a Cautionary Tale
She didn't like him driving such a hot sports car. She thought it
sent the wrong message to other women. He wasn't a bachelor any
longer, he was her man. She had to protect her investments:
youth, beauty, energy – herself. Can't go wasting all that
on a man who'll run off with the next woman who falls for the car
... or the shiny gold bar on the driver's swelled chest.
So she did the only thing she knew to do: she bribed him.
"You know that big new truck you saw? I think you should get it
as a graduation present to yourself. You deserve it ... think of
it as a well-deserved reward for your brand new commission.
Besides, a man needs something to haul his stuff in."
With a sinking heart, he made the trade. It wasn't so bad. It did
make him feel strong and manly, above the little people with
their little cars. Sure, he'd miss driving his old car – it
was a real chick magnet! But the truck
made him feel POWERFUL! And, his wife was right,
he did deserve it.
Soon, he'd be rumbling around in tanks, a real leader of
men, but the truck made him feel stronger now, and taller
– definitely taller. Also, hauling big
stuff, like the generator and the lumber he'd just bought, made
him feel about as manly as he'd ever felt.
Sort of made him swagger a little.
One bright day, his orders for bow-lick, the Basic
Officer's Leader Course, arrived and he was, on many levels,
quite nervous. This was his first assignment away from home.
However, if he was reading the geopolitical scene correctly, it
would be the first of many.
Should they move wherever he was assigned? What was housing like?
More importantly, would his wife leave her good job to go with
him, and follow him from post to post?
His wife blind-sided him. "Take my car to BOLC," she said, "it
gets better mileage than the truck." Her choice of words stunned
him. My car, but the truck? He
was too shocked to do anything but concur. Once again, she had
taken command of, and made real, a situation that still felt
vague and overwhelming to him. All he had to do was to follow
orders: show up on time, at the right place, in the right
When he departed for BOLC, he couldn't meet her eyes. His
lion avoided her lioness, and she rode her
power as she did his – the truck –
confidently, not looking back. He hid behind his new
cooler-than-cool sunglasses, and when he arrived at Fort Benning,
comforted himself with a raft of paramilitary purchases: a
state-of-the-art set of binoculars, a big complicated wristwatch,
and a frighteningly sharp combat knife.
The first day, he felt lost. Although the four-hundred man
classroom was only half full, a mass of soldiers filed out after
the last class of the day. To restore his own confidence, he
walked slowly while the others ran – to the smoking area,
to their cars, to pester a reluctant teacher with questions. He
thought of the good-looking, tall, desert boots he wore –
buckle boots were an Armor tradition. He thought they made him
look as he wanted to be: sophisticated, smart, a leader. They
clearly set him apart from the sea of Infantry pogues in his
He stopped abruptly in the hall, and, not surprisingly, a
classmate barreled into him. The classmate muttered an apology
and barely missed a step, but the pudgy soldier seemed mentally
as well as physically off-balance.
To regain some sense of control over his fantasy image of
himself, he eased from the stream of exiting troops and stood up
as strong and tall as he could under a bright skylight, ready to
play his next scene.
He deliberately pulled a case from a chest pocket. He loved his
uniform, and its many pockets. Just as deliberately, he removed
his shiny, new, wraparound sunglasses from their case, replaced
the case in its pocket, and with both hands and a small flourish,
donned the glasses.
He caught himself before he smoothed his thinning hair. No need
to draw attention to that, he thought.
With studied defiance of the post's rule prohibiting tobacco
usage indoors – after all, a man's gotta do what a man's
gotta do – he lovingly drew a tin of the snuff du
jour from another pocket, and took a dip.
His image of himself was now complete, and he was sure that
anyone who passed by could see how strong, how
masculine, he was.
A persistent DLIC was questioning the instructor, who was trying
to escape and evade into the designated smoking area.
All were oblivious to the chubby pogue, an ROTC campus star made
small in the active duty Army, yet he nodded amiably to them, as
if to signal an attentive audience that the show was over –
they could leave now.
Out of the spotlight and into the anonymity of the shadowed
hallway he stepped, leaving the performer persona behind. He
walked down the hall a man, like any other –
offstage, neither tall nor swaggering. When he emerged into the
bright sunlight, he seemed dazed, despite the protection of his
He poised before entering the parking lot, on the edge of an
abyss, summoning his courage before stepping off into it to find
his wife's car. He felt like a combatant ready to cross a field
under grazing fire, or a soldier dispatched into a minefield.
He advanced to his wife's car and stopped, checking the
perimeter. Good. No one looking. He climbed quickly into the
chartreuse Volkswagen. Soon lost amongst the exiting
POVs, he headed for the BOQ and another night of miserable
Every night, he phoned his wife to ease his loneliness. Every
night, she seemed more confident, more positive, more assertive
"I love driving my truck," she said. Not
the truck. He heard her clearly.
The damage was done. Her truck?
"Yeah, you know, it makes me feel strong, tall, and, um, kind of
sexy. When I climb out of it I actually catch myself
swaggering, or strutting, as my grandma would say." She
giggled, missing his groan of dismay.
"I've got to go, hon," he said, hanging up the phone.
by Jill J. Christensen
... who is a writer, editor, and illustrator, currently employed
at the U.S. Army Infantry School. She has compiled an infantry
glossary as a professional resource, and contributes the
pictorial column entitled The Observation Post
to this magazine.