Kelly was the popular name at Daddy Jim’s Preschool for half a dozen boys.
So, it shouldn’t have been a surprise when the Coast Guard screwed up my entry to boot camp. Correct destination – the coed Cape May. Wrong company – all male.
Mildly anxious on the cross-country flight, I lost my fear on a puddle jumper during the last leg of the journey. Allegany Airlines, or Agony Airlines as my seat-mate moaned. I gave him a sidelong glance. His lips were white and pale fingers clutched the seatback in front of him.
His eyes slid to mine. “Are you going to bootcamp?”
The prop plane roared to life as his Adam’s apple bobbed. If he was this undone by the flight, I wasn’t going to have trouble. One eye on the barf bag, in case I needed to hand it over, I relaxed into my seat.
Induction was a blur. Hurry up and wait the mantra.
When inoculations began, I was asked to swab arms. The guys towered over me as they received multiple injections before moving on, or falling to the floor in a dead faint. Grinning wasn’t an option but my cheeks hurt.
The barracks turned out to be a problem.
“You’re a girl.” Voiced by many, hovered between statement and question.
There’s really no good answer to the obvious so I maintained my silence.
Hours in, I was approached by a burly guy with broad shoulders and a clip board. “This is an all -male company. Do you play an instrument?”
“Sort of the sax.” I replied. Which was sort of true. I’d spent my eighth-grade year hidden behind an alto sax with part of the body caved in. Private lessons, when the problem was discovered, weren’t much help.
He turned and walked off.
I followed across the quad of marching sailors and into a brick building.
“Unused barracks.” He led me upstairs and into a large room of vacant cots. “You’ll sleep here tonight. Someone will come get you tomorrow.”
Exhausted, I tossed the seabag onto a spare bunk and slept to morning.
Morning turned into afternoon. I’d been told to wait, so I waited until I heard boots thumping up the stairs. Another crewcut, older and thinner, came into view. When he stopped mid-step a boy, with a slumped spine and coke bottle glasses, smacked into his back.
“What are you doing here? This area is for section eights. Are you a section eight?”
I had no idea what he meant. “They put me in an all-male company and asked me to wait here.”
Too disciplined to roll his eyes, crewcut gave me a look before turning to his charge. “Stay here. Don’t bother each other.”
No one bothered us for hours. We stared at each other. My stomach rumbled but no way was I going to leave when I’d been told to stay.
Maybe they’d made a mistake and were about to send me home.
Instead, a young man with ruddy cheeks peeked his head into the barracks and looked my way. “Come with me.”
I grabbed my things and we stepped into the blustery winter chill where clouds sat full and wet on the pavement. We crossed the empty gray quad in silence then entered a lively, warm room full of color and sound. Sheet music fluttered on stands as instruments were tuned.
The Band Director waved at me from the podium. “Get an instrument and sit there.”
I did as instruct. Positioning myself beside real saxophone players.
The band started up as I tried to overcome my lack of skill.
The director winced. Waived the band to silence and looked at me. “You. Don’t play.”
Arms wide, he struck up the band. Listened to the melodies, then once again silenced them.
“You.” The baton swung my way. “Never play again.”