My parents fostered my independence and allowed me to make my own decisions. Whether it was a new sport, a radical haircut, or my career, they let me decide. They wanted me to weigh the options and consider the consequences of all my decisions, like I did when I would play in national scholastic chess tournaments.
Throughout my childhood I became a master at making decisions but became even better at abandoning the rational thought process of careful decision making and learned to embrace the repercussions of my hubris. My life motto is that I am open for a bad experience.
One day I found myself in a National Guard recruiting office with some friends, when we were supposed to be in school. I never planned to join but like most life-changing decisions, I just jumped in head-first. I ended up signing the paperwork within an hour of meeting him and with only a monthly commitment and two weeks in the summer, how bad could it be? This question wasn’t answered until I got to basic training and learned that they were going to cure my self-serving thought processes with countless spontaneous pushups.
When I joined the National Guard, they promised to make me all I could be. I wasn’t really sure what that was or what I wanted to do, but they gave me six great years to discover the many things that I don’t like to this day; including boot polishing.
I never understood why we had to iron our uniforms and polish our boots before we went ruck marching into the woods; as it turns out, my drill sergeants were extremely accommodating to me and took the time to explain it to me; all while I was in the front and leaning rest position – which turned out to be anything but restful. In an effort to please my drill sergeants and eliminate time wasted on my boots, I always tried to find a more efficient way and in one swift moment, I did. The black shiny substance in the bottle was used to dress the soles of the boots. It looked like black liquid glass and made the dullest soles shine. In a stroke of genius, I took the bottle and began putting it all over the leather, until my boots outshined everyone else’s. Layer after regretted layer, I carefully applied it until I pridefully set them under my bunk for the next inspection.
In the morning during the inspection, I stood proud waiting for my boots to be noticed. Honestly, most mortals would need sunglasses just to look in their direction as they were shining so bright. However, my liquid glass polish had dried overnight and began cracking and splintering all over the boots. They looked like they had developed some sort of disease. The damage was irreparable and came with harsh consequences in every successive inspection. I learned my lesson and swallowed my pride. My time was their time, and everything had to be done their way.
In the Army, I learned the value of hard work and developed the pride of serving my country. When the United States invaded Iraq on March 17, 2003, I was ready to go. But a few weeks before we left, I found myself at a sorority party, where I met this incredibly beautiful woman. I believe there are some things in life that people aren’t supposed to understand. It was love at first sight and my mother refused to hear my explanation when I told her that I asked Tina to marry me, just weeks after meeting her. It was the first time in my life that she did not support me. I still remind her about this story as we’re approaching our 15th anniversary and have four amazing children together.
Eric Keller is an RN in the emergency department at University Hospitals Portage in Ravenna, Ohio.