“Then the drill instructor said ‘Be the one. Be the one that looks over to find your family.’ I tried to keep my eyes straight, but I had to see if y’all were there. I looked over and found you, then I was able to focus on the run. Some guys had parents that showed up late, after Family Day was over.”
I was nervous. I won’t pretend I wasn’t.
I know I said in the last blog that I wasn’t worried they would take his smile and his laugh, but I was. Deep down, I wondered what had happened, and if they had managed to suffocate my brother and replace him with a finely tuned Marine.
We drove on to the base Thursday morning, were searched, then allowed through to the proceedings. We parked and walked to a clearing where we were instructed on the rules for the day. It was a drill instructor who I guess had the most public speaking experience, and who instructed us not to “walk on his grass or his parade deck.”
I won’t bore you with the minutiae the day consisted of. I’ll skip straight into the good stuff.
“There’s a Starbucks somewhere on this base. I gotta have some Starbucks. Let’s just walk around until we find it.”
The drill instructor yelled his last words to a crowd of surging family members kept at bay by a few stern looking young men in crisply starched uniforms, green belts, and hats like I see on the highway patrol here in Oklahoma.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…YOUR MARINE!”
The crowd broke, and in that moment, I saw what pure, distilled happiness looks like. Moms rushing to hug their sons, fathers holding back tears and waiting to shake the hands of the boys they used to make sit up straight.
It was awe-inspiring. In fact, I held back for a moment, just a moment, to both fully appreciate it and to try and sneak a picture of Josh hugging mom. I felt a bump, and then…
“Will you MOVE. Jesus!”
Cue the record scratching, jaw dropping, and angry stare from me. Some lady had just ruined my moment. And she called me Jesus, and I was clearly not wearing a robe. I guess she could have been uttering a prayer to the Spirit, asking Him to move among those in the crowd, but the look she was giving me makes me think she was the furthest from the Spirit she’d ever get.
“I’m just looking around to see if everyone is taking their hats off to eat. I don’t want to be the only one who does. Travis, do you see anyone? Are their hats off? I wanna eat this burger.”
Finally I broke through the crowd, fighting back tears, watching my mom brush them out of her eyes, and watching Josh hug and kiss his girlfriend. The drill instructor made it very clear that moms were to get their hugs first.
He looked skinny. My brother, never one to be extremely thin, lost a great deal of weight at boot camp. He said it’s only thirteen pounds, but I think it’s more. He looked different. I went to him, unsure of a handshake or a hug.
The he smiled, hugged me, and said, “How you doin’ bro?”
And just like that, I knew my brother was standing there.
We walked all through the base that afternoon. We laughed, we talked, he told us horrifying stories about yellow hand prints on the wall and something called a “peanut butter shot.”
It’s not what you think it is. At all.
I don’t want to go into detail too much because I honestly don’t know if I’ll get him in trouble for disclosing any of his stories.
I must say, I held it together remarkably well. It took about ten minutes, and the whole family was joking with him like usual, not being serious about anything, teasing him about looking over his shoulder every time he thought he saw a drill instructor.
I had two little slip ups. The first was when the drill instructor asked for all the moms to cheer for their sons. Then he said, “Where are all my dads at?”
The second time was in a store on base, and they had some t-shirts hanging up. Every kind of Marine slogan you’ve ever heard. Then one caught my eye.
Marine Dad. He called me ‘sir’ first.”
I excused myself and walked outside for a bit.
“I better run back in there early. The drill instructor said ‘Be the one. Be the one who is late today.’ They still have me for one more night. I’ll see you guys tomorrow. Be ready to drive. I’m ready to get home.”
Five hours passed in the blink of an eye. I watched Josh eat a burger, drink a coffee, turn down numerous attempts to buy him other foods, and hold hands with his girlfriend while talking to other recruits, all nervously looking around and laughing.
My mom made one of the drill instructors stop and take a picture with Josh, which I laughed about for an hour, and I would absolutely post the picture on here if I didn’t think it would get him drawn and quartered when he went back.
I tried to feed a seagull in the parking lot and he stopped me, grabbing the crackers out of my hand and telling me how he would be the one to get in trouble if anyone saw me doing that.
I watched my brother walk away quickly across the parking lot, pants and shirt still as crisply ironed as they were when I first hugged him. He looked like a man on a mission, but he looked familiar. He looked like my brother.
I hollered out to him one last time.
“I thought you said you were going to run, Marine!”
He turned and laughed, turned back around, and for a brief second I thought he would break into a jog. But he didn’t. He kept walking. He kept being my brother.
