I waited for this letter the entire year, and when it finally came I was so nervous, I couldn’t make myself open it. It felt like my entire future was neatly tucked inside the bloated yellowish envelope, waiting to jump out and swallow me whole. So I did my house chores and homework and played the computer while it was resting in my back pocket, pretending to be forgotten.

Finally, my mom came home and I was no longer able to delay the inevitable. She slipped a kitchen knife under the flap and tore it open with one quick swoop, revealing my pending fate. Everything looks so terribly important when you’re seventeen, as if the world lives or dies on the most mundane issues. Issues like what to wear to a party, or who will ask you out for the final dance, or what grade I will get in phys-ed. It doesn’t seem to change anything when adults tell you no one will remember any of these a year after you graduate. It still looks like the most important issue you could possibly be faced with, ever.

It’s not like I was the only one to wait for this type of letter, we were all waiting for it that summer, the letters notifying us of our options for our military service. The physical and mental tests were done a year earlier, dividing us into the general categories of what the military could use us for. Some of my classmates didn’t do as well as others; their letters featured a list of jobs ranging from drill sergeants assistants to cooks or drivers. They will have to rank their interest from “preferred” to “I really don’t want that at all, thank you” and hope they get something at least half decent to do for their two year service.

My letter, however, was different. Mine wasn’t a list of choices; it was an invitation for further testing that would eventually qualify me for Officer’s training. My mom was proud. I wasn’t going to be “just” a cook. I was going to be “Officer cook”. That made all the difference; my ego started bloating already. That was just fine, though. As I will discover a few years later, a bloated ego is one of the requirements for Officer’s training.

That evening I was too excited to think of the grays that reality offers. That night, my mother and I read the letter over and over again, giggling like schoolgirls. Every time we got to the signature part we would bloat our chests and read the rank proudly. A Colonel invited me to serve in her unit. Me! We would squeal and jump around the kitchen in an awkward dance, and then sit down and read the letter again.

The summer I was seventeen, I got my official placement letter from the military. After my high school graduation, I spent three years in the service. I ended up going to Officer’s training, and I spent two years commanding my own group of fresh-meat kids who got the same letter I did. Every time I called them over for a talk or a promotion or a reprimand, I couldn’t help wondering if they, too, waited half the day to open their letters, and then squealed like schoolgirls with their moms.

Probably.

 


This story was published in ESRA Magazine, Issue 161, Israel.

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