11:10 PST

Spent morning planning 1st month. More or less booked everything. 1 week each in San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Boise for ~$80-$280 less than 1 month rent here. Variance depends on if I stay with [Asa] in Seattle. On my way to get passport photo [followed by] lunch at my favorite Thai place, Tamarind.

Spent unused credit card reward points on an iPod nano and iTunes credit. Bought a Chromebook for transit and future reservations.

Giving up video games will be hard.

Going to get rid of most or all of my clothes as I don’t think they can be salvaged. Jewish oriented celebration tonight at [church]. Will probably spend the evening cleaning up apartment and throwing stuff out. Hopefully tell landlord tomorrow, [nurse] next week.

12:16 – 15:00 PST

Lunch at Tamarind. Been considering possible patreon for journey. [Nurse] called during lunch, meeting her at ~2:30 PM. Dropped off key for [bookstore friends].

Got an hour to myself so may as well write about the whys and all that.

My life has had two or three major turning points so far. The first came when I was 17 and I had the option of going to my dream college (which would not have provided a marketable degree) at considerable debt, or move to Utah with a friend I had met via gaming. Either way, I felt I had to leave my mother, and being debt averse, settled on Utah. I moved in July 2006.

The second point I might count would be in the late summer of 2007. The economy was on a downturn and the retail company I worked for (and liked!) began blaming employees for not working hard enough. I could’ve been the youngest General Manager in the company (19 in September of that year) but enlisted with the Marine Corps in August. I did thorough research and had conflicted motivations, but I did it. I shipped for boot camp towards the end of October.

The final (or rather, most recent) major turning point is when, due to what was officially classified a manic episode, I was forced to retire from the Marine Corps (despite having planned on becoming a career officer). The episode occurred in February 2010. I was transferred to San DIego and spent a year as part of the Wounded Warrior Battalion N[aval]M[edical]C[enter]S[an]D[iego] detachment before being fully released as a civilian in March 2011.

My episode had spiritual/religious dimensions that were repressed until I got out. I stumbled into a spiritual father and spent 2011-2014 in various degrees of spiritual and organizational commitment. From 2011 to July 2012, I visited the psych ward four additional times, got put into a more intensive care management program with the V[eteran’s]A[dministration] and had my disability rating increased.

I lost or fell out of touch with a lot of old friends and Marines I had served with. I spent most of my social time with people old enough to be my parents or grandparents.

As often happens, the more blessed and well off I was, the less I [intrinsically, as demonstrated by my actions] thought I needed YHWH and Yeshua. After my roommate left in June 2014, I began playing a bunch of video games, and embarrassingly, succumbed to the temptation of pornography.

School had been an easy excuse to remain tied down in my current quarters. I hadn’t seriously applied myself to a course in a long time and flunked quite a few [due to varying degrees of apathy which may or may not have been related to my illness and the treatment of it]. I hadn’t had paying work since December 2011 and hadn’t really figured out what to do with my life.

One of my earliest dreams had always been to write a novel. When I enlisted, the headspace for my novel had been repurposed for Marine Corps lore, history, ethos and skills. When I had my episode, my creativity and inspiration seemingly evaporated during treatment. When I had the chance to participate in NaNoWriMo Nov 2014, I didn’t do it because I was too involved playing video games.

So, it was time for a change. I might trick myself into thinking video games are fun, but they aren’t fulfilling in the same way a profession or spiritual lifestyle are. I am also a bit of a nomad at heart and want to travel. So, here we are.

18:45 PST

Service starts in 15m. Spent some time with [Bob] and caught up as well as explained various perspectives.

Cello music playing, supposedly not much teaching to happen. People trickling in. Realizing it’s been maybe 4 months and people may not recognize me without the beard and in a dress shirt and sports jacket. Too fat to fit in the tailored pants anymore.

19:15 PST [Editor’s note: These are kind of abbreviated notes to cover what happened in the service. I’ve manually expanded them a bit to help readers.]

KICKING OFF. 2nd Heaven and Earth passing away, we are not – 3rd [Heaven and Earth are to come]. Beginning of coronations to the King. Desires Pure Ones (Puritans). Turn off [natural] senses, [turn on] spiritual senses (worship in spirit – John 4). Isaiah 6, 9, 11, 61(?). Dance [to be] done in silence, very little sound to hear the King. [The Kingdom of Heaven is] now, Yeshua didn’t make appointments or ask people to come back… Live the Kingdom of Heaven now.

(MY JOURNEY – JOHN 1:23, ISAIAH 40:3-5(-8)) … 1/1/2015 <-> 10 Tevet 5775, [anniversary of Babylonian siege of Jerusalem on 10 Tevet 3336, some 2,239 years earlier – a day of fasting and mourning, not celebration!]

20:19 PST

[Eric] Word of “the LORD:” Isaiah 41

[Member 1]: Ezekiel 37:15-28

[Member 2]: 1 Chronicles 12:23 -> Zedach ministers to YHWH first, overflow to others

[Member 3]: Revelations 3:1-6

[Pastor]: Revelations 12:5-12

[Member 4]: Revelations 20:1-10,

[Ryan]: Isaiah 35

[Member 5]: John 3:16, Hebrews 3:7-4:12

[Bob]: Closing benediction; 1 Peter 4

Wrap-up around 21:30 PST

In Exile

[This is a chapter from my unfinished memoirs. Enjoy. Events focus mainly on 2007, in particular August to October 2007, though I believe this was actually composed some time in 2009.]

Growing up is such an odd sensation. As a kid, I remember thinking that the day I’d be an adult was so far off – incomprehensibly in the future. And I remember thinking that I would just magically be different – all of the sudden I was to become infinitely wise, strong, perceptive. The transformation from child to adult, boy to man – as if I were to go to bed one night and wake up the next morning forever and irrevocably different, improved.

