Going the Distance
Life is full of hard knocks. I was raised in a broken down apartment, by my single mother. She tried her best to support my sister and me. There were five apartments in each complex. There must have been at least ten trashy buildings pushed together by government funding. Each apartment had up to ten people hiding away in it. There were enough people to create our own city. The walls were so thin that I could smell the fried foods, and hear the neighbors yelling at their kids from the next apartment. The apartments stunk of bug spray, and roaches crawled out from under the doors. My clothes were handed down from my older sister who had a problem of wetting herself. My mother washed the clothes in the sink. They were stained, old, and some had holes in them. What few friends I did have were other poor boys like me. We would often get picked on. I considered the rich kids to be bigger bullies than us hood rats. They acted like they were better than the rest of us, because they had the best of clothes and toys. The rich kids also got enjoyment out of picking on the ones that were poor, like me. It was really hard not to let the clean-cut bullies get the best of me.
I kept to myself. Most of my time was spent staying inside. I would sit around watching anything that came on the three-channel television. Often, I would wonder why I had to live this way. Like maybe I did something wrong, and this was God’s way of punishing me. My cabin fever would set in mostly on hot sunny days when I could hear all of the other kids playing outside and having fun. Most of my childhood was spent hidden in those roach-infested apartments. I remember sitting in my closet one night. It was dark, and I would wonder why life was so painful for me; it felt like hundreds of roaches were crawling on me. I would kill the ones I could by pinching them with my fingers. It kind of took my anger out. I was a bully to those little bugs. It made me feel better about myself. I can feel those roaches crawling on me to this day. My breaking point had been pushed on for far too long. It was my decision in my junior year of High School that I did not want to stay in the hell hole any longer. So I, Andrew Harris, left class one day and never returned. I dropped out of school. Two months later, I passed the test to get my GED. I felt successful. For the first time in my life I was happy. None of my family accomplished anything. I felt that nothing was impossible for me to accomplish, if only I had put my mind to it. There were a few options; I could flip burgers, make tacos, or enlist in the military. Fast-food places smelled like vomit. It wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I felt I had deserved better. Two months after I turned 17, I ran into a recruiter, in the subway, from the New York Army National Guard. I remember the train ride to his office on that cold early morning. Everyone stared at him in his uniform, and some people even shook his hand. I became more nervous with each step as we approached his office door. His name was Sergeant First Class Arnold Townsend. He was tall, clean shaven, had a muscular build, very little hair, and a deep voice. There were plaques with medals, flags, models of military tanks, and trucks on every shelf. A large picture of an eagle with a United States flag in its claws was painted on one side wall. We had a very long conversation about military life. He started out by telling me that joining the military was a big decision. There could be times when I would stand in harm’s way. He spoke of his tour in war just after the invasion of Iraq. Many of his friends had been killed by sniper fire and mortars. That part of the conversation was intimidating. The thought of death ran through my mind; I was worried. He then pointed out that by joining the service, I could go to college for free. I wanted to make a better life for...
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