We’re halfway there — halfway through basic training. It has flown by. I’m no longer the same young woman who stepped off the bus a few short weeks ago wearing size 2 acid washed jeans and a Girbaud t-shirt. I’m stronger, more confident, and prepared to take on the world. I was proud of myself for the first time. I was living my life on my own terms sort of. Nothing could stop me now. My future was looking quite bright — a career in the Air Force and a chance to see the world.
Later that evening after dinner, we had a special treat waiting for us. We earned a three-minute phone call home and a chance to buy some snacks. I could hardly wait to get two plain Hershey bars and a Coke. By the time I finished my snacks, I was next in line to call home. I wondered who would answer the phone. Would my mom still be mad at me for leaving? No time to worry about that now. The phone is ringing.
“Hi, it’s Michelle.”
“Oh my God, how ya doin?”
“I’m good. I just got three minutes to talk. How y’all doin?”
“We doin fine, baby. You eatin?”
“Yea, I’m eatin’ — don’t have much choice. It’s ok though.”
“Well, that’s good. I made a tuna casserole tonight.”
“Wow, that sounds good. Ok, I gotta go. My time is almost up.”
“Oh, ok. You know Marcus died.”
“Huh? Wait, what?”
“Yep, passed out while running about a week ago and never woke up. They think it was a heart attack.”
For an instant, I was high on life and connected to the real world, and the next moment I was trapped in that tiny phone booth — wondering if I would ever be able to take another breath. And then I breathed, and a flood of tears came down in torrents, drenching my shirt and blinding me temporarily. Most of the details have faded away, but I remember the moment my mother told me that my friend had died. I cried hot, silent tears as I exited the tiny phone booth. People were asking me what was the matter, but I couldn’t form the words to speak–no word retrieval at all. I found my way to a bench, and my friend Mary came and sat next to me and hugged me. All I remember next was being in the communal shower, cleaning it after all the girls has showered and headed to bed.
Marcus and I had spent so much time hanging out and running in preparation for basic. He was going to the Navy. We planned to meet up after tech school to hang out in Europe some place and party with our friends Georgeanna and Russell like we did for an entire week before he took me to the Greyhound station to leave for basic.There was no way to prepare for this enormous sense of loss. I felt so alone even though I was surrounded by 20 ladies. I couldn’t believe that my friend was gone and that I wouldn’t see him again. One night while on dorm guard duty, I could almost feel his presence. Perhaps he was there in spirit to let me know that he was fine and that heaven was this remarkable place — far better than we had imagined.