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The Camaro and The Army

In the summer of 1988, I was living in a trailer with a roommate in Jolon, CA. This trailer park was mainly occupied by soldiers (and their families) stationed at Fort Hunter Liggett, the base there. I was working in the bar directly off-base, and met a few guys that I was hanging around with. We usually went for drive, went to the lake to swim, or stayed at the bar and drank.

Then, one night, someone introduced me to Mick. I was twenty-eight, and he was thirty-nine. He was, well, the only word to use for Mick is virile. He was a virile specimen of a man. Absolutely cliché; but I can’t think of a better cliché to describe him. He was a Drill Sergeant on base, and all the men called him, “Gunny”, after the Clint Eastwood character in Heartbreak Ridge, Gunnery Sgt. Tom ‘Gunny’ Highway.

Tall, bald (though he thought he was balding, so he did the comb-over with his last measly strands), brilliant blue eyes, commanding presence. I fell under his spell within a minute. 

Mick had just returned from Berlin a few months before, and was living in Pacific Grove with a Captain friend of his stationed at Ford Ord in Monterey. Mick was stationed at Hunter Liggett, and stayed in the barracks five days a week, and at his apartment on the weekends.  Once we met, he began spending all of his time in Jolon, and we double dated with my roommate and her boyfriend, Mick’s friend Top (Top Sergeant). Top became a dear friend of mine then, who really looked out for me, even after Mick and I broke up. Damn Army nicknames, I cannot remember Top’s real name! Then again, I can’t remember my roommate’s name either. She wasn’t really remarkable, though. Mostly, I remember her selfishness when it came to her ailing mother.

Her mother stayed with us, and I began caretaking for her. The ironic thing is that I fled to California to avoid all the heartache associated with taking care of my mother, who passed away from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 1983. Five years later, I was cleaning and dressing and feeding a stranger. Now that I am older, I can look back and see that my roommate was no different from me. She was not mature enough to handle it.

My relationship with Mick became intense quickly. That happens when wildly jealous and possessive men meet immature, insecure women. Within weeks he was accusing me of sleeping with many of his soldiers. I was sure that meant true love. He came to the bar when I was working and stared down all the men, so they wouldn’t talk to me. My tips dwindled radically, but many began to offer advice. Over and over I heard, “Why are you with that old man?” That’s funny, now that I am fifty-one, but when I was twenty-eight, I thought the advice givers were jealous because Mick was a man, and they were boys.

Mick grew so jealous that after one month of dating, he asked me to quit my job, and move into the apartment he shared with the Captain in Pacific Grove. I readily said yes, not only because I thought I loved him, but I also felt it was time to distance myself from my roommate and her burdens. I moved in and met the Captain and his girlfriend, Susan Jones. Mick and the Captain where never there during the week, and Susan was working, so I was left to my own devices all day, every day.

I also had Mick’s 1987 Red Camaro. He bought the car and had it shipped to Germany, and then when he returned, he had it shipped home. It was a real beauty, and the love of his life. The car wore a bra for protection! He kept her immaculate. I don’t know why, but Mick trusted me with that car. Silly Mick. I was a callow twenty-eight year old with lots of time on my hands! I would drop him off at Fort Hunter Liggett on Sunday night, and pick him up on Friday night. In between, it was just like I owned a 1987 Red Camaro with a bra on it.

The Camaro and I had so much fun. We took my nephew for a ride on a two lane highway at one hundred miles per hour. Someone from Hunter Liggett saw that and reported it to Mick. Called up on the carpet, I did the only thing I knew how to do: I lied. That soldier was crazy! It absolutely wasn’t me (a blonde with a young man matching my nephew’s description)! I don’t know if he bought it, or wanted to, but he just forgot it, and we stayed the way we were; my now beloved Camaro and I.

