Haze Grey and Underway

The first night on the ship no one got any sleep; the berthing was lit and voices were echoing as everyone scrambled to unpack and claim their spaces for their belongings the next six plus months. Space on the ship is tight and competition for the best spots are ruthless. My command was placed in a berthing with ships company women which automatically caused the stench of rival and disdain to overcome the nerves and anxiety of a deployment. I was still in first lieutenant and assigned to work with the ships company first lieutenant to keep our space clean. This actually worked to my advantage in many ways.

I got to know the females I worked with and in return gained their respect. They left my space alone when I returned to my regular shop as an aviation electric technician and helped me when I was in need at port calls. They taught me the secrets of the ship and served as a support system while we were so far away from the ones we loved. Many of the females assigned to first lieutenant in the berthing from ships company were there because they were being separated for things like being a lesbian, reporting sexual assaults or harassments, and mental health diagnoses. I learned that unfairness of “Don’t Ask, Don’t tell” as I watched my shipmates get discharged for commiting the same acts as heterosexual couples. 

It discouraged me to know that my friends were losing their career and their benefits for being themselves. These women were pretty fenemenal in every way, yet the Navy saw them as nusances and troublemakers; shitbags. The injustices I whitnessed during my time in the military highly influenced my decision to not re-enlist. At this point in my life I had many friends of varying sexual orientations and had even pretended to be the girlfriend of a gay man that was not allowed to come out in our hometown. It infuriated me to be a part of an establishment that treated anyone different from the majority as if they didn’t exist. We were just bodies that couldn’t provide enough to meet expectations so we we were cast aside as nusances. 

It was hard to go from an honor student that had my hard work recognized and appreciated to working harder than I ever had in my life and still failing to satisfy my superiors for the most part. The discouragement led to depression that continued to spiral down throughout the deployment. I had very little contact with people although I received packages from my family and letters from my friends but I was very lonely and felt that the feeling it may never go away. There were good times and memories which will come later but overall the deployment caused me to have a major shift in how I viewed the military and its unethical treatment of those that worked as hard as others but we’re never acknowledged unless in a negative light.

A Week Away

As soon as the second leave period began I jumped in my red Saturn and headed out to Arkansas. I drove all night only stopping for gas and bathroom breaks, popped yellow jackets to stay awake, and chugged mountain dew followed by a ciggeratte every half hour or so. The trip took about twenty four hours but I wanted to leave my car in Arkansas for my cruise, so I knew the flight home would be no big deal.

I finally got to my driveway and hurried to my room to drop my gear. My dog greeted me and I made my way to the back den to snuggle with him on the couch, it was our favorite pastime. My mom joined me and we visited for awhile. I knew my friends were in town and decided to seek them out. We left that night for Monroe to eat and catch a movie. It was nice catching up but I immediately fell asleep upon arrival at the movie theater and I snoozed the rest of the evening. I realized how disconnected I felt from the women I had known since the first grade, but I couldn’t explain why I felt this way.

Their conversation topics were so different from the ones we had in the military. Their wild nights would have been rated G if they had been a movie compared to what I had whitnessed and experienced. I felt so uncomfortable with my thoughts I did not really speak much unless asked a direct question and felt so alien listening to their small talk. Our lives were so different; law school, grad school, marriage, babies, while mine consisted of work, drinking, and smoking cigarettes while attempting to not get raped and preparing for an upcoming war none of them were allowed to be told about due to security. It made me avoid them the rest of my leave period; I needed people I could relate to.

I hadn’t spoken to my first boyfriend in over a year or more at this point but he knew I was in town because of our mutual best friend, Zach. We arranged a meeting of sorts and I made my way to visit him. We discussed how things had been since we last spoke and he confessed he missed me. He was getting ready to graduate college and wanted to join the Navy as an officer so we could get married. I knew it was too good to be true the moment the words left his lips.

We did not reunite and that was the last time we spoke. I left the next day to return to Virginia in preparation of our next detachment. My parents drove me to the airport and I had forgotten about a sex toy a friend bought me as a joke for my upcoming deployment that was in my bag. Embarrassed, I had to tell the poor old lady working security what was in my bag. She looked horrified and processed me through as quickly as possible. I finally landed in Virginia and caught a taxie home. I was the last stop and was very comfortable until I became the only female in the vehicle.

