The Gifted Have Fallen
The Rest of Day Five:
By the end of the week, the midshipmen on campus had noticed their gifted and talented visitors weren't all rule-keepers. The RA in charge of my dorm, an olive-skinned, dark haired man, a bit heavy for the military but strong, young, and confident, sat us down together in a lounge. He gave us a smile as white as his immaculate uniform.
He took off his hat and gestured for us to relax. He described what a pleasant surprise it was to have us on campus. He said he hadn't been sure what to expect from our spring break camp.
"I think it's time for a panty raid," he concluded.
"What's that?" asked one of the other boys.
The junior officer rolled his eyes and turned to me. But I didn't know what a panty raid was, either. He seemed a bit disappointed in me. As far as I could tell from his explanation, he thought we should break into the girls dorm, which I knew would be difficult, and steal at least one panty from one drawer. Given what I'd observed about their security, it would be a challenge. I wasn't sure what was in it for me.
Conversely, I might have been willing to shoot half the young men in the room for a kiss from one of the girls, but even as a teen I knew stealing their underwear wasn't going to lead to them kissing us. What's more, the girls seemed constantly pissed off at the boys at camp now. Every meal in the mess hall, I continued with my efforts to make peace between the factions but with less and less success.
"We'll raise the panties up on a flagpole," our RA cadet concluded.
I hadn't been listening to him much as he outlined his ideas. Dutifully, one of the other guys grabbed a bunch of us and we cased the women's dorm halls for our proposed break-in. As soon as one of the other boys expressed skepticism, I blurted out it was easy to escape from the buildings but not get back in. I pointed out where the guards were posted. The other boys nodded. Some of them hadn't noticed, before.
"So let's not bother," I said.
My appeal to laziness won. We split up to go to our last, planned camp sessions and when we rejoined the main group, we played with a frisbee someone had been smart enough to pack. It was a nice way to end. Finally, our parents arrived to pick us up. A few of us waved goodbye to one another with a sense of relief, I could tell. It had been a weird week.
I felt a lasting effect from my attendance at the spring break camp. Mainly, it gave me the impression the U.S. Navy might be an option for college.
My parents had always been opposed to the military, even when they worked for it as enlisted soldiers or as teachers at army bases. (The drafted military was culturally a different thing from the volunteer force we have now. Opposition from within was routine.)
Despite my parents' attitude, military service seemed like an honorable choice to me. After the camp, I considered it seriously for the first time. I wondered if I would be a good fit. I still had an awful lot of impulses to kill myself and other people. I didn't trust myself around weapons. But I thought maybe I would get better as I got older.
A year later, I got a scholarship offer from NROTC. It promised a full ride through college. The offer came with a price, of course, since the Navy had chosen my major, which was to be chemical engineering. When I graduated, I would owe them six years of military service as a chemical engineer. I pictured myself lonely on a college campus, taking orders, angry all the time, as usual, and with access to firearms. It still seemed like a suicidal or murderous idea.
"You have to take it," my father said.
"I think this is too good to pass up," my mother added.
A few days later, I asked my girlfriend.
"Of course," she said, nestled in my arms. She lifted her head to look me in the eye. "When will you get another offer? You haven't applied for anything else. So of course you should take the money."
All the other people I asked thought I should take the offer, too.
But I said no.