Samantha – Weapons Training

Samantha has returned from her vacation and continues with her description of Plebe Summer. She had two roommates, Ashley Carr and Danielle Tennant. As the de facto room commander, she took a special interest in both of them. The first time at weapons training signaled a coming crisis.

Let me tell you about Ashley. She was one of the smaller female plebes. Blond hair, blue eyes, great figure, she had been the homecoming queen for her high school. If I’m any judge, she was beautiful.

However, she was also spoiled. Don’t get me wrong, she was my roommate and I genuinely liked her, but the pressures of plebe life got to her in a hurry. I mentioned the rack making problem before. That was only the tip of the iceberg.

There was more to summer than the Physical Exercise Program and keeping quarters dust-free. There was seamanship training. There was learning how to handle shipboard emergencies such as fires and leaks. There was marching in formation which included M-1 rifles and bayonets on occasion. And there was weapons training.

When we returned from our first PEP, I was worn out, but both Ashley and Danielle were really dragging. I knew time was limited, so I got on both of them to hurry up. Danielle took it as if she knew it was important. Ashley, on the other hand, grumbled, “Leave me alone. Can’t you see I’m dying here.”

I finally coaxed her into action that day and the next and the next … . I didn’t welcome the job, but we were supposed to be a team so I kept it up. There were other minor breakdowns, but I regularly patted her on the back or hugged her and told her to hang in there. She did, but I could tell she was growing more and more frustrated. I hoped the first day of weapons training would bring some relief because it meant we skipped PEP. Instead, it brought a new problem.

Ashley was still shaken. “But I really believed he had shot himself. How was I supposed to even touch a gun after that?”

She was talking about what happened in the gun safety briefing. As the trainer was telling us guns were dangerous and to be handled with the utmost care, a pistol went off. A midshipman near the front fell to the ground, and his gun skittered away. The trainer immediately ordered us to keep our seats and remain quiet, while the detailers converged on the fallen mid. The silence lasted only a short time. Then a buzz started. “What happened?” “His gun shouldn’t have been loaded!” “How bad is he hurt?”

In a matter of minutes a siren announced an ambulance arriving. Everyone went silent again. The EMTs picked up the limp body, placed him on a gurney, and covered his face with a sheet. All the while, the head trainer kept emphasizing how we had all seen the importance of gun safety in action. “You see what can happen if you forget about safety for just a split second.”

Then, right as the gurney was about to be pushed into the ambulance, the supposedly dead mid sat up and waved to everyone. The reactions were everything from a loud sigh of relief to anger at having been played. We found out afterwards that he was an upper classman who volunteered to play the role, but an unforgettable impact had been imprinted on all of us.

The rest of the day continued with training in disassembly and cleaning of the guns we would use, sight adjustment, how to hold and aim the gun, and range safety. Finally we got to actually fire the weapons.

During the pre-fire gun handling I noticed that Ashley had problems immediately. It was as if she was afraid to touch the gun. The detailers got on her to hurry up, but that just made it worse. I finally had to intervene. Using the appropriate protocol to address the detailers, I got permission to talk to her.

“Okay Ashley, here’s the deal. Someday you may need your weapon to save your life or someone else’s. It comes with the territory of being a naval officer. That means you need to know that your gun is going to work and work right. That’s what we’re learning here.”—Actually, I had already trained on the civilian version of the M9—“Think of it this way: as long as the gun is disassembled, the only way anyone can be hurt by it is if you throw it at them. You need to learn this, so grit your teeth and do it.”

I guess my persistence with her over PEP was enough. She smiled at that image. She went back to work and finished the day. Her scores weren’t impressive, but at least she completed the live fire.

After her outburst in our quarters, I took her shoulders and turned her so I could see her eye to eye. “But you did it,” I emphasized. “You faced that demon and overcame it.”

She grinned weakly and wiped away a tear trickling down her cheek. “I did, didn’t I?”

But I knew I couldn’t always be there for her.

Samantha – Alternate History

This post continues Samantha’s visit to the Alternate Earth. She sent it to me the night before she stepped into a teleportal to return to this Earth. I realize she has only given a digest of her visit, but she has promised me to answer any reasonable questions we receive. You can direct your questions to me at Gordon@gordonsavage.com or Samantha  at Samantha@gordonsavage.com .

