Boot camp was a fun experience for me, but I do recall one embarrassing incident. It took place on the swim training day. Myself and hundreds of other recruits were packed into a building with an Olympic sized pool with a thirty-foot diving platform ( The actual height was ten feet but to me it felt like thirty!!!). We were told that we had to swim around the pool and jump from the platform by the end of the training that day. This was a requirement. If you didn’t successfully complete this you would be forced to pack your stuff, move to a different division, and given the opportunity to try again in a couple of weeks. This was the protocol for all of the training we did, it was totally humiliating and added more time to your stay in boot camp if you didn’t get it done on the first go around. I was never in fear of having to pack up and extend the duration of my stay until the day of the swim training.
For the first time during boot camp the training looked real segregated. I know I am gonna sound like an ass here, but it is what it is. We were split into two groups; swimmers and non-swimmers. And yup the non-swimming category was mostly composed of black folk with a few whites and people of other races sprinkled in. Sadly, I was one of the brown faces in the non-swimmer’s category. Yes, I knew how to swim but I was terrified to jump from the thirty-foot (really ten feet) platform! I had never even jumped from a regular diving board or even the side of the pool!! I planned to pretend that I couldn’t swim so I could take the swim lessons and give myself some time to build up the courage to jump.
The brown wave (that’s what I called us) were directed to the side of the pool and an instructor went over the basics of swimming. I didn’t listen to a single word. I kept looking at that damn thirty-foot (still actually ten feet) platform. That is when I realized that taking more time was not helpful at all, it just made me keep looking at the platform and worrying about the jump. When the instructor finished talking we all got into the water and had to make attempts at swimming. I was unable to fake like I couldn’t swim. My body just knew how and would not fake it. They were so impressed. They were all like “wow you’re a natural!”. I was quickly ripped from the safety of my people and thrust into the terrifying world of the swimmers.
The line for the jump started at the base of the concrete platform. It was tall and had enough space at the top for multiple recruits to jump at once. We had been informed that there were RDCs that would rescue us, if needed, in the water and along the sides. We were also told that no one would help you if you were swinging your arms and being erratic. Of course, I understand why. The drowning person could panic and end up hurting the person trying to save them. What I didn’t understand was how they expected folk who had spent a couple of hours learning how to swim to be able to be in a state of drowning and be calm about it. None of this really pertained to me I could swim and knew that I would not drown. I was just trying to find things to ponder in an effort to calm my nerves.
The time had come! I was in the group that was next to jump. As I stood up on that platform looking around I could see my people at the other end of the pool, still struggling to grasp the concept of swimming. I was told to focus on the giant American flag on the wall straight ahead and a few other instructions. I stepped to the edge. The whistle blew. Everybody jumped. Except me!!! When the whistle blew I really thought I was going to jump, this rush of energy rippled through my body, but my feet were firmly planted and never moved. The RDC in charge yelled at me a tad and I was to jump with the next group. I didn’t jump! He got more agitated but said he would give me one last shot. This was it I was really gonna do it this time. Except for the part where I didn’t actually do it! After allowing me to have a THIRD try he lost his shit and I truly believe that if he could have he would have hit me. He called me every name you can imagine. Told me I was a piece of shit and that I had to go stand a parade rest with my nose against the wall! I was wet, cold, and embarrassed. I sat there thinking that I couldn’t go home and say “I failed because I was too scared to jump” I had to do this. After a while the “good cop” RDC showed up. He spoke to me in a very calm and caring voice. He aske me what the issue was, and I told him. He looked me in the eye and said that he believed in me, that he knew I could do this, and that my family would be so proud to see me during Pass and Review. Pass-In-Review was the formal graduation from boot camp. Until that moment I really hadn’t thought about my family coming to see me. I honestly didn’t think anyone would come but, in my mind, as he spoke I saw my sister and brother in the stands watching me. I saw everyone in my family there and they were all looking at me and smiling. And during my brief journey into my mind I was proud of myself. I knew I would do the jump. Towards the end of his pep talk good cop he said he would ask if I could get a chance to jump again. Bad cop said yes under two conditions. One was that I would jump alone and the other was that I would only get one whistle blow, one last chance that’s it.
I wish I could tell you I was empowered. I wish I could say all the fear had drained from my body. I wish I could, but the fact is I was scared as shit! When he blew the whistle, I walked off the edge. I was not reborn and there was no hero theme music was playing in my mind. I felt weak because I realized that no matter how tough I thought I was that there were somethings that had a powerful hold on me. Not just the fear of jumping into a pool. I know that jumping is a two-part issue one is in the moment of the jump I have no control, no plan, no power. I am at he mercy of the jump and I do no like that feeling. The other is just simply that I don’t like that feeling I get in my stomach the first few seconds of the jump. It doesn’t last long and when its over I always think “it wasn’t that bad” but the anxiety is always anxiously waiting to greet me at the mere suggestion of jumping. Another truth I had to accept about myself was that for the majority of my life I had made choices and went down many paths because I thought it would impress my family. I did not know it that day as I drug myself out of the pool but none of what I was doing was solely for me. I still didn’t believe I was good enough and I needed to do things that would impress other people so at least they would think that I was enough. My opinion of myself was of no consequence. What mattered was that when other people looked at me or talked to me they would have no idea that I was a dirty little black homeless kid, with no parents, all alone in the world.