It was early in the morning when we left the house, me in the back seat of the car, accompanied by my huge backpack. I’m not even sure what’s in there, but somehow I get the feeling I forgot something. The sky is blocked by a grey cloud of humidity, and I don’t want this ride to ever end. I don’t want it all to start.
But we arrive, eventually.
The early-morning fog has faded, and the mid-July sun floods the parking lot. We walk inside the military base, loaded to the brim with 18-year-old girls like me, all being drafted today. On top of everybody towers an electric sign, names written on it in electric red, changing every few minutes. I am dreadful; afraid my name will show up before my dad arrives. Some of the girls seem happy and excited. I’m so scared.
The names change on the board. Here is mine, May Rosenblum, my little name, looking so official up there. I should get on the bus, but I won’t leave before my dad arrives. He arrives on the last second and I burst into tears. I can’t stand this, not knowing what will happen next, and I just can’t bring myself to move.
But I do, and everything gets better as I’m inside the bus. There is no need in goodbyes any more, no one to cry to. The horizontal view out the windows soothes me.
After about thirty minutes we arrived at another base, where they would make soldiers out of us. We get off the bus and a person in uniform is yelling, pretending to be tough, telling us to stand in rows of three. They show us where to put our backpacks and then take us inside the base.
Inside we are taken into a waiting room, where we obviously wait.
This is when we learn, that being in the military means mostly waiting.
There are not enough chairs so I join some other girls on the floor. The one sitting next to me has this classic geek look, with her straight brown hair, white round face and big glasses. She says they must put us all here together so we get to know each other. I know this is nonsense, we just wait for the sake of waiting.
After a while we are moved to an auditorium, where they show us a brief video starring two local celebrities, where they explain what will happen next – we would get our fingerprints and dental profile taken, get some vaccines, be photographed for our military I.D, find out what our job will be for the next two years. Get uniforms. Be transformed to rookie bases.
Then they showed us the video again, and again.
The computer system crashed and we need to wait until they fix it.
The geeky girl spots me in the crowd and sits next to me. Her palm is held tight on her eye and she tells me she’s got a headache. Then she explains in her flat tone, keeping constant eye contact with her one uncovered eye, that headaches are caused by expanding blood vessels in the head area. Some girls sit next to us, and she tells them the same thing.
Oh dear Lord, I don’t speak with you often. Please, God, please send her to a different base. Bootcamp sounds bad enough already, without her boring voice in my ear all day.
The hours pass by, and the stress from the morning comes back. Is this for real? I’m not sure what scares me more, the Bootcamp or those two long years coming next. I try to think what it would feel like at the end, when I’m 20, to have this recruiting process done backward. It’s hard to believe this day will ever come.
Then, I think I spot her in the crowd. No, no way, it’s the girl who bullied me in middle school. This can’t be, she moved abroad with her mom, no way she is being drafted the same day as me.
Way. I guess this is what you get for being Godless. She recognizes me and rapidly turns her head away, pretending to not have seen me. Like a spider, she is more afraid of me than I am of her.
At 4 PM the computers are fixed and we finally move. Impatient soldiers walk us through the whole process as they take our fingerprints and details and complain about the hold-up. As it appears, those soldiers are freshly recruited material, that for some reason need to wait for their posting.
This is probably what purgatory is like.
After I get vaccinated and photographed for my ID, they tell me to go to room number 1 upstairs. I’m walking there looking for a door with a big “Number 1” written on it, or something. A grumpy soldier is sitting there and I try to ask her, but she doesn’t seem to help much. “Huh?”, she lifts her eyes from her phone, looking at me with a curved face. I ask again, “Is there a room number 1 here?”. “Just wait here”, she lowers her eyes again.
I sit and look outside the window. There are some buildings, a yard, a flag. The air outside is humid and heavy, the white and blue flag just hangs in there motionless. I belong to this country now.
A door opens somewhere, an officer calls my name. As I walk in he looks at me and smiles. Finally, a friendly face. We have a little small-talk and then he checks the computer and tells me my posting – a human resource thing, in the navy. He says I will probably be posted at a base near my house and will come home every day. He asks if I have any more questions, and I don’t. When I’m at the door I turn back and ask, what kind of uniform am I going to have. “Beige. White on holidays”.
I get my military ID, a bag with a beige uniform, a dog tag. I change into the uniform and rush to the mirror, expecting to see a soldier, but I don’t look like one at all. I look like a kid with a costume. The metal chain with the tag is cold against my neck. Each of us also gets a bag with some white socks, white T-shirts, sanitary pads and tampons, a toothbrush, pepper spray. And of course, the notorious, snot-colored, ugly kitbag, that has been passed from soldier to soldier and has a slight smell of plastic and dirty laundry.
We all get sandals for summer and shoes for winter. It is only later that night when I learn I got two left shoes.
We have a humble dinner in the dining room. Besides the cooks, military kitchens have a rotation of soldiers in duty who clean and operate. Today on duty: other girls who got drafted today, and arrived there first.
Forget about fairness in the army, showing up early won’t necessarily help you.
It is already dark when the recruitment process is finally over, and we stand outside and wait for the bus that would drive us to the rookie base. When it arrives I pick up my heavy kitbag and stumble beneath its weight. I follow the other dark figures towards the blinding lights of the bus.
Even though the sunset was hours ago, the night is still hot as we arrive at the base. During the bus ride, they let us fill some forms and tell us about rules and regulations. some girls click their tongues and roll their eyes, and being yelled at.
As we arrive they divide us into smaller groups, each group sleeps in a tent and gets its commander. Our commander is a guy, almost our age, with a naive look on him. He doesn’t seem tough at all.
We get an hour to shower and get ready to bed. Some girls have a hard time with the fact we have to see each other naked, but I couldn’t care less. I shower quickly in the lukewarm water, still feeling unclean when I finish.
The tent is still empty as the other girls are struggling in the showers, so I manage to take over a bed near the entrance where there’s some air at night. I look around – snot-green surroundings, concrete floor, humble beds, improvised lamps. They turn off the lights and I try to get some sleep.
Day 1 is over.
Only 711 to go.