Video Game Crusader
this is a novel about the children that fight our wars.
The boy is sixteen. In one month he will be seventeen and eligible. There are clues to his destiny all throughout his bedroom.
The Marine from Battlefield 3 stands proudly in one corner. Next to it is Halle Berry, in the Orange bathing suit she wore in her James Bond movie. Beyond that is the heart shaped hand grenade of Green Day's American Idiot album. Scattered on the floor is various detritus of the day. The boys laptop on a table in the corner. The keys to his five year old Mercury Sable next to that. The car used to belong to a tobacco company for the sole purpose of picking up clientele from the airport. Now it belongs to him. There is a narrow bed, piled high with too many comforters from a mother worrying about the boy catching cold. Underneath the sheets are stained with the usual body fluids teenage males leave in the wake of their sleeping areas.
The boy is playing a brand new Playstation 3 along with his girlfriend. The paint on the console is piano black, and it bears the sharp font used in the most recent Spider-Man movie. He is playing the newest first person shooter game. The boy is something of an expert at first person shooters, from Goldeneye on Nintendo 64, to the current day. This one is very good. This is the first one the boy can remember to have actual modern day Marines in it. The boy can feel his desire rising in him, to be a Marine, to go to war. To have purpose. The boy can look down the sights in the video game and aim in on an enemy, and know for certainty that the enemy will die.
The girl is sixteen. She will not be seventeen for practically another year. She is cute but she feels her curves, a little bigger than she would like in ass and hips. She has her heritage to thank for that. She is half caucasian and half african american, mixed. She is deeply in love with the boy, with bits and pieces of the boys figure. She can feel the doom hanging over him like a guillotine waiting to drop.
The girl first felt this way over the boy when she saw him on his skateboard. He was doing a trick called a kickflip, and there was power and grace to him. To the subtle movements of his body. It took her no time to ask what his name was, and get him talking about himself. That was what boys wanted, to talk about themselves, and have you listen. The girl had been with six different boys, two of them grown men, and had lost her virginity at fourteen. Her mother worries about her in a vague way, between two jobs that take every speck of time and energy. The mother worries about her own guilt, bringing a child into the world that she cannot afford. The girl absorbs this worry and seeks solace through the boy.
Together they are playing Call of Duty on split screen. The boy is hanging back to teach the girl what to do. She is chiefly bored, but playing it because the boy is.
"He didnt die." She says.
"They dont always die right away."
"Oh. That sucks."
"You take damage and you heal back up, if you get behind cover. Its not right away. Unless you play hardcore mode."
"We should play hardcore mode."
"You would die too fast."
The girl purses her lips. "I like Sims better." She says.
The game is over and the boy has a kill-death ratio of 1.5. He has almost made the next rank. The girl is leaning close to him and asking, "What time does your mom get back?" In that special way, that means only one thing.
The boy uses the magnum brand condoms, which are actually the same size as ordinary condoms, but a different shape. They have been having sex for over a month now and are trying new things. The boy will give her oral, which is something new and good but only if he takes his time. The actual event is strange to her, she doesnt want it at all, and then she wants it fast. She is frightened by her need. The boy feels grateful and sheepish afterward, and this is the time she likes him best.
"Are you going to join up still?" She asks, running a hand through his hair. It is light brown and somewhat greasy. Her own head is cover in long black mullato kinks.
"Yeah." he says.
"I wish you wouldnt."
"What would I do?"
"You could go to college."
"I hate school."
"College would be different."
"College would be harder. I hate the idea of school, of having learning forced down your throat. I mean, if I want to learn about something, I go out and find everything I can about it. I dont want to have someone tell me what they think about the thing. Or, if I want to learn what something is like, I just want to, you know, go out and do it, and not have someone tell me what it should be like."
"So thats why you want to join the Marines. To see what its like."
"Yeah. I dont know."
"What if you get hurt?"
"I wont get hurt."
"People are getting hurt." People are dying, she wants to say but doesnt.
"But its all played up. Like with the media. Thousands of people go over there, to Iraq, and maybe two or three get killed and thats all you hear about. What if they did the same thing with cars? Just showed pictures of car accidents all the time. Nobody would drive."
"Do you think its a good thing?"
"Do I think what?"
"Like, volunteering. After nine-eleven. Like its something you should do."
"I dont know. Its just something I want to do."
The girl wants to cry but doesnt. She gets up to pee instead, and then curls up with the boy in a spooning position. The boy feels slightly aroused again by the pressure of the girls ass against himself, but stays there quietly instead. They fall asleep that way, until his mother gets home, who cracks the door and catches them, together, but says nothing.