Here’s what she had to say.

Are you curious about Alternate Earth? I know I was. Still am, as a matter of fact. I’ll have to visit again. Of course, that will be easy once teleportals are wide spread … unless we from this Earth behave so badly they shut off access.

One of my objectives for this visit was to look into how our histories differ. Most of the big changes took place as a result of World War I, or as the Alternates call it, the Great War. It all started with the Christmas Truce of 1914, where in many places along the front, like on our Earth, both sides put down their weapons and celebrated Christmas together.

Unlike on our Earth, the British Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith, took the initiative and contacted General Falkenheim during the “truce.” Together they worked out a way to sustain the truce and approached the German General staff with a proposal to end the war by deposing Kaiser Wilhelm. Although Falkenheim was disliked by most of the staff, the British offer to provide most favored status to Germany was a strong enough incentive to win the Germans over. Wilhelm didn’t go quietly, but when threatened with public execution, he retired to Ludwig II’s estate on an island in the Chiemsee where he lived until he died in 1941.

The essential stalemate end to the war apparently robbed Hitler of his motivation. He was heard but basically ignored afterward. It also took away the opportunity for the revolution in Russia. Nicholas II saw the writing on the wall and turned the country over to a representative government. The communists took over the country but without World War II couldn’t later justify military action to take over other countries.

Once the war was over, the United States and Canada started exploring the possibility of unifying. At the same time Britain adopted policies similar to the Statute of Westminster making Canada an “equal.” After much heated debate about recognizing the British monarchy, in 1921 Canada and the United States voted to become the North American Federation, independent of but with strong ties to the United Kingdom.

More recently adoption of teleportal transportation resulted in economic dislocation and homogenization. Apparently the peace that lasted from 1915 to the present must have mellowed that world, making international cooperation easier when teleportals were introduced. I only hope we can follow their example.

My visit here is over tomorrow. I’m looking forward to getting home and starting wedding planning.

Samantha – Alternate Earth

Author’s note: Although Samantha is a principal in a Science fiction novel, her character study takes place before anything speculative (sci-fi) does. This interlude with her on vacation, however, is after the story in which she is the protagonist (Antimatter).While Samantha is on vacation visiting the Alternate Earth, she sends in brief reports occasionally. I got this one today.

This has been like being in a whirlwind. When you can simply step through a portal and be somewhere else on earth, you can have breakfast in Seattle, lunch in Paris, and dinner in Tokyo and still catch a show in New York. After touring all sorts of places on this Alternate Earth, I needed to take a break to clear my head. I was surprised to find that Eric ­– Dr. Friedlund – was having the same problem. He had never had a reason to tour so many places so fast. He suggested a camping trip to relax.

He and his wife, Larissa, took me to a camp in the Pike National Forest. It was a fascinating experience. They have an electric RV. It gets lousy mileage, but it doesn’t need good mileage. It doesn’t have to go very far. There’s a vehicle portal just down the street from their house.

The transfer process took several steps. We drove up to the airlock, and Eric keyed in his personal Id. The pressure door slid aside. We drove in, and the door slid shut. He keyed in the destination, and the portal opened. My ears popped but not as badly as I expected because there was another airlock on the other side. We drove through to the other side, the portal closed, and when the air pressure had bled off the pressure door opened.

The camp is pretty much the same as one on our Earth. The only real difference is the vehicle and human portals. There are tents and RV scattered around with campers from all over the planet. There is even a family from Australia. The forest is beautiful despite the snow outside the camp area being about a foot deep. A lot of the campers have brought cross country skis. Eric and Larissa brought skis with us. It could be fun, but when we go back to Toronto in a few days, I have to go to work. I’m here specifically to get help from Eric’s team on security issues. So I think I’m going to just relax and enjoy the serenity.

I’ll try to send some more next week.

Samantha – Vacation

For those of you waiting with bated breath for more episodes of Samantha’s story, you’ll have to wait a few weeks. She is currently on vacation in the Alternates’ New York City. She plans to be on Alternate Earth four weeks and be back to continue her story thereafter. She sent this comment.

