I leaned over to my dad as we walked side-by-side, and whispered: “don’t be surprised if I marry a Marine someday.”
Without bothering to glance at me, he groaned, “oh lord no.”
We were visiting the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, VA — the base where my parents had met years before as two young Marine Sergeants at the Marine Corps Computer Science School. I was busy openly admiring the Marines who did volunteer work at the museum when off-duty, sharp and gleaming in their dress blues. They were all so lean and straight-backed and serious — both the men and women in their blue pants with the blood stripe down the sides of the seam, the black jackets with brightly polished gold buttons, and pristine white gloves. I was so busy admiring them, in fact, that I missed a step in the lobby of the museum and nearly fell flat on my face. My fifteen-year-old brother laughed somewhere behind me.
In my defense, I come by my military-kink honestly. It’s practically in my blood. Both parents were Marines. My maternal grandfather was a Marine, my paternal grandfather was Air Force, both career military. Five aunts and uncles did at least four years in the service. Two cousins have recently joined the Air Force. And my maternal grandmother’s uncles and cousins fought with the 442nd Regiment during World War Two. Though my father left the military by the time I was five-years-old, my mother is career military — sixteen years active-duty and the rest in the reserves. I have moved from Marine Corps base to Marine Corps more time than I care to count. I am a military brat in the truest sense.
It’s still a shock to some, including myself, that I never went into the service myself. I nearly did — I had plans in high school to get a degree in Physics and join the Navy because they have one of the best science programs around. The “BIG PICTURE” plan was to eventually join NASA. As you can see, that never happened. 9/11 happened my junior year of high school, and halfway through my undergraduate degree I switched from Physics to English and decided to teach instead.
All that is to say: I still consider myself military born and bred.
Ironic then, that both my mother and father should groan and plead “please no” whenever I say (half-joking, half-serious): “I’m totally marrying a Marine someday.”
I imagine my father groans because he remembers what he was like as a young man in the Marine Corps. I know my mother groans for a few reasons: (1) she remembers what my father was like as a young man in the Marine Corps, having married him and divorcing him three years later; (2) three of the four men she dated after her divorce were also Marines, and those didn’t go so well either; (3) as the only woman in her MOS [Military Occupational Specialty] she had an up-close-and-personal understanding of how men in the Marine Corps treated women both in and out uniform (hint: it wasn’t so great nine times out of ten).
But, frankly, I can’t really help myself. I was raised on and around military bases. A couple summers, when my mother couldn’t afford day care for me and my brother, we spent long days in her office (yes, even for Marines most day-to-day work takes place in an office complete with cubicles and desks the whole deal), playing under desks, eating lunch with other Marines, learning more curse words than you can imagine (despite my mother’s best attempts to prevent that). Many of my friends were other military brats. My mother was the Choir Director of the Marine Corps Chapel on the Quantico Marine Corps Base. One of my mother’s co-workers/friends taught my brother and me how to fish. It was a Marine Corps Sergeant who gave me the teddy bear I treasured as a toddler and throughout my whole life (she’s sitting on my dresser right this minute, in fact). When I learned to play the flute, it was the First Chair Flautist for the Marine Corps “President’s Own” Band who taught me to play.
In many ways, I feel that the Marine Corps is my family.
Though my mother switched to the reserves years ago, and we haven’t lived on or near a military base since my sophomore year of high school, and I haven’t been around a large group of Marines in more than a decade, I still cannot picture my life completely separated from the military. I can’t even picture my life without the constancy of moving every year or two. Though I have no one specific in mind right now (and indeed, my most recent romantic inclinations have between toward poets and fellow academics), I can still easily picture myself someday falling in love with a Marine. Unlike some people, I would, at the very least, know exactly what I’m getting myself into. I would be prepared for the constant moving, for the relative isolation of some bases, for the camaraderie of other military families, for the late nights and background anxiety of being sent overseas. And for the right person, those are things I would be willing to deal with, even cherish.
(Note: in my freshman composition courses, I assigned a piece of writing I called a “personal family essay” in which my students write about some aspect of their families (it’s up to them to decide what “family” means to them) and how it influences they way they see or interact with some other part of their lives. When I ask my students to share something personal, I always volunteer to do so as well out of fairness. I started this piece of writing along with my students in class, and then finished it a couple days later.)