I’m in New Mexico right now, visiting my friend Katy. It’s a refreshing respite from what sometimes seems like the needless hustle and bustle of Washington DC.
Katy and I have been friends for over a decade, which is a little bit less than half my life. We grew out of our awkward stages and into woman-hood together, which was traumatizing enough to firmly bond us together for all eternity, I think. We discovered boys, faith, love, booze, Weezer, Scrabble, and Flaming Hot Cheetohs together.
I followed Katy into the National Guard. The military was something I had never considered, never even thought about. But Katy’s dad was like my second father, and I considered him to be the wisest man I’d ever met, after my own father of course. He was gentle and kind and funny and charming, and he was a command chief master sergeant at the local military base, and he always said joining was one of the very best decisions he had ever made. I never really knew what the military even looked like until Katy joined up, and I flew down to San Antonio with her mom and dad to watch her graduate boot camp. It seemed like a strange world, but it seemed like a lot of fun, it seemed similar to playing high school sports: the discipline, the respect, the emphasis on physical fitness and doing things right. There were also sixty other women in her graduating class, and they all seemed to be having a ball. Suddenly the military seemed like an option.
I did some thinking, talked it over with my parents. My parents were really supportive of the idea. I signed up a few weeks later, in the same career field that Katy was placed. I don’t really remember my decision making process, at all. I remember thinking all the people were really fun and nice and smart, and if they could all do it, why the hell couldn’t I? Having college paid for was a perk. Having complete financial independence from my parents was a bigger perk. Let freedom ring.
Last night Katy and I drank hot toddies around a campfire, wrapped in blankets. New Mexico is surprisingly chilly. The warm bourbon hit our tummies and after several hours the conversation eventually turned to the military. We did two of our three deployments together. We mused about how the military has changed us as people, how it has shaped our perceptions and beliefs and behaviors. We both agreed that we had never laughed as hard at any other time in life as we did at guard drills. We also agreed that we had never been so frustrated, angry, or humiliated as we had been in the military. We remembered many stories, most of which had been buried in the dustballs of our memories. We choked back tears and laughed until we almost fell out of our chairs.
We reminisced about the time we were bored and went hunting for crystals out in the desert on our first deployment. This story is one of our favorites. I had seen several rocks by the roadside that had these massive clear crystals that glinted in my headlights, and after I told Katy about them, we were determined to make them ours. We acquired a small pick axe and a hammer from one of the toolkits, and when the guys asked us what on earth we needed a pick axe for we flirted our way out of the conversation and left them in our dust. We borrowed one of the trucks and when they asked where we were going, we charmed our way out of that conversation too. We had several hours to kill, we had tools and flashlights, we were well on our way to going crystal hunting in the pitch black night. We found them right where I had last seen them, in a large rock pile by the “front gate”. I use quotations here because the “gate” actually consisted of a rope. A rope that we had to lock and unlock every time we passed in and out of the bomb dump. It’s true, we had to lock and unlock a ROPE. There are many other equally asinine “security” measures they made us take but I will save those for another time.
Back to the crystals. After hammering away at the rocks without much progress, our frustration grew. We could NOT crack these rocks, but the crystals were so large and beautiful that we refused to be stumped. Finally, after some cursing and bickering over the best way to break them open, we hurled one of the rocks at the giant concrete barrier that labeled the entrance to the bomb dump. It was kind of our unit's pride and joy, this sign painted on a concrete barrier that told all who passed that they were entering a forbidden, dangerous area. It was adorned with a hand painted Ammo pisspot. We hurled the big rock at the concrete barrier and CLUNK, we cracked off an entire corner of the pride and joy, the concrete barrier adorned with a pisspot. Oh, shit. They’re definitely going to notice that a corner of the concrete barrier is missing. How are we going to explain this? There is no feasible answer to the question “why is the corner of the concrete barrier missing?”. They weren’t going to believe we were crystal hunting, that’s for sure. They were almost certainly going to think we crashed into it with a government vehicle, which is an offense practically punishable by death in the military. I started to panic. Katy, what do we DO?! I run over to the concrete chunk. We have to hide it! But where? Should we bury it?
Liz, it’s not a dead body! she replied. After a lot of discussion, we each grabbed an end and lugged it to a sand dune off in the distance. After tossing it over the edge, we were satisfied that the evidence would not be recovered. We said a small prayer that no one would notice the missing corner and trekked back to check out the crystal situation. They had been significantly loosened up, which distracted us from the crisis we had just endured. After a bit more chipping away, they were ours. We stuffed our pockets full of them, our newly acquired treasure. We returned the tools quietly and slinked in the back way, pretending like we’d never disappeared. No one seemed to notice that we’d be gone. To this day, I don’t know if anyone in a position of authority noticed the missing chunk of the concrete barrier, but we never heard about it. Sadly, the crystals ended up not being as pretty in the daylight as they had been at night…but the fiasco of acquiring them is what has made them invaluable little treasures that I will keep forever.