Life catastrophes and disasters: Thoughts on moving to Florida for three days

My life seems to be filled with hilarious calamity. My friends, family and co-workers typically enjoy the tails of my comedic misadventures. I have always been a story-teller and enjoy making people laugh, typically at my own expense.  I learned a long time ago that finding humor in difficult situations always makes any situation a little more bearable. Recently, I gave my friends even more reason to laugh at my stories because after years of threatening to move to a warmer state where I could be free of the cold and barren Ohio winters, I moved to Florida for a little less than three days. Yes. That’s right. I sold my stuff, packed up my house, threw my two cats in the car, and drove from Ohio to Florida for a whopping total of almost three days.

Since I came back to Ohio I have been repeatedly asked how on earth does a person pack up their stuff and move down and then back up the Eastern seaboard in one week. I have been very honest about the precipitating factors that led to this misstep as I am typically a very candid person about everything in my life. Also, if I have to be completely truthful, I have been honest about this situation because I truly couldn’t think up any plausible lie to explain moving to another state for less than three days.  There is literally no reasonable explanation for why anyone would move to Florida and back in three days unless they got bitten by a shark and now had a legitimate fear of oceans. And if you could come up with one, you should have told me about it 5 weeks ago.

Before you can truly understand how a person makes the seemingly rash decision to move to Florida and equally rash decision to move back in less than a week, I must start out by giving a brief history of my life. I have always been a bit of a runner, an escape artist in my own life. I remember at a very early age threatening to run away from home. My mother often offered to help me pack my belongings. I once made it around the block to my uncle’s house. I’m sure I packed the essentials. Like a stuffed animal or two. I was quickly scooped up and unceremoniously driven home and that was as far away as I ran until I reached high school. I am not sure what I was running from as a child but as I got older I saw moving away as a chance to push the reset button on my life, to start over, to forget the past and maybe find a small piece of happiness that I always seemed to be lacking.

At the age of 17 I had an actual escape plan presented to me in the form of a US Army recruiter. I signed the dotted line, swore my oath to my country and planned to go to basic training a few days after finishing high school. Shortly after the start of my senior year, I moved in with a stripper who owned a Chihuahua. I grew tired of the dog pissing on my belongings and after a couple months moved in with my aunt and uncle before leaving for basic training. I served two enlistments, traveling through various states and even once to Germany. After I completed my second tour of duty in Iraq I came back to Ohio and enrolled in a master’s degree program for nursing.

I have been stuck in Ohio for five years now. This is where I found out my brother died. This is where my ex-husband left me, after he made it pretty clear that he actually hated me. This is where I spent my winters, freezing my ass off and praying for a little warmth and sunshine during the long winter months. I had spent countless hours in school and clinical, learning to take care of the most acutely ill children. I was exhausted. It is not that I don’t love my job. I absolutely do love it with every part of my heart. But it is so easy to feel emotionally spent when you see the most beautiful and amazing children who are sick, injured and dying. Working with these children gives me such purpose, but I think their personal tragedies will always weigh heavily on my soul.

I finished my master’s degree in 2013 and my post-graduate in acute care pediatric nursing in June of this year. I had always told myself that I was stuck in Ohio because I needed to finish school. With school ending, I had the perfect chance to move, to start over, and to leave the failures, disappointments and sadness that I so acutely felt behind me.

I had planned to move for years, and I spent months telling everyone that I could not wait to leave this snow-stricken state. The winter was far rougher this year for more reasons than just the weather. I had a particularly tragic case with a child’s death in March and spent a solid three days lying on my carpeted steps, crying and drinking Bloody Marys. I am well equipped to do my job and realize that tragedy and death are a part of life, but this child’s story was so devastating to me that even my rational mind couldn’t wrap my head around why such cruel events happen to those that are so young and innocent. It was during this time of crying and vodka drinking that I decided that I was going to move to Florida. If I was going to spend my life caring for acutely ill children I should at least spend it in a place that is warm and sunny.

Just like all decisions that you make when you’re drunk, this probably wasn’t the greatest life choice, but I was committed to the idea of a fresh start in a warm place. I took the first job I could find and planned to move to Orlando at the end of July. I gave my job my two-week notice, sold all of my larger belongings and began packing my things. My best friend Victoria was planning on driving down to Florida with me, and honestly she did a large part of my packing. Mostly because she found me sitting in the middle of my living room, surrounded by all of my belongings and staring at her with wild-eyed panic. She banished me to my room to finish packing the upstairs and she packed the entire down-stairs and then tetris-ed all of my belongings into my four door car.

Victoria and I had a great trip down. The cats were surprisingly quiet on the journey which I like to think is because I threatened to leave them in West Virginia if they howled the entire trip. We drove through the mountains into the beautiful scenery of the Carolinas. We stopped in Savannah, GA. The cats were shell shocked and we had to turn the cage upside down and shake Jack out as he was pretty committed to making the 18 x 12 inch space his new home for the rest of his life. The stop was planned by me as I had lived in Georgia before and knew of a place called Wet Willies on River Street. They serve slushies made out of 151 and 190 grain alcohol. We quickly drank about half a slushy before I realized I couldn’t feel my face and both of us were wobbly on our feet.

In the morning we left for Florida, I driving because Victoria had drank two more Wet Willies’ slushies for breakfast. I had promised my friend Tim that we would stop and get him a peach pie in Georgia but between my forgetfulness and Victoria’s drunkenness we quickly forgot the one task we were supposed to complete before leaving the state. We hit Cocoa Beach and drove around aimlessly trying to find a hotel. We were both hangry, neither of us were speaking, and I was shaking with hypoglycemia. We dropped the cats off at what I am pretty sure was a roach motel and then went to the first restaurant we could find for food. Halfway through dinner I told Victoria there was no way in hell we were staying at that motel for the night. “Thank God! I was going to suck it up if you seemed okay staying there,” Victoria sighed in relief. She’s such a good friend like that. She would have never complained but was more than happy to move to a better location.

After googling our new surroundings we found a nice hotel on the beach and quickly dragged the cats from underneath the beds of the shady motel and relocated to better surroundings. We spent the next day swimming in the ocean and the next morning  we packed our belongings and headed towards Orlando. As soon as we arrived I began to feel uneasy about my life choices. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that I was starting a job that was out of my field of expertise and living in an area where I truly was alone. After a tearful goodbye at the airport, Victoria left and I drove back to my new apartment, feeling more acutely alone than I ever had in my entire life, and that is the moment I began to panic.

I have had anxiety since I was a child. I remember waking up before school and vomiting from panic. Even in Iraq I would get sick in the mornings, which was made significantly worse by having to use an overfilled porta-potty to vomit in. When I have anxiety I feel like my chest is caving in and my throat feels tight like I am being strangled by invisible hands. My extremities and face get numb and I can feel my heart pulsating in my neck. I have never had difficulty jumping out of planes, going to war, or working in a chaotic trauma room but my anxiety is insidious and often bleeds into the more mundane aspects of my life. I feel at ease around my patients and their families, becoming so focused on caring for them that I virtually have no anxiety. Put me in a social situation or on a date and it’s another story, internally I’m a wreck and outwardly I am insanely awkward. So there I was in a new city, with a new job, with no actual plan and I felt like I had been pushed out of a plane without a parachute.

