Friday, February 6, 2009

Initiate THIS, Suckers!

By Helen E. H. Madden

Oy. This is me.

For those of you who don't know me, I'm Helen, the new resident pain-in-the-ass here at OGG. Did we have a resident pain-in-the-ass before? No? Well we've got one now.

What qualifies me for the title of PITA, you may ask. How about attitude? I've got plenty of that, as you can see.

When I was first invited to join up with this blog, I was delighted, ecstatic even, to share my aforementioned attitude with such a discerning audience. After all, what a wonderful opportunity this would be to reach out and touch people with my words (and I mean touching in a good way). Then Lisabet announced the topic for the first week was going to be 'initiation,' and all of a sudden, I wanted to curl up in a corner and die.

You see, the word 'initiation' takes me back, waaaaaaaay back. Don't ask how far back - I have a milestone birthday coming up in two weeks that I do NOT wish to discuss. Let's just say all the way back to my days as a cadet in the Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech. Yes, that's right. Pick your jaw up off the floor. Your's truly, the Pain-In-The-Ass Extraordinaire, the Priestess of Perverse, the She-Devil of Erotica, was once a uniform wearing Dork with a capital D. Do you like a woman in uniform? I sure as hell didn't, especially not when that woman was me.

The Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech is like a mini-military academy stuck in the middle of a civilian university. Cadets wear the uniform every day, live in cadet dorms, march together, run together, eat together, puke together, suffer through millions of push ups together, etc., etc., etc. How did I end up in an outfit like that? My father, in all his infinite wisdom, decided that I really, really needed to sign up for ROTC in college because it would be good for me. When he found out there was a Corps of Cadets at the university of my choice, he jumped for joy. Yes, his little girl was going to grow up and become an officer! Yes, she would learn discipline and duty and the value of hard work! Since Daddy was footing the bill for my education, I had very little choice about whether or not I was joining. So one bright August morning, my folks packed me and all my gear into their van, drove across the state, and dumped my sorry ass at the doorstep of Rasche Hall, into the welcoming arms of Hotel Company, Second Battalion of the VTCC.

What followed that day was four years of absolute hell. I was never cut out to be in the military, let alone a miniature version in the shape of a cadet corps. I had, among other things, a lack of discipline, no desire to follow orders, too much attitude (see my opening paragraph), and abysmal upper body strength (to this day, push ups make me break out in hives). I yakked three days worth of food every time I had to run a mile and couldn't tell a sergeant from a captain to save my life. Being a cadet meant I had to keep my room clean, I had to iron my uniform, I had to march in step with fifty other people and turn when they turned. I had to salute and say "Sir!" or "Ma'am!" every single time I ran into someone who outranked me. I had to ask permission to eat, to speak, to even breath! Absolute fucking hell, I tell you.

And yet, some of the best stories of my life come from this period of time. Like the one I'm about to share with you now.

One evening, six weeks after being abandoned by my folks, I was summoned from my door room by a screaming cadet corporal and chased down the hall to my unit waiting area, where I was lined up with all the other freshman cadets, better known as 'rats.' Our company First Sergeant - the biggest, baddest son-of-a-bitch you'd ever want to see - stalked in and cut us down with an ugly glare.

"You rats make me sick! You're all weak! You can't even tie your damn shoes! You think you can be a part of my Corps of Cadets? Do you?" He stomped up and down the hallway, sneering at us. "Well we're about to find out!" he roared. "Tonight is Company Initiation, and I'm sending you out on a special mission. The only ones getting into my Corps of Cadets are the ones who succeed in this mission, and you're either all going to succeed or you're all gonna wish you'd died trying!"

