My Son the Marine

A defiant young man leaves for boot camp and becomes a caring killer

| July / August 2006

I will forever hear the word marine as love. I know, I know. The Marines are not about love. You might say they're about defense and protection. The Marines will tell you they're all about fighting and killing. I'm not exaggerating. The drill instructor made sure we wimpy moms standing around the visitor center on Parris Island, the ones who hadn't seen or heard our young sons for almost 100 days, understood that the Marines were not training our precious children to be journalists or mechanics or paralegals, or any other thing they might have selected as their course of study. They were fighters. They were killers. That's just the way it was.

Curiously, I was used to it, but from the audible shudders that rippled through the crowded room, many were not. I'm not sure why I wasn't appalled, why I didn't wrestle with some impulse to insist they must have made a mistake: This child of organic carrots and wheatberries and peaceful resolutions was not theirs, and I must now take him home to our quirky house on a dirt road in the luscious shadow of Mount Katahdin.

But I wasn't, and I didn't.

My son is a Marine, and the Marines have taught him to love, at least given him voice to the speaking of love and showing of love to his mother.

Until recently, I could count on one hand the number of times my youngest child had told me he loves me. Now I have a clutch of letters, about 45 of them over the past three months. And in them I have at least 40 times I love you or I love you very much. Even I miss you Mom speckles these pages, written below a military insignia featuring an eagle that looks to be sitting on top of the world with a grenade pin in its mouth.

This is my white bread and macaroni-and-cheese-out-of-the-box boy. The one who challenged me in every conceivable way: the one who stole a gun from a deserted campground; the one who would stare me down for days to prove he had not done whatever I had seen him do; the one who always resisted established definitions of right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable. I could not comfortably hug or kiss him.

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