Skip to main content

Little Travelers: Military Brats and Our "Itch"

Dadio, Master Sgt. Keith, with High Speed, Low Drag Amanda, My Fellow Brat

Some think that B.R.A.T stands for British Regiment Attached Traveler. It referred to the dependents of the British armed forces, and followed them here to America.

I can tell the difference between a private first class and a lance corporal in the Marine Corps; the lance corporal has crossed rifles under his single chevron, because every Marine is a rifleman. I learned the loud way never to call the senior NCO "sir", because he is not a "fucking zero" but more like an "E", maybe an E-7, and you call him Top. I hung out in the armory and played with empty frag grenades. My father refilled empty shells in our garage. We moved quite a bit; we never kept in touch. The floor was the deck, the bathroom was the head, and my bed was the rack.

Wikipedia say I'm part of a unique subculture- Military Brats. You mean not every little boy and girl got to shoot weapons at the range (I was ten, my sister was eight)? Didn't everyone's dad get a map of the world during The Gulf War and brief their kids on Operation Dessert Storm? Do you remember when your dad was getting deployed and you asked him to shoot the bad guy in the leg and he said in a salty and steely voice that when you shoot, you shoot to kill?

I hope you can tell that those are truly fond memories for me. I guess that's what makes me "unique"- the sight of cammies (camouflage) brings me comfort. I'm a Buddhist, and I am drawn to guns. I'm also drawn to service and idealism, like always being faithful. I also have a strong anarchist streak, and yet, willingly participate in a hierarchical system of religion (which I could see as a sort of enlisted resentment of authority).

And yet, I never joined. Dad always discouraged that. And yet, while discouraging, after over ten years of being retired from a 21 year career, he flies the Marine Corps flag at his home, has a Marine Corps license plate, and Marine Corps stories that make us laugh or sometimes make us sit up straight. I do not blame him! His contradiction is my contradiction  I've taken a vow not to kill, and yet, I've got a strong affinity and longing for combat arms, always held at bay by my father's wisdom, and a sneaking suspicion that I'm "unique."

When looking for home, I think of base, the land of cheap hair cuts, cheap food, a pool at the rec center, and all the soda I can drink at the club. I think of all those little houses- but I can't visit there anymore- my military ID expired when I was 23. Home to me is not a geographic place, but more a language full of military slang, crisp uniforms, reverence for the flag, and feeling the back of my father's head, or tracing the sparrows tattooed on his chest, or hearing the clink of his dog tags. I've lived in wonderful places, but felt distant from them all, and feeling distant, I get "itchy."

The itch comes and goes once a year or so. I was born in Italy, did kindergarten at Camp Pendelton, did kindergarten in Pennsylvania,  lived or stayed with an aunt and all my cousins (Timmy, Jimmy, Johnny, Shawny, Katey, and one I can't remember) in New Jersey (one parent deployed? one parent sick? I never did get to the bottom of that) Did a couple years in D.C, parents split, Mom settled in the boondocks of Pennsylvania, dad took a post in New Orleans. Missing from this list here is a stint and Nanny and Pop's (where was mom? where was dad?) and a stint with some 2nd cousins (mom was around...my sister and I shared a room with her in a very nice house). I don't know how many schools I went to. This is not complete. I cannot complete this on my own.

This itch is irritated by the question, "Where are you from?" Despite living in a zen temple, I still hear this question a lot. What is the answer to this question? Sometimes I just say I was hatched in Italy. What I'm feeling is that I'm not so Pennsylvania, and I'm not so New Orleans, and I can barely remember the rest. As far as childhood friends, I am in contact with 0. Highschool friends? Maybe 1. College friends? 0. Current friends? Friends?

Don't get me wrong, I am surrounded by lovely people, but I think my big practice question is: Who is meeting who. The Zen textbook answer has something to do with no subject, no object, and I think my body knows this, but my personhood wants there to be something substantial, something lasting. The itch comes up when I feel like there is no meeting, that I can't be met. It's Empereor Wu who can't see that Bodhidharma stands right before him; the great teacher is right here!!

So I existentially drift toward our armed forces. I'm still eligible and will be until 34, and in a more limited way until 42.

From my zafu, this is my saha world. It's unique. But I have a dharma brother who's itch is just as itchy but has nothing to do with being a military brat. I've another dharma brother who also finds his skin crawling with disillusionment. I don't think that I've come to practice because I'm a complicated military brat; I think I've come to practice and seen some of my story, maybe some of my karma. Maybe it's like when Mara threatened the Buddha and the Buddha replied, no you won't, you won't kill me, because you are me. In studying the self you can disarm the self.

