On Sunday, May 14th, 2006 I left my home and headed towards Knoxville. I left my mother on all days of the year on Mother’s Day. Before I left, a few friends, Freels, Crow, Wallace and Ashley showed up. Rayfield actually got his motorcycle out and showed up too. He rolls up in the driveway and before you know it my dad, Big D, hops on it and is gone in a flash. Rayfield is stuck standing in the driveway trying to swallow the fact that Big D just hopped on his bike and left. I bid farewell and Ashley is kind enough to take me to Knoxville. She only lived a few minutes away so it wasn’t a big deal. She had been acting strange ever since January. Afraid of the Marine Corps and their brainwashing, she thought I was going to come back a zombie and be a freaking nut. Well, I was already a bit loco so I don’t think it would have mattered. She had basically started to phase me out of her life and wanted to be alone for a bit. I fought tooth and nail to hang on to her and luckily I did.

We arrived at the Crowne Plaza and I had to check in with the MEPS liaison. I am assigned a room with another guy also going to Paradise Island. He seems to be nonchalant about what looms in the horizon. Me, on the otherhand, am a dayum worrybug. I immediately start quizzing this guy, Pryce, on his general orders and his rifleman’s creed.

“So, do you have all your general orders down?”
“My general what? What the heII are you talking about? Man I just signed up three days ago.”
“Here man look over this stuff…I’ve got a few of them down but not all of them.”
Little did I know that those eleven orders among many other things would be chiseled into my grape over the next three months.

Come to find out, he is from Pulaski, Tennessee; home of the KKK. He is a big feller with a lot of tattoos. Many of them required him to have waivers.

I tell him I’ll be back later tonight. I was going to spend as much time with Ashley as I could before I left. I check back out of the hotel and head down to the car. Ashley and I head to TGI Friday’s to enjoy the “Last Supper.” I don’t remember what I ordered but I savored every bite of it. We then headed to West Towne mall to kill some more time. We went to Build a Bear; not a very manly place for a soon to be USMC recruit but oh well. I was surprised to see that they had a dress blues uniform for the bears as well as a sharp white cover and nice coraframs. Once the girl at the counter got that bear dressed up, I must admit he looked good, dam good. He was more of a Marine than me at the time. Freedom for me was winding down and I wanted to get some sleep. As we pulled up in the loop at the lobby, it was as if a dam broke in downtown Knoxville. I told her I’d be fine and would write as often as possible. I get out and she slowly drives away. I check back in and began the slow death march back to my room. I talk to Pryse some more and we both decide it would be best to get some sleep. The lights went out but both of us never fell asleep. 0430 rolled around soon enough and we were up and getting dressed. I had tried shaving against the grain ever since I had enlisted back in August, but it had caused a bloody mess. The same results ensued that morning. Breakfast down in the lobby was quiet for all the guys going to Parris Island. The Army pukes and National Guard fellas had it easy. After breakfast was finished, we anticipated the arrival of the dilapidated, old, yellow school bus. As we sit in the lobby some talk about what boot camp will be like, while others, like myself, sit in silence.

One cocky guy in particular blurted out “If any of those DI’s touch me, I’m gon knock the chit out of him. You just wait and see…I’m gon beat his @ss.”

I didn’t really like that guy all that much and hoped that he didn’t make it through Parris Island. The bus lurches to a stop and we pile on. But before we load, almost everyone had to enjoy a final smoke in the cool spring breeze.

MEPS goes off without a hitch and we depart Knoxville around 1300. We stop for gas and everyone hops out of the van and loads up on pogey bait. I was a tightass back then when it came to money and still am, for the most part. I just sat in the van and hung on to all seven, one dollar bills I had in my wallet.
As our van is filling up with gas another van, full of Mexicans, pulls up at the pump right beside us. Nothing was unusual about this, for seeing a vehicle full of Mexicans is nothing out of the ordinary. For some reason though, none of them exited the van. They sat in silence and stared at me. As if in unison they all nodded their heads and some tipped their hats at me. It was as if they knew what I was about to embark on. Or maybe they saw the fear in my eyes. Who knows? HeII, maybe they were looking for some gringo love.
Everyone piles back in the van and off we go. We stop at a town in South Carolina to switch drivers and vans and enjoy some first class chow at the Golden Corral. Uncle Sam was nice enough to provide us with meal vouchers, so dinner was on the taxpayers tonight. I tried eating. I really did. I just wasn’t hungry. I don’t think anyone was. There was a telephone over by the restrooms and I thought I’d say goodbye to Ashley just one more time. She was taken aback by the call, which made my day. Any day that I can pull a swift one and surprise her is definitely a good day.

We load back up in van number two and head east, towards the coast. Everyone is in a pretty good mood, that is, until we roll into Beaufort.
“We’re here boys. Just a few more minutes” said the old, black man.

That right there brought all the talking to an end. As we hit the main drag in Beaufort I remember staring up at the trees and seeing the Spanish moss swaying in the wind. It was dark now and we pulled into a gas station so everyone could clean out the van and take a leak. We are all standing outside the gas station, some bought Cokes and Mountain Dew. Pryse, for some reason, bought a stick of deodorant.

I reach into my wallet and pull out the seven bucks I had on me. I ask if anyone wants it.

Before I left, a good friend of mine’s dad gave me a bit of advice. He said that when he went through, he had some money on him when he got to Receiving and that he had to write down the serial number of every dollar bill and then log it in with the drill instructors. There was no way I was going to write down the numbers for a measly seven bucks.

No one spoke up so in the trash it went. I tried explaining to everyone the reasoning behind throwing it away but it was pointless. It was time to pile back in the van for the final time and we regretfully did so. Within five minutes we were at the main gate. We come to a stop and two MP’s come up to the window. The driver hands him some paperwork and one MP struts over to the door.

“Listen up. You are now at Parris Island. Shut up. No talking. Put your head between your legs and kiss your @ss goodbye. Don’t look up again until the drill instructor tells you to.”
I would rather be near the birds than waste my whole life trying to fly.