‘What the fuck is wrong with me?!’
It’s four in the morning and I’m in the middle of the desert. I’ve just been dragged out of bed for the third time tonight and brought to ‘The Crawls’ Hill. After seventeen laps of crawling, I’ve finally been allowed to stop. I feel like I’m about to have a heart attack. I can physically feel every cigarette I’ve ever smoked. Another layer of sand and sweat are forming on every exposed part of my skin. We haven’t been allowed to shower in three days.
What the fuck am I doing here? ‘To do something more meaningful than fattening someone else’s pockets’ – how mighty and righteous of me! Frankly I had it pretty good in London. Yeah I hated my job, but who doesn’t? The people were kind of great and the money wasn’t all that terrible. What kind of broken psycho just uproots his whole life just to go and join the army? I repeat – what the fuck is wrong with me?!
It was too good to be true. One week after the big move, I’m sitting there in the army offices being told where the army views me statistically and it’s just music to my ears. When she turned to the corporal next to her and invited her to have a look at how well I’ve tested as to my physical well-being, sociodynamic ability and IQ, while I just sat there with my ego inflating.
Never in my wildest dreams did I even fantasise that she would ask me whether I’d be interested in testing for the flight school. It had to be some sort of mistake. Surely they can’t seriously ask me to commit ten years of my life? Yet when that official letter came through and commanded me to arrive at the base for my first tests, there was only one question left. How am I going to tell Guy that our South America trip is going to be delayed a little?
I knew there was no reason for me to get overexcited. Thousands of people take these tests every year. ‘I’ll just take it one step at a time and enjoy the opportunity’ I told everyone who cared to listen. Test by test, simulator after simulator, pretending that it’s totally chill and trying not to get my hopes up like everyone around me. Until I was sat in front of a psychologist paid to decide on whether I’m sane, who shockingly cleared me and moved me onto the necessary medical checks (- I’m with you, she should be fired). Once that was over, I was invited to the final stage, a six-day group interview exercise in the desert.
So I guess that brings us back to my little breakdown. Sitting there in the blackness, the strong winds hurling sand at my face like insults, doubt and mockery. How dare you think you have what it takes? Didn’t you know they were looking for the best of the best? Did Mum and Dad not tell you that you’re special enough times so now you’re looking for the army to do that for you?
Yet when the commander yelled the next order you got up and carried on. Not because you can’t face telling everyone you just weren’t good enough, not because you’re still holding some delusional hope that you just might be. You carry on because you refuse to be the one who robbed yourself of the opportunity.
So you forget about the pain and you somehow learn to live with the fact they won’t let any of you speak to one another. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other until they yell at you to stop, and then they do. Then the yelling stops all together. Friday morning has arrived and you’re woken up one last time to walk back to that terrible hill. In a flash you finish the niceties with your former commanders and then they’re reading out that list and it hits you like a bag of bricks because there’s just no way? Surely you misheard?
Then the guy to your left is hugging you because you’ve both made it. This big smile starts spreading across your face. It’s childish and it’s dumb, and you don’t even believe in that sort of stuff but it doesn’t matter because you can’t help but think that maybe – just maybe – you’re right where you were supposed to be.
“He smiled understandingly – much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced – or seemed to face – the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby