The storms start out there, on Monterey Bay. Grey blue haze
obscures the horizon between sea and sky. Eyes front, but the vista compels our
eyes to dart left, to take in the wondrous mottled light beyond the red roofs
and yellow barracks, past the sparkling white sand of the firing range. On the
water, bright patches where sunlight penetrates the morning dank define the
luminous swell and ebb of the tide. Darker greys wash down from the ether
shouting rain! Wetness swooshes across the water, heading directly toward us.
“The Daily Dozen.” Windmill stretches. Jumping jacks. Jump thrust. “United
States Army Drill Number One, Exercise Number Five, everyone’s favorite, the
Push Up.” We drop to the front leaning rest position and begin the four count
exertion. “One, two, three, ONE, Drill Sergeant, one two three TWO, Drill
Sergeant…” Peripheral vision of breathtaking beauty counterweights a boot
shouting in your ear, “keep your butt down, Trainee!”
We smell the rain coming, pushing the air before it,
enveloping us in cool humidity that smells wet, that raises gooseflesh. Now we
hear its relentless arrival. Below
us, Ft. Ord has surrendered to its drenching. Visibility zero down there in
forbidden territory. We are maggots, confined to The Hill.
The first heavy drops of water strike us, a few more, more.
At the order we pull our waterproof poncho from our gear, hunker down under the
protective sheet. We are forty green tipi spaced dress right dress across the
platoon’s PT field. The rain noise drowns out any other sound but the swirling
wind pushing up from the bay. An unrelenting volume of water strikes our heads
and backs. We savor these moments of privacy, alone with our own thoughts and
memories, for now the Army only this dull green light and the sound of the
passing squall. We feel rivulets form, tingle, and stream the length of our
spine as the water courses down to
the ground. We are blind; we can
see only our boot toes and the corona of daylight that glows at the periphery
of our waterproof poncho. Mud splashes against our now scuffed, once
spit-shined combat boots. Run-off forms around our toes, puddling fashions the
outlines of our leather as erosion sculpts a memory of our presence on the land.
The noise abates. The rain passes. We obey. Ponchos off.
Stand tall. Monterey Bay sparkles with magical light, whales, porpoises,
salmon, sardines, Steinbeck…"U.S. Army Drill Number One, Exercise Number Five.
The Push Up…”
We bitched and moaned. We laughed. I hope we all lived.