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 Amazon.com 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.