Things were a little different at Keesler AFB. We got into formation between 5:30 and 6:00, did a quick roll call, and hit the road each morning — slender, black leather portfolio in one hand, and a flashlight in the other. I was somewhere in the middle of the pack — not short enough to be in front and not tall enough to be in back. We walked to class in this formation in the dark each morning and returned to the dorms each afternoon.
At the end of the instructional day, we ran to our dorms and changed into Physical Conditioning (PC) gear. Other military branches call it Physical Training or PT. On the first day of PC, I fell right in the middle again. The faster folks were in front. Average folks were in the middle and back of the flight. We also had a Smokers’ Flight. Some of the struggling runners ran with them. It was a sad sight to behold. At any given second, one of them would tap out and attempt to walk, but walking was a no-no in this camp. If you couldn’t run two miles three times per week, they’d make you run every day of the week. When I realized there were consequences for tapping out (and I thought about it on a couple of 90 degree days), I decided to run as if a mountain lion were chasing me. It worked, and I began running in the front with the rabbits. I could hear “Eye of the Tiger” playing in my head each day. That and the mountain lion served as sufficient motivation. We were allowed to walk after we ran. Makes sense. With wobbly legs, the most I could muster was walking. Besides, crawling was just uncivilized.
After PC, I walked to the Chow Hall with Kratzke and two guys from the Smokers’ Flight. We ate, and Kratzke flirted with both guys. I didn’t share her affinity for sweaty boys who smelled like smoke, so they were all hers. They walked us back to our dorm where I met my new roommate — Rivera Lopez. She was decorating her side of the room when I noticed she wasn’t wearing skates. Skates are carpet remnants that we skated around the dorm floors on so that we wouldn’t scuff them. We buffed the floors a couple times a week, and this helped to preserve them in the interim.
We talked and listened to my cassettes until lights out. She mostly talked about her boyfriend who was still living in Puerto Rico and their epic love while playing”Eternal Flame” by the Bangles over and over and over. I didn’t know whether to fake an illness or hide under my bunk — both seemed like viable options at the time.
Morning came quickly, and we did what we had done all week: met for formation, ate breakfast, and walked to class. Before we realized it, week one was a distant memory, and we were in week five. Five weeks later, it was time to do what pop tarts do best — pop in and then pop out. I had been feeling lethargic since I arrived at Keesler, but today I had to finally go to the infirmary. I was not well at all. All I wanted to do was sleep.
I came back, and Kratzke was in my room playing that flamin’ song on repeat with Juliet Rivera Lopez. That wasn’t her given named. She earned that moniker after five weeks of sharing unsolicited love tales of two star-crossed lovers doing everything they could to be together despite their parents’ disapproval. Kratzke was sitting on my bunk. After hearing five weeks worth of her not-so-chaste behavior, all I could think was Lord, give me strength and a new mattress. All I wanted to do was sleep, but I was stuck between Scylla and Charybdis — a rock and a hard place.