At first I tried to ignore my feelings of anxiety, I made myself busy washing my clothes, cleaning up the apartment and purchasing food. The first day I had forced myself to eat lunch but by the time dinner came around I could barely put food in my mouth because of nausea. I tried doing yoga, listening to meditation tracks on my phone and dosing myself with Benadryl but it was useless. By Saturday I began vomiting and felt so anxious that I could barely breathe. My sister encouraged me to go to the doctor for help.

I was so completely paralyzed by my anxiety that I had no choice but to heed her advice, and I was just a little bit hopeful when I walked into the Urgent Care. I was tense, tearful, and my hands were a little shaky but I remained mostly stoic as I asked for help. The nurse turned me away, stating they don’t see people for anxiety. When she offered me an ambulance to an emergency department I almost started laughing at her, but by the time I got to my car I was in tears. I’m an emergency department nurse. There is no way in hell that I wanted to get in an ambulance and go to the ED.  I felt deeply ashamed for even needing to ask for help and with no access to a primary care doctor and the Urgent Care refusing to see me, I truly began to feel a sense of hopelessness and defeat.

By Sunday I was still sick to my stomach and couldn’t eat at all. I was taking melatonin and Benadryl and the anti-nausea medicine Zofran around the clock and lying in bed trying to calm my racing mind. I had no idea how I had gotten myself into this situation, or even why I had this overwhelming sense of dread looming over me, but it was not getting any better. I slept fitfully Sunday night and woke with a start Monday morning at 5 am. I bolted out of bed, feeling like a trapped wild animal. I threw my empty suit case on the floor and began throwing things into it as I called my dad. My dad is never one to mince words and although he didn’t offer words of comfort, he told me what I needed to hear which was to come back home.  I packed in a blind panic, and began throwing all of my belongings back into the car.

I called into my work twice and left a message for my boss at 6:45 am. She called me back by 7:30 and thankfully gave me back my job. I felt so insanely grateful to have my job that I started crying actual happy tears. It was the first time in days that I felt some sense of relief and that no matter what happened, everything was actually going to be okay. I resumed my feverish packing, and this time it was not the amazing organization that Victoria created through hours of meticulous planning. It was definitely all thrown in and whenever I opened any door there was a 95% chance that a mountain of stuff would come crashing out on to the parking lot. The cats saw their cages sitting in the middle of the floor and both knew that something had gone terribly wrong. I had to drag Jack out from under a recliner and shove both of them unceremoniously back into their cages for the journey home. I turned my apartment key in at 10 am.

Instinctively I stopped at Starbucks to grab a drink before hitting the road, and of course opted for decaf iced tea as I didn’t need any other reason to hear my heart banging in my ears. When I tried to add sweetener to my tea my hands were so shaky that my drink went flying off the table, crashed to the floor and immediately soaked everything within a five foot radius with passion fruit iced tea. I stammered a million apologies, while my face turned beet red. They replaced my drink and I practically ran out the door just in time for a woman to notice my Ohio plates, and welcome me to the great state of Florida.

I hit the highway and drove as fast as I could, my mind reeling with what possible explanation I could give to people for why I was coming back to Ohio so quickly. Before I left Ohio I bought cakes for my co-workers on my last day of work that said “Adios Muchachos,” “Peace out Homies,” and “Deuces.” They threw me a going away party and over 20 people came to wish me farewell. How on earth was I supposed to explain that I was coming back less than a week after my goodbye party? I called a few people on the road, alternately laughing and crying about both the hilariousness of the situation and my disappointment in myself. Once I reached South Carolina I decided to make it Facebook official that I was moving home. I drove straight through the night with all of my belongings and two cats in tow, finally stopping in West Virginia when I hit a traffic cone that took off part of my passenger mirror. I slept for two hours in a seedy motel. Despite their desperate protests, both cats were shoved back into their carriers for the rest of the journey home.

I have been so lucky since coming home. My friends and family have been so supportive. I lived on Victoria’s couch for almost a week while contemplating my life and watching DVR episodes of “Naked and Afraid.” I am sure there were more than a few times that her roommate thought that I had permanently taken up residence on their couch and that I might never leave. I went to the doctor and got on anxiety medication. And I even decided that for the first time in my life I’m actually going to deal with my emotions instead of trying to run away from them. I bought a new couch, table and television so now at least I have somewhere to sit besides the lawn chair that the cats were bitter about having to share with me. I am looking toward the future for career plans, but honestly it feels comforting for now to be back in the chaos that is working in an emergency department. The best part is coming to work to see my patients; my heart misses them when I am away for too long.

My co-workers have been more than amazing. Honestly I couldn’t have asked for a better welcome, and although they occasionally tease me about my move, it is all with good intentions. I feel that they are genuinely glad to have me back. Happiness is something that I am working towards and sometimes I feel that the best changes in life come from personal failings, which give us a wake-up call that maybe our lives aren’t moving in the right direction. As for now, I am working to have a brighter outlook on life, learning to deal with my emotions in a healthier way, and trying to find the beauty in the fall weather. Maybe someday I’ll even learn to like the snow, or at least not bitch and complain about it like I do every year. As for the cats, their PTSD from the chaotic trip up and down the coast seems to have resolved. Although I would highly recommend that you never take your cats on a road trip.cakescat

Here’s hoping you stick to your resolutions until the second week of January

Most of us make a list of resolutions for the new year and I am no exception to this general rule. It’s a new year, a new beginning, a new chance to make resolutions and then crash and burn on these resolutions somewhere around January 7th. We start out each year wanting to make drastic changes in our lives. Mine usually revolve around eating better, drinking less vodka and decreasing the number of times I use the f-word in a sentence. I am sure I made these resolutions last year but considering that I have a bottle of Smirnoff in the freezer and my swear-word to actual words ratio has increased, I clearly must of missed the memo that I was supposed to at some point stick to these resolutions.

Every year I promise myself I am going to be a healthier new me. I stock up on nutritious foods and dietary supplements. This year is not an exception. I have a bottle of diet pills, a bag of chia seeds and vitamins that are supposed to improve my energy stashed in my kitchen. Losing weight and being healthy sounds so easy. All I have to do is go to the gym and eat healthy. Basically a cake-walk (yum. Cake!) I am a pediatric nurse and concurrently also in grad school so while the basic concept is easy putting it into action is much more difficult. Last semester I spent most of my time in a zombie-like sleep-deprived state and when multiple shots of espresso failed to get me through long nights at work I turned to the next best option: sugar. Currently my scrub pants are so tight that they look painted on my ass and I am one glorious maple-covered cream-filled donut away from popping out of them.

I generally don’t have time to drink excessively as obviously I work a lot and have school obligations but when I do, I get it done. Vodka is my Achilles heel because it is so versatile. You can mix it with just about anything and my current favorite drink is a Bloody Mary which in my opinion is practically a health tonic. Vodka is made from potatoes so basically you have a starch mixed with tomato juice and if you throw in some olives you have a healthy fat. Or at least that’s what I like to tell myself. I am not proud to admit that I had a couple of days off last semester and spent two days on my couch drinking Bloody Mary’s and watching sappy Lifetime movies with my cats. Although funny, this is obviously not the healthiest way to spend my free time. So drinking less vodka is definitely on my to-do list for the New Year but I suspect that once the stress of school and work start again I will be off the band-wagon. School starts January 12th so I suspect by the 13th I’ll have drank the rest of my bottle of Smirnoff.

