Everyone has moments in their life that if they had chosen differently would have lead them down a path to being someone entirely different from who they are presently. Every moment is like that, technically, but some moments are bigger than others. I have gone through a number of them, most pretty typical. The moment I chose Virginia Tech. The moment I changed my major from physics to industrial design. The moment my buddy Larom introduced me to Mega Tokyo and taught me how to separate my scanned lineart from the background. The moment I met Michael. The moment I decided to see where this comic thing would take me instead of finding a job with a design firm. Every moment I met a girl and every moment we broke up. But there’s one moment that’s been on my mind a lot lately: the moment I turned down the Marines.
Most people usually blink at me at this point, dumbfounded, as the idea of me being a Marine is a hard one to imagine. So, let me elaborate.
My highschool career was like many: full of standardized tests. So many scantrons. One of those tests was the ASVAB. The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. I don’t know if it’s mandatory anymore, or even if it was mandatory everywhere when I took it, but everyone in my class had to take it. Well, we all had to sit in the room while it was taken. We didn’t have to pass, we didn’t have to even fill it out. Just had to be there. I’m sure being naught 30 minutes from Quantico had something to do with it being mandatory. Now, I’m good at tests. I like tests. I’m a genius, and I don’t know how to not try my best. So I took it as seriously as any other test in highschool. I didn’t study. I scored a 98.
Needless to say, every branch of service called me up. I told the Army no, I told the Navy no, I told the Air Force they were my fav, but no. My dad was Air Force for 20 years and I love rockets and jets, you see. And they all very politely thanked me for my time and wished me well in my endeavors. But the Marines lived up to their reputation as stubborn SOBs.
Don’t get me wrong, the recruiter that came to my door and tried to sign me up was a very nice guy. He cared. Very Apone kind of guy: “every meal a banquet, every paycheck a fortune, every formation a parade.” He was proud to be a Marine and he was convinced I could be anything I wanted in the Corps. He sold it. He sold it hard, God bless him. Eventually I was able to convince him I just didn’t see a future in the Corps and that he couldn’t change my mind. He only really relented when I played up how bad my allergies were. If he isn’t career, I’m sure he makes a killing in the used car sales biz. Honestly, though, great guy. I hope he’s well.
But as of late I find myself wondering: what if I hadn’t played so hard to get?
Who would I be if I had signed up and served a term? I graduated highschool in the summer of 2001. I would have exited boot right into 9/11. To say my life would be entirely different is an understatement. I’m certainly not the dumb kid I used to be, so it’s hard imagine how divergent would this other Garth would be knowing how much I’ve changed from who I was.
I’m sure the recruiter was right, and that I could have bucked for any assignment I wanted. I doubt I’d have been another jarhead. I’d have been spec ops, EOD, pych warfare, maybe even scout sniper if I had the chops for it. Gone on to OCS even more likely. But beyond that vague dream of exceptionalism, I cannot say who I’d be.
Would I have served well? Would I have made a difference in the madness of the Iraq War? What friends would I have made? What friends would I have lost? Would I have made it out intact? Would I have all of me, physically, mentally, emotionally, in the end? Would I make it out at all? If I did, who would I be afterwards? Would I have gone back in, gone career, or tried transitioning back to civilian life? Would I have done a term and gotten a degree in something technical on the government dime? Would I have ever drawn anything? Would war have made me more jaded or more kind? Tougher or more frail? More understanding or less? Would the me I am now like and respect the the me who served? Would he like and respect me? Would he like and respect himself?
I’m not regretting my choice. On the whole, I quite like who I am. I am happy with my life choices and I have few regrets for they all have lead me to this point to be this me, and I’m quite content with that.
But still I wonder.
Could I have hacked it? Could I have been one of the few, one of the proud? Do I believe in something bigger than me enough to stand up and protect it? Am I capable of being a check against that which I find intolerable? Am I strong enough to not lose myself and my values in that struggle? Do I have anything in common with the me that in another life could say, without equivocation, yes?