Posted On April 19, 2016
“I don’t belong here.”
The voice sounded as if it rose up and out of a well. I shifted my gaze from the paperwork on my desk and filling the doorway to my office was the largest man I have ever seen. He stood six foot eight in socks, his shoulders grazed each side of the doorway, and his skin was the color of coal. He was angry and he was angry with me.
My office was located in the Alcohol Rehabilitation Department (ARD), Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I was a counselor for a twenty-eight day inpatient treatment program. He was Gunny C, new patient, day one.
“I don’t belong here,” he said again, just in case I had forgotten in the past ten seconds.
I asked him in and he entered. When we shook, my hand disappeared in the grasp of that man. His hands were huge, even for a man of his size. I made a joke about shaking hands with a boxing glove. He didn’t laugh.
I explained to him that I wasn’t the one who decided to send him to treatment; only his command could do that. He said I could clear him, if I reviewed his records.
I said, “Okay, let’s do that.”
Twenty minutes later, I started to believe him, and in fact, wondered why his command sent him. He had no DWIs, no DUIs, no drunk and disorderly, no alcohol induced fighting, no showing up for work late due to a hangover. In short, he had no record of any alcohol related incident, which was the code name for the reasons men were sent to ARD.
I closed his file, “Why are you here? I know they didn’t just pick you out of the formation.”
“It’s my wife’s doing. She complained to my commander about my drinking. I got to graduate this place, or they’ll kick me out of the Corps.”
“That’s true,” I agreed. The misuse of alcohol and any use of other drugs was all it took to lose a career.
“Or, you can tell them I don’t belong here.”
Yes, I could.
“Let’s come back to that, maybe. I want you to tell me about your drinking.”
“What about it?”
“Well, for starters, do you drink alcohol?”
“When did you start?”
“When I was a kid in Birmingham. I grew up there and I went to Chef’s School there.”
“You’re a chef?”
“Yeah, a good one.”
I couldn’t help it and I knew it was out of place, but for a few seconds I imagined the look on a dissatisfied customer’s face after angrily demanding to see the chef, and he got a view of Gunny C coming toward him. I smiled.
“Nothing, I’m sorry. Tell me about your drinking.”
“There’s nothing to tell. I only drink on the weekends that I don’t have duty.”
“Okay,” I said, “let’s talk about those.”
He shrugged, “I come home, I do my yard work, grab a shower, and head to the garage.”
“You go to your garage? Are you a woodworker? Do you restore old cars?”
He laughed and it rather sounded like rolling thunder, “No, the only thing these old hands can do is cook. I go out there to watch television. I got me a nice place set up out there. I got my t.v., it’s a combo set with a video player attached, and I have cable hooked up. I got my easy chair and my cooler.”
“You have an easy chair in your garage?”
“Well, it’s a fold up lawn chair with the nylon straps, but it’s the long model, so I can lay out on it.”
I smiled, “You’ve turned your garage into a t.v. room.”
“Well, I move the car out.”
I thought about what he had told me and tried to imagine me in my garage watching television, when a question occurred.
“Wait a minute. What do you do about the heat? In the summer my garage cooks.”
He wagged his finger at me to indicate he was way ahead, “I got a big fan.”
“And you keep the door open,” I guessed.
He looked horrified, “No, no, no, I keep the door closed. I don’t want nobody to see me out there.”
“Gunny,” I admitted, “I don’t get it. Why go to all that trouble? Why don’t you just watch t.v. in your house?”
“My wife won’t let me.”
“She don’t allow alcohol in the house.”
“If you didn’t drink alcohol, you could be in the house, with your wife and your boys (He had two boys – ages 14 and 12)? Is that right?”
“Yeah, that’s what she wants. That’s why she went to my command and had them send me here.”
“Over the course of the weekend, how much time do you spend in the garage?”
“Like I said, I go out there Friday night and I stay until early Monday morning, when I get up and go to work.”
“You spend the entire weekend in your garage watching television?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“What do you watch?”
“Oh, I watch movies sometimes, but mostly I watch sports. I like sports.”
“What about eating? You go inside to eat with the family don’t you?”
He shook his head, “No, if I been drinking I can’t go in the house. She brings my meals to me.”
“Gunny,” I asked, “How much beer do you drink over a regular weekend?”
He shrugged, “Not as much as I used too.”
“A couple of cases, sometimes a few more.”
“Are you’re sure you don’t belong here?”
Another shrug, “I ain’t had no alcohol related incidents.”
“I think that depends on who we ask. I think your wife would disagree.”
**Next Tuesday – Part Two**