The mission turned out to be a scavenger hunt that sent us all over the campus, looking for clues as to the where-abouts of our company guidon (that's the little flag thingie each company carries in parades to identify who they are). Some genius upper classman had hidden it on the vast grounds of Virginia Tech, and we rats had three hours to find it. Armed only with our knowledge of campus trivia and a tourist map, we started running. We all had to run together, and we all had to arrive at each check point in the scavenger hunt together or so help us GOD, our cadet First Sergeant would drop us for push ups until our arms fell off (I believe I lost my arms somewhere around check point three, which was the Duck Pond; if you go to the campus today, and you find them, please send them back to me, okay? Okay). We ran, and we ran, and we ran. It got dark. The upper classmen made us put on reflective vests and carry flashlights so we wouldn't trip and kill, and we still kept running. We ran all over the campus. We ran under the campus, into the steam tunnels below ground, where it's so damned close and dark, you can't see the guy ahead of you freaking out from claustrophobia, but you can hear him even as you pray to every god you know that you don't freak out too. We ran until we puked. And we did push ups, lots of push ups, even those of us who had already lost our arms to previous sets of push ups. We climbed walls and crawled on our bellies across the drill field and carried each other in relay races until our legs gave out. We amused the hell out of the civilian populace on the campus who just stood there, pointing and laughing while we ran some more. And then...

Then we arrived at the campus golf course.

Our cadet First Sergeant met us at the sand trap by the sixth hole. "You sorry bunch of maggots! You think you're tired? Well you're not done yet! Get down on your bellies and low crawl across my sand trap! That's right, CRAWL! Dig a trench with your chin. Move it! MOVE IT!"

We crawled one way across our bellies and another way on our backs. I got sand up my nose, in my mouth and down my underwear. I could feel it trapped between my ass cheeks and stuck inside my bra. It rubbed skin off of areas that were far to sensitive for that sort of thing, and to this day I still bear the scars. Back and forth, back and forth, we crawled through the sand until it must have looked like Normandy Beach on D-Day. And then...

"All you rats, break up into groups of three or four!" the cadet First Sergeant yelled. "Stand with your backs to each other! Squat down in the sand and start digging! I want to see a mountain of dirt in front of every one of you puke-faced little cry-babies!"

So we squatted and we dug. Our hands clawed at the sand until we each had a pile that came up to our chins. And then the cadet First Sergeant stepped out of the sand trap and said...

"Now I want each of you rats to grab a double-handful of sand and toss it up and over to the person behind you, and scream, 'I'm a dust bunny! I'm a dust bunny!'"

No shit, that is exactly what he ordered us to do. And we did it. Twenty freshmen cadets grabbed handfuls of sand and started throwing it to the person behind them, declaring themselves dust bunnies at the tops of their lungs. I could not get the sand out of the crack of my ass for weeks.

Once we had decimated the sand trap, the cadet First Sergeant generously shared with us the location of the company guidon and gave us fifteen minutes to retrieve it and get back to the company waiting area in the dorm. We made it in twenty, I think, which wasn't bad for a ten-mile run (at least it seemed like ten miles). We lined up in the waiting area, stood at attention, and presented the guidon to the cadet First Sergeant who dropped us for even more push ups for being late and then congratulated us on accomplishing our mission. Yes, we had indeed survived our company initiation and were now part of his Corps of Cadets. Huzzah!

So aside from the fact that the word 'initiation' gives me violent flashbacks to my days as a cadet, why am I sharing this little tale with you now? Let's say it makes an excellent metaphor for the writing life. Like Garce mentioned earlier this week, initiation means a lot of things, including commitment, apprenticeship, and the ability to transform into something new, hopefully something better. As beginning writers, we start out lazy and undisciplined, ignorant of the work ahead of us. We find our cadet First Sergeants, those bad-asses who will critique our stories until it hurts and whip our writing into shape or else force us out of the field. We face insurmountable obstacles in getting published and finding respect for our work. We are punished when we mess up a story, and tolerated when we succeed. And on most days, when we're wrestling with a tale, trying to get it down on paper, we look like we're walking around with a ton of sand stuck between our... well, you know.

So this is me. This is where I come from. That night on campus was a first step in developing the discipline I now have to exercise every day to earn the title of 'Writer.' Without that discipline, I'd just be another pain in the ass with attitude, and really, who needs that?