Today was my seventh day on Alternate Earth. It’s so much like our Earth and yet so different. New York is still a bustling metropolis, but people are walking down the middle of Broadway and the only show I recognized was Beauty and the Beast. Dr. Friedlund is showing me around and I have to admit it’s a little overwhelming. Let’s see, I’ve been here a week already. I hope to be able to give a coherent report by next week, but I won’t make any promises. TTFN.

Samantha – Wilson

Samantha’s plebe summer was a challenge from the start, but Lance Wilson had hit her stubborn button. She wasn’t about to be beat down by a bully. She worked with everything she had to make sure he didn’t have any excuse to put her down. Every time he criticized her, she worked that much harder and imagined ways to get back at him. In fact, getting back at him no matter what the cost became an obsession.

As far as I was concerned Lance Wilson was in my crosshairs. I was going to do something to get back at him, and it looked like I might have to get in trouble to do it. But by that time I was beginning not to care what kind of trouble I got into. I was ready to take a risk.

Our rooms, including Wilson’s, were on Deck 4. That meant we had access to the Green Beach, a ledge outside our window that ran around the whole of Deck 4. There was a story, probably apocryphal, about one of the plebe classes saving up newspapers and using the Green Beach to deliver so many crumpled up papers to the company commander’s office while he was away that he couldn’t open the door when he got back. I thought that might be my access to Wilson, but since then they had installed air conditioning in Bancroft Hall. Most of the windows were kept closed. Besides, Wilson had roommates, and I wasn’t after them.

Early on, much of our time was spent with military fundamentals, marching, formations, manual of arms, saluting. It was practice, practice, practice. As plebes we marched to every meal even though it meant going through Bancroft Hall to get to King Hall, and we ate at attention. If we wanted to have food or drink passed to us we had to stick out our paw and be recognized before we could ask for it. When we weren’t busy with training activities, we spent our time making sure our rooms were shipshape or memorizing material from Reef Points and articles from the newspaper.

Keeping our room in shape was an almost impossible task. The inspectors were looking for the slightest flaw. We did better than most, but we still got demerits. It was dust somewhere, or the bed cover’s corner wasn’t 45 degrees or a book was taller by a millimeter than the adjacent book on the taller side of the books on the shelf. And since we were a team we all got the blame. The demerits added up and to pay them off we marched, carrying our parade rifles – non-functional M-1s. Fortunately we didn’t do a lot of that.

When my turn came for Company Mate of the Deck or CMOD, I stood watch in the company office where I answered the phone, delivered messages, and sorted the mail. The first time I had the watch, I got my opportunity. A caller left a message for Wilson, and I was the one to deliver it. I realized this was my chance. I double timed to Wilson’s quarters. As luck would have it, all the detailers were in the yard. I quickly tore down Wilsons rack and remade it with the top sheet tucked in at the top and folded back to look like an ordinary top sheet.

As I left, I checked very carefully that no one saw me and dropped the message off in the nearest other detailers quarters. I expected one of the detailers there to deliver it to Wilson, which she did. I knew I’d get in trouble for mistaking her quarters for Wilson’s, but it disassociated me from the short-sheeting.

As expected, Wilson came to the company office and chewed me out about misdirecting his mail, but he didn’t ask me any questions about why I had done it. Maybe he thought his bullying was finally rattling me.

I waited for the rest of the day with anticipation for  him to discover the short-sheet, but the final assembly for the day came around and he treated me as he always did. So far so good.

Danielle, Ashley, and I hit the rack as if nothing had happened. They didn’t know what I had done and went right to sleep. I was too keyed up to sleep. I kept expecting Wilson to bang on our door and roust me or maybe the whole company. Finally, I drifted off. I dreamed once that Wilson was yelling at me and woke in a cold sweat. No one was there. I went back to sleep and woke to reveille.

While we were at PEP, I heard one detailer talking to another, saying that someone had short-sheeted Wilson’s rack and he was mad as hell. Yes! I almost paused in doing my crunches just to relish the moment. Of course there was the question of when he’d come to suspect me and what he’d do about it. But I could and would live with that if it happened.