I took to going for joy rides in the daytime, and stopping at bars. I was going to the Wharf in Monterey a lot, and drinking at Domenico’s on the Wharf. They made a Scorpion to kill for. After drinking a few of them, I almost killed myself, and others. I was blasted drunk, driving down Alvarado Street, and smashed Mick’s pretty Camaro into the vehicle in front of me. There was no damage to the truck, but the Camaro had a few dents. I was incredibly lucky that the occupants of that truck were illegal immigrants that did not want the police called. Neither did I, so we went our separate ways. My real worry was concocting a believable story for Mick.

When I called to tell Mick about the accident, I said the guys in front of me stopped short, and when I spoke with them, they didn’t speak English, and that I didn’t realize anything was wrong with the car until I left the scene. He kept saying, “Well, at least you’re okay, and that’s what matters”, but I could tell by his tone that was not true at all. I didn’t know, or maybe didn’t want to know, but I realized later that was the moment when Mick started trying to get rid of me.

As far as I knew, we were still happy, so I kept enjoying my escapades. I drove to Paso Robles, and met a bartender who shared my interests in carousing. We began to go out for drinking and driving dates in Mick’s Camaro. We only drank and ran around and had fun. I had no sexual intentions towards the bartender, but word got back to Mick that I was cheating on him. There were a lot of jealous women in our area who thought a Drill Sergeant was a real catch, and they weren’t too happy that a young chickie caught him!

One day, Mick came roaring into the apartment, carrying a dead rattlesnake that he had either killed or found. I can’t remember now, but it seems he killed it, because I remember being pretty scared by the symbolism of him carrying that thing in and chopping it’s rattler off with a butcher knife in front of me. After he dismembered the snake, he turned to me and told me to get out.

“Why?”, I cried, but he was glaring at me with all the venom the snake had once possessed. He would not answer, but I really thought in my demented mind that I was madly in love with him, and could not understand why he didn’t feel the same way. I begged for an answer, and he finally told me that people had seen me with the bartender, and they informed Mick that I was having an affair with him.

I denied any knowledge of the bartender, said it wasn’t true, the women were just jealous cows. He wouldn’t listen, even though I was crying and pleading for him to believe me. He grabbed some things, and headed for the door. As he left, he said he was returning in two days, “And don’t be here”, and got in the Camaro, and took off. I had lost my man and my darling car.

I immediately became despondent. I thought the women had set me up in a great injustice. I thought I could not live without Mick.I felt like such a fool, but couldn’t admit to myself that it was my fault, that I had acted dreadfully and irresponsibly and selfishly. I had to blame the women and become the victim. I had suicidal thoughts; at least peripherally.

I left the apartment, and went to the beach two blocks away. I sat staring at the waves, and thinking. Mostly, I was thinking, “Oh poor me.” I stayed there a while, letting the crashing waves calm me down. I think at that moment, I realized this was nothing to be so dramatic over, but if I wasn’t dramatic about it, how would anyone know just how wronged I’ve been?

I got up, walked to drug store, and bought over the counter sleeping pills. Then, I went to the liquor store for vodka.  They carded me, which really never happened, and I didn’t have my license on me. I had to walk back home and get it.  I thought, this is my rotten luck.I am trying to kill myself and can’t even do that right. I returned, showed my ID, got my liquor, and walked home.

When I got back to the apartment, it was still early afternoon. Susan was there, and when I saw her, I started crying again. I told her what had happened, but gave her the same story I gave Mick. I don’t know anything about this bartender. I had the vodka in my hand, and the sleeping pills were on the table, and she took the vodka and told me I could either have a drink, or a sleeping pill, but not both. By then, my eyes were so worn out from crying, I chose the sleeping pill and slept until the next morning.

When I woke up, and realized that I could not get him back, I set out on a revenge campaign. I had two days to make my presence known in his life for a very long time. I made a cup of coffee, and sat down with a pen and a pad. I began writing snippets of love songs and love poems that I knew by heart, and then I wrote a lot of my own poems and sayings, too. I cut each song and poem fragment into a little piece of paper, using Susan’s pinking shears to make them decorative.