Thanks for reading today. Don't forget to comment. You might win a $30 gift certificate to if you do. And if you read this and don't comment? Then you better drop and give me twenty push ups, pal!

See ya next week.


  1. Hey comrade.
    I was in the National Cadet Corps and I've done a fuck lot of shit too. Like this activity my officers blatantly named 'Torture Camp'.
    But I gotta say I loved it. Am I sick or what.

  2. Jeez, Helen!

    Writing has never been like that for me!

    Great story, though. Experiences like that, experiences that you suffer through, when you're in so much pain or so miserable that you truly want to die, always make great stories.

    I guess you just have to look at it as material.

    Thanks for joining the Grip. However, I think you're going to have some competition for resident PITA. I can hear Jude revving her motor right now...!


  3. *Jamie stops her feet because she's very often called the PITA wherever she goes*

    Helen, I cannot imagine the discipline it takes to be in the military. I can see why, after experiences like that, the troops become very close to each other.

    I have writing discipline but no one needs to tell me when to eat, sleep or breathe, thank you.

    I'll be interested to hear more of your stories!


  4. HELEN

    I'm the opposite of PITA in the real world. The first half of my life was a life of intensity and passion and then I got a family and became a frightened civil servant constantly worried about money. If God and I ever meet, we have a lot of ugly crows to pluck over that. He should have killed me off when I was young.

    That's a great story of initiation. I think that's a case, where like writing, there's this darwinian thing going on where only want the most highly motivated make it. I work for the Army by the way, so I know what you're talking about. Its definately a tribe with its own rules.


  5. Wonderful post. I've never been in any military establishment, but I certainly can empathize. Excellent analogies!

  6. I gotta say, I'm thankful that my initiations in various mystery schools were NOTHING like that. I had one incident in one of them (which I sadly can't disclose the details too much of) where I was placed in a well, interesting predicament. I actually wound up laughing, but I know when I'm being set up and I have a sense of humor about myself and everything.

    And that's what you really need in times like that--a sense of humor.

  7. I've never been in the military either

  8. *smiling sweetly*

    Lisabet, I don't know WHAT you mean, woman!

    Helen, an amazing story. I honestly can't imagine what would have happened if I'd been dropped at some military school. The mind boggles. I also can't imagine why on Earth anyone would want a group of young people to call themselves dust bunnies. Again, the mind boggles. Breaking them down...Yeah, maybe. Over the fence sounds better. LOL

    Initiations always seem to have a hint of cruelty. At least the ones I've heard about or been involved in. Even when we begin school, the first graders being sent off to the wrong room by the older kids. Middle school had its trials, as did the senior high. Outside of school, the groups kids belong to all had some form of entrance to perform, some not too bad, some dangerous. We're an interesting breed. Trial by torture. The need to bond through pain or humiliation.

    Okay, I'm rambling here. An incredibly interesting post, Helen. I'm glad you joined us and I'm really looking forward to your PITA posts. LOL

  9. Feeling the burn of those twenty pushups, so here's my post instead:

    Your story is amazing, Helen. I had a fun time exploring your website. Thanks for the free reads; Demon by Day is on my TBB list.


  10. Great post Helen.

    I did the UK version of cadet military college thing the a little while when I was in my teens.

    It was... interesting. Especially around the time when the senior year were studying a list of things the military aren't allowed to do to prisoners.

    Way to many ideas flying around, especially when no one mentioned that the same limits should apply to what they're allowed to do to juniors!

  11. Thanks for all the comments guys! I tell ya, it was one of the more interesting times in my life. The bit in the steam tunnels was probably the scariest part, in reality, because it was dark and claustrophobic in there, and the guy ahead of me really did freak out.

    I went on to do 11 years in the Army Reserves after college, which was also interesting, though not nearly as cruel. But it was exhausting, and when I got pregnent, that was the end of that.

