips and stared at the basket, frustrated he was incapable of remembering the name of the boy. I wanted to know who he was, what his name was, and what his wife and son thought about everything. How their lives were affected by the events of that one night in 1976 when everything changed for them. Without a name, it seemed as if it didn’t even matter. It was just some bullshit story from some bullshit old man in a bullshit room of a bullshit drug treatment program.
Twenty-seven more days and this nightmare would be over. I picked the remaining polish from my authority finger with my thumbnail as I became more frustrated at Bill’s lack of memory. As I blew the flakes of polish from the edge of the table, I nodded my head and grinned.
When this nightmare ends, I’ll paint all twenty-eight days on a new canvas.
Today will be a pile of bullshit.
And a face with no name.