He  started asking me questions and I tried my best to calmly answer without him hearing the panic rasing in my voice or my pounding heart and gnarling stomach. Upon arrival to my home, he asked to help me with my bags. I tipped him generously and quickly replied that I could get them as politely as possible. I ran as soon as I saw his car pull away from the curb and felt like exploding once I entered the entryway of my building. I had never experienced that before with a man I was alone with for no reason and it made feel stranger than the night I spent out with my friends. I threw my belongings in my apartment and called a friend to get a ride to base to check back in off leave. When I got home I finally passed out on the couch with the sounds of the city lulling me to sleep.

The last few days in town and at the command were hectic but flew by. I was miserable being alone at the apartment, especially with no car, but I ordered take out and spent time with my neighbors each evening until time to load up the ship. My last night home I ordered Chinese, drank, and laid in the nude until I knew I had to get my neighbor to take me to the ship. During the process I accidentally knocked the cherry of my ciggeratte down my throat and singed my espoughous.

My throat was throbbing by the time I made it to the ship, but I grabbed my sea bag and linnen bag and manuvered the catwalks to get checked in. After my bags were cleared through security I climbed the ladderwell to my berthing to unpack and get my rack ready for the next month plus. I had a bottom rack this time and it made falling asleep easier, but I found I constantly hit my head on the light provided and I was right in the lounge area where the tv and very loud women spent their off time. I hated the ship, but I was determined to make the best of it.

A Christmas Alone

Two or three weeks after returning from Fallon, our command detached on the USS Roosevelt to begin our shipboard training for cruise. During this time we were told that in the two weeks we had off after the training excercise we would be given a short leave and opportunity to go home within reason before we would possibly deploy early in support of Opporation Iraqi Freedom. My roommates had already left for their deployment and I drove myself to the shipyard after cramming myself full of my favorite local Chinese food.

Our three weeks out flew by for the most part, and I signed up to take the last leave period since I had no children I wanted to see wake up on Christmas morning. I knew it would be lonely being my first Christmas away from my family, but looked forward to my week I would have with them shortly thereafter. It was strange with half of the command gone at one time and the nights at home were even lonlier. As Christmas Eve approached I had no plans and was assigned duty but no watch for Christmas Day. I drank myself to sleep on the couch in front of the tv and woke up to “A Christmas Story” playing for the annual twenty four hour marathon I always demanded we keep on until​ someone else finally fought back. This year there was no one to fight with though, just me. 

I knew my family was together, waiting on me to get home to celebrate, but also enjoying my mother’s home cooked meals I treasured because nothing in our small town was open on Christmas Day. A light snow began to fall, and I watched it out of our third floor window as it covered the walkway with a glittering mist. Although I had duty, I decided to start drinking anyhow as I figured it would be my only hope at getting any sleep that night as well. About four or so that afternoon a friend called and asked me what my plans for the evening where. I responded I was staying in. He did not give me that option.

He was at my house within thirty minutes and taking me to eat with two other mutual friends in Richmond. When I arrived I was nervous but I enjoyed our evening together and was thankful that I was not completely alone for Christmas. We cooked lamb and other side dishes and drank and played with pet rats. I learned that Christmas that family is who you make your family. From that date on, every holiday I did not return home for leave, which was often, I would prepare a meal for anyone that wanted to join us for the evening.

It became a tradition we all loved and looked forward to. I would prepare the traditional dishes my family taught me to make and others would bring their favorites. Usually someone bought a turkey for me to prepare, and always a keg of beer. I would cook for three days getting our masterpiece ready and then we would enjoy our weekend eating as much as possible. We always took the watch plates of food at the command, and tried to include as many as we could feed or fit into the house. 

While we had our ups and downs at the command during our time, we really did bond as a family. The connection I still have with many of the former shipmates I was stationed with will never be broken, we will always have each other’s backs and help or be there for them in any way possible. For so long I was afraid to be me around my former service member friends, but the more I am myself the more support I get from them.  They​ encourage me to be a better person and friend and I will be forever grateful for the time I had with them and the relationships we still have today.

Memories of the Desert

Although I had been raped twice in Fallon, I did have realitively good times in the dessert; or as good as they could be. My first detachment I spent most of my time working with my shop until I was caught in a shipmates room attempting to avoid the sex acts taking place in my own. I was only twenty and mostly stuck around to those I knew decently but I left base every chance I got. 

I went shopping in Reno, ate the casino buffets, went skinny dipping in Lake Tahoe and then rode around the entire lake with our van door open to dry our clothes before going back to base, and watched a friend fly a kite over the shores while we picked fresh sage to take back to our homes. I marveled at the scenery and majestic landscape the dessert provided. One day, as was customary for many sailors to do, we decided we wanted to visit the local brothel.

