This weeks's prompt from RemembeRED was to write about a mentor (or my experience of being a mentor) in 500 words or less. I went a little over the limit. Please follow the link to see how others handled the prompt!
She was a Woman Marine. Resentful of the femininity that denied her a combat job, she compensated by 'macha', by maxing her PT, by doing her work – 'completing her mission' – better than anyone else.
Jamie's grandfather had been a Marine, and her father. They taught her to shoot straight and instilled a love of physical challenge, country, and The Corps. But their combat nightmares never touched their stories, and when she returned from the Gulf her disillusionment with Duty was complete and devastating. She didn't turn to me, denied herself an opportunity for forgiveness. Her rifle became her one-way ticket out.
We were not lovers. She would not have risked her career by being outed as a dyke. And I, although attracted by her power and beauty, thought myself straight. The few boyfriends in my life, she dubbed 'pussies'. She was my elder by six years, and now, two decades wiser, I wish that we had been more honest: that she hadn't chosen career over love, that I had been a little less naive.
I lived in Jacksonville and we saw each other often. We dived the wrecks off the Carolina coast. We hiked and camped – she taught me land-nav, climbing, rapelling. Confidence. “There's a little Marine in you, Asproulla,” she'd say. “Deep down. When you feel like giving up, reach for that Marine. She'll keep you going through the darkness and she'll never let you down.”
“Develop a signature,” she advised. “Your signature says alot about you. It should be clear and strong...” To this day, mine mimics hers: sloping left to right, first name joined to surname, bold and unmistakeable.
The end came when she deployed to Europe. “Come,” she said, before shipping out. “Why?” I asked. “Why not?” she answered. “As what?” I countered. I didn't want to go to Kasserne. I couldn't speak German, couldn't work there. Had no role. And she couldn't reply .
We quarrelled over trivialities, leaving the big issue unresolved. And after she left I heard nothing for years. I made contact once, but she was with the Embassy Guard in Japan, and although we tried to link-up, oceans and continents proved as insuperable as law and gender.
In 1992, the call came late at night. Regret and pain, blurred by tears and alcohol, rolled down the line. “Lies! That's all it was... There's no Honour in what we did... I'll never lose the smell of death, of burning...” She stammered something inintelligible and disconnected, leaving me sleepless for hours.
Next morning I got through to the NCO on duty in her company. “Are you family, ma'am?” I gave my name and waited while the Marine found the company commander.
“Asproulla,” he said. “Yeah... That's on the envelope.” I heard him draw breath. “There's no easy way to say this ma'am, but Jamie took her own life last night. She left a letter, with your name but no address.”
He said more, but I recall little. Her funeral and the following weeks are an indistinct memory, a morass that I swam because I had to.
More than once, thinking that emotional exhaustion would claim me and I would die right then and there, I reached down for 'that little Marine'. And every time, she brought me through.