I have the propensity to swear a lot and I basically blame it on my time in the Army. When you deploy to a war zone you quickly learn that a sentence is not complete unless you have said the f-word at least two times. I have been told that it’s not very “lady-like” to swear but for those that really know me, I have never been much of a lady. I have a love/hate relationship with swearing. Sure I would love to come off as completely professional all the time and speak in a manner which is not completely offensive, but swearing is my stress relief and most of my days are very stressful. I have thought about implementing a swear jar but then all of my money would be in a jar and my bank account would be empty. Swearing is almost reflexive to me. It’s like a sneeze that can’t be stopped, only it’s a really offensive sneeze and it doesn’t spread germs. So swearing is definitely back on my list of things that I am going to work on this year.

Improving my organizational skills is always one of my resolutions. I buy a new planner and make a promise to myself that I will write down every task in my agenda. Last year a nurse I worked with found my planner in a corner of the hospital. It had been missing for at least three months and I didn’t even realize it was gone. I generally put down anything I need to accomplish for the day under my daily alarm section in my phone, so that I wake up and see immediately see what I need to get done for the day. Usually I program things like “mid-term today- 0900” or “taxes-1200.” Last week I even programmed it to remind me to buy vodka. This week my plan is to sit down and map my schedule out for the semester as I legitimately have to make a plan to ensure I get enough clinical hours for school. I am sure I will lose this schedule by the second week of January.

Some people make jokes about those of us who make resolutions but to me it’s always important to make goals and try to improve with each passing year. If we’re not improving, then we’re stagnant and I definitely do not want to be one of those people who are completely complacent in never changing or growing as a person. Hopefully by this time next year I will have morphed into an in-shape, completely appropriate, abstaining from alcohol, organized, amazing person. At least that’s the immediate plan. If I stumble throughout the year I will try to right myself quickly and continue to pursue these goals. As it stands it is December 30th and I feel morally obligated to drink the rest of the Smirnoff in my freezer so I can start the New Year fresh albeit hung over.

Dating advice from an expert: Five conversation starters to make a first date go horribly wrong

I have been on many first dates and from personal experience I can tell you how to make them all end terribly. I am an outgoing people-person who spends my life walking into rooms talking to patients and families so you would think I would be good at finding interesting topics to talk about on a date. The problem is that I find it nearly impossible to talk to a man I don’t know. My nervous energy turns into word vomit and I prattle on and on about topics that clearly should not be a part of any dinner conversation. You know that filter that keeps most people from saying what their actually thinking? Mine is clearly broken, as things just come tumbling out of my mouth that were clearly only meant to be part of my inner monologue. I assume that by the end of most of my dates the guy is covertly checking out the exit and envisioning tucking and rolling out of his chair to escape.

I work in the medical field so often the first thing I think of to say on a date is completely disgusting. Do you want to hear about how a child with a head injury projectile vomited on me? Because I will probably tell you about it while you are trying to enjoy that appetizer you ordered. I find medical humor completely hilarious because it’s so disgusting. Did you know that chlamydia is not a good first date topic, even if you have a really funny story about it? I once told my co-workers as a joke that I had caught chlamydia from a toilet seat. And for laughs I told one of our new male patient care assistants that I had a bout of rectal worms. Thankfully when I say these things my co-workers and friends all know that I am just being shockingly funny, and there is no truth behind my claims. I often forget on a first date that a guy doesn’t know me well enough to realize that I just have an odd sense of humor. Most guys don’t want to date a woman who would tell jokes about the rampant spread of sexually transmitted infections.

As a foul-mouthed individual I spend most of my dates trying not to interject obscenities into every other sentence that comes out of my mouth. My inner monologue on first dates usually goes something like this “Don’t say the f-word, don’t say the f-word, don’t say… did you just bring up chlamydia again!? Dammit.” The amount of concentration that it takes for me to not curse on a first date pretty much occupies my entire brain. Believe it or not most men don’t find it attractive that I can make a member of a motorcycle gang blush with the obscenities that can at times come out of my mouth. It’s totally reflexive and I mostly blame my past military service for how easy it is for me to litter a sentence with profanity. Usually while I am willing myself to not be profane, other terrible things are coming out of my mouth. Did you not want to hear the story of how a baby peed in my eye? I thought it was funny, and I was able to tell it without dropping the f-bomb so I am going to go ahead and say it’s been a successful conversation topic.

I am a very socially aware individual. I have always been interested in such issues as poverty, healthcare policy, politics and global affairs. Apparently there is nothing sexy about discussing the conflict between Palestine and Israel, or the spread of Ebola through Africa. But these are the things that I know about, so it’s what I talk about. I could discuss the cycle of poverty all day, as my date’s eyes glaze over in boredom. “No I haven’t seen the newest episode of the Kardashians, but did you hear about the debate over raising minimum wage?” My greatest dream is that someday I will be able to travel to Africa and provide healthcare for people who live with so very little. As I ramble on about how fulfilling it would be to work abroad, my date is covertly trying to flag down a waitress so he can get the bill and ditch me.

I have also learned that you should never talk about plans to adopt children on a first date. I have always dreamed of adopting a self-sufficient five-year-old who can dress himself and remind me not to miss my upcoming appointments. I love children but toddlers require a person to actually have a decent memory, and I figure by the age of five most children can at least remind me that I forgot to feed them dinner. I once talked about my plans to adopt a child with a first date and it took me two weeks to figure out why the guy had never called to inquire about another date. My friends were literally appalled that I had talked about adopting children with a man I had never met. This is apparently something you save for later in a relationship, like after you’re married.

I always rack my brain trying to come up with a shared interest to discuss with my dates and sometimes I end up talking about working out because many people engage in some form of exercise. I personally love to box. It’s a great workout plus it is completely cathartic to beat the shit out of a heavy bag. But do you know what most guys do not want to hear about? That your favorite past time involves hurling punches at inanimate objects. Once a date and I were discussing different forms of physical activity that we liked and I happened to say “well it’s not like I do anything like hiking. I mean who wants to hike through the woods?” It turned out that my date went hiking every weekend and it was his favorite pastime. “Oh you want me to hike through the woods for exercise? Is there a golf cart and vodka involved? If not, I don’t think I’m interested.” It turns out that telling your date that his form of recreational exercise is lame is not a good thing to discuss on a first date.

I am not the only one guilty of bringing up awkward first date topics. Guys are usually pretty interested in the fact that I spent time in the Army and often ask questions about my service. For me it is exceedingly awkward to try and discuss my time in the Army with people I have never met so I try to reply with as little information as possible. Why do people assume that talking about a war their date was in is appropriate dinner conversation? “Sure Iraq was… fine. I mean everyone loves living in constant fear of a roadside bomb, right?” Seriously this is third date material, not “I just met you” conversation. I often times quickly try to change the topic to something funnier and easier for me to talk about… like chlamydia. I would legitimately rather discuss my last bowel movement with a man than talk about my military service.

The problem with going on first dates is that I never learned the very necessary life skill of hiding my crazy. I envy the way some women can stuff all their crazy away for months at a time to make a man think she has her shit together. During my dates I often have to tell myself “Say something normal… Just act like a normal person for an hour.” Unfortunately I really don’t have anything normal to talk about, and if I had to try and think of something that sounded somewhat ordinary to say I would be forced to sit in silence for an hour. For the time being I have given up on going on any more first dates. Maybe someday I will find that guy who finds my stories completely charming. I just have to remember that the number one rule of a first date is that you don’t bring up chlamydia.