Samantha – Plebe Summer Begins

At this point I could make an excuse that Samantha was too busy to get another episode to me, but to tell the truth my research left a lot of holes. I finally decided I would just have to be vague where I didn’t know the details.

Samantha got through Induction Day without any major problems. She did feel a loss when her family left, but that was something she already knew she had to deal with. Here’s her take on some of what happened over the next few days.

Plebe summer: it started as soon as our visits with family ended. Most of it was just plain hard, and despite my preparation I wasn’t a supergirl. I took my licks along with everyone else.

That first evening meal was interesting. Learning to sit at attention on the front four inches of my chair managed to bring the reality of my change in life into focus. My advance knowledge of Reef Points actually made me the target of more questions. I’m sure it was to see where I would miss something. I managed with only a few mistakes.

On the other hand, some of it seemed absolutely ridiculous, and Lance Wilson seemed to work on tripping me up. That evening in the hall outside our rooms he seemed to take an immediate dislike for me. He pounced on me as soon as we assembled.

“Plebe, how long have you been in the Navy?”

His face was less than six inches from mine. He wasn’t a bad looking guy. About my height, sandy hair, green eyes, but his frown would have burned the paint on the wall behind me. I was tempted to give a straight answer, but I stared him in the eye, unblinking, and responded as required, “All me bloomin’ life, sir! Me mother was a mermaid. Me father was King Neptune.”

I think that surprised him, but Dad had made sure I knew it. It may be that all the advance work I had done was what set Wilson off. He ran me through the whole series. I continued to respond correctly. Finally, he asked, “Plebe, what’s your favorite quotation?” He was right there in my face again.

I had to think about that, but I knew I wouldn’t have time. I spouted the first quotation that came to mind, “Sir, on the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days, on other fields will bear the fruits of victory, sir.”

His frown darkened. “Plebe, that was by an Army general,” he growled. “You can do better than that.”

“Sir, yes sir. God grant me the courage not to give up what I think is right even though I think it is hopeless.”

“Nimitz. That’s more like it, but I prefer, ‘A ship is always referred to as ‘she’ because it costs so much to keep one in paint and powder.’” He smirked at that one.

The next morning we were introduced to PEP. That’s the Physical Exercise Program, an hour and a half of pure torture we would have to endure virtually every morning. As a long distance runner I was in better shape than a lot of my classmates, but even so by the time that first PEP session was over, I was exhausted. I can only imagine what some of the less prepared were going through. At least, Wilson wasn’t on my backside during PEP.

Then there was marching. We got into it almost immediately. I thought I was pretty good; in fact, I “know” I was pretty good, but that didn’t deter Wilson. When we formed up to march to meals or practice marching, he would be right alongside me, repeatedly tossing barbs. They were all trivial, like “Get in step” (I was doing my best, but the entire company needed to work on that), “Eyes front” (Okay, I admit I let my eyes wander), and “Head up. Chin back” (I was doing better than anyone else around me. Dad had taught me well). By the time we dismissed I was close to losing my temper despite knowing that was what he was after.

Room inspections were another matter. Again I knew what to expect, and I knew it took teamwork. We weren’t just responsible for our own stuff. We were responsible for our roommates’ stuff too. I tried to get that across to Ashley and Danielle but it didn’t sink in right away. Fortunately, it only took one of Wilson’s raking over the coals to do it. That may have been because of me, but after that I became the de facto room commander, and they both listened to me.

All in all the first few days were really challenging even as prepared as I was. And Wilson continued to dog me. I’m not exactly sure when it came to me, but I don’t take kindly to being harassed (I know, it wasn’t harassment. It was what he was supposed to be doing). I quickly decided that I was going to pay him back. The question was, how could I do it and not get caught?

Samantha – I is for Induction

Induction Day at the Naval Academy is a production. It’s specifically for in processing for midshipmen candidates. Their families and the incoming candidates have activities lined up that can keep them busy for the whole day. Samantha had prepared for it with her father’s help. He had given her his copy of Reef Points and, knowing it was updated annually, she had dutifully memorized everything anyway. She had studied everything she could find in the library and online. She knew where to go and what was going to happen, and she knew that when she walked into Alumni Hall there was no turning back.