Those of us who have grown up know that this is so very much not the case. It feels like I haven’t even grown up at all; merely gotten older. And yet, looking back, one can see the ways in which they have grown and changed. The arrogance of adolescence, the desire to rebel and all the angst and self-righteousness. Oh yes, how I’ve changed.

I remember thinking how oppressed I was in my youth. Not literally oppressed, but more…suffocated by my mother and her presence. She seemed to loom over me, choking out and stifling my ability to be motivated about anything. Any time I would start writing something new, any time I met a new friend, any time I met a girl I’d fancied, it seemed like I would have some particularly nasty fight with my mother, and like that I was sapped of all energy and willpower. I remember wanting to get out of her house as quickly as possible.

And at the age of seventeen, after several failed attempts and foiled plans, I finally did. It was around the time that I confirmed my departure that I began compiling this tome, and over the past three and a half years I have added to it periodically. In its inception, I viewed myself as moving away to Utah and living some great and fabulously successful life. I was to meet women, perhaps date them and settle down with one of them. I was to complete my long unfinished novel. I was to write about my terrible childhood and my wonderful adventures in Utah. It was to be unique – perhaps one of the first accounts of someone who grew up so intimately on and with the internet, so engrossed in professional video games, so nerdy.

Things, it would happen, did not pan out that way.

Upon arriving in Utah, I started volunteering at Nathan and Paul’s gaming center in downtown Salt Lake City. I wanted to find a job and a place of my own to live at as soon as possible – I was then staying with Nathan at his parent’s house as he too looked for a place to move his family – but Nathan insisted I be patient. He was in the midst of preparing for his magnum opus to the Unreal Torunament 2004 community, UTLAN, which would commence in August and was to be hosted at his gaming center. It was to attract some of the best players in the community from all over the country.

Initially, I was excited to be in Utah. I would often walk around the large and (relatively, in comparison to Bellingham’s downtown area) clean downtown area. I delighted in finding the local sights and attractions, getting to know the transit system, finding good restaurants to eat at. The managers at local restaurants came to know me by name and would give me discounts or free food. It was a good feeling to be known. I tried applying at a few places to work in the downtown area but never got a call back.

UTLAN 2006 came and went. Overall it was an extremely fun event, though stressful to prepare for. I met a lot some disparate and interesting people – the coolest of whom was probably a William Moyer, who has since become involved in politics. He was very intelligent and animated, and though a bit sarcastic, he was pretty friendly. All 40 or so people who showed up had a very good time, and online disputes were put aside as we all shared in having a good time. We went out to eat as a group and everyone seemed to bond. Of course, the old rivalries flared back up over the internet once everyone went home, but people were looking forward to UTLAN 2007.

It was about this time that Nathan’s parents popped some unexpected news on me – I was to leave their house within a week. Apparently, they had told Nathan I was to only stay for two weeks, while he gave me the impression that I was going to be able to stay for a month. Thankfully, Nathan’s brother Paul and his wife Melanie hosted my unemployed waif of a self while I looked for employment and an apartment, preventing me from a very unwanted return to Bellingham and high school.

Employment came quickly and in the beginning of August I started working part time at the mall, selling and repairing watches and clocks. I still volunteered at the gaming center, but would quickly stop as the brothers closed it down. I saved up enough money to get an apartment, and scored a centrally located one.

Salt Lake City is basically a giant grid (including its suburbs) and extends all the way down south into the suburb of Sandy. Road names generally follow a numbering scheme and are centered on the Mormon temple in downtown Salt Lake. The first road west of the Temple is West Temple, and the next one is 100 West, then 200 West and so on. It is like this in all directions. I believe it is State Street that runs straight into the Temple, with Main Street next to it. State Street is a north-south avenue that extends all the way down into Sandy. Sandy starts at about 9000 South, and the suburb I lived in, Murray, started at about 4000 South. My apartment was at about 4700 South and State Street – centrally located. I was about a ten minute walk from the train station and a three minute walk from the nearest bus stop.

I lived above a playhouse that featured a cabaret theater and a dinner theater, specializing mostly in musical comedies that were written and produced in house. It was an island of liberal thinking in a sea of conservative thinking and Mormonism, and was a pretty cool place aside. The apartments were owned by the same gentleman that owned the theater, and he quickly took a liking to me and offered me a secondary job working in the box office at the theater. I took it, less for the pay and more for the ability to see free shows and get a discount on the food (which was quite good). I quickly repaid Paul and Melanie a sum of money, something like $300 to $500 in thanks of their housing me. They were surprised, expecting nothing – but I couldn’t let their kindness go unpaid, especially on such short notice.

Another perk (and unseen curse) was the staff there. The cabaret side of the operation employed attractive young girls, ages generally from 16 to 19 (though some older college girls also worked part time, as they had been working there since they were in high school also) and provided me ample opportunity to flirt. My advances were unsuccessful, much to my frustration and confusion. Hindsight has elucidated my failures to me (I didn’t care about my appearance, I was intentionally awkward, I relied too much on humor and intellect and not enough on being personable) and I’ve discussed the particulars of my romantic foibles in detail elsewhere here.

When I first started working at my job at the mall, I looked like a mess. I wore the same shirt most days, didn’t know how to properly tie a tie, had a scruffy and unkempt haircut. My boss quickly took me under his wing, gave me some fashion sense and even took me shopping for some good dress clothes once. He was about ten years my senior, and we hit it off as friends. He was also recently relocated from out of state – having managed a kiosk in Boise for five years with oustanding results, the company felt he was just the man to run its number one store after the former manager there was promoted to a higher position.

The both of us weren’t exactly quick to warm up to the local populace – too conservative and Mormon for our Godless, liberal upbringings. As time worn on, we spent more time hanging out after work – I’d go to his apartment and we’d watch movies or recordings of concerts together. We’d go out to eat or go out to the movies. He started getting into the guitar (an old hobby of his) and began to play his favorite metal songs – a technically enviable feat. He even showed me how to play a bit, but I never really took it up. He even took me to my first concert – an all day metal festival.

