Six grouped-guys moved their seats and stood towering over me.
“You’re blocking my light,” I said, with a mouthful of mush.
“You’re just a kid,” one said.
“Not any kid you’ve ever met before. Now move on or sit down.”
They sat, looking over me curiously.
“Where’d a little feminine-looking twig of a weasel like you learn how to fight like that?”
“Wait until I get a gun in my hand. Size is a weapon, the smallest are the deadliest. Remember that boys,” I said. Then stood up, dumped my tray, and ran toward the showers before anyone else could get there and realize I was missing some necessary parts.
I walked myself to the interrogation room.
“Not tonight, Recruit. You get to sleep with the guys,” the Officer said, and I was led to the ‘dormitory’. Great, so much for getting any sleep. “Beds are first come, first serve. Better not find yourself having to sleep with a Bubba. Whoops, looks like it’s too late,” he said when I walked in. “Goodnight, newbie.”
“Oh, look, the little twerp finally gets to join us in slumber. You can sleep with me, sweetheart,” someone made kissing noises.
“I’m not a faggot,” I said.
“We’ll turn you into a squealing little girl,” another said, and they laughed.
“We’ll see who winds up being the pig squealing when you wake up with your parts shoved down your throat.”
“Oooohhh,” they sounded.
I sat at the table at the far end of the room, in a chair against the wall, in the dark. I laid my legs out on another chair.
“You gonna sleep there all night, chicken little?”
“No, I’m going to wait until you fall asleep.”
“You got a big attitude, short shit.”
“I also got a big dick. Wanna see it?”
And they laughed, but this time, they weren’t laughing at me.
I waited until the room fell quiet with steady breathing, snoring, and the occasional fart, then tiptoed toward the bathroom. I was just getting my pants down when I heard sounds, and hurriedly pulled them up a hundredth of a second before three of them entered, blocking the door.
Thinking fast, I elbowed the small mirror, and grabbed a piece of glass in my left hand. “Touch me, you die,” I said.
“Wooo, easy killer.”
I watched cautiously and defensively as he moved the tiles behind the door.
“I think you need this, chill out,” he handed me a flask. “Go on, take a drink, short stack.” I did. It burned harshly on the way down.
“I’ll relax when you move away from the door,” I said.
Three more entered, then another two. They took their seats cross-legged on the floor. I sat next to the door, while they lit rolled cigarettes and passed around the flask.
“You been hurt before, ain’t you?” The room got silent and I realized they were talking to me.
“What would make you say that?” I responded.
“The way you act, like you been hurt bad. You got this look about you, act like people do in prison, afraid to turn their back. I don’t know about the other guys, but I’m scared of going to sleep ‘round you. We all just joke around like men do, but you seem serious when you make your threats, like you done this before. This is brotherhood, man,” he said, slapping his chest. “Brotherhood,” then he slapped at my chest, and I was thankful for the bandages crushing my feminine secrets.
“That’s not the feeling I’ve gotten.”
“That’s initiation, man. Tradition.”
“So when does the hazing happen? Tradition,” I said dryly. Then took another swallow of the potent liquid.
“Is that why you been keeping away from us at night? You already got yours, at the chin-up bar. Why do you think the Officer just stood there and let us do it? We all went through it too, whether we did the 25 pull-ups or not. It’s a test.”
“My whole life has been a test,” I said harshly. “I’m sick of tests.”
“You’re certainly good at passing them. Knocked down six of us first day here. You earned our respect, don’t you get that? Proved yourself. We go to battle, we gotta know the guys we’re with can hold their own and have our back. A pussy could be our own death, and we get a lot of those. Little boys coming in here wanting a free college education, having no idea what they’ve gotten themselves into, until they crack. We can’t afford to have any little girls walking around here.”
I laughed, being the only one aware of how funny it was he should say that.
“All right boys, lights out, another long hard day tomorrow.”
We returned to the beds and I could hardly contain my laughter from bursting forth. I waited for it.
“Gross, whose nasty socks are stinking up my blankets.”
“Don’t you mean my blankets?” I said. “Move your feet, lose your seat.”
I chuckled. And I sighed. I could relax now. I hadn’t gotten a good nights’ sleep in weeks.
Then I woke up in the mud with the Officer standing over me, hands on his waist.
“They must like you,” he said. “They left your clothes on.”