What can be done? So you know, my instinct says to join the military and "go home." Morals don't even come into it, they're just a speed bump in the urge to feel comfortable. My training says to sit still, you are home, you just don't know it. My training says you always get to choose your disillusionment; this black robed one or that green camouflaged one. Either way, I must be half way through, as it always feels the worst as you reach the summit.

Comments

  1. Before I even finish reading this, I have to stop and ask if you've ever read the Jack Reacher novels?

    Other than that I'm thinking, you loved football, too. And, well, there are way more worlds than those two. Reams and realms.

    And I'm off to have my own dessert storm.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Dalai Grandma. Nope, don't like football. What's the connection?

    Never read Jack Reacher.

    Which two worlds?

    Dessert storm with a cherry on top?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I should be in Camp Pendleton for separations/retirement for about ten days around the 16th of June...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oorah! Maybe you'll come visit the vatican? I Might be able to arrange some housing for you and your family. If not here, at my father in law's, Capt. Ray Dito, retired infantry USMC.

      Karma that I married into another corps family?

      Delete
    2. Austin, You mentioned that I should post some possible memories of Pop. My memories of my childhood bring up questions and concerns and leave many unanswered questions. Pop was a demanding and sometimes cruel individual. Especially when drinking his "Monk" juice. As adults we draw conclusions that are based on motives that are often unknown or understood. I have tried to make my life my own and made every effort enjoy the gifts I have. Family being the most precious. I would not seek answers in the past it is a product of circumstances beyond our control.

      Delete
    3. I'm with you there. Just this moment! All the phenomenal expressions are free and unattached.

      Thanks for stopping by uncle!

      love,
      Aj

      Delete
  4. Were you adopted? I never heard any of these story's growing up with you, your brother.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think I was hatched. I just wanted to do fun things with you.

    Love,
    YOUR brother.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

How To Become A Zen Monk (or die trying)

"Now, if you have decided to become a monk because you think that life in this world is too hard and bitter for you and you would prefer to rather live off other people's donations while drinking your tea - if you want to become a monk just to make a living, then the following is not for you." -Kosho Uchiyama
So you want to be a Zen monk or priest? Unsui, which means clouds and water? Good on ya. Me too. 
Having googled that very aspiration for the first time in 2003, I was convinced it was impossible. I'll admit I am as thick headed as they come. I was also resistant to meet some figure in a robe. I heard my father's voice when I begged him to get my fortune read in Jackson Square, New Orleans, "I'm not paying some fat asshole in a bathrobe to tell you lies." Instead, for the first four years of my Zen practice, I committed as little as possible to my local sangha, left when they started chanting, and never talked to the teacher. I was so unapproacha…

Boredom and Buddhism

To say I feel bored feels disrespectful. How could that be? I have a three month old daughter, I'm training for a demanding job in the temple, I'm a wilderness medic responding to incidents every 4 days or so, and I'm sewing my priest robes for ordination. And I have this sense of disinterest.

I have a few theories as to why I feel bored. One could be the natural come down from having the baby and becoming stable in our schedule. Another come down plays out in the adrenaline crash after responding to a medical emergency or the general up keep work I do at the temple when compared to fixing something crucial to operations. When I hear there's a fire in the area I'm pretty excited to be mobilized for stay and defend duty. I feel pretty guilty about that, too.

So I read Beyond Boredom and Depression by Ajahn Jagaro and I was reminded to be careful about looking outward by this passage:

So what is boredom? It is a subjective experience that occurs when the mind is not i…

Goodbye Green Gulch Sama! Hello Tassajara!

About two years ago I left Mid City Zen in New Orleans. I feared I was leaving something, and now I'm about to leave Green Gulch and that same fear has arisen. I imagined there was wealth, a sort of freedom, and a lot to "renounce."  I had a car (a fast one!), a playstation 3, many books, many articles of clothing, and as I look around our little cabin, that same perception has arisen- I have too much stuff! And I like it!

My book collection that I sold or gave away in New Orleans has somehow manifested out here. And I have quite the collection of farm hats and farm boots. Rubber ones, Redwings, Ropers, Bogs to the ankle, Bogs to the knee, a navy seal Solomon for the wet spring weather. Most of them are fit to throw away, glued back together and stitched with fishing line, and just so smelly, so smelly my wife won't let me keep them in the cabin, so I hide them all around Green Gulch.

So I started packing, and while that fear of renunciation has arisen, it's not …