“You will buy your mothers lunch” the cocky Boatswain’s Mate (you pronounce it “bo’sun’s mate”. The Navy likes to spell things with all kinds of extra letters. I could name parts of a ship for you sometime, like forecastle. Not like it looks.) said to us as we practiced for graduation. He was a right pompous arse, and I’ve known few boatswain’s mates to be much different. I think it is a class they take at “A” school. But being in the position I was in, what choice did I have but to listen to him?
This was a man who, during our graduation rehearsal routine took upon himself the role of Navy Chaplain and pretended to lead us in opening prayer, which was, to him “Dear Lord, thank you for creating Boatswain’s Mates. Amen“. He also came to our compartment in our ship, as many did on their watch, because their hatred of “900” divisions couldn’t keep them from trying to find a fault that was so grievous that they could tear us all from our racks to drop us. He came to our compartment on many an occasion to make sure to tell us that one day, we could be sure, that he was going to be Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, or MCPON (mihk-pawn). Though, to this day I see he hasn’t achieved that goal. For all of his pomp and circumstance, I am going to go out on a limb and say that roughing up Boots (Navy recruits) might be his greatest achievement, and that isn’t saying a ton.
But what stuck out most in my mind was his moralizing about how we had to, on our Liberty Weekend (the weekend we had of “freedom” with our families after graduation but before heading off to “A” school) make sure to take our mothers out to a nice meal and pay for it. This was, of course, because certainly we all had money coming out of our ears and certainly that all of our mothers came to our graduations and we all had deep affection for them.
This man, who, in this snapshot I had of him, left the most bitter of tastes in my mouth, sums up my feelings of society’s expectation about family. Also, I now have a prejudice about boatswain’s mates, but wev. The act of ejecting a human out of your womb exacted a promise that said human would love said person who did ejecting no matter what that person did to that human, no matter what. In his mind, your mother was to be loved and adored and adorned with free meals simply for giving you life and the opportunity to endure his abuse here at Boot Camp. Even if you have spent some time having your head beat against a refrigerator by her. But that never entered his mind. The aftermath of abuse that might build into some type of mental illness that lingers… well. I guess that is not for the Good Boatswain’s Mate to ever consider.
Also, it seemed that every new Sailor was a single sailor who had piles of money lying around in the bank waiting to be spent on your graduation attendees. I mean, who comes to Boot Camp with a baby at home, or some deadbeat spouse gambling it away and not paying your bills?
And if I may, did anyone ever consider that after almost three months of having the crap beat out of us daily and withstanding the emotional abuse that is Boot Camp (why, yes, it is) that someone treat us to a congratulatory meal or something? No? I didn’t think so either, but fuck if I didn’t enjoy those damned IHOP crepes. Real. Food.
You are not required to love a person because someone somewhere insists that a bond is instantly forged by DNA. DNA doesn’t erase past deeds. Or the hurt that can be left churning in a mind that is left dealing with the hurt.
That Boatswain’s Mate was the representation of everything I found wrong with societal expectations. A privileged man placing his perspective on us, shoving his demands upon us, no matter what.
Some day, perhaps I will see his face hanging in the hallway of a Navy building, next to the other leaders of the Navy. His smug smile looking out at me, and I will, for once, be relieved that he will have no direct sway over my life, no matter how clever he finds himself. But I will also remember how he made me feel, as if I failed because I couldn’t live up to what he demanded of me that day as we practiced for graduation, even as the ceremony stood to begin and end on my own command.
Photo Credit: Marion Doss*
*I used to live there! If you read the photo description at the Flickr page, it tells you that it is the opening of Naval Special Warfare compound at Pearl City. In the background of the photo you can see some of the houses at the Pearl City Peninsula housing in Pearl City, Hawai’i. In the mornings when I would get ready for work I could watch the members of SEAL Team One do their PT (physical training) as they ran past my house. I’ve lived in worse places. I think I can even spot my house. Maybe. Ha.