From The Grio — I remember my last shift as cashier at a local 7-11 store. I was 19, no older than my own children, when I got into my car and pulled out of the parking lot. It wasn’t my only job.
I was a full-time college student and running pizzas for Domino’s. It was just after 7 a.m. and I had just enough time for a quick nap in my beat up old Honda before the first class of the day.
“Is this all there is?” I remember saying out loud to nobody.
When I wasn’t ringing up lottery tickets on the graveyard shift, speeding through residential neighborhoods to deliver food to waiting customers or sitting in the back of a crowded lecture hall, I was snatching bits of sleep in various parking lots. Every so often, I stopped by my older sister’s house to wash my clothes and shower.
Hours later, I found myself driving aimless around north St. Louis. My life, I knew, was falling a part. There was a tattered journal in the backseat. Somewhere in those pages lay the dream of becoming a journalist. I wanted to be a local news anchor. I was too afraid to tell anyone; too afraid they would laugh.
Tired, I pulled into a shopping center, reclined the seat and opened the notebook. I hadn’t written a word in months. As I flipped through the pages, someone knocked on my window.
“What are you doing out here, young lady?” he said, smiling.
“You look hungry.”
I shrugged again.
He said his name was sergeant somebody. “Come on inside.”
We talked for hours. About my life, about his. He was a sergeant in the Marine Corps, he explained, and like me he’d had a hard time finding his way. “I cannot promise you’ll get to be a reporter,” he said. “There are very few job openings and it’s very competitive.”
It was likely, he explained, that I would be assigned to be an admin. “But at least you won’t be sleeping in your car.”
That was enough for me.
A few days later, after more marathon talks and taking the ASVAB test, I signed the enlistment forms and joined. It was Mother’s Day 1987. When I called my mother to say I was shipping out, she screamed “Hallelujah”! For years, she’d dealt equal doses of support and tough love. Maybe, she said, the Marines can help you figure it out.