I had been sent on a mission by a roomate to get a menu, and I had every intention of fullfilling it. I was the designated driver since I was underage, and the only female. We drove to the outskirts of town and finally arrived at the front of a trailer park. Right off the side of the road stood the famous Bunny Ranch. I immediately parked the van in front of the entrance and we hastily made our way inside to get my elusive menu.

I made it about two feet into the door when a very obese woman in a blue bra with the most enormous breasts I had ever seen called out to us. I quickly realized she was calling out to me, asking me if I had a permit to be inside a brothel. Baffled and embarrassed I stammered I didn’t as my face became a bright cherry red inferno. I shrugged my shoulders and said I would be making sand castles out by the van until my shipmates were finished. 

Defeated, I left the brothel, but was quickly greeted by my shipmates who also wanted to return to town. We decided to stop at our favorite local stop, the birdfarm, and finished off our night badly singing to the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughn and figuring out how a silver dollar would go in the juke box. I attempted to play darts but struck a local man in the head and quickly surrendered in exchange for remaining in the bar until close.

We cooked on the grills outside the barracks and played spades and other games to pass the time. The base had a go cart track and small cafe and bar to spend time in. I believe there was a bowling alley as well. The second detachment we finally convinced master chief to give us the van one day to go for an adventure. We all wanted to go somewhere different so we went to Tahoe for the obvious, Sacramento to see the capital, San Francisco to eat in China Town and cross the Golden Gate Bridge, and Reno for late night casino dinner all in our one day off. 

While people were wild and crazy and bad things did happen, it was a time of bonding for me and many of my shipmates. We learned to have loyalty and respect for one another that continued to grow the more time we spent on the ship after we left the dessert. We bonded over dessert buggers, pigs in space, the insane things you only do if you are in the military, the close quarters of sweaty kitty litter covered techs farting bad grilled food, and the never ending inside jokes that would follow us for years. As our final jets took off and the remaining Skelton crew members boarded our flight to head back to Virginia I watched the setting sun go down on both a place I learned from tremendously​ but also as a place I knew I never wanted to return to.

Halloween Nights; Morning Nightmares

Our command returned to Fallon sometime in mid September or early October. After my stint in my squadron mates room the first detachment, I was sent to complete my temporary assigned duty and placed in first lieutenant, a glorified name for a janitor. The only people in first lieutenant were those that were considered shit bags by the command or those who had no choice. I was partially both, but  respected more than the men that were sent there because of their mental health and other issues.

People were so mean to these men, even lower ranked airman we were working alongside. One day I sent a male out to the Roach Coach to get us breakfast pigs since I had social anxiety and he was always broke. As we were eating he was telling me his grand plan to one day return to our command hanger bay and blow the entire thing up. I had never heard anyone speak like this and the shock read plainly across my face. He gently placed his hand on my arm and looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you’re not anywhere around when I do.” 

I could feel the pain ooze from his words and the agony his eyes carried, how could people be so cruel to make another human to feel so worthless. He remains in my thoughts to this day as I had no clue then I too would understand the pain he felt. He stayed behind when we went back to Fallon and was processed out by the time we returned. Sometime in mid September we said our goodbyes, and I never saw him again. 

When we returned to Fallon as the first lieutenant component of the command we were assigned hanger bay cleaning and out door grilling assignments twelve to fourteen hours a day. I mostly stayed to myself and occasionally left base with trusted individuals on rare occasions. I wore my SpongeBob costume and passed out candy for Halloween to my shipmates and cooked on the grill and spent most of my time with friends that were off. As the detachment was winding down the last week of October and into November and more brass and supervisors left, I was more inclined to venture out.

One night a FLIR tech promised my friend he would let me in a bar he was working the door at that night. I agreed to come along and used another females ID to show at the door. This was the first time I had ever used a fake ID and I was terrified of getting in trouble again. We made it to the bar and began taking shots and drinks with our remaining crew members. A new officer had just checked into our command and people wanted me to dance with him, but I declined fearing fraternization. I continued to drink, but hid in the shadows until closing time.
We prepared to leave for the evening and loaded up in a white duty van. I know this because the man driving was a third class Petty Officer with utilities on. We were supposed to head back to base, but the occupants talked the watch driver into pulling over at an all night bar, Headquarters. I decided I had enough to drink for the evening and would remain in the van. Another squadron mate also remained behind in the front passenger seat.