I followed the other candidates to the check in station. On my way I was stopped by a Marine Colonel who shook my hand and welcomed me aboard. “Are you Admiral Pederson’s daughter?” That took me by surprise, but I was too dazed to notice his name tag. I learned afterwards that he was Colonel Allen, the Commandant of Midshipmen. He was still shaking hands when I walked up to the table to pick up my name tag and information packet.

The guy who handed me my name tag looked at my t-shirt. “I hope that doesn’t mean you think this is a mistake.”

I laughed. “Heavens no. I’m looking forward to this. I’m going to do my best to set some new records.”

“Great attitude. So what are you standing around for?” He smiled and nodded toward the next table.

Much of the rest of the morning and afternoon was a matter of following lines of candidates from one station to the next and then waiting in line. One of the first things we got was a copy of Reef Points. We were told to start memorizing it. We were measured for uniforms and given a gear bag, actually a large laundry bag. We exchanged our civilian clothes first for shorts and a t-shirt and then a “white works” uniform went on over the athletic gear. We got the ubiquitous black canteen. It was supposed to be to keep us hydrated, but I suspect it was also to mark us as plebes.The gear bag got heavier as the remaining uniform gear went in it. There was a medical exam, a dental exam, the obligatory haircut. Actually, I remember that because I didn’t even get to sit in the chair. I was one of several candidates who wore our hair shorter than required. One of the women barbers joked, “Maybe we should cut her hair like we do the guys.”

After what seemed like an interminable trek through station after station, a group of us were herded into a loading dock. We gave up our gear bags on which we had written our names and units in large capital letters. The bags were thrown on a truck and dropped off just outside Bancroft hall. We were left behind to spend some time learning military customs and courtesies, like how to salute and how to answer questions by upper classmen.

It seemed like as soon as we all managed to say, “Sir, yes sir,” in unison, we were ushered out of the loading dock and onto a bus. When we arrived at Bancroft hall, we were hurried off the bus and into the arms of awaiting detailers, upper-class midshipmen, who rushed us over to a stack of gear bags and told us in no uncertain terms to find ours and get it inside without delay. That was one thing I really remember, we couldn’t do much of anything without a detailer yelling at us to hurry up.

Other detailers led us to our plebe summer rooms where we learned things like how to make our racks (beds) and store our gear. Because we were the stragglers, we broke for lunch almost immediately. When we got back to Bancroft Hall, there was some catching up to do, but the afternoon seemed to be gone almost before it started. Then to the shouts of the detailers, we were lined up and marching – as best we could – into Tecumseh court for the swearing in ceremony.

The ceremony was relatively brief, but it seemed to drag on. Admiral Moore had his say, and we all stood with our right hands in the air to respond to the oath of office with “I do.” We were no longer candidates. We were midshipmen. But we were still plebes.

I don’t remember anything else, whatever it was. After that we had 45 minutes to spend with our families, which for me included a personal swearing-in ceremony conducted by my dad, naturally.

That 45 minutes was the shortest time of any event that day. Before I knew it, I was saying a tearful goodbye to Mom, Dad, and Nelson. I squatted down next to Nelson. “Well, little brother, it’ll be a while before I see you again. Take care of Mom and Dad for me.”

“I will.” He smiled mischievously. “Does this mean I get your old room?”

I had to laugh, and it broke the gloomy spell that had been cast over me. I pecked him on the cheek and stood up. I kissed Dad on the cheek and said, “I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you, sweetheart.” He gipped my arms just below the shoulder and held me back from him to take a look at me. ”God, I’m proud of you. Remember, this isn’t supposed to be easy, but you can do it. I know you can.” He stepped back and saluted. I didn’t have my cover on, but I returned the salute.

Mom was still emotional. I couldn’t blame her, but I was doing what wanted to do, and I was excited about it. “I love you, Mom.”

“I love you too.” She tried to sound flippant, but I could see the glint of moisture in her eyes. “Take care of yourself. See you in six weeks.” She took Nelson’s hand and started toward where the car was parked, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue.

