Choices Matter

I’d like to think that goes without saying, but since the Matrix, and its failures of sequels, came to life on the silver screen, one course of thought that my once friends of twenty years ago and so many others began to latch onto was Simulation. This philosophy isn’t new, as Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, Rene Descartes, Zhuangzi’s the Butterfly’s Dream, and the one often quoted alongside the Matrix films themselves, Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation, are a few that explore the concept that we, as a species or as all of the universe itself, live within a dream-like state that is impossible for us to know if we are actually dreaming or completely awake. Only from without of the simulation could this truth be ascertained, but then, just like Schrodinger’s loveable cat, the only at the moment of observation from without will the determinability of real vs. simulation be seen.

At the time, it didn’t make much sense to me. It made me think of another theory that like electrons spinning around the center of an atom, so are we around our sun. The idea that we were a part of some impossibly sized entity that we couldn’t identify of or identify with sounded like another version of God, gods or goddesses that was hokey.

“Ya’ see, man. We’re all apart of God’s organism,” opined a strained male voice between pulls on a freshly rolled joint. “We’re all aliens.” He waved his hands to the starry night. “We’re from out there, man.”


If choices didn’t matter, and we all lived in a yellow submarine at the bottom of the ocean of mirrors, lies, and life, then I didn’t choose to hurt two men. I didn’t choose to swing for my life. That’s a lie.

It was late October, 1993, as I stood first in line of my squad as their leader, and apart of Second Platoon Demons, and Delta Company of the division within Basic Training Camp, Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. We ran in formation, practicing for our monthly drills of long treks out in the wooded wilderness of the low mountains. I never thought of them as mountains. They were just big hills compared to the jagged knifes of stone, that stood nearly a mile higher over the river valley that was a mile above sea level, of my home in the big city of the Northern Rio Grande Valley. The thick forests of the east were beautiful, if not claustrophobic to a southwestern boy who never found the edges of the endless sky.

The late-night run was all but finished, until the voices of two very chatty, familiar voices tried whispering to one another. I couldn’t make out what they were complaining about this time, but if I could hear the whispering of Dennis and McLaughlin, then so could our Drill Sergeants, one of whom, Drill Sergeant Hart, jogged directly in front of me. His ears twitched under the Brown Round, old school campaign hats that only Drill Instructors wore.

“Platoon!” Brill Sergeant Hart’s voice sounded like a cannon. “Halt!” He took two steps forward, came about face, and commanded, “Parade Rest!” Blood pounded through my body, all but hiding the anxiety about what was to happen next. I know what everyone else was thinking. Those fucking faggots were going to get us in trouble, again. It wasn’t the first time our entire platoon would be shamed by doing grueling, near ceaseless exercises in front of the commander’s office window. “Scumbag Dennis! Crackhead McLaughlin!”

“Yes, Drill Sergeant,” came exhausted, unisoned voices.

“Drop, and start pushin’ dirt.”

“Yes, Drill Sergeant!”

“One, two, three, one. One, two, three, two…” The Drill Sergeant called out a fast four count that they struggled to keep pace with. And after about twenty of those, he commanded the rest of the company to join in and help our idiot brothers with keeping the earth from falling into the sky. Pain, struggle, anger, and shame came over us all, and especially with me. This stunt brought up all the fears of hiding in plain sight, of pretending I was straight. As our exhausted bodies, and weary minds sought out imagined vengeance, there were others who weren’t satisfied by flights of fancy. Twenty agonizing, rage filled minutes passed, we were ordered to our feet, and marched back to our third story barrack floor.

“Get your stanky, fuckhead asses showered. Lights out in thirty.”

“Yes, Drill Sergeant!”

“Now, move!”

Sixty human cockroaches darted to their beds and lockers, and then into the showers. Except for waking up in the middle of the night while the platoon slept, the showers, which were designed for privacy as each one was around a blind corner, were a place of refuge. Near scalding water rained on my flesh, the heat forced even more blood flow, and the sound of falling water, soothed my body and mind, if only for a little while. There was more background chatter than normal, and though I couldn’t make out a single word, I figured the disembodied voices were talking about the two fags that had gotten us into trouble.

Dennis and McLaughlin “acted” the easily recognizable flamboyant gay men. Limp wrists on side thrust hips, flipping back their hair as though it wasn’t a cleanly shaven head like all of us, and the playful “girly” voices were a part of their repertoire. That had always been my feeling about those two men. Yes, I had been a gay man hiding out in the DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) military, and I had sure as fuck never looked, made a sideways glance or even thought about sex, unless it was the middle of the night, when I’d wake up with a powerful need to get the fact I was surrounded by dozens and dozens of young men in their physical prime, had had been bonded with them with spoken and unspoken accords of “I kill for you, you kill for me,” and “I die for you, you die for me.” There’s a level of primal and social intimacy that had blended into something greater. It had marked me, and all of us servicemen and servicewomen, with newly programed instincts. I love my brothers, and I love my sisters, to this day for I was trained to trust them, support them, help them up whether downrange under a torrent of death seeking metal, or downrange, shoulder to shoulder, drinking the night away.

Had I felt that with Dennis and McLaughlin? Fuck yes. That’s why I had always felt so strongly about their actions. There had been a pull, at first, to test the waters, and get to know them. I’d had never acted so boldly to be so gay. But that curiosity was all but roadkill as military training had taken priority. From that moment on, I had just wanted to blend in with everyone else, and this had been made especially more difficult as I was promoted to Squad Leader. Hell, I hadn’t even gotten my mosquito wings, a rank of Private E-2, and out-ranked several in my squad. I, like the rest of the platoon, had taken their affront in the face of our Drill Sergeant, very personally.

I’m going to leave it there for now. This is taking a fair bit longer than I had anticipated. So, until next time, have a great week, and be ready for the second half to find out just how far into the darkness this will go.

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