After creating many of these scraps of paper, I hid them all over Mick’s apartment, in all his personal things. In his boots, coats, videos, Medicine Cabinet, drawers, coffee cups, pillow cases. I hid them everywhere that I could think of. I was trying to make it impossible to forget me, so I hid them in places I thought he may not find them for several months. Then, I took his toothbrush and left. Why did I take his toothbrush? I thought it was clever of me, but it didn’t occur to me that he could just go to the drug store around the block to get a new one. Still, I felt guilty about it.

I had called Debbie, my sister-in-law Marlene’s sister, to ask if I could stay with her. She had a house in Lockwood, which is right next to Jolon. I moved in with her, with Mick’s toothbrush in my possession, and cried for a few days, miserable and sure Mick was the love of my life. I listened to Linda Ronstadt sing, “Love Has No Pride”, and Patsy Cline and Bonnie Raitt and all the sad girls sing, and thought I knew their pain. I was Camille; simply a tragic heroine in the melodrama of life.

I still had Mick’s toothbrush, and it was bothering me. Why didn’t I throw it out? Subconsciously, I think the toothbrush was symbolic of the culpability I refused to take. If I gave the toothbrush back, I could be exonerated. I walked the six miles to Fort Hunter Liggett, and waited for Mick to come out of the barracks. He never came out, so I handed one of his soldiers the toothbrush and a note saying, “Sorry I took your toothbrush.”

I stayed with Debbie for a few weeks in Lockwood, then went to stay with Marlene, my brother Michael and their family, also in Lockwood. Marlene wanted to know what I planned to do with my life. That was a good question. I was twenty-eight, with no job and no prospects, and living off of my relatives who barely could provide for their own.

I started thinking that if I went into the Army, it would spite Mick, and at the same time show him that I am really a tough and cool woman, and maybe someone he should be in love with. One day I was visiting a friend in the mountains, and told him what I was thinking. He said it was cool if it was what I really wanted, but I shouldn’t join the Army in a French Foreign Legion way. I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “You know, when people are forlorn about lost love, so they run off and join the French Foreign Legion.” I thought that was hilarious, and assured him that was not what I was doing, when I knew that was exactly what I was doing.

A few days later, I went to Salinas, where the Army Recruiting Station is, and spoke with a Sergeant Flowers about joining up. He was a handsome young Southern man, and I was smitten. The plot thickened!

Sergeant Robert Flowers and I began a torrid affair. He began taking a vested interest in my training for the Army, after I naturally joined up, not only to spite Mick now, but to appease Bob. I trained in the daytime, power walking for twelve miles a day in the oppressive high mountain valley heat. At night, I went for rides with Bob, conducting an affair in a pick up truck.

I took my ASVAB test (like a SAT for the Army), and scored very high. Bob called me a few days later, and told me that the Army thought I cheated, so I had to take it again. I got the same score the second time. I wanted to go into Cryptography, but I couldn’t get a good enough security clearance, since I owed money. Yes, a security clearance is dependent on your financial record, among other things. I suppose it shows how reliable you are. I couldn’t argue that up until then, I hadn’t been very reliable. So, I chose communications.

After a few weeks of this, I decided to go home to visit my father and family while I still could. Who knew how long it would be until the next time? I spent a few months with them in South Orange, New Jersey.I kept thinking of Mick, how I thought he did me wrong. I wanted him to feel like he had made a dreadful mistake.I wrote to Susan, and asked her to tell him I was going into the Army. I received a letter from Mick, addressed to me at my father’s house, and in it he said he was proud of me, and sent me three pictures of him. I was so happy, over the moon. Now I had to go through with it.  

