If you think that 16 years was a long time ago, and that whatever you thought for a split second was just a fleeting blip in the billions of years of the universe’s existence, you’re sadly deluded. Maybe you could have done it a hundred years ago, but the internet exists and it’s out to get you.
It was just a thought I had. No one knew about it but me. And, yet, here it is again, one seemingly unimportant sentence in a blog, coming back to box my ears when I’m not expecting it. (Do I link to the blog or not? Not. I’ll give him his privacy. But here’s the sentence: Indeed, in retrospect, one of the reasons I chose to enlist in the Army as a light infantryman was to prove my own masculinity, to myself and to others.)
He was (is?) 5 years younger than I, about a foot taller and in exceptionally good shape: there was no way I could have gotten those tags off of him. He went to take that shower, and the next day he went back to the military.
While his body may have been 5 years better than mine, my head was 5 years better than his; my life lessons were 10 years better than his. I knew he was going into the army to prove his masculinity. And I knew, even as I sat on that couch breastfeeding my second child, that gender definition is never worth fighting for.
It’s a scene that has buzzed around at the back of my head all these years. Fortunately, the final outcome of his military stint was – while not the idyllic story I would have written for him – not a fate involving two dog tags in separate places, so any of my misplaced Catholic guilt is at least not something I actually have to get down on my knees for. I can keep it in my head for another 16 years and hope the next admonition is gentle, as I’ll be quite old by then.