Entry 5

Entry 5

Entry 5
A weeklong electronic journal.
Dec. 5 2003 1:39 PM

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Goats
Goats
Boat up in smoke
Boat up in smoke

I'm so fried, I'm on the verge of weeping tears of blood. It's almost 3 in the morning, and in hopes of turning fatigue into actual sleep, I cracked open a book. I am reading Absolutely American, David Lipsky's account of cadet life at West Point, and I absolutely cannot handle it. Rather than lulling me into slumber, the book has ratcheted me up to a wearied state of high alert. Put aside the fact that Lipsky spent four years at the academy, following a class of cadets from Day 1 to graduation—that's exhausting enough in itself. But what he chronicles, my God, I need a cup of coffee to track 10 pages worth: field training, ethics, military instruction, studying, bonding, tradition, history, sports, hierarchy, scandal. I think I can actually feel my brain breaking. I know the mission of Absolutely American is to portray West Point cadets as a diverse lot, full of dreams and failings and the stuff of all young aspirants. To that end, it succeeds. But every time I'm done reading for a spell, I put it away with the cover facing down. The knowing smile of the kid on the jacket freaks me out. Even though I see the cadets every day—going to class, jogging (always jogging), wandering through the PX buying socks and such—they hardly seem real to me. I think I'm actually a little frightened. If you look at the names in the Long Gray Line of West Point alumni, you'll recognize quite a few: MacArthur, Patton, Lee, Grant, Schwarzkopf, Eisenhower. The Long Gray Line boasts 13 astronauts, gobs of Rhodes scholars, and captains of virtually every industry. The current cadets (roughly 15 percent female, if you're wondering) are heirs to that fancy legacy. Part of what's so intimidating is that I know I could never cut it as a cadet. I need too much sleep; I chafe under academic pressure; and I can't tolerate being yelled at. Raise your voice at me and I raise a certain finger. In no time flat, I'd be out of here like noted USMA dropouts Timothy Leary, Edgar Allan Poe, and Whistler of Whistler's Mother fame. Army life and artistic temperament aren't exactly compatible, I hazard to guess. West Point urges you to "Cooperate and Graduate" while the boho lives to, if you will, "Rebel and Excel" (with greater priority on the former than the latter). But I don't want to circle the perimeter of this place for the rest of our time here. I'm trying to figure out a way to get involved, to add something meaningful. To do it for the kids, as we irony addicts often say. But I want to do it for real, non-ironically. For the first time, I'm forced to ask myself: What do I have to offer? Last night was the Goat vs. Engineer football game (Academic Have-Nots versus the Haves), followed by the SINK NAVY bonfire (little boat; a buncha timber; big, big flames). It's as close as the military academy gets to pagan ritual. Miss Pennsylvania was there, inducing many a boyish "gu-HUH." The lads round here don't get out much, have little contact with the opposite sex, and don't even have a nefarious medium for relief (can't access Internet porn through the academy server, alas). As I stood watching near the warm reach of the fire, I felt a little bit less like I was on the outside of the fishbowl. Less scared. When my husband and I got here in early summer, he took me down to Trophy Point one night. We sat on the steps of the monument and held hands as "Taps" lowed across the Plain. As the lights went off, the moment felt eerie and huge. I told him I couldn't wait to jump in with both feet. I've been here for only six months and already it feels like it's going by too fast. This week is full of firsts: My first Goat vs. Engineer game, first bonfire, first gala, first Army/Navy game. Before you know it, I'll be deep into my first gloom period, when the academy grays down into a maudlin muddle of granite, slush, and overcast. I hope West Point and I are knit more closely by then. I hope I work up the nerve to make it happen. I really don't know if my life will intersect with the corps, but I want it to, and soon. For now, though, I wander alongside, shy observer in the shadow of the Long Gray Line.