I swore into the Marine Corps on my 17th birthday in 1997. Two months and 7 days later (a week after I graduated high school early) I was boarding my 3rd plane ever, heading to Parris Island, to stand on the yellow footprints. I spent approximately 6 years serving in the Marine Corps. I got out in August of 2003. Therefore, I served pretty much right smack in the middle of any wars or conflicts. I also spent pretty much spent my entire time overseas. I always figured that I’d let the government pay me to travel and see the world. The first half of my time (after training and schools) I spent in Okinawa, Japan. The second half I was serving as a Marine Security Guard in Sofia, Bulgaria and then Bamako, Mali.
I had a pretty well taken care of childhood. As far as I knew and can remember, I never lacked anything. We weren’t the lovey dovey type, we didn’t pass out hugs or tell each other that we loved each other. We still really don’t unless I’m flying back home for a visit, which I rarely have the opportunity to do. My father is the hardest working man I have and will ever meet. I learned an incredible work ethic from him. But I also learned to never pause, take a break and enjoy/celebrate that hard work. You work hard because it’s expected and that’s just what you do, this is something he also learned during his childhood. You don’t do this because you expected any sort of reward. It’s just what you do. I also happen to have as a mother the strongest woman I have ever and will ever meet. But she also taught me to never let anybody in. She taught me from a very young age to be cautious of everyone. She is the true definition of an overcomer. While seemingly plain at first glance, her story is the type of story blockbuster movies are made from. Her story is also the story of millions of women all over the world. Maybe one day when I won’t be disowned by every family member I have on this planet, I will write this story.
This is them back in the 70s:
I led a pretty sheltered life. Whether or not we had enough or not enough (or maybe too much), I never really knew. Whether or not my parents were quarrelling or not, I never really knew. My mom is a good wife, afterall. I always had fairly new shoes, new clothing, I grew up in a 6 bedroom house, there was always a brand new car in the driveway. I know there were times that we probably couldn’t afford that life, but I never knew about it. I expected things.
Things. Things were SO important. I learned to fill the lack of affection and praise with a new doll, or new toys. Eventually sinking into books. Book after book, after book. That’s all I did back then. And it’s not that I expected a life that lacked noTHING. It’s not that I felt entitled to it or felt it should be given to me with no effort from my part. It was just how life was supposed to be. I knew that as soon as I was old enough to it was just expected that I would get a job and start working. That was never spoken, I just knew that was part of the natural progression of my life. I started working my first job at the age of 14 and haven’t stopped since (unless you count my measly attempt at being a stay at home mom, where I still kinda worked and went to school full time). I’m sure if I had decided against not getting a job as a young teen, it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal. I just knew that with the way my father was, if I ever wanted a say in the clothes and shoes that I wore, I’d have to do it myself. He was always very particular about these things with his only daughter.
One of the very first lessons that my mother taught me was to never find myself trapped. Trapped in a job, in a relationship, in anything. She told me time and time again from a very early age to make sure that I could always support myself financially and to never depend on a man to do this for me. To never allow myself to be put into a position where every day of my life was controlled by someone else. You see, my mother was born in an extremely rural part of Mexico (think no running water, adobe huts, walk daily to the river for your water for the day). She was the eldest daughter and from a ridiculously young age (like seriously, ridiculous) she was expected to prepare the meals for the family and take care of the rest of the siblings while her parents worked out in the fields. I believe there were 9 kids in all. She never stepped a day in school and grew into adulthood without the ability to read or write or perform simple arithmetic. I once had the opportunity to interview my now late grandmother for a project for my Mexican-Chicano literature class as a senior in High School. She choked up and cried out of guilt and regret for the life she had given my mother as a child. My mother came to the United States at the age of 19 for a better life and the American dream. I don’t really think she understood what that was at the time, but she knew she wanted more out of her life. She knew she had to escape the life she had be dealt since the day she was born. Looking back, I realized that I too was running away at the age of 17. I couldn’t get out fast enough.
I learned a lot of life lessons from my birth on November 25, 1980 until August 3, 2003 when I got out of the Marine Corps. I couldn’t pay for those lessons at the best universities in the nation. In fact, *I* was paid for a lot of these lessons and experiences during my time in the military. (Thank you, tax payers) I got to experience the cultures of over 30 countries and countless international cities. When you’re accepted into the Marine Security Guard program (at least back when I was in) you expected to go to one bad county, and one good country. I didn’t think so at the time, but I was sent to two amazing countries where I learned a huge amount of humility and appreciation. I got to witness life in some of it’s purest forms. Living in Bamako felt as if I had been picked up and dropped into a cover of National Geographic. Have you ever heard of Timbuktu? Well, it’s real and the Marine Corps sent me to the country where it is. That’s where I actually learned that stuff doesn’t really matter all that much, that you can be happy in a mud hut, with a straw roof and a loving family. It was there that I truly learned to appreciate the opportunities that I had been given in life and to be thankful for the blessings that God had entrusted me with.
Things got really messy after that part of my life (for like a decade). I forgot every lesson my mother had taught me and every lesson ’97-’03 had taught me. I lost myself and I nearly lost my mind. I couldn’t even recognize myself in the mirror anymore. I found myself in the very same situations my mother had warned me about and tried to protect me against for so many years. In the 3 years that have followed since that dark decade, all of these lessons have slowly made their way back into my life. I really accepted and learned to believe that God put me on this planet to do bigger and better things than what I had been accepting. He put some incredibly amazing people in my life to help me, teach me and guide me. Most of all, He showed me Himself in a way that I could never have imagined.
God gave me a story. Through Him, I too became an overcomer. He also gave me a voice.