Growing Up Is Hard to Do

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

When I left Edinburg (Texas) in 1968, at the age of 18, on a Greyhound Bus to San Antonio to join the Army, I was not just leaving behind my childhood and my childish dreams, I was also headed to adulthood, or so I thought. Unfortunately, I found that adulthood does not just happen automatically when you board a bus to become “all that you can be,” as the Army slogan promised me. I found that growing up was hard to do, especially when you’re alone, and realize that you no longer have the safety net that was always there to make sure you didn’t fall and hurt yourself.

GROWING UP IS HARD TO DO

By Al Garcia

When I left Edinburg (Texas) in 1968, at the age of 18, on a Greyhound Bus to San Antonio to join the Army, I was not just leaving behind my childhood and my childish dreams, I was also headed to adulthood, or so I thought.  Unfortunately, I found that adulthood does not just happen automatically when you board a bus to become “all that you can be,” as the Army slogan promised me.  I found that growing up was hard to do, especially when you’re alone, and realize that you no longer have the safety net that was always there to make sure you didn’t fall and hurt yourself.

In the days and weeks that followed my trek across Texas – from Edinburg to San Antonio to El Paso and then to bootcamp at Fort Bliss, I was paralyzed with horror and dread at the thought of having possibly left the nest too soon, and too unprepared for adulthood and the real world.  In addition to feeling the loneliness of separation from my family and friends, I felt stress, confusion and hopelessness with my new surroundings and the pressure and demands of life outside the City limits of Edinburg – my entire world up until then.  I was not in Kansas anymore, and Peter Pan had flown away.

The onset of adulthood hit me hard, as I tried to cling to vestiges of my youth and my life back home.  It’s hard to make believe you’re an adult when deep down inside you’re still that little boy playing cowboys and Indians with your friends, or blowing out the candles on a birthday cake.  Yet, I had taken the plunge without knowing whether there was water in the pool I had just dived into, head first.

Looking back, I now realize that life is the perpetual state of growing up.  However, back then, I was too naïve and too young to philosophize or hypothesize, much less understand the consequences of my actions.  It was that first night away from home while in San Antonio with 25 or 30 other young boys my age, that I finally realized the enormity of my action.  I found myself in a strange place among total strangers -- unsupervised young people in a hotel in the big City.  The result – booze, sex and total self-indulgence without restraint.  What else would be expected of boys gone wild on their first night away from home as “adults”?  And we were no different than those that had come this way before, or since.  That night also proved that we were still in the perpetual state of adolescence.  And the country could feel safe knowing we would soon be their first defense in case of war – not a very pleasant or sober thought indeed. 

And as the sun rose over San Antonio on that hot summer morning, a bus-load of Valley boys stumbled and staggered out from their hotel and onto their bus for the final bus ride before their physicals and before being sworn into the United States Army.  By the end of day, 25 or 30 hungover and sleep-deprived boys would be official soldiers -- officially designated to fight and die for the red, white and blue, and the American way.  Hopefully sober.

And so, I became a solider.  I did feel different, but not wiser.  I felt like a piece of human refuse with a number, being moved, shoved and poked – silent and unable to stand or stretch or scratch my head (or other bodily parts).  “You're in the Army now, You're not behind a plow; You'll never get rich, a-diggin' a ditch, You're in the Army now.”  The lyrics to the song said it all.  This was not going to be a game of cowboys and Indians.  This was the real world, playing with real bullets and arrows.  A game played for keeps, with no do-overs allowed.  A game many of us would sooner, rather than later, become a part of in a little place far from home called Vietnam. 

And for many of us, the growing up began.  It began with the long and arduous training in the hot Texas desert near El Paso.  It began with the feeling of utter exhaustion and fatigue to the point of near collapse.  It began with the hunger for compassion and empathy, which had no place, we quickly learned, in a soldier’s life.  It was during those long days and weeks that turned into months, that we craved the simple life we had left behind.  And it was during those long lonely nights that some even cried at night, while some crept out in the dead of night.  And I, like many others just like me, laid still at night and thought of fields and hills, and of days of boyish mischiefs and of nights of carefree dreams.  And then, too soon, the reality of soldiering and of growing up returned for yet another long hot day of learning how to kill, maim and debilitate, but never learning how to die or mourn a soldier’s death.

This was my introduction to growing up.  Learning about mortality and finality.  Growing up is hard to do, and as I learned along the way, the process never ends.  Growing up, I came to understand, is dangerous, frightening and at times even terrifying, especially when you’re young and forced to accept the reality and the mortality of the world at war around you.  That is what happened to me and many other young Valley boys in the late ‘60s.  We wanted to grow up, to prosper and to succeed.  But most of all, we all thought about life after war, and about the endless and bountiful days that laid ahead.  Life, unfortunately, does not always work out that way.  For too many of my friends never had the chance to grow up, to prosper, or to live their dreams, because they, like me, didn’t realize nor expect the hazards we would have to overcome, nor the obstacles that life would place before us each day of every season that was to come.  Growing up is not easy – growing up is hard to do when you have to live each day under the shadow of doubt and fear.

At an early age I found that growing up is not always a gracious, patient or kind journey of the body, mind and soul.  Growing up is all about making choices and decisions, and about consequences and repercussions.  And, most of all, I found out the hard way, that growing up is about acceptance and about forgiveness.  For some of us who eventually found ourselves in Vietnam, adulthood and maturity was thrust upon us like a cold bucket of water.  It caught many of us unprepared for what we saw or what we had to do.  And we were only told to grow up and move on.  And, that life goes on.  Yet, we saw the remnants of war before us and around us, and we knew that no, life did not go on.  For farm boys or ranch boys from the Valley, or for city boys from New York or Cincinnati, or for boys and young men from parts in between, growing up came too fast, and became too real too soon.  And for some, life just ended, before it had a chance to begin. 

And in the end, it was the whispered prayers uttered by the innocent, naïve child in each of us, that kept our faith alive and our hopes and dreams flourishing in the killing fields of Vietnam.  We had no time to grow up, because in that place and at that time, growing up was hard to do.


Submitted: October 10, 2021

© Copyright 2021 A.Garcia. All rights reserved.

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