The Corporal’s Combat Boots
“You must know the world before you know yourself.” Most would say Corporal Swim was mimicking a broken record player when it came to saying this phrase. Every day, he would dress in the noble U.S. Army uniform, providing guidance with his words to the young soldiers who had left home to protect a nation in a world they knew so little about. Like clockwork, at the same time every day, he would retire back to his cookie cutter house locked securely behind the gates protected by the world’s most elite force, and just moments after entering, he would watch the little girl run wildly around their crowded living room wearing his oversized combat boots stating matter-of-factly, “I know I want to be exactly like you someday, Daddy,” and right on cue, his philosophical phrase would once again be spoken. I never quite understood what my father meant as I traipsed around and looked up at him in admiration when he spoke those words. Little did I know there would come a day that I would understand that the true meaning of the phrase was being taught to me from the day I first stepped into the Corporal’s combat boots.
From a very young age, my father taught me the importance of higher education. The mystery behind why my father was so insistent became crystal clear to me at an age that most have nothing to worry about except which action figure or Barbie doll they wanted to play with. The name embroidered into the honorable uniform he wore held a shadowed past that was the direct opposite of the values he stood for every day. The cycle that members of his family so often fell prey to was a looming shadow waiting to clench its next victim tightly in its grasp and never let go. He was one of the unlucky ones. The cycle of poverty and alcoholism took him as its prisoner like it did to so many generations before him. Little did I know that the man I looked up to was handcuffed into the life he was living because he never finished school. The military was the silver lining my father sought out in desperation. Unfortunately for him, he would be forever branded and influenced by the cycle of poverty.
Though I was free to seek out my own dreams, the Corporal made me promise him one thing: I was not to make the same mistake he did. The most important lesson I would come to learn from him was that submission to poverty is not disgraceful to any man, but to make no effort to escape the reins of poverty is the most dishonorable action any man can take. I was to be the first member of my family to break the chains of the cycle. How was a young girl with no experience in the world to do such a monumental task? Like a sweet dream in the nighttime that a dreamer never wants to end, I spent my days forming my unspoken dream that always lingered in the background: being in the military. As I started to grow older in childhood, this dream only became more prominent. I would graduate high school and continue my father’s legacy as an enlisted soldier. And just like that, I would hear the phrase again. At that moment, I realized what he was trying to tell me.
Until then, the military lifestyle was all I had ever known. The world was so full of opportunity, and to think that I did not even know a tenth of that information both discouraged and pushed me to learn all that I could. Information that most would deem useless, I consider to be absolutely fascinating. I have always been collecting and processing information in an attempt to decode this thing we call the world, and as it turns out, no amount of knowledge possessed by anyone could allow them to truly understand this world. What does matter is that since I first stepped into my father’s combat boots that day as a child, I have possessed an unearthly amount of information because I chose to, not because anyone forced me to.