“Welcome to the first day of your colligate life.” The speakers gave way to an earsplitting screech as the Dean of Admissions walked the microphone too close to the amps.
Colligate life? She, Dani Kowalski, was in college! How did she get here again? Oh yeah, that’s right… her mothers ridiculous stipulation! As the lights dimed and the monotone administrators voice droned on she shifted back in her chair to think.
It was the evening after her big post graduation announcement. Things were finally starting to settle down.
“Listen. Eloisa,” her mother began as she timidly took a seat at the edge of her bed. “I understand that you want to follow in your fathers steps. It’s something that I admire about you honey, it really is. But I need you to promise me something.”
Dani rolled her eyes, “Okay ma, but only if you can do two things for me. One, call me Dani not Eloisa” she mock-gagged after the word emphasizing how poorly it suited her.
“And two?” Florence huffed.
“And two… stop pretending you understand my decision to enlist. I know you write it off as, ‘she’s her fathers daughter’. But really, it’s so much more than that, ma. I know you can’t really understand it but, this choice I’ve made, makes sense because of who I am not because of who Sergeant is.”
Dani paused to take a breath and consider her words carefully, “Everyone needs something to give their self to. They need a direction.”
She stopped abruptly shaking her head back and forth. “No scratch that. It’s more than a direction; it’s more like a purpose. We all need a reason to wake up and push forward to keep from going stale. That’s what enlisting means to me. Serving our country is my purpose.”
Florence sat in silence for a few excruciating minutes before speaking. “Dani,” her lips formed awkwardly around the foreign name as they forced it out. “I know it is hard for you to believe but I really do understand. You’re right; I do think you are your fathers’ daughter. You’re dedicated, dependable, honorable and more than anything else a soldier at heart. I’ve known that since you were five and kept yelling at your kindergarten class to ‘fall in’ everyday after recess.”
Florence laughed so hard at the memory she nearly fell off the edge of the bed. A wide smile still in place she continued, “I guess you don’t see it but you’re a lot like me too. You’re stubborn to a fault, you make a choice and stick with it, you stand up for what you believe in and you love fiercely without restraint (though, you don’t let people see that last one. Also, like me.) Even though your choice terrifies me, I’m proud and even happy you made it.”
Dani stared doubtfully at her mother as she continued. “I’m not going to ask you to change your mind or alter your course.”
“Okay… then what is it you want me to promise?”
“All I want is for you to promise to pursue a college degree outside of the Army. You know, at a state university that’s filled with civilians.”
Confusion washed over her, “I don’t get it. Why?”
“Honey, this is the only life you’ve known. And for that, I’m sorry. I wish you would have gotten to see more of it.” When she heard Dani start to object she quickly amended, “I mean seeing it from a perspective other than a military one. While you may have SEEN more of the world than most kids your age you haven’t really EXPERENCED it like they have.”
“And going to a state university is going to change that?”
“Yes and no. It won’t change everything about the last 18 years. But, at least you’ll have four years that you spent like any everyday person.”
Dani took her mother in, her tense shoulders, her crinkled brow. She could tell it was something Florence really wanted. Despite how rarely they ever seen eye to eye on… anything, Dani could never say no to something her mother truly wanted.
That was the moment she gave in. The moment she promised she’d choose a college and a degree she felt her spirits drop just a little. She got what she wanted, but it came at a price. She could follow through on her enlistment without worry of resentment or disapproval from her mother IF she attended college as well.
Dani felt the first real growth pain that came with being an adult, compromise. It wasn’t a terrible thing. People had compromised worse; their beliefs, their integrity for far less. At least this deal was struck to keep someone she loved content.
The lights in the auditorium buzzed as they surged back to life. Coming back from her daydream, Dani sat up in her seat. She realized she couldn’t see any of the stage. Sitting in front of her was a huge bulky figure.
Dani leaned forward and taped the boy blocking her view. “Excuse me,” she whispered, “Excuse me.”
The boy turned around. As soon as he saw her, his face went from board to attentive, already coiled for action ready to comply with whatever it was the girl tapping him wanted.
“Yeah?” he answered with an over the top smile.
“I’m sorry but I can’t see anything. Would you mind slouching down just a bit?”
The boy laughed, “Yeah, sure. Sometimes my size gets in the way.”
Dani picked up on the double entendre. Something about the way he said it made it clear he was proud of his excessive muscles.
“Thanks. I appreciate it.”
“No problem…” He held out the last word waiting for her to finish the sentence.
“Dani.” She answered to his implied question.
He smiled even wider, “I’m Tony. I’ll try and make myself as small as possible for you, Dani.”
Just then the smaller boy sitting next to him leaned over and shushed Toni. Dani couldn’t see much of him aside from a disheveled mop of hair and one piercing blue-green eye was visible in his angular profile. She only saw is face for a moment but she thought he looked kind.
She sighed. Maybe her mom was right. Maybe getting to know a kind civilian or two wouldn’t be the worst thing ever.