TWENTY-FOUR HOURS TO MANHOOD
Many have had a defining moment after which they can say, “That was the time I went from childhood to adulthood.” Mine was the time I decided to leave the comforts of home as a boy and step into the realms of uncertainty to become a man. An anxious time, but I was ready for processing. In one long day, the processing into boot camp, and into the arms of Uncle Sam, would do just that.
From the warmth of my bed I could hear the murmurs of my recruiter, echoing down the hallway, indicating to my mother that it was time for us to go. I remember getting dressed into the clothes I had especially laid out for the flight to Orlando, Florida, as my escort waited for me in the kitchen. I know my recruiter had promised me this duty station. As my recruiter backed us out of my driveway, I tried to affix a picture in my mind of the home I would no longer know as a boy. I could only see fragments of my house as the headlights pierced through the darkness of the morning, catching only glimpses.
Arriving in Atlanta, I was immediately greeted with a no-nonsense ranking-and-filing into a line that disappeared around a corner of a long corridor. The assurances of my recruiter as what to expect next were of great relief to me. It was as if he became proxy for my parents. I had never been in an atmosphere like this before. I could not simply see what future recruits in front of me were doing, or where they might be headed. They were peeling from line and going in different directions; therefore, I could mimic no one and be safe from ridicule. The uncertainty of the morning was less frightening when realization set in that we were here to be processed and not slaughtered.
The morning turned into afternoon with the completion of a smorgasbord of paperwork, consultations and physical exams. Privacy and humility were checked at the front door as neither of these was considered, by virtue of the probing and personal line of questioning that took place in view of total strangers who happened to be my peers. Values respected at home were of no concern here. Such treatment, in my mind, was to be monitored by adult supervision.
The processing was completed, and all I had to do to consummate the deal was to raise my right hand and repeat my oath. Quickly, I was herded to my plane so that I may fulfill my orders given prior to departure. I could not go home until they said so. Dressed for due south, I later arrived that night to the coldest time of the year at Chicago’s, O’Hare International Airport. My first thought was that of the warm bed I was summoned from earlier that morning. The welcoming party was crude and harsh, with no remnants of home, no matter how hard I had tried to embrace those thoughts and feelings of my boyhood comforts. They did not seem to care of the boy left behind but rather the man they were going to make of me. I could no longer hang on to the ankles of my boyish ways, as those whom I had left behind were those I had counted on to be responsible for the outcome of my life.
Little did I realize that throughout this day, all I ever had to say was “I want to go home.” The process was quick and decisive, where everything before and after the oath I had taken, proved to be an evolutionary day from boy to man.