I began to feel my eyes get heavy as I was overly intoxicated and I laid in the floor on the van between the two back bench seats to try to feel better. The cool floor of the van and the heat from the vents lulled me to sleep. The next thing I remember is that I woke up feeling nauseated. I tried to sit up but I realized then that my squadron mate from the front seat had penetrated me and was on top of me. I’m not sure what happened next but I got sick. I threw up all over him and the van. 

I got out of the van and was still vomiting when the other occupants rushed out to check on me. Someone asked me if he did anything to me but I was so confused; and I knew I would be in serious trouble this time. The watch started freaking out about the entire situation and I just responded, “No.” I sheepishly tried to clean myself off and returned to the van and headed back to base.

That night was not spoken of again for many years. I denied it for a long time. Was I sure he was inside me, why was his tounge in my mouth, my pants were down, it must have been my fault because I thought he was cute before that night, he must have somehow picked up on it and tried to see where it would go. I went into shutdown basically and became numb to many parts of my life. We left Fallon and returned to Virginia for two short weeks before leaving out on the ship and starting the begining of the biggest atrocity I have ever participated in; Operation​ Iraqi Freedom. I had been raped before, in Fallon on the first detachment, but I had denied that one as well, up until 2016 in fact when asked to tell the truth, fourteen years after the incident by a whitness from that night

Denial was the easiest way to deal with it. I knew from Stephanie that I would be separated or relocated with a huge target in my record and no chance at promotion. I had given up my scholarship, I wanted my MGIB. I shoved it all inside and continued to act as normally as possible, to just blend in, unrecognized until I got out. That morning, and the mornings before when my squadron mates decided that my sleeping body meant consent was granted changed my view on my entire life. My self esteem and worth were shattered, I believed I deserved the bad things to happen to me for multiple reasons and stories yet to come, and I became more depressed than I had ever been in my life.

Showtime!

The end of August, 2002 my command began to prepare for our upcoming deployment. We were starting a series of detachments to train for our upcoming mission and would be spending a couple of six week stints in Fallon, NV. I had no idea what to expect aside from the wild stories I was told by my squadron mates. The basic rule of Fallon, from my understanding, was that what happens in Fallon, stays in Fallon. I had began staying off base after Andy left with two males from another command on a different work up cycle and keeping their apartment for them while they were away. Each night we would talk about the wild shenanigans that took place at the barracks and the obvious places to visit.

I was not particularly looking forward to going but I had no choice in the matter. As we prepared for the detachment things around the command began to get hectic and we started working longer hours to prepare. We packed up the equipment we would need in the dessert and loaded it into the back of an eighteen wheeler; tools, test equipment, pubs, cranials, computers, it all came with us. We finally loaded a large commercial size airplane and set off for Fallon. We made a small fuel stop in Kansas and finally landed at the air base several hours later.

I hadn’t spoken to Andy much since breaking up with him and my arrival to Fallon was no different, I had no phone. We waited to get our luggage and check into the barracks with our assigned roomate; I was assigned with a woman I barely knew, great. We made our way to our room and began unpacking our seabags in our home for the next six weeks and made small talk. I quickly changed clothes and sat out to find my friends, and to find someone to get me alcohol.

I walked around base until I found a squadron mate I knew that would get me set up, as I was still only 20. We made our purchases and went back to his room. Females could be in males rooms as long as the door was open, so we sat up a makeshift table by the entry and started playing spades. This was the usual routine most evenings in the Navy when there was nothing better to do. At the close of the evening I made my way back to my room to get sleep before reporting to work the next day.

I was shocked to find a male from another command in bed with my roommate upon my entry of the room. I made my way to the bathroom we shared with two other females to hide out. I was sitting on the toilet reading a book when I noticed a very large pair of what I called whitey tighties hanging from the towel rod. I was fairly disgusted by this and finally got the nerve to go back into my room and hit my rack. It disturbed me that I was sleeping in a room with a male I did not know, but the sun rose and we all made our way to our prospective work assignments the next day.

I attempted to stay out of my room as much as possible during the rest of that deployment. One night I was watching a movie in a friend’s room and happened to fall asleep. Instead of waking me when the movie was over, they let me remain on the floor. I woke up at about three or so in the morning and panicked; I had to get back to my room! I asked my friend to look out to see if a watch Rover was nearby so I could make my escape. He told me all was clear, but I walked right into the rover upon exiting the room.

He grabbed my arm and asked me where I was going. I stammered and replied that I was returning to my room. He asked me what command I was in and my name, but he let me go. I thought I was in the clear but when I arrived at work that afternoon, my lead petty officer and chiefs were waiting to speak with me. I had made them look bad, and I was messing up my image. They transferred me to a different shift from my friend and I was warned not to let anything else happen or they would send me to Captains Mast. 

