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Saturday, May 29, 2004

The Night Before

Looking at the clock, I see that it’s just about to turn 2 o’clock in the morning. My stomach knots up even more than it has been, the churning and tightening getting worse with each jerky movement of the second hand. I feel like vomiting, but there’s nothing to be forced out. My eyes continually sting with tears that won’t form fully and refuse to fall from their ducts. I feel like I’m spinning, but I haven’t had a drop of liquor to drink.

In less than three hours, a man in full Army fatigues will arrive at the front door of my home at 183 Spruce Street in quiet, suburban Elyria, Ohio, and drive me to my first day of Army Basic Training.

It is November 28th, 1988, and at 5 o’clock in the morning, my entire life will change forever.

Sleep is impossible. I said goodnight to my mother, step-father and sisters around 10 o’clock, ostensibly to lay down and rest my body in preparation for what I’m sure will be the first day of the toughest phase of my life. Instead, I find myself lying on my bedroom floor, headphones on, listening to the same song on the same CD again and again:

The last night on Maudlin Street
Goodbye house, goodbye stairs
I was born here
And I was raised here…
And I took some stick here

I find solace in Morrissey’s lyrics, like so many times before. But tonight is markedly different, the circumstances making the words seem even more poetic and prophetic. “Late Night, Maudlin Street” is on repeat in my head, the verses about leaving behind home and family resounding more clearly than they ever have. I look outside my second story window and watch the impending winter’s wind move the tree branches, as the song begins again. Morrissey speaks softly:

Winter is coming
Winter is so long
Winter moves on

It is November 28th, 1988, and at 5 o’clock in the morning, my entire life will change forever.

I think about what led me to this point, a teenage life filled with moments both equally joyous and turbulent. Living at three different addresses in four short high school years, leaving old friends behind and making new ones, but tentatively so (after all, why get attached when you’ll just have to move again soon anyway?). Bouncing from living with my mother and verbally (and sometimes physically) abusive step-father to living with my father and verbally abusive step-mother. Living with two sets of parents who offer not a single word of encouragement, praise or hope for the future between them. Living in an extended family where academic excellence is not something to be recognized and rewarded, but to be met with ridicule and scorn for opportunities that never came for those who sired you. Living where it’s not anything resembling “living” at all, and to stay means one thing: working in the factory and fading to obscurity. The Army is an alternative to this life. The Army is a welcome escape. I didn’t think twice as I held the pen in the recruiter’s office. I even signed my full name, just for added dramatic flair; John Charles Blahblah. You’re in the Army now.

I change tracks on the CD to two songs ahead.

You say
Break up the family
And let’s begin to live our lives
I want to see all my friends tonight

It is November 28th, 1988, and at 5 o’clock in the morning, my entire life will change forever.

I think about the true friends I’m leaving behind in Bumfuck, Ohio. Bryan. Brandon. Ed. Adam. There are others, too – Rob, Marc, Jim and Gus. But they’re like me…no rich, or even successfully middle-class parents who could afford to send them to college. So, together we made our choices. Rob chose the Air Force. Marc chose the Navy. Gus, Jim and I joined the Army. Three years later, while home on leave, I find out that Jim was dishonorably discharged after one year of service for “mental instability and inability to conform to military life.” I hear through the grapevine that his wrists are scarred. But thankfully, this knowledge comes later so it doesn’t stain my expectations of what’s in store for the next four years of my life.

So, wish me luck my friends, goodbye
Wish me luck my friends, goodbye

Somewhere between songs and replayed memories, I have fallen asleep. I come to realize this only when my mother is suddenly in my room, gently nudging me awake from my slumber on the floor. It’s 4 o’clock in the morning. It’s time to shower, gather my things, and say a final, sleepy farewell. The next 60 minutes are a blur. I seem to be floating, watching myself do my morning ritual as I’ve done it hundreds of times before. I’m soon in the living room, sitting with my mother and little sister. They are crying. The doorbell rings. My ride is here.

It is November 28th, 1988. It is 5 o’clock in the morning, on the dot.

So, let’s begin to live our lives.

Fine Folks

"...and by hubris, I mean overweening pride!" - Johnny's Greatest Hits

25 Year Loop
Fucking Woof
David Live
The Night Before
Jobriath Was First
She's in Parties
She's in Parties Pt. 2
Tales From the Dragon Club
Tales From the Dragon Club Pt. 2
Okay, California...You Win
How to Sell Used CDs

Previously on "Johnny Is a Man"...

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