The art of being inappropriately appropriate in any situation

I am the type of person who always says what’s on my mind. So if I see a squirrel I shout “Squirrel!” If I see a kitten I say “aww… Kitty.” And if I am mad I shout “Fuck!” I love finding humor in random situations and one of my favorite things in the world to do is to make people laugh, which sometimes I accomplish quite inadvertently. I describe myself as inappropriately appropriate because although what pops out of my mouth is sometimes shocking, it’s never actually truly offensive. Being funny is probably one of my greatest skills, and I use it quite frequently to defuse stressful situations in my life. Everything seems way less serious if someone is there to crack a joke. I am always hopeful that my humor helps people to smile even when they feel like crying, and laugh even when they feel like screaming.

I was doomed to live the life of being an inappropriately appropriate individual. I come from a family of hilarious, sarcastic assholes and from an early age I had to learn to deflect their comments. Additionally no one in my family is afraid of a swear word, or three. My parents once gave up saying “fuck” for Lent… which if I remember correctly didn’t last very long. I first stumbled across cursing as a very young child. I called my babysitter’s awful daughter a bitch or an asshole. I was only 4 or 5 and can’t remember exactly what profane word I chose to call her but I am pretty sure she deserved it. In my adolescence I figured out the art of swear words and since then I have spent the better part of my life learning how to punctuate most sentences with them.

As much as I would like to give all the credit to my family, I really must say it was the Army that made me so inexcusably inappropriate. The Army is where I learned to incorporate the f-word into every 3rd word of my sentences. I was deployed to Iraq twice and when you are in a war zone it is perfectly reasonable to preface every word you say with the f-word. It’s not just hot. It’s fucking hot. The porta-potties and burn-out shitters don’t just smell, they fucking smell. And that wasn’t just a bomb exploding; it was a FUCKING bomb exploding! Warzones are no place for people who don’t know how to swear appropriately. As a young woman I also learned a variety of offensive hand signals from my guys. It was not unusual to see me walking around flashing “the shocker” to my fellow Soldiers and then bursting into a fit of giggles.

I have often thought that military veterans should be offered a reintegration program when first leaving the service. Most veterans spend their first few years out of the military inadvertently offending every new person they meet. I have been out of the Army since 2010 and I still find new and interesting ways to offend people. Two weeks ago I was talking about the importance of barrier methods when engaging in sexual activity. Instead of actually using the legitimate medical jargon that I just wrote to talk about unprotected sex, a whole row of people heard me use the phrase “raw dogging it.” I could have sworn that everyone who heard me was two seconds from falling out of their chairs. It’s at these times that I wish I carried little stacks of cards around with me so I could hand them out to people who look offended. They would say “Sorry. I’m a veteran. I’m inadvertently offensive.”

Most people assume that as a pediatric nurse in an emergency department I should at some point become a little less offensive, but in most cases it has made my sense of humor even more disgusting. I deal with children spitting medicine in my face and vomiting on me. Some days I am legitimately up to my elbows in shit and one day a baby peed in my eye. At work I deal with children who are sick and injured and occasionally being abused. I have to help parents who are desperately low on resources and patience, and sometimes they turn their frustration on me. If I didn’t lock myself into the bathroom and let out a slew of expletives from time to time I would be completely overwhelmed by my job. You would probably find me curled up in the fetal position in a linen cart crushed by the stress of working in such a difficult environment. Instead I channel most of my stress into humor and swearing.

I find that being a little inappropriate goes a long way to defusing tension when you take care of ill children. When I was earning my master’s degree in pediatric nursing I had to do clinical hours which involved examining children in a pediatrician’s office. The most difficult patient in the world to examine is a toddler with an ear infection. These sweet little creatures turn into out of control rage-monsters when their ears hurt. An adorable blonde girl came in screaming her head off one afternoon and her father and I tried with all of our might to wrestle her into position so I could check her ears with an otoscope. After what seemed like hours of struggling with this little girl the father looked at me very seriously and said “On days like this I bet you really re-evaluate your career choices.” Without missing a beat I responded “No sir. Not my career choices. Just my birth control choices.”

A sense of humor and the ability to be slightly inappropriate is so important in life. I often have a hard time relating to people who are unable to find humor in difficult situations. Laughter can make even the most stressful situations a little more bearable. If all else fails a few expletives can provide just the right amount of stress relief to help me make it through the day. So yes I am sorry that you may have heard me cram five different swear words into an 8 word sentence, but at least I no longer look like my head is going to explode from stress. Just give me a minute to decompress with humor and I will be back to smiling and singing the Elmo song to a toddler who is desperately trying to spit a dose of Tylenol back into my face.

The perilous world of online dating

I have asked this question a million times before and will reiterate it again; where in the hell does a modern woman find a decent single guy? I know that they are out there. I see women constantly posting pictures on Facebook of themselves wrapped around their perfect someone. I am pretty convinced that a select group of women know the location of decent single guys and are refusing to tell the rest of us where to find one. Everyone I know tells me that the way to meet a man in modern-day America is to online date. My family and friends encourage me to plaster my face all over dating websites in the hopes that I find a guy. I assume they would like me to find a boyfriend so I stop calling and texting them so much, and inviting them out for movie matinees. I have tried online dating a few times now and typically this ends in catastrophic, albeit hilarious, first date encounters.

The first time I attempted online dating I signed myself up for Match.com. I found every single decent selfie-photo I had ever taken and posted them to my page along with information about my education, interests and occupation. Taking photos for online dating is like an art form. I must have a hundred photos of myself on my phone, all taken from different angles with different light sources, in an effort to show men that I am attractive and alluring. My best photos are taken with my camera phone held far above my face. I cannot tell you how many times I have dropped my phone on my head while trying to take a good picture.

My first foray into online dating was over before it had even really begun. There is a feature on dating websites that allows men to send you a “wink.” I find winking completely creepy in real life, let alone on a dating website. A guy sent me a wink and I was immediately felt violated. I don’t want some guy I don’t know sending me a virtual wink, so I deleted my account an hour after I posted it. A few months later, I decided I was desperate enough to try online dating again. I had protested for months re-joining Match.com but my friends insisted that if I actually gave it a chance I would meet a few decent guys and maybe even score a couple free meals if I went out on a few dates.

I re-activated my account on a lazy Saturday morning, and updated my profile. Within 15 minutes I got a message from a man saying he was interested in me. After some small talk he messaged me “So how do you feel about a 12 inch dick?” First of all, I cannot think of any woman who would have a positive response to that message. If any woman thinks it’s okay for a stranger to use penis length as a conversation starter then she really deserves to go on a date with that “winner”. Secondly, that’s 6 inches too many. I know that if I ever get remarried I don’t want toasts at the reception to include that the couple initially bonded over shared interests in giant penises. I never responded to this guy again and immediately blocked him from sending me anymore messages.

Shortly thereafter I started messaging a guy who had moved to Columbus so he could start at Ohio State. We exchanged phone numbers, as he didn’t seem like the serial killer type of guy and he quickly began messaging me multiple times a day. This guy had never met me but kept calling me “honey” and “baby” and telling me how beautiful I was. I got nauseated every single time I read the terms of endearment he texted me. My first inclination was to run very quickly in the opposite direction but my co-workers persuaded me to at least go on a date with him. “Bronwyn, you just don’t know how to be treated well by a guy. He’s just being nice,” my co-workers told me as I cringed while reading some of his messages.