I’ve been in California now for a full 24 hours.
I can sum it up entirely with just one picture.
Today is the day.
I’m sitting here watching The Missus—who took the easy way out and flew in last night—get ready, and all I can think about is today.
The day I get to see Josh for the first time in three months.
The day when I see him in his boot camp outfit, or whatever it is.
The day I see him march. Yell “Yes sir!” at the top of his lungs. Stand at attention, parade rest, all that stuff. Hug mom. I get to see how much weight he’s lost, how short his hair is, and how he stands taller and with more pride.
The day I see him grown up.
I’m not afraid I won’t recognize him. I’m not afraid he won’t smile and laugh when he sees us, and I know for a fact he won’t cry when he hugs mom or his girlfriend. That’ll be my job, just like now.
I wish to hell my dad could be here to see this.
I’m going to do my best to hold it together and get some pictures of him doing his Marine thing. Then they give us something called “Family Day.”
|I am petrified of accidentally walking on the parade deck.|
One thing keeps running through my mind after reading that.
It’s My Brother. They will never take that title from him.
“Mom, when is dad coming home?”
Those are the first words I remember coming out of my baby brother’s mouth. I’m sure if I took a minute and really focused, I could come up with something else, but that’s what I remember.
Our dad had been dead only a few hours when he asked that question. ***
|Four of a kind: Sloats.|
I’ll never forget letting him drive my car for the first time. I’ve blogged about it before, but I can condense it here for those who haven’t heard the story.
Josh could not have been more than 10 years old. I needed to move my car a few feet from the driveway to the patio to do something stupid to it, like add subwoofers or crappy undercarriage lights.
Josh wanted to drive. I thought, “eh, what’s the worst that could happen?” and I let him hop behind the wheel, scoot the seat up, and give it a go. The car rolled a few inches then caught the lip of the patio and wouldn’t move.
“Alright, Josh. I want you to reach down and just tap, just TAP the gas. You understand?” “Yeah!”
He floored it.
The car jumped over the lip, hit a picnic table we had on the patio, shoved it off and directly to our pool, which it would have destroyed had I not jumped into the car and mashed the brakes with my hand.
Josh looked at me, eyes wide, breathing hard, not scared at all.
“THAT. WAS. AWESOME!”
He called me one night about six months ago.
“Travis, I’m going to join the Marines.”
I laughed at him.
“No you’re not, it’s not that bad at home.”
To tell the truth, I was kind of upset with him. For those of you who aren’t intimately connected with my family history, my dad had three brothers, just like me. Out of those four boys, one died at the age of 9, the other at the age of 20, and my dad at the age of 40.
Four brothers. Now one. The oldest is still alive. I am also the oldest.
I am absolutely petrified of losing one of my brothers. One of my biggest requests to the Lord is that He’d take me home first, to spare me the pain of losing any more of my family. I am scared to death at the thought of one of them dying before me.
As for military service, I’ve always supported it, but never really seriously considered any one of my brothers joining. Brad talked about it some, but never did. Jordan and I never really even considered it. It’s one of those things where you think “Oh, that’s fine for other people, but not for us.”
Well, it turns out Josh was serious. All three of us tried to talk him out of it. We insulted him, laughed at him, and told him how the Marines would eat his lunch. He’s a small town kid from Okay, Oklahoma. He wouldn’t know anyone. He has authority issues. People would stick bars of soap in pillow cases and make him their girlfriend.
We probably overdid it.
But he joined up. Then he left us for three months so he could go to boot camp.
He wrote the family a letter the other day, his last one before graduation from boot camp in San Diego.
Jordan tried to read it.
It took Brad, faithful, strong, dependent Brad to read it.
“I got my Sloat name bar the other day. I think dad would be proud of me.”
I can’t even fully comprehend how proud our dad would be of you, Josh. I’m proud of you. Mom is proud of you. Aven and Akeeli are proud of. EVERYONE here is proud of you.
Tomorrow I’m going to wake up and head to my mom’s house, where I’ll meet Jordan, my mom, and Josh’s girlfriend Miesha. We are going to get in a van and drive 24 hours to San Diego. The Missus will fly out on Wednesday evening, and we’ll all be watching Josh walk across the stage and become a Marine.
I’ll cry. It’s what I do.
I’m going to post a few more things about Josh this week. Give him a blog dedication of sorts. I think he deserves it. Truthfully, all of my brothers deserve it. We are Sloats.
|The night before he left. I’m praying they didn’t take his sense of humor.|