Gunny C. Part Three

BlogGraphicTuesday04.26.2016Long before C even thought of joining the Marine Corps, he was a boy growing up in Birmingham, Alabama. He was tall, for his age, the bulk of him I knew wouldn’t develop until later in his life. He was embarrassed of his large hands and over-sized feet. He was the middle boy of a family that consisted of three brothers and a daughter. He was his father’s favorite.

At eight years old, his best summer activity was running through the sprinkler as it watered the back yard. All the kids in the neighborhood enjoyed that. Since none of them knew how to swim, it was better than going to the community pool. It was free, and they could enjoy getting wet almost every day of the week, at someone’s house.

C’s family was not poor. His father had a full time job, and his mother stayed at home, to raise the children and help with church callings. They did not live in the ghetto, or projects, nor did they live in the suburbs. They lived in that borderland between those societal territories. The father worked hard and while his job did not produce a high standard of living, it managed a consistent one. The children were all good students, they attended church most Sundays, and from age nine, and the three boys were expected to have a part-time jobs. Until he turned eleven, C delivered the local newspaper on a bike route. After, he worked in his uncle’s restaurant.

Over the course of those two years, C became very close to his mother. He spent as much time with her as he could, even at the expense of time spent with his father. He helped fix the meals, he learned how to cook, and he even volunteered to do the dishes. It seemed having him work in the relative’s restaurant was a natural progression.

Many things progressed in C’s life starting about that time. He was eight years old the first time his father sexually abused him.

“Nothing to get upset about,” his father had said, “just checking you out down there to see if you’re becoming a man.”That first act of touching progressed into much more.

Some six months later, C confessed to his mother he had sinned and admitted everything. She hugged him, cried with him, and told him she would protect him. He would spend in the kitchen, with her. She warned him; under no circumstance should he tell anyone outside the family.

“What would the minister think?”

“What would the school teachers do?”

“Why, they might take him away from her. He must not tell anyone.”

He didn’t. He never told a soul.

Over the next decade, C was abused in almost every way imaginable. He was physically abused, sexually abused, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually abused. It started with his father, continued with his uncle, and was tolerated by his mother. Her lack of action might have been the most painful.

When he turned to her for help, she told him not to tell anyone.

“What would people think?”

She also told him he had to tolerate the abuse, in the hope of protecting his sister. He could withstand the pain better than her. When he begged her to help him, to protect him and not force him to submit, she reminded him that Jesus had taken on all the sins to save mankind, surely he could take on the sins of his father and uncle to save his sister.

At twelve, with the help of that uncle, C was introduced to alcohol. Alcohol made it better. Alcohol made it hurt less and when he was drunk, he didn’t feel so dirty. Alcohol became his best friend. His father tortured him, his uncle abused him, his mother sacrificed him, and his siblings ignored him. Alcohol rescued him.

At sixteen, C was a head taller than his father, and a good forty pounds bigger than his uncle was. By his own account, he could have taken either one of them and “broke him over my knee, like kindling.” He didn’t. He was trained to submit and he did as he had been trained. He drank every day.

C graduated high school in the upper third of his class. His mother was proud of him.

A high school guidance counselor, who asked him what he liked to do, helped him apply for a scholarship to a local chef’s school. He was accepted. His uncle promised him a job “on the line,” as soon as he finished the school.

During the third week, Gunny C told me the story.

“It was a Sunday, after church, and the family was having Sunday dinner in the back yard of his house. His family was there, as well as two of his father’s brothers. His mother bragged her son, was going to become a chef. College wasn’t a part of our lives, but trade schools were. Several of my older cousins and my older brother had gone to various construction-training programs after graduation. My mother told them all I was special, I was going to be a chef.”

I remember that conversation; Gunny C looked away, thought for some time, and then looked back at me. He said,

“I was sitting on the grass, leaning against a tree and my mother made that brag about me. It felt good, and then my uncle, the one with the restaurant, promised me a job, in front of the entire family. They all clapped and hooted. I looked up into the tree I was under and thought about hanging myself. I figured it was never going to end.”

He was one week shy of completing the chef school, and waiting for a bus, when he watched two men using long handled brushes to stick a new message to a billboard. The message said, “Join the Marines.” He did, the week after he completed the cooking school.

Next week, the conclusion, I promise.

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