And so it was like this I wasted away days, weeks, and months. Working 40 to 80 hours a week, getting better at hawking my wares and repairing timepieces new and old, buying things I didn’t need to fill voids I couldn’t heal. My life was going nowhere, fast. I had intended on going to college sometime in the future.

But that future never came, as I didn’t want to go into debt and did not have the time to really seek it out anyway. Transportation was an issue, as I never had a car and had to rely on public transit. I met women, it is true, but none of them seemed to fancy me, and I found that I couldn’t work up the courage to ask them on a date anyway. Where was I to take them? What was I to do with them? I wasted just a few days over a year mulling around in Utah until I woke up one day – shortly after having been promoted to assistant manager at my retail job – with an epiphany: I was going to wind up exactly like my dad.

There had been talk in the company of my abilities and my rather rapid rise to the assistant manager position – at the number one grossing location – and I was slated for the next promotion to manager in the area. At first, I was rather smug with this news, being the renegade and idealistic high-school drop out that I was. But when I realized that my father, in his youth, had foregone higher education in order to manage another retail operation…and when I recalled his life successes (or lack thereof) I immediately became discouraged.

What was I doing? Where was I going? I had wasted an entire year in an unfamiliar state. I had made few friends. All I had to show for my time was an increasingly large collection of media – books, music, video games, and a faster computer. My life felt very hollow. Where was the magnificent change that was supposed to occur? I was away from my mother, after all. Wasn’t that the source of all my weakness? Wasn’t that the reason why I hadn’t finished my novel, why I couldn’t get the money to go to St. John’s?

Apparently not.

The company I worked for continued to rot. The upper echelons of management continued to make rather unpopular decisions, blaming lower-than-expected profit margins and sales figures on its stores and the employees working in them. (This was ironic, as the Wall Street journal was running articles about how retail sales were at an all time low as the economy recessed.) Many, including myself and my manager, became fed up with the way we were treated. I couldn’t imagine trying to forge a career for myself with this company. College was out of the question. It seemed like the military was my only option.

My grandfather had been a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Marine Corps. The Marine Corps had always had a mythical presence in my childhood – any time the Discovery channel ran a program on them, I watched it in awe. The world’s finest fighting force, they seemed to routinely undergo the most intense training imaginable. They were heroes to me. The way kids dream about being President or an astronaut or a rock star – that was the way I felt about the Marine Corps. It was a flight of fancy, something I thought I would never be able to accomplish. I even remember confiding in Sara that it was something I envied, though never seriously considered doing.

But as my situation worsened, as my life wasted away in a maelstrom of apathy and discontent, I began to consider it. The Marine Corps. Me? On a whim on one of my off days, I caught the train down to Sandy, Utah and looked around for the recruiting office I heard was nearby. I had already done some research and read some books – it seemed like everyone who enlisted in the Marine Corps found it to be one of the best decisions of their life. All of the complaints about the military – getting screwed over by recruiters, the government not meeting its end of the bargain, getting screwed out of your job, getting your contract jerked around and on and on – seemed not to mention the Marines, but instead dealt with (chiefly) the Army (and following that, the Air Force and Navy). Perhaps it had something to do with the relative size of the forces – with the Marine Corps being a mere tenth the size of the Army, it was probably easier to manage incoming recruits and take care of its Marines.

The mall the recruiting office was attached to was under remodeling at the time, and I had a hard time finding the entrance to the office. I must have looked like a rather poor recruit – tall, lanky, I weighed maybe 160 pounds at the height of 6’5. The staff noncommissioned officer in charge (SNCOIC), a gunnery sergeant of eight years (a rather meteoric rise to that rank – on average, it takes a Marine some twelve years to become a gunnery sergeant, and often longer than that) looked every bit a Marine to me. The first thing he said to me that day (aside from asking me my name, or perhaps he overheard it as I talked to another sergeant) was “Well, Donner, if you join, you’ll never have to pay for sex again!” Ah, the Marines. So crass. Just what I was looking for, being so tired and fed up with political correctness and neonazi feminism.

The sergeant that I spent most of my time with, Sergeant Baker, had me pick four name-tag sized tabs from a group of tabs – reasons why I wanted to join the Marine Corps. I picked college, challenge, financial stability, and physical fitness. There were no tabs for “overcoming a debilitating amount of depression,” “rehabilitation from a year of customer service,” “an anger at mankind one wants to express with a rifle,” and so on. Upon seeing my tabs, Sergeant Baker said “College and money, huh? If those are your chief reasons, you’re probably better off serving in the Air Force.” And he spun his chair around, as if to say I should leave.

Marine recruiters are good at what they do. It is their job to find the best young men for the Corps, and despite popular opinion, the application process is rather stringent. Even for enlisted Marines, there are strict requirements, and while I was in the process of enlisting, I saw several potential recruits weeded out or turned away by the Marines working in the office. Even in a time of war, Marine recruiters have a keen sense of duty and want to make sure that they are sending only the best candidates into their beloved Corps. One way that they do this is by making sure a potential recruit truly understands and appreciates what he is doing.

Lots of people turn to the military for the benefits and the benefits alone, and the Marines are acutely aware of this. Of the service branches, the Marine Corps offers the fewest benefits to its recruits (saving them instead for those looking to re-enlist, and even then the other branches often offer better bonuses and incentives). The Marine Corps prefers its Marines enlist and reenlist based on a willingness to serve, on a willingness to be the best of the best, based on the intangible benefits of pride and confidence that being a Marine offers you.

It wasn’t just college that I was looking for. I wasn’t just looking for financial stability. I still remembered the fanciful dreams of my youth – the mystique and myth of the Corps, that group of superheroes. I told Sergeant Baker that if I was going to join the military, the Corps was the only branch for me. Hearing that, he turned around and we got down to business.

