Gunny C. Part Two
Posted On April 26, 2016
Gunny C was a Marine. He was a cook, by training, and a good one. He was the NCOIC (Noncommissioned Officer In Charge) of one of the best run dining facilities on Camp Lejeune. He and the unit had received several compliments, “Atta-boys,” and Letters of Recognition.
Gunny C was also an alcoholic.
He’d leave his house at 0430 hours; watches could be set by his punctuality. He’d jog the roughly three miles to his work station, grab a quick shower and be making assignments, menus, and double checking inventory by 0600. He’d oversee all three meals and then prepare for the following morning. He’d change into running shoes and jog back to his house. He’d get home at 1800 hours; his workday was fourteen hours long. Four days a week, that was his routine.
On Friday evening, the routine changed. Once home, he’d mow his grass, edge the sidewalk to his front door and rake the flower gardens. He’d clean up yard waste, grab a quick shower, and head for his garage.
His wife always prepared his garage, she’d back the car out and park it on the driveway, and she’d set up his foldable lawn chair. She’d stand the table with the folding legs and place, plug in, and turn on the television and VCR. She’d also make sure the large plastic cooler, which sat beside the chair, was filled with ice and beer.
Gunny C would step into the garage, still slightly wet from his shower, wearing a Marine Corp logoed t-shirt, cut offs and plastic sandals. He’d stay there, until early Monday morning. Over the weekend, he’d watch dozens of sporting events, a few movies, and his favorite sitcoms. He’d eat all his meals in the garage, and leave it only to use the bathroom just inside the house. He sat in his chair, he slept in his chair, and he consumed gallons of beer, while sitting in that chair.
He saw nothing wrong with his life. He kept himself out of the clubs, didn’t need car keys, and away from fights. He was proud he had no alcohol related incidents, the lack of incidents proved he had no problems with alcohol.
“Gunny,” I asked, during a patient/counselor session, “You have two boys, right?”
We were in my office, I sat behind my desk, and he sat to the left of me. If I was at six o’clock, he was at nine.
“Yeah, the older is fourteen and the younger one twelve.”
“Do they like sports?”
He frowned at me for asking such a dumb question, “Of course they like sports. Both of them play soccer, football, basketball and the older one plays baseball.”
“They any good?”
“Of course they’re good. My older boy might get an offer to play baseball at Duke. If he keeps his grades up and graduates, of course.”
“I’ll bet you enjoy watching them play.”
“I’ve never seen them play, but they tell me all about it.”
“You’ve never seen your boys play sports?”
“Why on earth not?”
“Because the rules say I can’t bring beer to…”
He stopped talking. He glared at me as if I had picked a scab on his arm and forced him to watch it bleed. At that moment, I believe he hated me.
The silent running clock on the wall, seemed very loud for several seconds.
“Gunny,” I said, looking at him, watching him, “A week ago, you asked me if I thought you had an alcohol problem. I didn’t answer then, but I’m going to now.”
He said nothing, just looked at me as if I was a weed suddenly sprouted in his prize winning lawn he worked in so diligently to impress the neighbors.
I went on, “It doesn’t matter what I think. It only matters what you think. You just told me you choose to spend time with beer instead of your sons. Do you think you have an alcohol problem?”
He launched from his chair, and flung it across my office. The wooden straight back chair shattered when it crashed into the wall. He stood over me, arms flexed, fists clenching. He was breathing so hard, he reminded me of bulls I had herded growing up. He only lacked the steam from his nostrils. Slowly, I rose, walked around the corner of my desk, and we stood chest to chest. His chest was much larger and a good eight inches higher than mine. I raised my face and looked into his eyes.
“Gunny,” I said.
I spoke in a slow, low, and clear voice.
“Patients aren’t allowed to destroy furniture while in treatment. Even though you are sober, it’s considered an alcohol related incident.”
I stopped talking and watched as he slowly took his eyes from mine and looked at the broken chair.I didn’t have to tell him, if I documented the incident, it could cost him his career. He could be kicked out of the Corps for failing treatment. No, I didn’t have to tell him that, he knew, and I let him wallow in that thought.
“Gunny, don’t worry about that chair. It was old and fell apart. I can get a replacement easy enough.”
His gaze swung back to me and not understanding was on his face.
“You’re not going to write me up?”
“You are career military. I’m not going to take that from you. I’ll give you the chair. If you play the game, go to your meetings, finish your assignments, you’ll graduate in another twenty days or so. Go back to your garage, if that is what you want. I’ll bet you can hide long enough to finish your twenty years.”
He looked at me as I imagine a condemned man would look at a pardon.
I went on, “If, on the other hand, you want a life of sobriety. A life that allows you to no longer incarcerate yourself in your garage every weekend, a life that allows you to go to your sons’ games and sporting events, I can help. It’s up to you. It always has been.”
I turned away, crossed the room, and picked up the pieces of the chair. Gunny C silently followed me as I carried the chair out of my office, down the hallway, out the door, and he watched as I threw them into a large dumpster. He didn’t speak. Neither did I.
Next week, the conclusion to the Gunny C story. Check back.