    One thing that surprises me is that when I write BDSM, I don't really reach back to those Cadet Corps days. It's not the kind of torture I usually find sexy. But perhaps I ought to do some brainstorming. I'm sure I could come up with a kink story or two somewhere!!

  12. Wow, your initiation sounds horrendous. You are one tough woman.

  13. A cute article.

    My son enlisted in the Marines, he's been to boot camp and learn to appreciate civilian life a lot more since he's been in, but he enjoys being a team and doing something worthwhile with his life.

    I applaud anyone who goes in, no matter why they go in, they are there and they are the backbone of this nation. Thanks
    Rita Hestand

  14. Hi, I'm Englsish so some of the finer points of your tale sort of passed me by, but I have to admit to chartleing my way through the description of the scavenger hunt. Tell me do you still bear a grudge against your Mum & Dad? LOL

    A great story, thanks for sharing and lets hope the initiation to the blog goes 9at least) a little better than that one.

  15. No, no grudge holding here. In the end, I did end up with an ROTC scholarship that paid for school, plus a job after I got out. And no, I'm not really all that tough. I spent a lot of my time as a cadet whining and moaning. I'm still surprised I got through it.

    To everyone who's posted today, thank you! It was a lot of fun going through those old memories, and more fun to see everyone's comments. These days, being a parent and a writer seems just as tough as being a cadet. At least back then all I had to do was follow orders. Now I have to think for myself!

  16. Great blog, Helen. My arms and legs hurt just from reading it...LOL!

    Rhonda :-)

  17. From someone who knows you and KNOWS what landmark birthday you are talking about (and has passed it herself), I don't think the corps or military gave you the had that self discipline to be the good student and iconoclast before then. Those activities only served to make you recognize that you had those qualities. Happy upcoming Birthday!

  18. I guess I'd never be cut out for anything like that because I'd have told First Sgt to shove it up his ass. Nobody treats me like that.

    Maybe other people want to be a part of that crowd that badly. Not me. I just don't get it.

    Carpe Noctem,

    Desirée Lee
    Putting the Romance Back in Necromancy

  19. I was in the Army, and I can tell you some stories--funny ones and hellish ones, too. LOL--see you at Farpoint next week.
    Sapphire Phelan

  20. Might one assume then that you did not go into the military when your education was complete?
    You tuckered me out just reading about what you were put through.
    After four years of that regimine you must have had great looking legs too.

  21. I wanted to do ROTC, but the college of my choice didn't have it. They do now, centuries after I graduated. I was a PE major and ran track so I spent most of my days, mornings and evenings doing some type of workout anyway. I wish I had the energy to maintain the level of fitness I had then. I'm thinking though there are lots of story lines in the whole initiation thing. Glad you survived.

  22. Great post! I don’t think I could make it through the first day. I guess if you can make it through that it sets you up to face all life’s challenges. Kuddos!

  23. My worst group initiation was at Band Camp - involved staying up all night, eating disgusting food and having to march on the field in my underwear. Not as bad as your Corps by a million miles.

    But I think it's the individual initiations into social groups that happen, whether obvious or not, that are the most difficult.

    I"m enjoying this new incarnation of the Grip a great deal.

  24. My husband retired two years ago after 40+ years in uniform. They refuse to take his name off the roster, though, just in case he changes his mind!

  25. Great post! I am glad that you survived. I was never in any military establishment, but I certainly can empathize. My oldest brother was in the Army.

  26. Thanks again to everyone for all the comments!

    pat - I did indeed go on to get my commission in the USAR. I put in 11 years before I finally got out. I had a new job by then - motherhood.

    Nan - I did band too! Didn't have to march around in my undies though, thank heavens, not even for the cadets, but I did end up doing other odd things. Isn't it amazing what people will end up doing to join an organization?

    Again, thanks to all who commented, and to Lisabet, Jamie, Jude, Garce, and Kim for tolerating my presence here on OGG. I'm overwhelmed by the feedback on this post. I hope I continue to keep you entertained ;)

  27. That was a very good post.
    I wish I could do twenty push ups, but since I can't, I'm posting!


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