By the time I left that office several hours later, we had an appointment set for me to undergo my enlistment, undertaking all the necessary physical and academic exams. Sergeant Baker enrolled me in a local adult education school so that I could finish up my last year of high school and get the degree that was necessary for enlistment. I felt like a different person. I was anxious and scared at the same time. Within the week, I would be signing a contract stating that I was going to enlist as a Private in the United States Marine Corps.

Nobody I knew (and still talked to) could believe it. My manager in particular said I would never make it – he later apologized, explaining that he was just stressed out and worried about what my departure from the store would mean for him. We were pretty good friends outside of work, and he, like me, did not have many people he spent time with in Utah. He quit shortly after I went to boot camp.

Sergeant Baker helped me get in shape for boot camp. When I enlisted in August 2007, I was what was referred to as a “triple threat,” I could not meet any of the three requirements of the Marine Corps’ Initial Strength Test (the necessary requirements for a recruit to pass in order to proceed with training in boot camp). They require a recruit to perform two dead hang pull ups, perform forty-four crunches in two minutes, and to run one and a half miles in thirteen minutes and thirty seconds. The run and the crunches came quickly for me, as I was not particularly out of shape – I did a lot of walking and have never been very fat. My biggest problem was that since my freshman year of high school, I had not done anything particularly active with my life (like a sport or active hobby).

Even though I was not physically in the best shape, the Marines at the recruiting office were behind me every step of the way. Sergeant Baker took me to the gym whenever he could and helped get me on a training regiment. The gunnery sergeant in charge of the office expressed his confidence in me, and reminded me that nobody cares more about one’s career than oneself. “Even if you aren’t in the best of shape for boot camp, don’t let that get you down, Donner. Just work at it as hard as you can. One day you’ll get there. That’s what’s important. Four years from now, when you’re re-enlisting and looking at picking up Corporal or Sergeant or, hell, who knows, maybe Staff Sergeant, nobody will be asking what your PFT (physical fitness test) score at boot camp was.” (The Physical Fitness Test is the test Marines run semi-annually to assess fitness. It is used for promotions. A minimum of three dead-hang pull-ups, 55 crunches in two minutes, and three miles ran in 28 minutes is required to pass. For a maximum score, a Marine must perform 20 dead hang pull-ups, 100 crunches in two minutes, and clock in their three mile run at 18 minutes or below.)

The encouragement and support I received from the Marines and fellow poolees (those of us who enlisted into the Delayed Entry Program, and were going to boot camp within a year) was remarkable and refreshing. Never before had I felt like I had had so much support. And the things that I felt I was accomplishing at the time were remarkable also. I had never felt like I was achieving so many things so quickly. Within two months, I went from failing all three events of the IST and being a high school drop out to having my diploma and being above average in two of three events. The other event, pull-ups, would prove to be the bane of my existence for some time to come yet.

But Sergeant Baker wouldn’t see me discouraged. “Even if you can’t get your pull-ups before you go to boot camp, they’ll usually let you continue on in training anyway. Then you’ll have three months to get your three pull-ups down so you can graduate. The worst that can happen is you’ll get dropped back in training to the Physical Conditioning Platoon, where you’ll stay until you can meet the requirements.” This didn’t seem all that bad.

I’ll pause here in the narrative for a moment. I’ve always wanted this work to be a selfless examination of myself and my past, as my memory is extremely spotty and I want something to refer back to later. I tend to bottle up emotions and feelings and forget about them. Then I wonder about the decisions I’ve made, and have no emotional context to understand them in. It can be a difficult process recreating my life, sifting through all of the cracks and crevices I’ve hidden myself in. Because of this, I want to discuss a less flattering part of my enlistment process.

The entire time I was in Utah I was (as should be evidenced elsewhere in this work) extremely depressed. Depression is something I am and have been very familiar with. I have grown accustomed to it and do very well hiding it. It surprised me, sometimes, the depth of it. A random event or memory could trigger a huge emotional response in me. In Utah, I remember sifting through some old journals or maybe my yearbooks, and suddenly something clicked. I was rendered immobile for the rest of my weekend off from work – I didn’t leave my apartment, I slept 14 or 15 hours each day. It was somewhat frightening. I began to shy away from self-examination, self-reflection, or brooding of any sort, as it made it rather difficult to live life.

Another time, I was browsing Barnes and Noble, looking for something interesting to read (as I had taken to reading as a way to pass the time to and from work) and stumbled across the book “I Don’t Want To Talk About It – The Secret History of Male Depression” by Terrence Real. I spent one tearful evening reading the entire volume and was again rendered immobile by my emotional response. I wanted desperately to talk to someone about my response to the book, but no one returned my calls or seemed interested. I didn’t want to talk to a psychologist, as talking to someone who is paid to be your friend and make you feel better seems a rather silly thing to do. So my emotional response to that tome was another thing forgotten to the sands of time.

But I still remember my morbidity during the time I was enlisting. For a long time, I had come to some conclusions about my own death. It was probably seventh grade when I’d decided that I would never kill myself – suicide was quitting, I’d reasoned, and I wasn’t going to quit. It was some time later that I justified my lack of healthy living on the notion that, while I wasn’t going to quit life, I wasn’t going to exactly do my best to prevent my own death, either. I became fixated on a sort of passive suicide, a sort of killing myself through unwise living – the apex of which was to be my enlistment in the Marine Corps. What better way to die without killing myself, than putting myself directly in harm’s way in a war zone? Brilliance. Sheer brilliance.

I have been a believer in the notion that there is beauty in everything, even death. There is a tragic beauty in the oblivion my brother drank himself into – a beauty he and I both understand. I understand his attraction to it; when I was conducting an “interview” with him for a school project in high school, I became alarmed when he stated that he was drawn in to drinking by his fascination with the beauty of oblivion. I had, at the time, been considering taking up the bottle myself – I was about the same age he had been when he had taken his first drink – and this deterred me. I had always assumed that my brother’s alcoholism had been a direct response to my mother’s emotional abuse, but to hear my brother tell it scared me.