“Goodbye, everybody.” I waved one last time and then stood there until they walked out of sight.

I turned back toward Bancroft Hall. Tomorrow began the real program. Six weeks. Plebe summer. I dreaded it and looked forward to it.

Samantha – L is for Lonely

Induction Day at the Naval Academy is a production. It’s specifically in-processing for midshipmen candidates. Their families and the incoming candidates have activities lined up that can keep them busy for the whole day. Samantha had prepared for it with her father’s help. He had given her his copy of Reef Points and, knowing it was updated annually, she had dutifully memorized everything anyway. She had studied everything she could find in the library and online. She knew where to go and what was going to happen, and she knew that when she walked into Alumni Hall there was no turning back.

The alarm went off at 4:00 am. Grumbling, I reached out to slap the beast that was interfering with my hard won sleep. I had tossed and turned ever since I went to bed, barely getting to sleep when the alarm began beeping. I forced my eyes open and climbed out of bed. I showered, luxuriating in the cold water as I came fully awake. I dressed in a pair of cutoff jean shorts, scruffy running shoes, and a t-shirt that said “You learn from mistakes. I learned a lot today.” I had heard somewhere that you could show up for I-day nude but it probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

As I dried my hair, I looked myself over in the bathroom mirror. Here it was, the moment of truth. Was I really ready for this? I was excited, a little scared, but, yes, I was ready. The face in the mirror smiled back with grim determination.

The family had a hurried breakfast. My eggs were tasteless and I had a hard time eating them because my stomach roiled, not from fear but excitement. As the clock ticked down, more than once Nelson objected loudly about having to get up so early, but Mom simply told him he could sleep in the car.

We rolled out of the driveway at 5:00 and hit the interstate. Traffic was light until we reached Alexandria. Then it turned chaotic. On top of the “rush hour” traffic, which was bad enough, not long after we crossed the Potomac, the traffic came to a complete stop. As the delay dragged out I could feel the anxiety building. I was supposed to check in by 10:00, and the margin was getting narrower and narrower. Dad began talking about driving on the shoulder to reach the next exit. Fortunately, before he did, Mom announced, “Traffic is starting to move up ahead.”

I could see some of the tension drain out of Dad’s shoulders. We were moving again, albeit slowly. It took us fifteen more minutes to reach the scene of the accident. A semi was on its side on the southbound side, and the police had blocked all the lanes on that side but the inside one. I counted seven emergency vehicles. I commented, “What a gapers’ block. I bet that’s breaking news, even for this area.”

Mom nodded. “I hope no one was badly hurt.” In a way that’s how I’ll always remember her, always concerned about others. It’s true even now. Am I getting maudlin? It must because this day brings back so many memories.

We arrived at Gate 8 of the Academy at 9:30 or should I say, 0930? By the time we reached Alumni Hall it was 9:45. On our way in Dad reminded me of what was happening. “I’m going to let you out at Alumni Hall. You know what to do. Then I’m going to drop in on Willy – Admiral Moore – to let him know I’m here and introduce the family … the rest of the family. He’s expecting me. You’re going to be busy for the next several hours, but we’ll see you after the swearing in.”

I got out of the car, and they drove off. I watched them until they made a turn and disappeared behind a building. For a moment I felt more alone than I ever had in my life. My Mom and Dad had just driven off, leaving me by myself to face the biggest change in my life. Sure, I’d see them one more time today, but the change would already be taking place.

I looked up at the building in front of me and the young men and women straggling in line toward the entrance. Straggling? No they weren’t. They were walking tall, and so would I. I straightened my back and strode purposefully forward to join them. It was show time!

Samantha – Graduation

Samantha had made up her mind to apply to both the Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy. This is what she had to say about the remainder of her school year.

I’m going to synopsize here because the following eight months were hectic but not exciting. As I mentioned before I turned in my preliminary applications for both schools and applied for nominations in every possible channel. Dad recommended I start a serious physical exercise program before taking the fitness tests. I’m glad I did. I found out from Senator Warren’s staff that I had the highest scores of any woman candidate on every single test. And later at the academy it made the first event of each morning almost a breeze.

