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Change For The Better
“There is no way you will make it through boot camp let alone an oversea tour. You are just way too small and you don’t have enough muscle. Your medical conditions are so overwhelmingly severe that there is no possible way you’ll get approved. They won’t take you, I won’t let them.”
These are just a few of the objections my Mother came up with when my brother surprisingly came home one day with some life changing news. He had enlisted into The Marines and in turn had signed over 4 years of his life to them. Josh was the type of person that did things on a whim and didn’t really think about the repercussions, until it was too late.
He had tried college and it just wasn’t his cup of tea. The next logical option in his mind was to join the military. We all thought this was a shocking choice for the fact that Joshua was such an egotistical human being, which he will still attest to this very day. When completing any task his main focus was on how it would benefit him. Coming from the boy that would spend hours in front of the mirror telling himself how ridiculously good looking he was, we couldn’t help but think this was some kind of joke.
I don’t think it truly hit us until the day until he hopped on the bus to Paris Island. Through all of my Mom’s attempts to persuade him other ways, he ignored her objections and persisted. It must have helped that my dad was the extreme alter ego of Mom; supporting whatever Josh’s decision would be. Dad, being a fellow military man, respected Josh’s aspirations to help his country and thought it was exactly what Josh needed to get his head on straight. Little did Dad know that Josh was in for a lot more then just a clear head.
While Josh was at boot camp I had no idea what he was going through. Lets just say that they don’t make it exactly easy for a training recruit to communicate with their loved ones back home. I didn’t really have time to focus on my big brothers new life style because my life was beginning to change right before my eyes. Now that Josh had left I was the only child in the Remmell household still living at home. That meant that all eyes were on me at all times. My Mom was already the most uptight and protective person you could imagine. I had no idea she could get even more extreme, but boy was I wrong. Being in the spotlight caused us to get into numerous fights, putting a massive strain on our mother-daughter relationship.
“Sara why isn’t your room clean? Didn’t I tell you to clean up the kitchen? You can’t go out if your chores aren’t done. I don’t like your attitude young lady.”
I couldn’t take all this added pressure of being perfect. Now that Josh was gone my Mom had nothing else to occupy her time, but to drive me completely insane! Josh use to be my get away. My safe haven when mom was just getting to be intolerable, but what was I suppose to do now that he was gone? I felt like I was all alone. I mean Dad being the easygoing guy that he was tried to be on both of our sides. Keeping both his daughter and wife happy at the same time was getting so intense that it would make him explode at times.
At first it seemed as if I was the only one that missed Joshua. Making a box of Mac n Cheese just doesn’t feel the same when you have no one to share it with and obviously there is no such thing as a game of catch with one player. I would sit in the dark and laugh at movies and turn to my right and try to picture my brother crackling away, but it just wasn’t the same. I started to realize how much I needed him. My life felt like an empty black whole without my big brother and so my complaining started.
“Why in the world would you let them take him? We did everything together. Everything. Now I spend all my time alone. You have to tell them Mom,” I exclaimed.
“Sara, I did the best I could to convince him, you know that. He didn’t listen to me. There is no use get angry over it anymore. There is nothing we can do to change it. All we can do now is be supportive and strong,” my Mother explained.
I tried to get all my thoughts out between muffled yelps.
“He can’t stay with them any longer. I need him here. Now! You don’t even care anymore. You don’t even miss him. If you missed him you would bring him home to us!” I yelled vigorously.
At this point I couldn’t help the water works so I let them rip full force. She came over and tried to comfort me in a motherly way, but I didn’t want that mother. I wanted the mother that expressed her thoughts. The one that said there was no way in hell she would let her son join the Marines and would do anything to stop it. Where had that lady gone and who was the person rubbing my hair? I needed someone else in this damn house to shed a tear and show one ounce of emotion. I needed to know that it was okay that I was depressed and I wasn’t the only one.
That night there was no way I was getting any shuteye. As I lay in my bed staring at the ceiling, I became engulfed in replaying every moment I could possibly think of that contained my brother. Just as I was thinking about the time we were picnicking out in the front yard and that darn squirrel was getting ready to steal Josh’s sandwiches right out of his hand, I heard something. It wasn’t a TV or someone talking. I got up and pressed my ear to my door and then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew exactly whom that noise was coming from and what it was. I sprinted into my parent’s room and froze. She was holding his picture in her hand and her nose was puffy and as red as an apple. My heart plunged into to my stomach and I grabbed her and held her tight. I began to taste salty tears in my mouth and we both laid in the comfort of each other’s arms and said nothing for hours. Right as I was about to nod off I heard in the smallest whisper,
“Strong. I was trying to be strong. For the both of us.”