There is beauty in everything, even death. I wanted a beautiful death. This life I was living was so completely unsatisfying. American living was so completely unsatisfying to me. Why bother going to college, when all one can hope to do is make more money and buy more things? Where was the virtue in that? Our ancestors fought and died for freedom, liberty, for a noble and beautiful idea, in order to change the world forever. We fought and died for the latest electronic gadget and the prettiest estate. What was the fucking point in life?

Success in American culture was based on a disgusting infatuation with value – value defined not by intrinsic quality, but by how much money something could generate. “Good” music was not necessarily well composed, performed, or emotionally stirring – “good” music generated a lot of sales. Good writing was not necessarily perceptive, striking, or emotionally stirring – good writing generated a lot of sales. Anything “good” was something which generated a lot of sales. Even in public debate, be it the lunch table or on the internet, followed this notion – disputes over whether or not something was “good” often boiled down to how successful that particular thing was commercially.

Military service seemed like the only place I could escape this ubiquitous lust for wealth. Here were the men and women who still believed in freedom and liberty, in giving up their lives for something greater than themselves. Here were the men and women of noble character and virtue, fighting to protect those who were too weak to protect themselves. Politicians be damned. Even if you were tossed into a war you didn’t agree with, you could still fight to make sure the Marine to the left and the right of you had a chance to go home to his or her family and his or her loved ones. Selflessness – a necessary trait for anyone in the military, perhaps THE necessary trait.

There seemed to be a purpose that resonated with me and aligned with my tastes, then, in military service. And the morbid side of myself was placated – what better death could I have, than one in which I died serving my country and fighting hand in hand with my brothers-in-arms? There is beauty in all things, even death.

I didn’t tell my mother I was enlisting until it start to come down to the wire. I needed a copy of my birth certificate, and she was the only one who had access to get me one. I didn’t even call her to tell her. I emailed her, stating rather curtly “Hey mom, I’m enlisting in the Marine Corps so I need a copy of my birth certificate. Please send to this address, thanks, John.” I did not reply when she required further inquiry; she stated she was sending it and that’s all I needed.

Initially, I was slated to fly to boot camp sometime in the middle of September, shortly after my 19th birthday, but I didn’t feel ready enough as the date drew near. I had procrastinated on my high school diploma (I didn’t end up getting it until two days before I flew out of Utah for California!) and I didn’t feel like I was in shape physically (still unable to perform even a single pull-up, a source of constant frustration and shame). Therefore, the intelligence job I had selected became unavailable, as I was going to be enlisting in a new fiscal year (as fiscal years apparently began in October); I temporarily selected a “Data Network Specialist” MOS and that was that.

I put in a lot of notice to my job – perhaps a month or more – as even though I was growing to dislike the decisions higher management was making, I felt like I owed the company quite a bit. They had taken me in without a high school diploma and when I was still 17, and had been quick to promote me and place me in a position of authority and responsibility. I started making eight dollars an hour, flat, and left making about $15 an hour (often more than that, thanks to overtime they let me have) after commission factored in. I helped a new manager get the store ready for his reign, as my manager went to a slower mall. I quit at the end of September and prepared to fly down on October 21st.

My last free month spent as a civilian was a strange time for me. I had absolutely no time – twenty days or so to enjoy my freedom – and all the time in the world, because I didn’t have to go to work. I worked on preparing myself physically and mentally for boot camp. I read as much as I could about what to expect – getting several books about the military and Marine Corps boot camp. In particular I read “The Few and the Proud,” a series of interviews with current and former Drill Instructors, and I read the (then) new Counterinsurgency Field-Manual. And I debated my choice of Military Occupational Specialty in the Corps. Data Network Specialist was something familiar and safe – dealing with computers. There was a future after my service in that. But it was boring and I didn’t want to be stuck doing something boring for four years.

I seriously considered going in to the infantry. I viewed it as a decision I would always regret and wonder about if I didn’t pick it. I didn’t want to always wonder “what might have been,” if I didn’t pick infantry. But I also worried about the toll it would take on my body, and I worried about not being in shape for it. Ultimately my recruiters talked me out of it, telling me that I would be doing myself, the Corps, and my nation a disservice by picking infantry. They get very few recruits with my intellectual capacity to fill the highly technical jobs in the Corps, as most academically inclined recruits either go to other services (Navy and Air Force mostly) or become officers.

It was in this way that I chose an option entitled “Ground Electronics Maintenance.” I thought I would be doing field repairs in combat on various electronic gear – which my recruiters said may be a possibility. It was a rather large option in which you could wind up in one of several different MOS fields. My specific MOS wouldn’t be chosen for me until just before completion of boot camp. I didn’t pick this field until a few days before I was slated to go, and it wasn’t until the day before I was due to have my final night in Utah in a hotel the military was paying for that my recruiter called to tell me he got me the job – and a $15000 bonus, with it. This was unexpected and good news. The bonus was due to the high academic requirements to qualify for the option – you had to have some pretty good scores on the Armed Services Vocational Assessment Battery.

My brother and I had a rather nasty fight a week or two before I was going to leave. I don’t remember much of the particulars anymore, but I do remember that he compared me and my conduct to my mother. Which was absolutely unfucking acceptable to me. I was the only person that believed in him in my family, stuck through the hard times with him, regularly called to see how he was doing. I felt like, at the time, he had burned the bridge. But our relationship was such that this fight didn’t really amount to much and we’d get back in touch while I was in boot camp.

