The reasons why I decided in 2008 that I wanted to join the military are long and varied. I wrote a lot about them at the time in my other (non-public) blog, and I may copy some of those writings in here sometime, as I think it’s a good story.
But there was one memorable event from my childhood that I recently have come to believe influenced me as well. I’ve never written about this anywhere before, but the story has been bouncing around in my head for a week now so I figured I should take this chance to break my stretch of non-updates.
When I was about 12, I was skating on our backyard ice rink (yes, my Dad was awesome!) with my siblings and a couple other kids who lived in the house behind ours, when we saw a big cloud of thick black smoke blowing across the backyards of the houses on one side of us. My Dad was outside with us (I don’t think he was skating though?), and he was the first to go to the front yard, and I remember him yelling to us, as we followed him to see what was going on, to “go tell your Mum to call the fire department!”
As he said this, I remember I was at the side door of our house and as I looked left I was shocked to see bright orange flames reaching above our next-door neighbour’s house. (This is one of those images that is burned into my brain forever. Heh, “burned”…) It turned out that it was the house two doors down that was on fire.
My brother and I ran to the front door and shouted to Mum, only to be scolded by her to be quiet as she was on the phone with them already.
We all went inside the house, and took off our skates. My little sister was really scared, and wanted to go hide under her bed. (She would have been about 8.) I, pretending to be brave, told her that she needed to be ready to get out of the house if the fire spread. But I also told her that wasn’t likely. Really, I just wanted to go hide under the bed with her. I was terrified of fires when I was young. Our house being on fire was a main theme of my nightmares, and the thought of losing all my toys/possessions was devastating to me.
My Dad was still gone — he had run down to the street to where the fire was. I was too scared to go outside and watch, despite the crowd forming across the street from the spectacle. I made myself go take a look only hours later, when the fire had taken pretty much the whole house and they were just putting out hot spots.
I had many more fire nightmares after that.
Anyways, so how does this relate at all to me and the military? Good question, I will answer it for you now.
The next Saturday, in the newspaper, there was a photo on the front page. The photo showed my Dad standing outside a house, helping a girl climb out through a window.
The family that lived in the house two doors down from me had two daughters – one was a year older than me, and the other was my sister’s age. On that particular day, the parents and the youngest daughter were downtown, and the oldest daughter and her friend (who also lived in the neighbourhood) were babysitting some children in the house. Apparently they were all in the basement and had no idea about the fire until one of them went upstairs and saw the front door in flames. The fire had started in the garage. I believe what happened was the friend called her father, who came over and, along with others like my Dad, helped them all get out of the house safely (including the family’s two dogs).
I didn’t know how any of this had happened until I saw the picture and it occurred to me that my Dad had seen the fire and gone towards it to try and help.
Back then, I had bought into a lot of what society taught me about gender roles and such, and I believed that going to help people out of burning houses was a “man’s job”. It was ok for me to be scared because I was a child, but mostly because I was a girl. But as I grew up, I found that I was much better at “male” subjects in school like math and computer science, and I decided that I was just as good a programmer as the average guy, so I went to university for that… and thus I eventually began to understand that despite being female, if I wanted to the be the type of person who runs towards the danger to help others, then there was no real reason I couldn’t.
That’s how I found my courage. Slowly. There were other factors to consider and issues to work out, but effectively, I decided what type of person I wanted to be — modeled so well by my Dad when I was 12 — and went ahead and followed through with it. Applying to join the military was the bravest thing I have ever done, and I was, and am, extremely proud of myself that I broke myself out of my extreme social anxiety ‘bubble’ and made it happen.
I wanted — and still do actually want the chance — to do something that protects all the scared 12-year-old children out there, or the wonderful non-violent people out there who want to change the world, from everything and everyone who might cause them harm.
Am I your ‘model’ soldier? Absolutely not. My brain is, and always will be, much stronger than any of my muscles. And I’d be a lousy firefighter if I can’t physically carry people out of danger. But I am good with technology. I can get radios working and fix computers. I can improvise solutions so that the people on the front lines can communicate with their commanders who are able to send them help if they need it. I am willing and wanting to be the one to stand between the bad guys and someone who can’t defend themselves.
I joined the military because it seemed to best way for me to have the chance to do what I want to do. I am still waiting for my chance to really make a difference. It’s possible I have already… but I don’t know it. I want to have a time where there’s no doubt in my mind that things worked out better because I was there.
So I am staying.