I had enough, man. Houston didn’t work out. I gave it my best shot, but after 2+ years, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I worked three jobs at the time: 25-30 hours/week at Jack in the Box, 25 hours/week at the Shell gas station across the street, and 10 hours/week moonlighting as a personal trainer at a small gym. I still couldn’t afford a car, and I had no time or energy to go to school or to even work out at the gym that employed me. I specifically remember daydreaming about a time where I’d be able to make $500/week after taxes, and how I thought that I’d literally have to work myself to death or sell drugs (I was never gonna sell drugs) to get there.
I think the worst part mentally was going to downtown Houston and seeing all of those really nice cars and well dressed people and walking through that majestic Galleria mall and window shopping for clothes I had no chance to afford and gorgeous women that I had no chance to attract. Some people see those kinds of things, being surrounded by seemingly unattainable luxury, as motivation (reminiscent of a young, hungry Scarface), but that scene only helped to emphasize the gulf between my situation and theirs. It didn’t help.
All of my original friends from Sumter were long gone at this point, with the most recent fallout bordering on comical. I had let him and his girlfriend stay in my apartment until they were able to save for a place of their own, and the results were disastrous from the beginning. I eventually kicked them out, but not before they created a $550 light bill that led to a bounced rent check, which somehow led to a bounced light bill check, which led to no lights and a 30-day notice.
For six weeks (three paychecks), my routine was working my ungodly schedule, cashing my paychecks, converting said paychecks into money orders, then giving those paychecks to my apartment complex. How did I eat? By stealing food from Jack in the Box nightly. How did I wash? The apartment complex’s pool and some deodorant. How did I sleep or really exist in general without lights or AC in the middle of a Houstonian summer (this happened in July/August)? A modern miracle. I still don’t know. Then my girlfriend left me after she figured that the weed dealer around the corner was a bit more appealing than hanging out in a dark apartment that could double as a furnace, and my life resembled more of a bad country song than a simple case of growing pains.
One day in August, after quitting my job at Jack in the Box, I tried looking for a job as a mail clerk. The older guy who received my application didn’t have a job opening for me, but he did have a message. “You seem way too smart to do whatever bullshit you’re trying to do. Join the military and get yourself outta here. I don’t wanna see you in here again.”
The military was literally the last thing I wanted to join. I thought of military people as unrepentant killers with overcompensation complexes. I didn’t want to march. I didn’t want to follow orders. I definitely didn’t want to hurt strangers. But I didn’t want to starve to death either. Poverty definitely has a way of bending your morals, and they bent mine to the point of showing up at an Air Force recruitment office the next day.
The paperwork and testing process went smoothly until the time came to pick from the available jobs. I opted for an “open mechanic” job, despite never using a tool before, under the premise that it would get me out of my situation quickly and that they’ll teach me everything I needed to know anyway. My recruiter assured me that I would be off to basic training by September, so I terminated the lease on my apartment. Three days after terminating my lease, my recruiter informed me that I wouldn’t be able to go until mid-November.
After 10 weeks of couch (and car) surfing, the day finally arrived. I packed up my worldly possessions (which consisted of one suitcase) and boarded a bus that took us from Houston to San Antonio, which is three hours away. To this day, I don’t know whether it was my own nervous energy, discomfort from the energy of others, or general happiness, but I laughed and joked for those entire three hours. Loudly. You would’ve thought that we were on our way to an amusement park instead of 8 of the most difficult weeks that most people endure. And to me, it was an amusement park. I’d get to eat regularly and not sleep outside, so how hard could it be?
The bus finally arrived at Lackland AFB, and that’s when my, and everyone else’s, laughter subsided. Reality had set in. What had I gotten myself into? The bus, now dead silent, came to a stop at an old brick building. The bus driver made a call on her cell phone. Three minutes later, this massive, angry guy with a weird hat stomped onto the bus…
“I HEARD THAT SOME OF YOU THINK THIS IS SOME TYPE OF GAME! WHO’S THE FUCKING COMEDIAN???? POINT HIM OUT RIGHT FUCKING NOW!!!”
Oh great, I’m getting kicked out of the military after 15 whole seconds. This has to be some kind of record.
“POINT HIM OUT, OR YOU’LL ALL HAVE TO PAY!!! WHY IS EVERYONE SO QUIET NOW???? HUH??? MATTER OF FACT, EVERYONE JUST GET OFF THE FUCKING BUS RIGHT NOW!!!”
Well, at least nobody gave me up. I’m safe, at least as “safe” could be with this massive human out for blood, for now.
We quickly lined up facing the door of the brick building that would mark the start of my military career. I was second in line. My absolute worst fear was to get picked for holding the door to let everyone inside. I literally prayed for this specific thing not to happen. Another lady with a weird hat opened the door.
“Everyone get inside as quickly as you can!”
“And you…hold the fucking door!”
Ohhhhhhhh God. This isn’t good. This will end badly. The only thing on my mind at the time was not laughing. Please do not laugh. They may kill me with my bare hands if I laugh. I’ll have the rest of my life to laugh. Just don’t do it now. I’m better off crying or pissing myself than laughing at this very moment.
As the rest of the busload hurried through the door, I tried sneaking right behind the last person, to no avail. The really angry lady with the weird hat stopped me in my tracks…
“Oh you really think this is some kind of game, don’t you? Lock it up!!! Do you even know who you’re fucking with?”
“……hahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha…ah shit I’m so sorry dammit hahhahahahahahahahahahahahhahahah awwwww fuck hahahhahahahha…”
Yeah. That did it. She pulled me by my shirt sleeve through the door and had me stand off to the side while the rest of the bus processed through, doing God knows what. She dragged two really heavy pieces of luggage towards my direction…
“Look at me. You’re going to hold this luggage at attention until I get tired from watching you do it. If you say a word, if you drop the luggage, if I see you even blink or breathe too hard, I’m sending you back to wherever the fuck you came from.”
I was off to a great start….