On my final weekend in Utah, some buddies from Bellingham flew down so that we could participate in one last gaming tournament before I departed. Originally, they were going to play with Nathan or his brother Paul, but both bailed towards the last minute because of familial obligations. It worked out that I could have one last night of good times, and so I did. We each won $500, as we had by far the most experience at the game (being a part of the competitive community, we knew nobody of note was going to be at this tournament). I gave my money to Nathan, being as I wouldn’t need it at boot camp.

I remember my last night as a civilian somewhat vividly. I was stationed at the Ramada in downtown Salt Lake City, an area I was pretty familiar with, as I made frequent visits to the outdoor mall for its restaurants. (In particular, I was a recurring customer of the California Pizza Kitchen here, becoming quite familiar with two of its full-service bar waitresses and two of its managers. I often got free meals.) I was nervous and scared and restless. I tried calling people who were important to me at the time, to get some last minute soul searching done. Nobody answered.

I strolled along downtown SLC. We had been briefed that there was a curfew but my recruiter told me it didn’t matter as long as I was back at the hotel in time to leave in the morning. I went to the California Pizza Kitchen a final time, talking to either Kristy or Suzanna. I bought a book on taoism I intended to read during boot camp. And I waited. My boss and I were to see one last movie together before I was going to leave.

The movie was 30 Days of Night, or something like that. A horror movie about a group of vampires that attack some small town in Alaska as they go through their yearly phase without sun because of whatever planetary phenomenon affects that region of the world. It was a decent film but I was preoccupied – my boss hadn’t been there and I felt betrayed. Why was I so unimportant to people, that they jerked me around like that? Why couldn’t I build a lasting connection with anyone?

Much like when I left Bellingham, I was looking to others to make the decision to enlist for me. If anybody expressed doubt or regret at my permanent departure from their life, I wouldn’t have enlisted. I wasn’t really making my own decisions in life, I was letting other people’s actions and reactions determine my fate. And because no one cared about me, I signed on the dotted line. I rationalized the decision to myself in terms of service to my country, defending freedom and liberty, getting into better shape, achieving something – but at the time, the primary motivation was the lack of a reason to not go.

Maybe boot camp would change me. Could it change me? I hoped to keep in touch with several people who expressed interest to do so as I left – keeping a list of addresses in my wallet. Sara was on the list. I fought myself day in and day out over her – part of me wanting to get over her, part of me drawing on her for warmth and support. Even though she wasn’t an active part of my life, I would find my thoughts resting with my memories of her and the support she offered me in my time of need.

And so it was with these disjointed hopes and dreams and feelings and confusion that I found myself a recruit on Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego from 22 October 2007 to 01 February 2008.

Dead Men Tell No Tales: The Debate III: On Deaf Ears

What is Dead Men Tell No Tales? It is a selection of (hitherto) undisclosed, private ruminations and epiphanies. Most take the form of (slightly) edited letters to unnamed recipients, but some have been scavenged from the depths of private journals recently rediscovered. Over the next little while (however long it takes – days, weeks, months, years?) I’ll be posting them in episodic fashion for the reading pleasure of my nonexistent audience.