Shortly before our first and only date he told me that he didn’t have a car so I would have to pick him up at his house. I now realize the error of my ways and will never go on a date with a guy who doesn’t have a car again. Once I picked him up it took me exactly 0.2 seconds to realize he was awful and that I never wanted to see him again, but now I was trapped because he was in my car. My only option would have been to tuck and roll out of the driver’s side door, and although that sounded appealing at the time, it seemed a little over the top to wreck my car to get out of a date. The whole entire hour I spent with him he complained about everything. He criticized my driving, and in the restaurant he refused to take his coat off because he said it was too cold. He popped the collar of his jacket up around his ears and eventually insisted we move tables so that we weren’t near the drafty door. When I pulled up to his house to drop him off he leaned across the center console and gave me the most awkward hug I have ever received. Just as I thought he was about to get out of my car he went in for a second hug, said “I just really like to hug” and then kissed the shoulder of my jacket. I wanted to dump kerosene on that jacket and burn it.

The next guy I went on a date with was 5 years younger than me. I had never dated a younger guy but this guy seemed nice and adventurous and well-traveled so I decided to meet up with him. I met this guy at a Dave and Buster’s at 1pm on a Saturday. In addition to enlightening me on his conspiracy theories about 9/11 he also ordered 2 double Jack and cokes. Ladies and gentlemen, if you’re counting, that’s 4 shots of liquor in under an hour. My date loved to bowl so he insisted that we leave the arcade and try our hand at bowling. I warned him that I am a terrible bowler, and in fact actually hate bowling. He insisted and despite my protests we ended up at a bowling alley. Once we got there he ordered 2 more double Jack and cokes. Yes, that’s a total of 8 shots on an afternoon date. After an hour of watching me flounder while bowling he said “I would hate bowling too if I were this terrible.”

I have been on many terrible first dates, all set up by online dating websites. I have never actually made it to a second date with any of these guys. Some of my friends think going on bad dates is worth it if you get a free meal, but to me it’s not. I never expect any guy to pay for my meal, and even if he does insist on paying, a free meal does not make up for the precious hours of my life that were wasted engaging in forced dinner conversations with these guys. Most times I think I would have more fun cleaning out my cats’ litter box or licking my driveway than having these completely awkward interactions with perfect strangers. By my calculation Match.com owes me eight hours of my life back and one new jacket.

The art of procrastination: A guide for beginners

I have many life-skills but by far the one that I have perfected the most is the art of procrastination. Putting off important tasks just doesn’t happen by chance, it takes true diligence to put off until tomorrow things that I should be accomplishing today. I always start my days with a mental list of things that I need to accomplish. Today I should be catching up on reading 150+ pages for class tomorrow, cleaning my house, and going to the gym. Actually that list has been in my head every single day I have woken up this past week but I am sad to say that I have not accomplished any of it. Today I woke up late, barely made it on time for my annual physical, and then perused the aisles of Bed, Bath and Beyond. After I finally made it back home I downloaded the new Taylor Swift song which I’ve been meaning to do for days. So all in all it was a successful morning of accomplishing things, just not things that I actually needed to accomplish.

I am a master at putting off going to the doctor. I have repeatedly protested my doctor’s attempts to get me to show up for my annual physical. I only went this morning because my doctor wouldn’t take my word for it that I am perfectly healthy, and refused to refill any of my prescriptions until I actually made an appearance in her office. Okay so she was probably a little peeved that I was several months late on my physical and that she had to resort to drastic measures to make me get a check-up, but I swear if given a few more months I might have thought about making an appointment. I am also several months overdue on my annual pap-smear. I made an appointment 2 weeks ago but accidentally slept through it and keep forgetting to call the office to re-schedule. I absolutely hate going to the doctor’s and will try to self-diagnose and treat myself at home. I have been taping my right ankle together with wraps for years now and I am pretty sure I have a stress fracture in my left foot, but I would rather amputate my leg than actually go to the doctor’s office.

Going to my annual appointment this morning completely threw off my day of attempting to accomplish tasks. After my appointment I made a detour to Starbucks to get a giant coffee and then headed off to Bed, Bath and Beyond to get a new blender. Getting a blender was not on my list of tasks that I needed to complete today, but my Nutri-Bullet broke yesterday and clearly eating healthy trumps cleaning my house. And you can’t just go into BB&B and buy a blender. You have to look at all the other things that you don’t need but for some reason feel compelled to buy. So a new blender, a pack of jumbo straws, and a Turbie twist hair towel later, I left the store feeling like I had at least spent my morning accomplishing something.

I have a ranking system for my daily tasks. School clearly takes priority but how am I supposed to study if my house is a mess? They always say that you should have an un-cluttered work environment when attempting to study so first item on the to-do list is clearly cleaning. Unfortunately the first thing that needs to be cleaned is my DVR. It is 84% full right now and I have 20 episodes of “How I met your mother” to watch before I can erase anything. I caught up on a few episodes while attempting to de-clutter my living room, and then decided that I needed to take a dance break. I often take singing and dancing breaks from cleaning and studying and today I just needed to dance it out to Taylor Swift’s new song which I have been meaning to download for about a week. So I can check three things off my list this afternoon: clearing my DVR, downloading “Shake it off” and taking a dance break. I also think my dance breaks count as exercise so I guess I have accomplished four things.

Every semester I start out by promising myself that this is a new start and I am definitely not going to procrastinate completing my reading assignments. This usually lasts through half of the first week and then I decide I have other things that need to be accomplished before I complete my reading. Doesn’t everyone need to compulsively clean out their dryer lint trap before they study? I have this theory that the longer I put off completing my school work the more adrenaline I feel when I study. Somehow studying in a state of panic actually helps me to do really well on tests. I am that student who looks on the verge of a panic attack flipping through the last few pages of my reading as tests are being handed out, but I actually do really well in school and I think it’s because I am such a terrible procrastinator. I don’t think I would do as well if I actually made notecards, and high-lighted the pages and actually studied without taking a dance break.

So it’s now turning into late afternoon and I still have time to hit the gym and at least complete some of my reading. I really think that today is the day that I actually am going to get a few things checked off my list because last night I could barely sleep thinking about all the reading I still have left to complete. Also, I managed to clean half the house and I can still do laundry while I study. So that’s completing two tasks at the same time. I’m an excellent multi-tasker. Plus I have completed one blog for the week, and although it wasn’t on my to-do list, it still counts as accomplishing something. So now that I have spent most of the morning and early afternoon procrastinating everything I was supposed to actually accomplish today I will now attempt to open up my book and study…although I do feel a need to take another dance break first.

The trials and tribulations of children with unique names

My name makes basic social interactions extremely awkward at times. I often have to sound it out and spell it for people. What makes it worse is that I work in an emergency department where I constantly have to introduce myself to people. “What’s your name again? Brownwin? Broadwin?” “No it’s “brawn” like strong and “win” like winning. Bronwyn. “ “Oh okay” they reply. “That’s so… unusual.” I learned a long time ago that people telling you that your name is unique or unusual is not actually a compliment. Often times I don’t even correct people when they say my name wrong as spending five minutes clarifying my name is an arduous battle and I usually just accept defeat immediately. “Just ask for the nurse with the weird name. They’ll know who you’re trying to find,” I tell my patients. I work in pediatrics and often see parents trying to give their children creative and unique names. My sympathy goes to those children. Good luck at life, kiddo. The struggle is going to be real for you.