The interviews with the Admissions Liaison Officer for the Air Force Academy and the Blue and Gold Officer for the Naval Academy were interesting. Both were upbeat and optimistic about my chances for selections.

When the candidate selections came in, I had been selected for both the Air Force and the Navy. It’s no secret that I chose the Naval Academy. That was for two reasons. First and obvious, my dad was a Naval Academy graduate and wanted me to follow in his footsteps, and second, I was having a problem with my right eye at the time and couldn’t pass the vision test for military piloting – At the time I didn’t know it was temporary.

Dad dug into his memorabilia and found his copy of Reef Points and gave it to me to memorize with the caution that it was updated annually. That gave me another head start.

As for school, I kept my four plus grade point average. In track I specialized in cross country. It fit in with my exercise regimen. I could brag about my first place finishes and make excuses for coming in second at state, but I won’t. My social life flourished, but I missed both Renee and Dwayne, and I didn’t make any other serious relationships.

Graduation came, and as one of the three students with the top GPA I got the privilege of speaking. Fortunately, one of the parents, Mrs. Filstrup, was a Toastmaster, and she had conducted a program that taught students public speaking and leadership. Dad had insisted that it would be good training for Annapolis, so I participated. When I learned I would be speaking, Mrs. Filstrup helped me prepare my speech. She even gave me some ideas. You see, my speech was a prank. I couldn’t resist a final one.

When it came my turn to speak, I walked up to the lectern looking as serious as I possibly could. From under my robe I produced a makeup kit and placed it on the lectern. I heard some stirring behind me from the teachers and dignitaries, but I ignored them.

I looked out on the sea of gowns and the friends and family behind them. They hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary … yet. Speaking into the microphone quietly, I said, “As you all know, today is a solemn occasion. Today we commemorate a major milestone in our education. We have all successfully completed twelve years of schooling, some may have taken a few more. Now we’re going out to face a troubled world and try to make a meaningful impact on it. That sounds serious, doesn’t it?”

I paused to look around. Many of the teachers behind me looked tense. Principal Ashworth, however, was grinning broadly. The audience in front of me seemed ready to start yawning. I raised my voice. “Well, I don’t believe in taking life seriously.”

I took off my cap and put it on the shelf in the lectern. I stepped back, grabbed the sides of my gown, and pulled it up and off over my head. The audience gasped. I was wearing a one-piece, white clown suit decorated with random hearts and large red buttons. It had puffy sleeves and trouser legs. I bent over and released the front of my clown shoes so they stuck out like they were supposed to. Then I stepped back to the lectern. “So let’s have some fun.”

Over the next fifteen minutes I applied white face, a painted red smile, and black circles around my eyes, all the while regaling the audience with the need to enjoy life while we could and to share that joy with others. As I got ready to wrap up, I put on an oversized pair of sunglasses and paused briefly. Finally, adding a red sponge nose, I stepped out from behind the lectern. “Class of 2003, here’s my challenge to you. Wherever you go from here, defeat seriousness and spread joy. The world needs you. … Now, who has the beach balls?” I took an exaggerated bow.

I got a standing ovation. Dr. Ashworth led it.

Of course, I only had a rough idea of the work I had ahead of me. Would a cheerful attitude be enough?

Samantha – Mom Time

While deciding whether to apply for admission to a military academy, Samantha had been so wrapped up in the research she hadn’t paid attention to Dwayne and Renee. Once she had made up her mind, she sought out Dwayne to tell him her decision. She found him with Renee on the front lawn, and they both acted sheepish. When she confronted Dwayne, he reluctantly told her that both he and Renee felt she was a controlling personality and that they were dating. Feeling betrayed, she started crying and ran away from Dwayne.

I ran all the way home, blubbering almost the whole way. By the time I arrived at the front door, I had slowed to a jog. On the way I had gone through all the stages of grief and my eyes were dry. Losing Dwayne was painful, but I realized it was nothing compared to losing Brian. And I had to admit it was my doing. I was still angry, but it was more for Dwayne turning Renee against me.

