It was still early in the afternoon and I had no idea what I was going to do for the rest of the day since I didn’t know anybody so on my way back to the barracks I stopped at the library to get some books. Due to all the time I’d spent in Barnes and Noble before joining the army, reading all sorts of books had developed into my preferred manner of killing time. But, in reality, I wasn’t much of a reader. As I looked around and tried to figure out what kind of books might keep me busy, an interesting thought occurred to me. I’d been there about a week and based on my experiences thus far, I was worried that I was living in a culture vacuum. All the guys in my section, my roommate, and pretty much everyone else I’d met seemed to only care about getting drunk, getting into fights, discussing various parts of the female anatomy, showing off how tough they were, and generally all manner of caveman type activities. Now I was all for drinking and female companionship but where I was from we never sat around and talked about it constantly. So I was kind of worried about how I would get along with the guys in the barracks. I wanted to fit in but I didn’t want to become just like them. With that in mind I decided to borrow some books that not only interested me but that would challenge my mind a bit. This, I thought, would keep me from becoming a caveman myself.
I got my books and headed back to the barracks where a bunch of the guys were hanging around outside. In front of our barracks was a little barbecue area with a big stone grill. On the weekends a lot of the guys would get a bunch of beer and meat and continue the age old American tradition of grilling and getting drunk on watery beer. I hadn’t really talked to any of them since I was still in Head Start and none of them were particularly welcoming so I just walked into the barracks without even looking at them, although a big part of me really wanted to join them. As I was walking in SGT Hanover yelled over to me and told me to hang on. He walked over, beer in hand, and asked what I was up to and I said “nothing much, spent the morning walking around downtown and now I got some books so I figured I just go up to the room and do some reading.” Hanover looked down at the stack of books I was holding and asked to see what I was reading. He looked at the book on top – a collection of poems by Robert Frost – and got a confused look on his face, then a half-smile. “Goddamn Thibodeau, what are you, some kind of scholar?” I laughed and made a joke about wanting to keep my mind sharp and then his face took on its familiar solemn look and he kind of looked a bit uncomfortable in this semi-social situation. “Well, we’re just drinking some beers and cooking some food….you can join us if you want…” I said thanks and that I’d come down after putting my stuff away.
Well, this was it, I was finally about to hang out with the guys. I was actually pretty nervous, like I was the new kid at school who was being invited to a party for the first time where you didn’t really know anybody. I had never been a very outgoing person and didn’t make friends very easily so I was probably more uncomfortable than anything. These were people that I had no experience hanging out with. Even in the reserves most of the people I knew were college students or people with families. I didn’t have much “caveman” in me so I wasn’t sure I’d fit in very well because I had no intention of changing my personality just to be one of the guys. As it turned out, most of them were pretty cool. Of course it helped that they had been drinking for a while and were a bit friendlier than they might have been otherwise. What I didn’t realize at the time was that in the military, people are constantly coming and going. People leave, new people arrive. So being the new guy wasn’t really any big deal. To them, everything was the same except that there was a new person around. To me, I was the same but the entire world around me was new.