I was named after one of my great-grandmothers. Her name was Blodwyn and thankfully my mother picked the slightly less awful moniker of Bronwyn. When I was growing up my mother told me that my name meant “white rose”. I found out in the fourth grade that Blodwyn actually meant white rose. Unfortunately for me Bronwyn actually means “white breast” in Welsh. I am in no way kidding. Just google my name… but maybe don’t google it on a work computer. For years kids at school called me “WB” when they figured out what my name meant. Additionally I had a lot of other awful nicknames. Some kids called my “bratwurst.” It starts with a “B” and has two syllables so I guess I can see the connection between my name and a piece of sausage. It was in my adolescence that I began to hate my name. It was just one more reason for kids at school to pick on me.

In my early adulthood I would go out to clubs and whenever a guy would come up to talk to me I would cringe when I had to give him my name. Loud music at a bar makes it nearly impossible to introduce myself. “Is your name Robin?” “No, Bronwyn” I shout over the blaring music. The guy’s face would contort in confusion. “Is your name Brooklyn?” Sure, close enough. Thanks mom for making every interaction I’ve ever had with a man go extremely poorly. I can’t even get past telling people my name without difficulty. By the time they eventually get my name right I am already too frustrated to actually have a conversation. Introducing myself is an exercise in futility and I will do pretty much anything to avoid having those interactions.

Then there is the issue of trying to accomplish simple life tasks like placing a to-go order or getting coffee. I am half asleep and all I want is my damn coffee but the barista is always insistent about writing my name on the cup. I used to try and spell it out for them but after multiple times of it being misspelled and the baristas shouting “Ronnin” across the coffee shop, I decided I need to come up with a fake name. I used to go by a different name every time but often I would forget what new name I had picked by the time my order was ready. “Kate?” the barista would call out. I would look around for this “Kate” person and wonder how we had placed the same order for coffee. Now I just go by “Amanda” whenever I place any order. It saves time and I can always remember it. I actually sigh in relief every time I use the name Amanda. No one ever asks me how to spell it and they always pronounce it correctly.

One of the things I loved about being in the Army was that everyone went by their last names. Going by my last name was so much easier and I had to wear a name tag so no one ever asked me how to spell it. I would have stayed in the Army forever to avoid being called by my first name. Sure I had to go to war a couple times, but at least I didn’t have to deal with people stumbling over my first name every two minutes. The thing I really don’t understand is how my sisters got off so easy. “Kelley” and “Lynne” are their first names. Really mom? They got the easiest names ever and I got saddled with “Bronwyn.” Thanks a lot. The good thing about my name is that it required me to develop a self-deprecating sense of humor early in life and that trait serves me well to this day. Although I absolutely hate my name it seems to fit me well because you can’t have a strange name and be a normal person. Maybe if my parents had named me “Sarah” or “Jane” I would be this completely normal human being and not march to the beat of my own drummer quite so often.

I hate my name. I have always hated it. And if I thought people would call me by a different name I would legally change it. I have often contemplated changing my name at various times in my life and if it wasn’t for the fact that I hate bureaucratic paperwork just as much as I hate my name I would probably go ahead and change it. I would pick a simple name like Alex or Bailey or Brooke. Something that requires no explanation and is easy to spell. I am confident that if I changed my name to something easier I wouldn’t feel my heart beating in my temples quite so often. I am sure that one day I will collapse from a stroke over the frustration I feel when introducing myself to strangers. The doctor evaluating me will ask what events precipitated my rage stroke and I will say something to the effect of “the last thing I remember was explaining how to pronounce my name for the fifth time and then everything went black.”

I write this not to complain about my name, but to encourage parents to think a little bit more before slapping their child with a name that will lead to embarrassment for the rest of their life. Don’t add weird punctuation to your child’s name, and for heaven’s sake at least make sure you spell their name phonetically. I am so tired of parents getting offended when their child’s name is mispronounced. If people mispronounce your child’s name it is because you most likely spelled it incorrectly. There is a list of considerations that parents should take before choosing a name. Will this name lead to my child getting teased? Does this name sound weird when called out during sex? Is my child going to have a meltdown every single time they try to order coffee because the damn barista can’t figure out how to spell it? If the answer to any of these questions is yes then please consider choosing a name that is a little bit less… unique. And if you do decide to name your child something awful just go ahead and start saving your money for when they eventually need to see a psychologist later in life.

The life and times of a pediatric emergency department nurse

It is 6pm on a Saturday night and already sweat is streaming between my shoulder blades and flowing down the length of my back. I have only been at work for three hours and I have spent these hours scampering from room to room, administering breathing treatments, evaluating patients and taking medical history from parents who are already tired of being in the emergency department. At last I get every single one of my four patients medicated, evaluated, and tucked into bed watching cartoons. Now I desperately need to take two minutes and take care of myself. I trot past my charge nurse “hey. I need to eat. My peeps are all taken care of. I’ll be back in a sec.” I am a pediatric nurse in an emergency department and on nights as busy as Saturday it is almost impossible to break away from the chaos, and take a few seconds to take care of myself.

My strides are long and quick as I head out of the department, onto the elevator, and down to the cafeteria to grab a sandwich. I grab a turkey on wheat with lots of mustard and onions, pay for my food and trot out of the cafeteria with half a sandwich in my hand. I am running back to the department, shoving my sandwich in my mouth, trying in vain to wipe away the mustard that I now have smeared up my right cheek. In one hand I hold my food container, in the other a half demolished sandwich, which leaves no hands to badge through doors or press elevator buttons. Everywhere I have to scan my badge, I thrust my chest at the sensor, as the badge is dangling from the collar of my shirt. I then use my elbows to press the buttons in the elevator. I eat half the turkey sandwich in under 90 seconds, stuff the other half in the fridge, and head back to see my patients. I am convinced that someday someone will find me blue and not breathing in a hall of the hospital. I would advise you to do the Heimlich on me because I am sure that I will have lost my airway choking on a half-eaten sandwich that I was trying to devour on the fly.

I could not imagine doing anything else other than being a pediatric nurse in an emergency department. My job is stressful, and at times seems to require an inhuman amount of physical and mental strength, but I love every aspect of it. The ADD part of my personality thrives in the chaos. Emergencies are like bright shiny things that hold my attention. I don’t ever write down anything, and bounce from room to room effortlessly addressing every new problem I encounter along the way. I repeat my tasks in my head “Breathing treatments in room 17, cross to room 19 and place an IV and draw labs, 18 is a new patient and needs assessed, and 20 needs to be updated on their wait time before their heads explode.” I finish all this and then there is a new round of orders that need to be completed, patients that need to be re-assessed and of course I need to grab some warm blankets and drinks for a family.

We have these amazing blanket warmers and one of the best parts of my job is tucking a patient, and sometimes their parent into bed with a warm blanket. I dim the glaring fluorescent lights for the family and turn on the TV, anything to distract from the tedium of waiting long hours to be seen by a doctor. I love my little interactions that I get to have with my patients and families and approach each new person I encounter with a different frame of mind. I am outgoing and can assess what a parent or patients need from me. I am always quick with a joke as laughter usually breaks the tension of a long wait time that most emergency department families have to face. I had an awesome family that I took care of Saturday and after I tucked in all four members of the family with warm blankets, we laughed and joked for nearly 5 minutes. I believe in the comfort measures. I will trot into a room precariously balancing warm blankets, food, and drinks in my arms. It is my peace offering. “Again, I am so sorry about the wait time, but please enjoy these saltine crackers.” These small gestures go along way with families, and I usually can placate even the most frustrated parents.