The run had calmed me down, but now I was hot and sweaty. Mom heard me come in. “You’re home early,” she called from the kitchen. I headed that way.

“I ran the whole way.”

She was putting a batch of cookies out to cool. As soon as she looks at me, she knew. “You’ve been crying.”

“Dwayne and I broke up.”

“Ah, teenage romances. They don’t always hold up.” She pointed at the cookies. “I just made these for Nelson’s kindergarten class tomorrow. Maybe a cookie or two would make you feel better. Have a seat.” She pulled out a chair and turned it toward me.

She sat down facing me and pushed the cooling rack over to me. “You want to talk about it?”

Picking up one of the still warm cookies, I stared at it for a moment. “I’m not sure I’m cut out for romance. Bill turned out to be a nice guy but wasn’t ready to commit to anything. Dwayne is terrific, but he’s another Type A personality. He called me a control freak. I hadn’t realized it, but he was right. Of course, he’s one too. That’s why we’ve come to this.”

Mom laughed. “You’re giving up too soon. You’re an intelligent, good looking young woman. The young men in your life will have a hard time keeping up with you. That’s probably what happened with Dwayne.”

“So what am I supposed to do, pretend I’m something I’m not?”

“Good heavens, no. But you can learn to be more subtle in getting your way. Maybe attending an academy will help with that. After all, a good officer gets his or her subordinates to want to perform their duties. You’ve never seen your father at work, have you?”

I immediately thought about how he had handled my insubordination after Brian’s death. He didn’t manipulate me. He let me work out my anger and frustration, even letting me go too far. I smiled. I doubted he’d let his subordinates go that far, but I could see him allowing them to make some pretty caustic statements – as long as they kept calm about it and said sir.

I said, “I have a pretty good idea of what you’re talking about. He handled me despite my best efforts to hurt him.”

“That was self-discipline, definitely something you’ll learn at an academy if you’re going to graduate. … By the way, you did hurt him.”

I looked at her quizzically. “He never showed it. … Well, there was that one time at the funeral. But he handled it.” I hadn’t ever apologized. “I guess I owe him an apology.”

“I think he’d appreciate that, but he probably won’t say so.”

I peered at her for heartbeat. “Mom, how are you handling Brian’s death?”

She frowned regretfully. “It still hurts, but there’s nothing I can do to change what happened.” Her eyes glistened.

“I guess I shouldn’t have brought that up. Sorry. Let’s talk about something different.”

“Such as?”

I had no idea. I needed to take a shower, but no way was I going to leave this conversation now, not after bringing tears to her eyes. We’d been talking about boyfriends, academies, hurting dad … Back up, Mom had gone to college. “Where did you go to college?”

She looked surprised. “Now that’s different alright. University of Maryland, actually, Philip Merrill College of Journalism.”

“You were studying to be a reporter? Why didn’t you become one?”

“I met your father.” She smiled. “Of course, it wasn’t that simple. I got my degree. I even worked as a stringer for a couple of TV stations in Jacksonville while your father was stationed, if you can call it that, at Mayport. I’m not sure which carrier he was assigned to, but of course, he was at sea most of the time. Then you kids came along.” She stopped and shook her head.

I suddenly saw where this was going, another reminder of Brian. Here I was trying to unload my problems on a sympathetic audience, and in the process I was rubbing salt in Mom’s wounds. I hurriedly changed the subject. Standing, I said, “Well, after talking to you, I feel better, but I need a shower. Then I have some things to take care of, like apologize to Dad, get to work on my applications, and let Renee and Dwayne know that I still want to be friends. Since Dad’s not home, I’m going to start on the applications.”

Mom stood and kissed me on the cheek. “I’m glad I could help.”

That evening I apologized to Dad. And over the next several days I scrambled to submit my applications for nomination and complete preliminary applications for both schools.

I was disappointed to find that many of the nominations had already been filled, but Senator Warner’s qualification process and the presidential one kept me busy. Then when both schools accepted me as a candidate, there were interviews, physicals, fitness tests, essays, you name it. With all that I never managed to get back together with Dwayne and Renee.

If I had, I might still be in the Marine Corp.