I was humiliated and mortified, I did not even like my friend in a sexual way, and I had fallen asleep on the floor attempting to stay out of the sex fest that was taking place in my room. I laid low the rest of the detachment and tried my best to keep myself out of trouble. I traveled with friends to Lake Tahoe and Reno, but mostly just sat outside of my friends rooms for the rest of the detachment.

We left Fallon after six weeks and returned to Virginia for about three weeks before we would return to the dessert. I could not wait to get out of there and back to the safety of my friends apartment. They were gone on the ship when I arrived and had a week or so to myself before they returned. We had change of command while we were back and that night I bought a SpongeBob costume. I had no clue then how important that silly costume would become later in my life, but it sadly reminds me of a girl that I will never be again. 

The girl that bought that costume did not care what others thought of her and acted as silly or goofy as she pleased. She was a dreamer and a thinker, full of passion and love to give and share with anyone willing to accept it. She loved laughing and joking and social situations. That girl was naieve, but fearless and that purchase was the last glimmer of that girl that my memory holds.

Hello, Goodbye

After leaving Andy in Massachusetts my heart and soul felt empty. I drank heavily and worked or slept to forget the pain of being separated; no one had loved me the way he did. We talked daily but his depression worsened mine and we began to bicker over my drinking. About two weeks or so after he left I realized that I had not gotten my period. I fled to the mini NEX on base in a panic. I bought a pregnancy test and immediately peed on the stick.

As the results began to appear and I had never been more frightened in all my life. I was pregnant. I knew master chief would blow his top and I’d be a good for nothing deployment dodger. I returned to my room and laid on my rack and cried. I had always wanted to be a mom, Andy was the first man I had loved that loved me back for who I was. But in the back of my mind I struggled with my commitment I had made to the Navy and my squadron mates, supporting the upcoming war that was inevitable, and honoring my contract. I kept my secret to myself, aside from Andy of course, until we could figure out what to do next.

I knew my command was deploying and the baby would be due before deployment and I would return to sea duty six weeks after its birth. We could have gotten married, and he would be able to return to Virginia to live and raise our child, but that was not an option because Andy did not drive at the time. I continued working but I stopped drinking. It honestly did not make any difference though because within a week or so of me finding out I was pregnant, I had a miscarriage.

I sunk into a horrible depression and blamed myself for drinking and not eating and smoking before I found out that I was with child. Andy was devestated, as I was. The next few months we began to fight more often and I drank far more than I ever had. By the time he turned 21 in August I decided to break up with him. I was getting ready to go on detachments to Fallon, NV and then the ship for the next year or so and I would have no phone and little access to email. I thought I was doing him and me a favor so he would not have to be so lonely while I was away.

He became suicidal and constantly talked or discussed those thoughts with me. I became overwhelmed with the stress of the relationship and did not talk to him much at all when I was on detachment. We found out a good friend of ours died back in Arkansas from a random call I got from Jon one day, and that was the last I really remember talking to him until after I returned from cruise the following year other than letters he sent me while out to sea.

I knew I still loved him, but I also knew I could not be there for him the way he needed me to be at that time. We were both miserable apart, but I often wonder had things been different would we still be together today? Would we have our beautiful children we were so lucky to conceive at a later date? I recently discussed how my PTSD kept me from feeling elated when I found out Andy and I were going to have a child later in life and how frustrated I was to not be able to have those feelings most new moms get to experience. 

I thought, perhaps my loss of our first child that I never really was allowed to grieve and the guilt I felt for harming it as it developed kept me from fully experiencing the joy of having two gorgeous children years later. I love my children more than life or anything it has to offer, they by far are my greatest gifts I’ve ever had, but I have trouble expressing emotion with them from time to time and it’s beyond frustrating. I hope with this realization I finally put my guilt aside and know that the best gift I can give to my first unborn child is to treat their brother and sister the best I possibly can and give them all of the love and emotions I want.

If I had never gotten pregnant the first time and lost our child, the bond between Andy and myself could have been permanently broken. Perhaps that bond is what lead us back together and gave us both the life we desired to spend with one another in the end. I do not always believe things happen for a reason, but I think I can finally burry some of the guilt I harbor over our first child. Afterall, there are two siblings that deserve the same love and respect I’ve held inside me for so long; I forgive myself and I am thankful for my past, my present, and all of the lessons I have learned, especially the negatives.