Linda E. Goodliffe
He found us logs. Not one big tree trunk, like what he had to bear in BUDS but individual logs, like someone cut up a tree just for our training.
Connor was a Navy SEAL, not like the glamourized SEALs in the movies. He would beat up the guys in our Hospital Corps School because he needed to punch faces and break ribs.
I had dated him, but then he wanted a virgin. I hadn't been a virgin for three years.
Me and the guys in our class had a test to pass. Them for BUDS, and me for dive school. None of us were ready to do 8 pull-ups (6 for me), 42 push-ups (chest must touch the ground), 50 sit-ups, a mile and a half run in 12 minutes, and a 500-yard swim in 12 minutes 30 seconds.
The guys had to work on the swim, run, and sit-ups. I had to work on the push-ups and pull-ups.
Connor and I walked into the gym, in the basement of the old hospital, ghosts of dead patients peeking into the room, echoes bouncing, metal filled my nostrils and landed on my tongue, sounds of weights clinking, clouds of chalk, and testosterone so thick in the air I was compelled to flex in the mirror. He taught me how to do real Navy SEAL/Dive School pull-ups. Hand placement matters, and elbows must be straight before the masochistic ritual of pulling up begins again.
At the pull-up bar, Connor taught me to do gradated sets, up to seven then back down. He had to push me up all the way for every one, then I would lower myself, straining and shaking, doing "negatives."
He would find mud for us in the land of the sun and we'd do push-ups and flutter kicks in the air mixing our sweat and skin with damp earth, transformed into some kind of superhero or villain on the pages of a comic, grunting, groaning, and counting the reps, and holding our logs over our heads while we shouted about sex with blonds.
We lunged all around over and over in the mud. They carried each other, and I carried my log. They refused to believe me when I said I won't drop you.
The hills of San Diego shoot out of the sandstone at an angle that might please a mountain goat. I would sprint up, calves and quads burning, thlip thlop thlip thlop hhe eh hhe eh, spit, then control my steep descent, then repeat and repeat and repeat, day after day. Sometimes I'd run with the guys.
When I could get to a body of water, a pool or the ocean, I'd swim until I had to go somewhere else. That was just to keep from losing what I had from being a competitive swimmer, and to breathe through my dusty gills and liberate my land-weary body.
Everyone on base called me The Diver Chick. I never liked the Chick part. I'd hear their whispers there she is, the diver chick.
My Senior Chief had said to me You can't go to Dive School you're a girl, girls don't go to Dive School. I replied Watch me.
When I heard the Diver Chick whispers, I'd smile toward pointed fingers, my strong legs that grew more so every weighted squat and sprint uphill would add an extra bounce to my walk, and my chest that grew stronger with every bench press and push-up would swell just a bit, and I'd breathe in the earned admiration then encourage other women, my shipmates, to follow. I never planned to be the first, or the only, one.
Lucy joined me in the gym once. She wanted to learn how to get stronger, like me. Not that she needed to be stronger, she was bigger than me. When Lucy and I were sober, we hated each other, this gym visit the exception, but when we were drunk we were best friends. She would play, on her tape deck in the barracks at night, full blast, a collection of the worst country songs ever made. We'd always argue when she did that, which was almost every night.
We bar-hopped in the gaslight district of downtown San Diego one night. We were the only two who were twenty-one. The last bar we drank in was "Dick's Last Resort." I jumped on the table to hurl ice at some guys, the restaurant joined in, Lucy ran to the bar for more ice, or ammunition, then they kicked us out of "Dick's Last Resort." Then our taxi driver kicked us out of the cab in the worst part of town. I stood swaying and angry in the middle of the road, Lucy protesting and lamenting in the shoulder, and I made the next car take us back to base.
After class, in Hospital Corps School, some days, Lucy would threaten I'm going to kick your ass! I'd just run, smiling and laughing, Don't hurt me, I'm trying to get to dive school, besides, you can't catch me! Lucy never kicked my ass.
Time to take the test. Connor, the Navy SEAL, was the one tasked with giving the test. The guys for BUDS and me for NDSTC. I ran faster than most of the guys, swam faster than all of them, did more sit-ups than all of them, Connor put his fist under my chest to make sure my chest went down far enough and I did forty-two, then I did the six pull-ups, the guys did more. I strained, groaned, screamed, and used every muscle in my body to do the last few pull-ups. I pulled my knees to my chest while I forced my chin over the bar, and Connor made a new rule that bent knees were not allowed. He would not pass me. He thought he was going to stop me. I talked to his Senior Chief, who got us both in his office, where we fought, of course, then his SEAL Senior Chief took my side.
Navy SEALs, or the "Dive Motivators" I trained with in boot camp, told me to talk to Connor's Senior Chief when I called, when Connor thought he'd stop me. They told me they'd make a call. They remembered giving me a brick to hold over my head while treading water in the big boot camp pool, just to see me do it, and I happily obliged. They remembered yelling at me to get up when I was covered in a rash rolling and rolling in the grass during morning PT, and I refused to quit, even though I was dizzy. They remembered my trembling arms and legs on the boot camp "grinder" at 0400 while most of my shipmates slept.
Uncle Mack, my orders are for Explosive Ordinance Disposal in Virginia! I don't want to be around explosives! I just want to be a Navy Diver! Oh my god, what should I do? Nothing but laughter on the other end of the phone for a good two minutes. Uncle Mack had been an officer in the Navy for a long time. He told me the story of when he helped to dispose of missiles rolling around on the deck of an aircraft carrier in a hurricane. They pushed them overboard. Sometimes, I imagine all the leftover, disposed of, and lost prizes on the ocean floor. Then, Uncle Mack told me who to call to get my orders changed to Dive School.
Panama City, Florida. I soaked up that moment walking onto that base. Ignoring my fear of injury. I had watched my friends get medically discharged from BUDS, and had held them as they cried.
The white panhandle sand was everywhere and the air smelled of tropical flowers and salt. The narrow dive tank, for advanced dive training, jutted up from the rear of the base.
I drove Carla, my black jeep wrangler, down from New Jersey on leave. I showed my green military ID at the gate, a smile plastered to my face. Everyone called me ma'am at first. When I asked why they did that (enlisted sailors are not called "ma'am," only officers), the first two Navy sailors replied because I want to, you earned it. The sailor on the quarterdeck, when I first checked in knew my name before I showed him my ID. They told me some Marines in San Diego told them about me, because I beat them in the run during the test. I replied really?
In Navy Dive School we hang, straight armed, until the instructor says up, then we hold our chins over the bar until the instructor says down. We run miles and miles through the bayou to a beach, where we do flutter kicks in the surf, stopping to do push-ups, more flutter kicks, and sit-ups along the way.
The solid sand ground betrayed my running foot,
my ankle sprained.
Dive instructors carried me along the path
cut through the bayou, to the women's bath.
I was alone, my sobs echoed throughout
the empty room.
I knew my dream was deadened worse
than when witches curse their hated foe.
Linda E. Goodliffe
Linda holds a bachelor's degree in English and an MFA in poetry from Queens University of Charlotte. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her family, which includes cocker spaniels. She believes the written word is a powerful force, and considers herself blessed to have discovered that she can write poetry.
I used to visualize and meditate to beat my competition, but now I meditate to keep going—to stay in the pool—to stay on the sweat covered yoga mat. Meditation used to help me win, and now it helps me heal. I contemplate with God, both in deep prolonged prayer, and, when I remember, in a spiritual openness while writing.
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