There is a rythym to Parris Island. A reason to its madness.
The way to survive it is simple, the boy has discovered. Think only as far ahead as you have to. If you have just awoke, think only to breakfast. If you are in the middle of the day, when your sweat pours down your shirt to attract sand fleas, think to lunch. If you have made it to dinner, think of bed. All these things are going to happen. They are events that are non-negotiable, and everything in between can be survived.
He was never on the football team, or any sports group. The boy has never had anyone, a man, scream at him. Tell him what to do. The drill instructors live up to their reputation. He is worthless, less than nothing. Shit. Fucking Shit. A motherfucking cock-sucker of a piece of fucking dogshit. The profanity is endless and endlessly creative. For the first week, at night, he cries in his bunk out of sheer panic.
His name is now Recruit.
All his life the boy has gone by James. Only his grandfather called him something different, before the cancer took him. Now he is recruit. He thinks of himself in the third person, not as A Recruit, but This Recruit. Which is the special and non-obvious way you ask to go to the bathroom. The procedure is a complex one. It starts by you standing at the position of attention and screaming, at the top of you lungs,
"SIR! RECRUIT CONNER REQUESTS PERMISSION TO SPEAK TO DRILL INSTRUCTOR STAFF SERGEANT MARTINEZ SIR!"
The two responses possible are,
"Shut your fucking dicksucker."
Once given permission to speak,
"SIR! RECRUIT CONNER REQUESTS PERMISSION TO MAKE A HEAD CALL SIR!"
if permission is given
the response is
A naval terminology.
Next to the bathroom, in front of it, are pictures of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, the Secretary of Defense, and the President of the United States. In order to empty you bedroom, you must first turn your head in the direction of the smiling frozen face of George W. Bush, and scream,
"GOOD MORNING, GENTLEMEN!"
Or afternoon, or night.
If the Drill Instructor is feeling malevolent, he will count backwards from ten in order to ensure a properly fast-paced piss.
All of this is enough to crush the spirit of most any teenage boy, except one who has learned to only think of his next meal, or his next nights sleep. The next meal, process, in and of itself, is unique.
The platoon is organized into formation. Without going into too much detail about military drills and marching, this is four lines of men. Up front are the four squad leaders, sort of higher-ranking recruits, but not really. More like the scapegoats that are given more hell for the platoons imagined slights and deficits. At the very front is the guide holding the standard. A standard is a small flag, of a gold eagle globe and anchor on a red background, also bearing the platoons number, in this case 3070. The recruits are taught fanatical loyalty to this number. It will come to represent their very soul.
For lunch time, or "noon chow" as its properly known, the recruits march in formation over to the chow hall. Once at the facility the recruits peel off, while still standing in formation, to enter the chow hall. The recruits are arranged in order of height in the platoon. Conner is 5'11', and somehow he manages to make it to the very middle, no matter which squad is allowed to go first.
The recruits hold their trays in front of them, while still maintaining the position of attention. Drill Instructors are omnipresent. Like a rabid bear, eye contact must be avoided. If eye contact is made, this is known as "eyeballin", and chow may be in jeapourdy. Sometimes a drill instructor will pull a recruit out of line and thrash him for not giving the proper greeting of the day. These events are random and meaningless.
The chow hall is staffed with recruits. When in front of a recruit, clothed in white and armed with tongs or a serving ladel, you must sound off,
and we will arrive at this later.
Once your tray is laden with its meager fare, you must go to the table next to your fellow bald headed space monkeys, and eat as rapidly as possible. You are only authorized to use your right hand, and one utensil, the fork. The reason for this speed is simple. There is nothing a drill instructor hates as much as chow. As the fact that you are ENTITLED to chow. In the Old Corps, that possibly only exists in the Drill Instructors snuff-and-whiskey soaked mind, recruits barely ate. They were often beaten and sometimes killed. All of this made things the way they should be, but when the Mothers Of America interfered, with their bleeding hearts and liberal ways, changes were made to this Holy and Valued institution. All of this is gross oversimplification of decades of change to basic training policy, yet it has been passed on from Drill Instructor to Drill Instructor until it takes the value of Holy Writ. Thus, every recruit is given the opprutinity to eat. The last recruit, that is, the guide, is followed closely by the Drill Instructor. And if the Drill Instructor wishes to exercise malevolence, he will simply wait until the guide places the tray on the table, clamps both ass-cheeks to the seat, and the Drill Instructor will say,
"Your finished, guide."
To which the guide will respond
"Aye sir. Get out, seventy!"