In The Debate, our young, idealistic but morbidly depressed author – less than a month away from going to Marine Corps boot camp – is responding to careless statements made about his favorite movie (Fight Club) and his decision to enlist. On Deaf Ears is a rare moment of introspection and reflection on the part of the author, which never garners a response from the recipient. Such things, our nonexistant audience will soon learn, happen often.
Understand that I’m not trying to be negative, just telling you how it’s been (most people don’t seem to realize that I do try to improve my situation, and instead just judge me…):
I’ve had ample opportunity to meet people in Utah. I’ve introduced myself, tried to focus on manifesting only the attractive parts of myself (humor, intelligence, etc), tried to remain in a good mood, been outgoing… but I have not made a single friend outside of my boss. I’ve gotten plenty of phone numbers (from cute girls, even!) and for various reasons, each endeavor has proven unsuccessful. Sometimes it’s because, try as I might, my inner demons bubble up to the surface and I admit too early on that I’m not as happy as I may seem… sometimes it’s because I come on too strong… sometimes it’s because I don’t come on strong enough… sometimes it’s because we just aren’t compatible… and other times, I really don’t know. There was this one girl, RF, that seemed like a great match for me, but… long story.
I didn’t leave school, per se. High school was boring – there wasn’t enough challenge for me. I would pretend to be sick just to let the homework build up and create enough stress to motivate me to get it done. And my home life was absolutely fucking terrible. And try as I might, I couldn’t make any fucking friends. So I applied to St. John’s and was accepted. But my parents did not finish their end of the financial aid application process, and I was unable to go (tuition is like $40,000/yr, which I can’t afford). I’d been dreaming and scheming of leaving home ever since I was in the 7th grade and I literally may have killed myself if I had to stay any longer (this is not a joke or exaggeration, I was suicidal). I’d been talking to my friend about the possibility of going to Utah, and it turned out that I could, so I did. 
When I got here I found that I didn’t have enough money to go to school. After wasting a year I realized I needed to get back on track. So, the military seemed to be the only way to get back to school – there you have it, one of the reasons I joined the Marines! All of the opportunities that they will give me to go to school.
But there’s more to the school story than that – I disagree that school is a great place to meet interesting and intelligent people. Especially if you paid attention to my Protest Project, you’d realize that the educational system is completely flawed. Even if it weren’t being retooled to be unfriendly to males (at current trends, the last male will receive his college degree sometime around 2050 or 2070 – can’t remember exactly, but it was within our lifetime) it is still massively flawed. For example, when I took this screening exam for the Marine Corps, I scored in the 91st percentile [edit: it was a practice test; on my actual test I scored in the 98th]. To be eligible you need to score in the 30th at least. The Marines have seen A LOT of kids, with diplomas, fail out. They’ve seen a kid with a diploma score in the 5th percentile! School doesn’t TEACH you anything anymore. 
Yes, I sometimes look at the world from [your] perspective – that today is the first day of the rest of my life – and it helps. But every time that the same thing happens – every time somebody fails to call me back, or is evasive about it, or just won’t tell me if they like me or not, it becomes harder to adopt that attitude. You have to realize that these patterns I am talking about – people abandoning me, being dishonest with me, not loving me, being untrustworthy, disloyal – have been occurring my ENTIRE life, not just recently. I do all that I can to combat it, but sometimes I just can’t maintain the illusion that it’ll get better. Trust me, I have tried my best, and sometimes I am surprised. I’ll be honest with you (when I was still in Bham) – I tried my best with you, and when I couldn’t reach you the first few months after being down here, I figured that what had always happened to me happened again and I’d written you off completely. As stated, I really like(d) you, and when I got down here I actually wrote a letter to you (that I still have!). I never sent it when I never received anything from you, and… well, I just had to cope with the fact that you were probably gone, like so many others. I added you on a whim on Facebook – trying, yet again, despite the voice in my head telling me it was futile – and it turned out to work. That same part of me wonders for how much longer, but, like I said – I am trying. [edit: turns out it wouldn’t last ANY longer]
I have also invested a lot of my time trying to help other people. Remember those late nights where, on top of all my homework, I’d edit your essays for you and give you feedback? I was once a peer mediator in school – students who helped other students resolve conflicts. I tutored people in debate, in math, in essay writing, in whatever they wanted to be tutored in… hell, being better at videogames, even! Heh. But people tend to be shallow, and ultimately they would just try to surpass me and turn it into a game of one-upsmanship (a game I didn’t want to play) and I grew tired of it. 
The Marines still help people, too, LW. This country would not exist, were it not for war, and even after being established in the furnace of war, it has been tested many more times in that same furnace. If WW2 had not played out the way it did, you would not be enjoying your status of living the easy life. America was the only industrialized country in the world that did not see an invasion by an enemy force – and that is a huge part of the reason why we are as “advanced” as we are today. Also, as the military learns that it can’t win counterinsurgency wars with bullets, they have looked at making soldiers better nation builders (because the civilian establishments that are skilled at it refuse to go to war zones to do it). So I actually will be helping out – not just myself, not just my country, but potentially other countries as well. We could get derailed on an endless political tangent here, but let me pre-empt that by also saying: I have no qualms with killing people right now, either. For whatever reason. But this is because morality is relative – not objective – and there is no true good or evil. I will fight to defend my country in whatever way is possible, and should I see that my country is heading down the wrong course, I will do what is in my power to right it – the military is a lot more intelligent than most liberals give it credit for.
I do not think I am too intelligent for the world. I think that, perhaps, I may be too intelligent for most people – you yourself admitted that you did not feel comfortable debating with me, that you ego was threatened, when that was not at all my intent. I was just trying to debate as well as I could – following the rules of logic I hold dear and defending the beliefs I’ve established for myself as best I could. I was not trying to make you feel uncomfortable, but I realize that that is what I do to people. I decided a long time ago that I feel much better remaining true to my beliefs and my ideals (honesty, integrity, logic) than I do conceding them to others just so that they may like me a little bit more. Furthermore, I tend to be able to handle the nastier parts of reality better than other people can, and this too alienates me. As stated, any time I try to talk about the life I’ve lived, people just try to shut me up and judge me as a pessimist or a negative person or overly cynical or what have you – completely dismissing my experiences and feelings.
I’m glad you’re sick of hearing atheists talk about their beliefs. That’s pretty much how I felt the entire time in Bellingham about most things – like I said before, Bellingham is full of some of the most intolerant people I’ve ever met in my whole life. The ends don’t matter to me – whether you are Christian or atheist or whatever in between, whether you are liberal or conservative, whether you are an abstract or pragmatic thinker – what matters to me is if you have rationale behind your reasoning. If you can stand your ground and logically defend your opinions or beliefs. If you acknowledge the fact that religious systems are often a matter of blind faith, and that you truly do have that faith, good for you! What matters to me is the rationale behind your stances, not the stance itself. Any point of view, any perspective, can have merit.
I want, so badly, LW, to start over. I ache to start over. It was my greatest dream for a long time. And the military can provide me with that. I could disappear, LW. All I have to do is not give people my contact info, not stay in touch, maybe change my name… tell my mother she is dead to me… but… that’s just running away.
