I heard the words as they were shouted at my back in the hot morning sun. I grunted to myself, not the least bit surprised. I knew it was coming, I suspected it would be public and extravagant and very military-like. I was right, but not quite the way I anticipated it.
I told my mom that this is going to happen, but she didn’t believe me.
“You’re an officer, you’re about to finish your military service and your uniforms are freshly pressed and up to the highest regulations. Why would military police stop you?”
Ah, the innocence of civilians. “Because they can,” I remember answering, somber and somewhat annoyed.
It was a known fact that military police will try to stop random soldiers for any available infraction and write them up. “Oh, look! You have remnants of bird poo on your military boots! TICKET!”
They were shameless.
In any case, I did not have military boots, I had shoes. They were black, as regulation permitted, and had 3-cm heels. This was a daring move on my part. Enlisted female soldiers are not allowed to walk with heels over 2-cm high, so walking with such shoes painted a target on my back. Officers, however, were exempt. Well, female officers were, at least. Until some male officer demands equal treatment, I doubt this will change.
Officers rarely walked around these parts of the base, they usually sent their assistants or had things faxed over. But as it were, I needed to go into the building myself, having no lackeys or assistants to take advantage of, and I needed to do it that day, with the group of fresh-nosed cocky and eager military policeman around the corner. They were primed and ready for the hunt, and I knew what was going to happen.
“Well, you have to get those papers, so get it done,” my mom urged. She was right. I stepped out of the car warily, wore my best ‘officer’ persona, ignored anyone around me and crossed the road. I managed to walk past the group of young policemen and almost breathed a sigh of relief when the yelling started.
“STOP! Soldier, I said turn around and come here! That’s an order!”
I grunted to myself and ignored it. Fuck orders; he’s a fresh nosed private that thinks he’s god on earth, and me? I’m a Lieutenant. If he was going to screw me over and give me a ticket two weeks before my release date, he better do it right. Ironically, calling me “Soldier” was against regulations. I was an officer, and while he was allowed to write me up, there was a whole booklet of regulations on how to do that. It started with calling me “ma’am”, standing at attention, and giving me a salute.
So I ignored him. Or rather, I tried to.
“Excuse me, ma’am, that guy’s calling you,” a nice old lady pointed at me, and at the screaming red-faced soldier and smiled. “Thank you,” I answered, and cursed under my breath, wishing a random policeman will write her a ticket for jay-walking.
I turned around, sighing, and faced my young nemesis. He was standing in the middle of the road, his chest puffed up, his face red with anger, motioning with his hand for me to come over, as if I was some stray dog that disobeyed commands. That was the point where my blood started boiling under my shiny ranks. I walked over, staring at him, cursing myself for not insisting we park on the other side of the building, near the garbage cans. Military police hated standing there.
As I was getting closer, his face changed, morphing in front of my eyes; he didn’t notice my ranks at first, which is why he assumed I was a private. Now that I was walking towards him – with the well-trained “look” officers get after six months training – he finally noticed.
And then he panicked.
In the middle of the road, against regulations and in front of his entire little squad, the cocky fresh-nosed soldier turned purple. His eyes grew in realization and his posture changed from commanding to commanded. He literally shrank, standing there for a moment, his eyes darting back and forth to his friends and to me. Finally, he remembered what his own damned regulation book said and snapped to attention, saluting.
“Ma’am! I mean lieutenant, ma’am, sir!” he choked, “I’m sorry for yelling, you didn’t turn when I called you. Ma’am!”
My anger changed into amusement, and it was all I could do to swallow it and preserve my façade. “I didn’t turn, Private,” I took pleasure in emphasizing that last word, “because you called a soldier. Do I look like a soldier to you?”
He shook his head miserably and stuttered apologies, his hand still up next to his brow, waiting for me to salute back and release him. I basked in the glory of my victory.
I was going to miss this, I realized. Not the regulations or the ego-boosts that go so naturally with the green uniforms and ranks and positions. No, I was going to miss the simplicity of it all. Military life is simple and clear. You have a specific time to eat, to sleep, to bathe and to take a break. You get your paycheck every month and don’t have to deal with taxes or returns. I didn’t even know what bank managers looked like, really. In the military, you know exactly how to speak to your superiors and how not to, and you need to do something really very extremely stupid and careless to get fired. You have a clear purpose and usually, you have clear goals on how to get closer to that purpose. You know what you need to do every moment of the day, and if you don’t, you have quite a number of people who will tell you.
Civilian life, I surmised, would not be as simple; bosses are varying creatures, requiring different amounts of attention to detail, different methods of communication. Apartments require rent and food does not just appear on your plate at regular intervals in the mess hall. You need to pay for it, and cook it, and toss the spoiled parts away or your fridge stinks. There are no drill sergeants to make sure you clean your apartments well enough to eat off the floor. You don’t get promoted regularly or gain arbitrary power just for being in the system longer.
Real life is freedom with the price of complexity. It’s the freedom to go wherever you want, to do what you please, to speak your mind and get into trouble for it. It’s the freedom to walk around aimlessly, have no clue what your purpose in life is, to aim and miss and screw up.
He wrote me up, the fresh-nosed little bastard, a bright pink ticket stub that was sent to my own commander, claiming infraction for my shoes. When he received it in the mail, he spent ten minutes laughing, and then tore it up, throwing the pink flakes around me like confetti.
“You just had to make trouble in your last two weeks, didn’t you, Lieutenant?”
Why, yes, sir. Yes I did. It was, after all, my last chance. My last chance to stir some trouble and get away with it, winning, in a system that was otherwise a sealed bubble detached from real life. My last chance to own the world with ranks and regulations and simple rule-books before I get myself promoted to the highest rank possible: civilian.