I have the utmost love and respect for my dad. My dad was in Vietnam in 1969. I grew up going to the American Legion and VFW with my dad from the time I was about 7 or 8 years old. Back then there were still some WWII vets around with some Korean war vets and a bunch of Vietnam Vets. I would hang out there while my dad did his thing. Sometimes my older brother would come but, he didn’t like it like I did. I loved talking to the old guys and hearing their stories and listening to their worldly advice. They would always give me a stack of quarters to play pool or pinball and give me free sodas the whole time I was there. From all my time there I gained the utmost respect for these guys and what they did. I had been instilled with things like honor and duty to god and country. My grandfather, my dads dad, was in the OSS. The predecessor to the CIA. Our family has a long history of military service to The United States. When I was younger I always saw myself being in the military. My dad always said that he gave enough so that me and my brother never had to serve in the military. He obviously knew something I didn’t back then.
When I was in high school I didn’t even think about the military. I had gotten hurt my sophomore year playing lacrosse and injured my back to where I couldn’t play football or lacrosse any more. This is when things started taking a bad turn for me. I was introduced to painkillers because of my injury. This was in 1995, long before the opiate epidemic was a big thing all over the news. No one back then related prescription medicine to addiction. The doctors never even gave a warning about addiction or tolerance when they prescribed those meds. It wasn’t long before it consumed me. I managed to keep my substance use and abuse issues pretty well hidden and managed to white knuckle through it to graduate high school. I was accepted to the civil engineering program at The University of Massachusetts. I only made it one year there. Mainly due to my own lack of scholastic discipline and putting partying before studying but, I was also led astray by some very bad advice from my guidance counselor. Under his unwise tutelage I was taking calculus and physics at the same time. This was a setup for failure and that is exactly what happened. I failed out and didn’t go back.
I came home and started working for a family friend. He trained me to service and repair commercial restaurant equipment. It was a great job for a young buck. I was making really good money and in and out of the best restaurants around Boston. I met all kinds of waitresses and bartenders, partied with chefs and restaurant managers and had a great time. It wasn’t long before my predisposition for prescription pain medication grabbed a hold of me again. This time it didn’t let go thought. It progressed, slowly at first, but, faster every day. The first year or so was manageable. After that I went downhill quick. I found myself doing things that I never saw myself doing to get my fix. I was stealing from friends and family. I was selling drugs to my friends to get mine. I was ripping people off and pulling scams to get drug money. This was all around the time that Oxycontin had hit the scene. Boston and the northeast were one of the first hit and hardest hit areas of this epidemic. Me and my friends were there from the beginning. As the pills got more popular, they got more expensive. The longer I used the higher my tolerance got. This all adds up to bad news. I had stopped swallowing pills a long time ago and started crushing and snorting them. Eventually that wasn’t enough, and someone showed me how to get higher with less pills by injecting. I had reached a new low. I had always said I would never go to the needle but, drugs have a way of lowering one’s standards and morals. I always said I’d never do heroin either but when I could get five times as much heroin for the price of one pill it was a option I couldn’t pass up. For the next two years I stayed on people’s couches and lived in the back of my Mercury Mountaineer. New England winters get brutally cold in the back of a truck when you can’t run the engine for heat because there is only enough money for a fix to not be sick and gas isn’t an option. Being homeless was another new personal low for me that I never thought I would see. It was around this time that a lot of people I knew started disappearing. Some were going to prison for all different reasons, some were dying from overdoses, some were getting killed in drug deals and a rare few were getting clean and getting away. I had run in to one of my oldest friends’ uncles and asked where my friend had been. He handed me a business card and said he got outta here. I looked at the business card and saw that it was the card of the local Marine Corps recruiter. I had some choices to make.
I had tried for some time on my own to get into a detox center. With the current epidemic rate of opiate addiction and overdoses, the wait list could be two months for those who didn’t have insurance. The girl I was seeing at the time had called my mom without me knowing and told her how bad I had become. My mom had been a nurse in the area for over thirty years and had used any and every resource she had to get me a bed at a detox facility. She thought she had to make all kinds of threats to get me to go. To her surprise I jumped at the opportunity. By this point I was so run down and sick and worn out and really couldn’t keep going on any more like I had been for the past four years. The party was over a long time ago, but it had finally come to an end. Off to detox I went.
I spent a very foggy seven or ten or fourteen days it the detox facility. I was clean but still felt worse than I had in a long long time. I had nowhere to go when I left the detox so I took their advice and went to the halfway house that they had designated for me. I spent one sleepless night at the halfway house, laying in bed listening to the other residents sneak out to meet their dealers and sneak back in. After breakfast there was a group meeting mandatory for everyone. I sat through that meeting looking around at everyone there, it wasn’t hard to see that they were all high and nodding out. I knew that this was not the right place for me. After the meeting I went outside to smoke a cigarette, it was a habit for me to check my pockets when I was standing around. I did that and the only thing I had on me was a business card. The same card that my friends’ uncle had given me. I don’t believe in coincidences, so I listened to the message that I believe my God was sending me, and I called the number on the card. I didn’t tell the recruiter exactly where I was because I knew it would jeopardize my chances of an easy enlistment. He agreed to pick me up at the train station that was nearby. I hung up the phone and told the house manager I was leaving to join the Marines. He thought I was crazy and full of shit. I walked over to the train station and met the recruiter. On the way back to the office he gave me the motivational speech. I told him my mind was made up and all he had to do was give me the pen to sign the contract. He is another one that wasn’t so sure about my mental stability.
Even though I was ready to sign then and there, and I did, I still had to take the battery test and pass the physical. It would be about two months before I could leave for Parris Island. I called my parents from the recruiter’s office and let them know what I was doing. They Let me come home so I had a place to stay before I left where I could stay away from people and things I needed to stay away from. When all was said and done, I arrived at Parris Island on May 11, 2003, my 23rd birthday. It all seemed kind of fitting, starting a new life on a birthday. Again, I don’t believe in coincidences.
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