I don’t laugh at morality and virtue. I find it sad that the majority of people don’t have any. Although, my morals are a bit different. I am somewhat amoral – I don’t color the world in good and evil – but I do believe in virtue. Really, the most important thing to me when it comes to virtues is honesty. So, I try always to be honest. And that is what turns people off to me.
I realize that people don’t like to hear about my experiences. I realize that they don’t like to hear about my amoral views, about my minor cynicism, about other things. But damn it, that’s what’s honest. That’s what I really think. And I’m not about to compromise my honesty just to curry favor with somebody I barely know. LW, I’m a smart guy. I know how to act should I want someone to like me. Hell, my brother is the master of getting people to like him (and have sex with him) but… I don’t find relationships built upon a bed of lies and a lack of trust to be emotionally satisfying. I would rather die alone than be surrounded by people I can’t trust with my feelings. Which is, right now, why I’m pretty alone. I seem to be able to trust you with my feelings – at least, you haven’t written them off or dismissed them… But everyone else, except Kai, judges me for them. What kind of twisted, cold, terrible person judges you for the way you’re feeling!? If you were to tell me that you were sad, my first response would not be to BERATE you for it! I would try to find out why, and if there is sufficient reason for your sadness, I would try to help you cope with it! (If, on the other hand, you were just overreacting, I might help you get some perspective on your feelings. But never would I simply dismiss your feelings and judge you for having them!) Why is empathy so hard to come by?
I am truly touched that you are concerned about my death. Again, I honestly thought that there was not a soul in this would that would be all that affected by my passing. I know that people would be sad, initially, you know what I mean? But I did not think that there was anyone who would be truly affected by my death. I figured I would be forgotten. It does not seem that way with you, and so it may seem selfish when I say this, but I am not really concerned with my own life. I care enough not to kill myself, for instance, but dangerous situations do not affect me. My death will come when it will come – I could die tomorrow crossing the street – and being a soldier doesn’t really scare me that way. To be honest with you… I think sometimes, why am I even alive right now? I have no goal in life. The goals I have tried to pursue seem to be outside my reach – nobody wants to read my novel, nobody wants to connect with me meaningfully – so what am I doing? When it comes to the Marines and the danger involved, it is not a question of why. For me, it is a question of why not.
I must not have painted my dying alone in a clear enough light. I did not reach this conclusion because of my girlfriend. I reached this conclusion long before my girlfriend, and was in fact surprised to meet someone who was interested in me – who would take the risk and tell me that they loved me (which, I would argue, turned out untrue, but then again… I have no frame of reference when it comes to love). If anything, she almost changed that conclusion for me. But after I got out of the relationship, I looked back on it, rationally and objectively, and I saw the ways that she had used me and lied to me, and it was just confirmation for what I had already known to be true.
I am an ironically dominant personality type. That is, when I am myself. The person you probably know the best, or the John you remember the best, wasn’t really me. I am not me when I sit in class and say nothing. I am not me when I reveal nothing about my experiences, my feelings, my passions. When I am animated – when I am talking about something that matters to me, when I am debating over something I believe in or am concerned about, I can be very dominant. I tend to be unyielding, as well, so it is not a charismatic dominance, but the kind of dominance that reflects inner insecurities and weaknesses in others – something unpleasant, as you may attest to. People don’t like being wrong, and it takes a very strong person to admit as much. And I don’t back down when I know I am right – a combination that leads me all too often into isolation. I can’t stand ignorance, for instance, and sometimes try to do everything in my power to give people a reality check… not a very attractive tactic.
What I’m getting at is this. In order to coexist peacefully with people, I must suppress myself. I can’t combat their ignorance, can’t expose their flawed reasoning, can’t be honest with them. But the most important thing to me is honesty! So in order to get along with people I have to give up that which I alue most about myself, which is of course painful. In order to be content with myself, I must accept solitude, it seems. I don’t like to be alone, LW – even after a solid 16 years of experience (or so) with it (in varying degrees), I don’t like it. But I like it better than I like to compromise myself.
Perhaps I will meet someone who can tolerate my quirks. And perhaps I will be lucky enough that I like them. And luckier still, they will be female. And even luckier, available. And luckier (how much luck is involved at this point) they will like me as much as I like them! Then perhaps, LW, I will get married and settle down. It is not as if I want to be alone. I would just rather be myself, which pretty much, in my experience, guarantees my solitude.
I could, of course, attempt to change myself, right? The thing is… I don’t see the flaws in my preferences. We could talk at length about this, but for now, suffice to say that I feel as though my position – remaining honest, looking to improve rationality and logic in others, combating ignorance – are genuinely GOOD things. I try to go about it as tactfully as possible (as I tried with you) but the fact of the matter is that most people are not ready to be confronted with their own flaws.
I realize that tenderness, joy, love and all of those things are reality, too. And should I be blessed enough to enjoy them – truly, and not just some sham of them attained by compromising my own morals and virtues – then rest assured I will enjoy them to the fullest extent. I do not willingly seep myself in hatred and violence, LW. Hatred is just something I have become used to. Violence is something I want to experience for myself before I pass judgment on it.
About killing… Yes, some people kill for the machine. Some people kill because they are told. Some people kill because they will be killed if they don’t. This is because they have not, in my opinion, considered the situation with enough depth to find another reason to kill. And I’m not just talking about “for your country,” though that is a valid reason. There is a lot of depth to the situation in Iraq, so much so that the average person misses a lot of it. I want to be there myself, sift through the layers and the “fog of war,” before I make any judgments. And ultimately, LW, I intend to become an officer, so that, should I determine our boys are killing for the wrong reasons, I can do my part to steer us back on course. 
People do a lot to discredit war and violence. But think of this LW… aside from ideas, can you think of a more important and long lasting catalyst of change in the history of mankind? Virtually every event, every circumstance, every person, can be traced back to the outcome of a war. I already talked about WW2 – but we would not have grown up the same way – or may not have been born! – had America not come out of WW2 the way it did. There’s obvious wars, too, like the Civil War, and the Revolutionary War… 
Often times, of course, ideas themselves are what lead to war. 
Conflict, I think, is the basic unifying experience of humanity. Conflict of ideas, conflict of goals, conflict of nations, conflict of self… everyone experiences conflict, and it provides the universal common framework for empathy… and it is through conflict that we better ourselves. Conflict allows the superior side to survive and the weak side to fade away. If your beliefs have never been tested – are never in conflict – how can you be sure that they are any good? Like I said, I must constantly defend my position and belief system from all sides all the time… and each time I do, I become more convinced of certain aspects of it. Or I become convinced that certain beliefs were wrong… 
I have few regrets, LW. I wish that I knew what love was, for instance. I have thought before that I have loved people, but have been too afraid and too scared to tell them. Sometimes, when I do, it ironically pushes them away from me, because they feel uncomfortable with my love. Heh… I am convinced that there is no worse feeling in the world than to feel that someone won’t associate with you because you love them. I am SURE of that, as sure as I am that I will be taxed and that I will eventually die. 😉
Thank you.
[Sent as a separate message some thirty minutes later:]
Haha… so many words, and as I read back, there is so much to add… I’ll drown you in a sea of my miseries, I am sure.
That’s the other thing, that keeps me alone. I carry around with me a significant amount of pain and unpleasant experience, that I often must keep to myself. Then somebody tries to be nice to me and look at what they get? Me dumping it out all over them.
Sorry 🙁