Wednesday, May 22, 2013

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.