You see, even though Josh was “Mr. Tough Guy” he had one soft spot, me his baby sister that he magically shared a birthday with even though we are six years apart. My brother and I are like two peas in a pod and we had never been away from each other for such a long period of time. For this reason and a never ending list of others it is safe to say that I was more then overjoyed when we were on our way to my brother’s boot camp graduation. I hadn’t spoken to him for months and we had spent our first birthday apart. I could not wait to tell him about all the wild fights that had been going on while he was away. But as soon as I laid eyes on my brother a flood washed over me.
He looked like he had been to hell and back. My big brother had been a skinny boy to start with but as I stared up at him I knew that this was too skinny. He had to be down to at least 120 pounds. His skin was a pale green color and looked flabby on his frail body. The bags under his eye were indescribably dark. I was afraid to hug him in fear that I might break him. What had they done with my brother?
If seeing my brother’s new appearance hadn’t made me nauseous enough, he then began to tell us all about his time on Paris Island. He started telling us about all the nights he went without food. The numerous amounts of nights his troop was left out in the field dirty and exhausted. They were all given barely enough to survive on even though they were being put through the most strenuous mental assessments and physical exercises they had ever endured. All the drill sergeants treated each recruit like a legitimate piece of s*** on the ground, breaking them down until there was almost nothing left of their former selves.
But as I watched Josh march along with the rest of his platoon calling out the cadence at the top of his lungs he looked like a whole new man, inside and out. He had a sense of pride about him that I had never seen before. Watching him hand and foot in the same exact step as so many other men, made it seem as if he found a place where he belonged. Through all those rigorous drills and intense training he had learned that the world is not all about him and life can get a lot worse.
Josh had told me that boot camp was the most challenging part of being a Marine and that it would only get easier from here. I tried to believe him, but I slowly found out it was as far from the truth as someone could get. We were now in for an even longer separation then the first. He was getting shipped out to Iraq. Every day we were on the edge of our seats waiting for a letter or a phone call if we were lucky enough. Not being able to know if he was out on the battlefield, in harms way, gun in hand or back at his base trying to get a few minutes of sleep. No matter what the answer was he was never really safe in either place making it that much harder to be away from him. When he finally made it back to the United Sates and to his base in California we were elated and could relax somewhat. That’s the unsettling thing about the military you never know what’s going to happen next. They use you like a playing piece in a game of monopoly and move you wherever they feel you are needed.
The Marines had decided to send my brother overseas once again to serve his second tour. We were all trying our best to stay optimistic. He had in fact survived the first tour in one piece, unfortunately that would not be the case this time. Yes, Josh arrived home in one piece but both his body and mind were in a different state than when he first departed.
To this day I still do not know the whole story behind what happened to my brother when he was put in isolation in Afghanistan and I think if my brother has his way I never will. He had destroyed his back in more ways then one. Sometimes barely being able to stand. Since they did not have the proper equipment to analyze the severity of his conditions, they continued to allow him to be sent into battle. They didn’t care that he wasn’t one hundred percent they looked at him as a piece of property that was needed. He was also put into lockdown due to the fact that one night after blacking out he had gotten into a gruesome fight with one of his fellow Marines. With his pain level being intolerable his anger issue’s seemed to increase ten fold.
Josh had done a complete one-eighty from the last time I had seen him when he had finished boot camp. He had now beefed up and put on a lot of muscle, which was great. He looked relieved to finally be done with his four year commitment in the Marines. Josh said that if he had the chance to go back in time and not enlist in the first place, he would have in a heartbeat. Even though he did say that he felt proud of the time he had spent in the Marines. He had gained a lot of experiences and life memories. Some memories that he wished that could be flushed from his brain forever. I can’t even find words to describe how enthralled I was to finally have my Joshua back home with me, but I was in for a surprise to find out that he had undergone some changes.
With her son back home my Mom now had two children to worry over and loved every minute of it. She finally had that light back in her eyes. Our fights simmered down to only little squabbles here and there and I finally felt like we were a family again. She loved doing anything and everything for Josh. Doing his laundry, making a grilled cheese, you name it. She treated him like he was a baby to say the least. Worrying every moment that if he moved one muscle the wrong way he would throw his back out for good.