And platoon 3070 will all rise as one body, and throw out their trays together. The slow will go hungry. But what of the pastry?
One of the Drill Instructors will watch you get your food. There is a heirarchy to drill instructors, in the recruit training platoon. Deliniated by the color of their belts. There are three, and two wear green web belts with brass buckles. These DI's act as common brutes, for the most part, instruments of torture. But the Senior Drill Instructor wears a wide belt of highly glossed leather, with a gold buckle over his uniform. There is a mental game where this DI will sometimes pretend to be friendly to the recruits, as a sort of father figure. He will gently chide them, for lapses in behavior, such as using the first person "I" to describe themselves, or eating with the left hand or multiple pieces of silverware. The hungry recruit will ask for the offending item, and the Senior Drill Instructor will say,
"Ah! Thompson. We eat pastries now."
The recruit will stammer apology, and the Senior Drill Instructor will say, in the gentlest of tones,
"I know you are sorry. Go ahead and eat. You'll pay later."
And the murmer will go through the platoon, not said but more felt. Oh fuck. What will happen. Thompson got a pastry. Thompson, weak and needle nosed behind issued glasses. Thompson, who will have lost so much weight by the end of the three-month cycle that a fold of skin which used to be his belly will drape itself to his genitals, Thompson. After the guide has gone hungry and the platoon has marched back to its squadbay, the platoon will experience mass punishment.
There is a great sand pit like a sandbox outside of the squadbays. Platoon 3070 is racing for it, all forty members. The position of attention is held for a few seconds, while the drill instructor joins them. Then its "intense physical training" also known as "curcuit traning" but more commonly known as "thrashing" by the recruits. Push-Ups, jumping jacks, mountain climbers are performed. Within a few seconds of calling out one exercise another will be called out. The recruits will be soaked in an impossible sheen of sweat. Then a race up all three flights of stairs. Into the squadbay, where its more exercise, followed by forced hydration. A full canteen is brought to the lips, and the Drill Instructor counts backwards from ten for the thing to be drained. Followed by another race down the stairs, and a trip to the sand pit. Several recruits vomit at this point, but not Thompson, who is panting and out of breath, so the Senior Drill Instructor puts him in front of the platoon, calling out, "Do it for me!" As the hardier, more athletic recruits continue to suffer. At the very end, in the squadbay, standing at attention, Thompson finally spews chunks, and the Senior steps over and crows "There it is!" and "I told you I was going to get my god damn pastry!" While actually stepping IN the puke, as if this was the goal all along. And perhaps it was. And that is why we dont get pastries in the chow hall, but still look forward to eating as one of the highlights of the day.
The other highlight, is, of course, bedtime. There is a routine before bed, where the recruits strip down to towels and scream while standing at attention
"PORT SIDE BUFF EM OUT STARBOARD SIDE WASH EM OUT!"
The drill instructor snaps "Move!" And the recruits scream
Half the recruits on the right side of the squad bay hurry into the showers, and the other half on the left side apply a wire brush to their suede boots. This is a mostly unnecesary action, and a holdover to an older time, just a couple of years ago, when recruits were issued black boots that needed to be highly polished. America's wars have since moved on to the desert. The recruits are issued digital MARPAT camouflage now, that need no ironing, and suede tan boots that need to polishing. Another small death to the beloved Marine Corps of memory. But the recruits are teenagers and scarcely know this unless they are told.
After he has shaved the nothing on his baby face, washed his ass, and buffed his boots, Conner is standing and the position of attention. When the command is given for bed time, he leaps into bed, in the position of attention. The last command the Drill Instructor gives for the day is
the lights are turned off, and the recruits are given permission to move about freely in their beds as they sleep. But the day is not over yet. There is something called fire watch.
Fire watch continues throughout the night. One recruit awake every hour, wearing full uniform, web belt, and cover. Carrying a red lense flash light. Conner's is from 0100-0200. The witching hours, but he has a special treat. Lila sent him a book in the mail, a paperback WEB Griffin that has something to do with World War 2. Ordinarily such a thing would be confiscated, or even thrown away during mail call, but the Senior merely tossed it at him. Hidden inside was a Game Boy, with a copy of Metroid. Lila knows her stuff when it comes to the old retro games, Conner has to admit. And he's grown enthralled with his nights spent up playing Samus Aran in power armor. It seems to put things in a sort of perspective, despite the sleep he is losing. The game progresses, and so does he, little by little, each training day moving along. Until morning comes and the fire watch screams
"LIGHTS! LIGHTS! LIGHTS!"
And its bolt upright to the painted line and the position of attention, with another chow to look forward to.