Then there are moments that stop me in my tracks. I step into a room, already thinking about the 12 other tasks I need to accomplish and quickly realize a parent or child needs my undivided attention and support. Providing comfort is one of the most important parts of my job and unlike every other task I have to complete, it is not something that can be rushed. Often I walk into a room to see a mother trembling with frustration or fear, eyes welling with tears when she rattles off her child’s symptoms. I internally sigh as I know that the two minutes that I had allotted to spend in this room will now turn to 10 or 15. I love taking the time to sit down with my patients and families but time is a precious commodity for an emergency department nurse. I back away from the computer where I was charting the child’s history, pull up a stool, and sit knee to knee with the parent and let them talk out their worries, occasionally interjecting words of comfort. I reach out and clutch their forearm so they know that they have my complete and undivided attention. These are the moments I was made for, and by far one of my best qualities as a nurse. I become so completely engulfed in my patient’s problems that I become an advocate for the family and will do anything to ensure they receive quality care.

I always love being assigned to the trauma/critical care area of our emergency department. Working on acutely ill and injured patients is the part of my job that I live for. When a trauma comes in we don full battle-rattle. Battle-rattle in the Army meant we wore our helmet and Kevlar vests. In the emergency department we don a different sort of combat uniform. Before a trauma hits our doors we throw on our blue lead vests to protect ourselves from x-rays, a canary yellow protective gown, goggles, a mask and gloves. To me it is very fitting to don this attire as I associate getting ready for a trauma to how I felt when I was getting ready for a mission in Iraq. This is my new battle and every trauma requires that we work together as a team to stabilize the patient. Within seconds we are cutting off clothes, checking vital signs, examining the patient, and yelling out our assessments. It is the sort of controlled chaos that gets my blood pumping. I bury my feelings during the times when I have a truly sick or injured child, as my feelings for them can’t get in the way of providing care.

I often have people ask me how I can do my job, and honestly if I were to really think about it I am not quite sure. I absolutely love working with children and it can be so difficult seeing kids who are afflicted by traumas or critical illness. It’s even worse to see children who experience abuse or neglect. I truly do feel a profound sense of connection and sympathy for my patients and their families, but if I didn’t compartmentalize these feelings I would never be able to care for my patients. For me it is about taking joy in the little victories. I feel humbled that I get to provide comfort to a family during the worst moments of their life. I feel an amazing sense of accomplishment when I can help a child breathe easier, even if he’s still a little pissed that I had to jam a shot of epinephrine in his thigh to make him better. And I feel completely loved when a young toddler runs towards me with outstretched arms, demanding that I hold her. I hope that my patients and their families are similarly rewarded by interacting with me, and leave the hospital knowing that they were loved and cared for, even though our time together was so short.

Congratulations on your divorce

Whenever I would tell people I was newly divorced people would tell me “I’m so sorry to hear that.” I never understood why people were sorry to hear that I was getting divorced. I was getting out of a shitty relationship; really people should have said “congratu-fucking-lations. This is the best thing that ever happened to you.” My ex-husband left me after I nagged him to hang up curtains that I had washed. He told me to go fuck myself and that was the last fight we ever had as a married couple. He filed for divorce shortly thereafter. Yes, it was hard to go through a divorce and a blow to my self-esteem. At times I felt like a failure for not being able to make it work. I wish I had someone in my life who offered advice instead of sympathy during that period of my life. Because divorce isn’t a failure, it is a chance to re-define your life.

I married way too young. I was 22 and in the Army, living in a high stress environment. My ex-husband outranked me and when our relationship was discovered we got into a lot of trouble with our commander. The decision became to either get married or completely sever all forms of communication. We unfortunately chose the former, and got married at the courthouse during our lunch break, after only dating for seven weeks. I blame this decision on my naivety and propensity to drink a lot of vodka during this time period. My ex, my friends and I were always drinking together, and anyone can seem pretty amazing, as long as you have a good buzz.

I should have seen the problems early on in our relationship but the fog of new love can cloud a person’s judgment. Once while drunk I made a piece of garlic bread. He tried to take a piece of it from me and when I pulled the bread back (because what drunk person wants to share their food?) he screamed “well go fuck yourself” stomped out the door and spent the rest of the night at bars in the neighborhood, finally deciding to sleep in a U-haul lot. My ex had many good qualities, but his over-reaction in this situation should have tipped me off that there would be many difficulties in our relationship.

There are so many other instances in our relationship when I should have bailed out, but I persisted to try and make our relationship work for five years. I dragged us to counselor after counselor. We fought, I cried, he threatened to leave me, and I would always beg him to stay. Looking back, I hated the person I was when I was with my ex-husband. He punched a dent in my car and cheated on me on our third anniversary. Yet I still didn’t leave. I don’t regret our marriage, and I certainly don’t have hard feelings about our divorce, but why didn’t I leave such a toxic environment? This is not to say that I was a perfect wife, because I wasn’t. Not even close. But I should have valued myself a little bit more and realized I would have been so much happier alone than in my crappy marriage.

The best gift my ex-husband ever gave to me was a divorce. Who knows how much longer I would have gritted my way through our marriage. Though it was a difficult time in my life, I am really proud of the way I handled my divorce. I never hired a lawyer and went through with a dissolution, only asking for a quit-claim deed for the condo we owned and my maiden name to be restored. I divvied up the bank accounts and split the money from my wedding ring between the two of us. In the grand scheme of things I was a bloody saint during my divorce. I often think about putting that information on my dating profile, “I’m really easy to dump, so you should totally take a chance and date me.”

There are so many people who see divorce as a failure, but to me it was a chance to start over. I learned so much from my marriage, and have neither regrets, nor ill-will towards my ex. I am so much happier being single than I ever was married. This year many of my friends have gone through divorces and I am really happy that I get to be that person who buys them drinks and says “congratu-fucking-lations. Things are only going to get better from here.” Of course we all want our happy ending with our prince, or princess, charming. If that happy ending gets derailed by divorce, it’s just another opportunity to make an even better ending to the story. Divorce isn’t the end. It’s just a chance to begin again.

Basic training diaries: There’s no crying in a foxhole

Adolescence was a difficult time in my life. I never felt like I fit in with my classmates. I was awkward and outspoken and constantly went against the grain. High school was torture for me and I dreamed of a way to escape. In addition to feeling like quite the outcast at school I was also perpetually in trouble with my parents. My mom often threatened to send me off to Catholic or military school, and knowing my mother, those were not empty threats. When I was 17 a man called the house and identified himself as Sergeant Fitzgibbons and said he wanted to speak to me. I went into panic mode and figured mom had finally had enough of my shit and enrolled me into military school. Thankfully Sergeant Fitz was not a warden at a reform school, like I had initially suspected. He was a recruiter for the Army Reserves and wanted to know if I was interested in joining the military.

It took me less than three seconds to decide that I wanted to join the Army. “Sure. Sign me up for that shit immediately. When can I leave?” Without any hesitation my parents agreed to sign paperwork to let me join the Army at the age of 17. I could see my father suppressing the urge to tell my recruiter “You mean you’ll take her off my hands? Great.” My recruiter hauled me off to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) where I had to parade around in my underwear doing the duck walk to prove that I was physically able to join the armed forces. I passed my physical exam and the aptitude test. I was slated to leave for basic training after I finished high school the following summer.