One day, when Josh and I were fooling around like usual he went to pick me up. A task he had completed so many times in the past with ease. As I went to climb onto his shoulders he sunk to the floor and grunted in pain. Burying his face into the ground and digging his hand into his back it was unclear to me whether or not he was joking. I sat down on the floor next to him too much in shock to do anything, waiting for him to look at me and tell me he was fine. After a long moment of silence he looked up at me. He tried to convince me that he was just playing a joke and made me promise not to tell Mom. “You are still gullible as always munchkin,” he uttered with a wince. I could tell by the way that he slowly inched his way up from the ground and wobbled off that he was far from okay. The next occurrence with the new Joshua that followed was even more terrifying then the previous one. Laying on the couch eating out of a bag of chips there was not a thought in my mind that made me think I was doing anything slightly wrong; my brother thought otherwise. He entered the room and immediately told me to stop eating out of the bag and that it was rude to everyone else. I told him that he was very funny and that he could keep dreaming. At that very moment when I uttered those words, something changed in his eyes. They seemed to turn a fiery red and just like that I was hanging from my brothers hands around my neck and screaming. He was slamming me against the wall, yelling all these baffling comments that made no sense. “You think your that much better then me, huh? You think you can throw me around like some piece of f*ing trash. I am not insane! You are the one that…..” “Joshua Aaron snap out of it and drop your sister this minute.” Dad ordered. “I am not listening to your bullshit anymore….” He continued slamming me into the wall with each word. “Remmell I am not kidding. What the hell has gotten into you?” At this point Josh had loosened his grip enough so that Dad was able to pry me from that his life taking grasp. As soon as Josh released his hands from my neck he fled the room. My Daddy held me in his arms cradling me like I was three years old again. Telling me it was all over and Josh hadn’t just gotten a little mad. He told me it wasn’t my fault and that Josh was going through a rough time but he still loved me. When I was finally able to form words and stand without falling, I zipped off to my room. I spent the whole night hysterical in my room. I was so frightened to the point that I locked my door and did not get one bit of sleep. Instead I spent the whole night staring at the door fearing that the now petrifying man that use to be my brother was going to batter down my door to get at me and finish what he had started earlier. It took a lot of time and ice cream for me to figure him. At first I couldn’t even stand to be in the same room with him. I pretended as if he wasn’t even a person. It wasn’t until my Dad told me that I had to hear him out that I even let Joshua talk to me. I agreed that I would listen but only if my dad was by my side the whole time. With Dad holding my hand I listened to Josh’s proposition. He wanted to take me to the movies. He promised he wouldn’t talk unless I started the conversation. He just wanted to spend time with me so that I could see he was trying to mend the wound. Being a great lover of the cinema I agreed to the hopefully fun events that might take place. We did not say one word to each other the whole ride. We grabbed seats all the in the back of the theatre just like old times. The lights began to dim and so it began. Watching a movie is a great way to get your mind of things. As I started to laugh at the actions taking place on the screen, I heard that familiar chuckle that I had missed for so many nights. I looked over at my brother and he met my gaze. With that one look I knew that I was staring at my brother. Not the intense man in the living room that had almost suffocated me, but the brother I would play monopoly with till 3:00 in the morning. It was then that he leaned over and kissed me on the forehead instilling in me the only way he knew how to say sorry. That had been all I was waiting for and now that I had received it, all could be forgiven.
It was hard for Josh to adapt back into civilian life. He was dealing with so many overpowering events that he had experienced in the past four year that was eating him up inside. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that our relationship returned too normal. It wasn’t a basic transitional at all but slowly and surely we both learned how to work with one another after all our time apart. He had finally received new medicine for a dislocated disk in his spine and was beginning to cope with the pain. It was then that Josh started to take me to the movies or we would go out for a bite to eat, laughing and joking like we use to. It felt extremely exceptionable to have my brother back. I couldn’t believe I had been so selfish while my brother was gone. He was literally fighting for our country and I was freaking out because I couldn’t go out with my friends. I know I have learned nowhere near as much as my brother but having him in the Marines has helped me look at the bigger picture in life. Things aren’t always as bad as they seem and I now know that I am actually lucky beyond belief. The Marines may have taken my brother away from me for four years, but now that I have him back our brother-sister bond has become more cherishing then ever.