While I was in New Jersey, I went to the MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) in Newark (now closed) on June 30, 1988, and took the Enlistment Oath, “I, Margaret Marlowe, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

I stayed in New Jersey until the time came to be shipped off to Basic Training. At that time, the Army gave you three choices of where you want to go, then sent you somewhere entirely different. I was to spend my Basic Training right in Fort Dix, New Jersey. But first, I had to fly back to California to be processed through the MEPS in Oakland. Sergeant Robert Flowers picked me up from the San Francisco airport in October, 1988. It was a beautiful day, and we drove from the airport to Half Moon Bay, and stayed in a lovely little Motel overnight.

The next day, we continued on our ride south to Lockwood, where I would stay with my brother and his wife for a few days, until it was time to take the bus to Oakland. We  stopped to pick a pumpkin from a sweet little roadside patch on the side of Highway One, then drove straight through. That was the last time I ever saw Bob Flowers.

A few days later, I was on a bus to Oakland, and the enormity of what I was doing was finally sinking in. I started to realize this might be a big mistake, but I wasn’t sure how to stop it now. I didn’t think I could. I had already taken the oath. I was locked in. We arrived in Oakland, and spent a day at the MEPS being processed. Many of us met in the smoking room there. It was a long and boring day. As night approached, they loaded us onto a bus, and put us up in a Motel for the night. The next day we would depart for our various bases to begin Basic Training.

We were given explicit instructions that we were not to leave the Motel property, or consume any alcohol. It would be hard to consume alcohol without leaving the property, and they had chaperones with us in the Motel, so they thought we had to be good, and stay safe in our rooms, worrying about the next day. A few hours into our stay, there was a knock on my motel room door. I was sharing the room with one other girl. She answered the door, and it was some of the guys that we had met in the smoking room at the MEPS. They said they were making a break for it, for the night. They wanted something to drink, and just to get away for a while. I sensed adventure! I loved adventure! “Count me in!”, I said, as I threw my shoes on and ran out the motel room door.

We lurked in the shadows, crouching and hugging the motel wall, then…we made a break for it! We were humming the Mission Impossible theme song, singing “Dun, dun, dun, dun dah dah, dun, dun, dun, dun dah dah” lowly. When we had made a clean get away, we all began running and laughing at the same time. None of us had ever been in the area before, and we had no idea where we were going. We just knew it was exciting.

We walked for a while in the darkness, and didn’t see much, and it wasn’t such an adventure after all. We came to long freight train moving slowly in front of us. The guys all said, “Come on!” and jumped on a flat car then jumped off on the other side. The flat car was moving along, and the next car was a locked container. They were yelling at me to stop being a chicken, so I took a running jump, and I was on the car! I did it! Now, I had to get down. I was more scared of getting off than I was of getting on. They were yelling at me again. What was I going to do? Just ride that car until the train stopped? I would be in trouble with the Government. I was Military property now. I jumped, and landed on my knees. I scrapped them pretty badly and they bled, but I was so exhilarated, I didn’t feel any pain. Adrenaline rushed to my brain, and I barely worried that the next day, someone might see my bruises and ask how I got them sound asleep in my nice, safe room.

We found a liquor store, bought some beer, and drank it all the way back to the motel. When we arrived at the tracks again, there was no train, and I didn’t have to be a daredevil twice. We were all a little tipsy, but still stealthy as we tiptoed back to our rooms and fell happily asleep, having anesthetized our fears.

When we woke the next day, they took us to the airport, where we boarded planes for our destinations. I arrived at Newark Airport, and a busload of us were taken from there to Fort Dix. We arrived in Fort Dix at four in the morning on a late October day. It was just like in the movies. The whole bus had slept, but then we all awoke as we approached the base. Groggy, we all got off the bus, and were greeted by a not nice barrage of orders. In my mind, I said, “Oh my.  It appears I have made quite an error in judgement”, or, maybe it was more like, “Holy shit, what did I do?”  I knew at that moment, I would have to find a way to get out this predicament.

Part II: https://megemarlowe.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/the-army-month-part-ii-to-the-camaro-and-the-army/