In June of 2002, days after graduating high school, I boarded a plane headed to Ft Jackson, SC. I was nervous, and hadn’t slept in days. As soon as we landed I dumped my contraband cigarettes into a trashcan and boarded a bus to base. The first few days at Ft Jackson were in-processing. More medical checks, shots, getting gear and uniforms. There is a lot of yelling during in-processing and I quickly learned to stand at parade rest (arms folded behind my back, feet shoulder width apart) when people started yelling at me. I still assume that position to this day whenever anyone yells at me. There were rumors that recruits died in basic training. I heard that a private had stuck pencils up his nose and rammed his face into a bathroom door thrusting the pencils into his brain, killing himself. Someone else told me that another private died of a heat stroke. I didn’t know if any of this was true, but I was terrified.

A few days later we were herded onto a white bus like cattle and shipped to our basic training companies. We pulled up to our company and drill sergeants in their crisp brown hats boarded the bus and immediately chaos ensued. They were like hungry sharks descending on a helpless seal. “Get off my bus! Get off my bus now!” they screamed. We all ran in fear, trampling each other and dropping our duffle bags. They dumped our belongings on the ground and inspected everything for contraband. A fellow Soldier’s laundry detergent exploded all over the concrete. “Why the hell do you have that powder shit? Haven’t you heard of liquid?” one of the drill sergeants screamed. A few of us stumbled onto the grass which is one of the biggest mistakes you can make in basic training. The number one rule of basic training is don’t walk on the fucking grass. “Get off that grass! That’s first sergeant’s grass!!” they screamed. To this day I feel quite uneasy about walking on grass. Every innocent mistake was met with immediate punishment. Push-ups, flutter kicks and jumping jacks until our muscles screamed in pain. “Keep pushing. Don’t cheat your bodies!” they screamed if our arms would falter.

The girls were staying on the 3rd floor of the barracks and we ran up the steps to find our rooms. I immediately claimed the top bunk of the first room in front of the steps. Our bunk mates were to be our battle buddies for the rest of basic training. They don’t trust you to be alone in the Army so you are assigned a battle buddy. Battle buddies must go everywhere together, even to the bathroom. The girl who claimed the bottom bunk decided that she didn’t want to be my battle buddy. There was another girl in our company that she wanted to have my top bunk and she insisted I move. Not wanting to cause trouble I gathered my stuff, but my drill sergeant entered the room and insisted that I keep my bunk. It was my first day of basic training and already my battle buddy had decided that she hated me.

There was no need for alarm clocks in basic training as the drill sergeants would barge in early in the morning, flip on lights and begin screaming. I would fumble around to get my physical training (PT) uniform on and hastily try to make my bed with perfect hospital corners using the thick, itchy wool blankets we were provided. Often the blankets would be too small to fit under the mattress correctly and I would pull at the blanket in vain trying to get it to stretch enough to make my bed look presentable. While we were at physical training, getting our asses handed to us, the drill sergeants would go through the barracks and flip the mattresses on the floor if the bed wasn’t made correctly. The mortal sin of basic training was if you accidentally left your wall locker unlocked. The drill sergeants took great pleasure in throwing all the contents of unsecured wall lockers across the room. They would make it rain socks, underwear, and uniforms all over the barracks.

We spent our days learning how to march, shoot guns and how to beat each other to death with pugil sticks. I have always been uncoordinated and that made learning to march disastrous. “Meyer, get in step. Get in STEP! Just go do push-ups in the grass if you can’t march correctly!” I spent most of drill and ceremony practice getting kicked out of formation to go do push-ups due to my inability to march in time. Pugil sticks were even worse for me. They would put two of us in the middle of a dirt ring and we would square off with each other. There was another female in my company named Private Small, and despite her moniker, she was anything but tiny. Small and I hated each other and one day by chance we got called into the ring together. She was a cheater by nature and instead of holding her hands in the center of the stick, she would move both hands to one end and deliver blows at my face like she was a baseball player swinging a bat.

We were issued M-16 rifles and learned the fundamentals of shooting. We would lay in the prone position, with our weapons secured into our shoulders, and our faces pressed against the butt stock of the weapon. Sometimes we would fall asleep in the prone position out of exhaustion, still holding onto our rifles, while our helmets rested against the stock of the weapon. I had never shot a gun before and was very anxious about going to the range the first time.

Qualifying with a rifle in the Army means that you have to go to a pop-up target range and hit 23/40 targets ranging from 50-300 meters away. A rifle range consists of dozens of foxholes facing a lane full of targets behind small mounds of dirt. Our drill sergeants instructed us to get in the middle of the foxhole and place our hands on our helmets. Then we were to fall into the corner of the foxhole so that we would be positioned correctly. I would then load my first magazine and secure my rifle into my right shoulder while waiting for the instructions to reverberate from the tower’s speakers. “Switch your selector switch from safe to semi and watch your lane” boomed from the PA system. Within seconds targets would begin to pop up from behind the dirt mounds. I quickly realized that I was a terrible shot. I recited the fundamentals of good marksmanship in my head.”Steady position, aim, breathe… shit! The target went down before I could squeeze the trigger.” One day out of frustration I stood in my foxhole and cried.

One of our last challenges during basic training was to march out to a site with all of our gear and set up camp for three days. As we marched out to the site my battle buddy glared at me. “If I had bullets I’d shoot you in the face,” she sneered. “If I see a fucking cliff I am pushing you off of it,” I quickly replied. Once we reached camp we had to set up two man tents and it pained both of us to have to sleep within inches of each other for three nights. Our field training exercise consisted of digging a fox hole with our tiny shovels and getting CS gas (pepper spray) grenades thrown at us. There was a sandy-gravel road in front of our campsite and if you got in trouble the drill sergeants would make you low-crawl the length of the road. Low crawling is crawling with your whole entire body pressed against the ground, head cocked at an angle so you can see what’s in front of you. It is by far one of the worst forms of punishment.

The most common reason we got into trouble was if our drill sergeant’s swiped our weapon. Your weapon had to be with you at all times. I slept with mine cradled in between my legs, butt stock under my head as a pillow, for fear they would try to snag mine during the night. On the second day of the field exercise my battle buddy and I were digging our fox hole, intermittently exchanging insults. I noticed a couple of drill sergeants walking towards us and happened to also see that my battle buddies weapon was propped against a tree, several feet from her. Instead of warning her of her impending doom, I moved my weapon a little closer to me and continued digging. Within 30 seconds the drill sergeants had snagged her weapon, and I waved to her several minutes later when I saw her low-crawling the road in front of our foxhole.

Basic training was difficult for a variety of reasons, but I am so very grateful that I had this experience. I was never the greatest marcher, nor the best shot, but I did learn to do both proficiently. In addition to learning the skills of being a Soldier I learned many lessons that I still carry with me to this day. I learned how to face my fears, and to never give up no matter how difficult the situation. I learned what it meant to have honor and courage, and to value the life of other Soldiers more than I valued my own. One of the most important things that I learned was to be grateful, especially to my parents. They were hard on me growing up, but their discipline had a purpose. They pushed me to be the best that I could be which is what helped me to be successful in the Army and in life. I am eternally grateful to both of them for that. Most importantly though, my battle buddy and I both made it out of basic training without trying to murder each other; and I only cried in a foxhole once.