Marilyn Alkire, United States Navy
Hanging out in the garage with my husband, Jeff, while he waxed his truck, the song “The House That Built Me” came on the radio. Sung by Miranda Lambert, it is about her having gone back to her childhood home and introducing herself to the current owner as having grown up in the house. She sings about how those were her handprints on the front steps, how she learned to play guitar in the back bedroom, and how her favorite dog is buried in the front yard, under the oak tree. As Jeff and I finished listening to the song, we got to talking about our own childhoods. Having been married for so long, we knew each other’s stories but the song had brought on the memory of something similar that I had done.
Jeff grew up in the same house in the small town of Rogers, AR, and had the same group of friends until he left to join the Marine Corps. Even to this day, he’s still very close to most of them and I always felt he was lucky to still have that one very best friend from childhood.
I, on the other hand, grew up a Navy Brat and moved around a lot. As a young child, I was very shy but quickly outgrew my shyness. My siblings and I would cry and complain about having to move and lose our friends again, but my mother would always tell us that we’d make new ones and “if you want to make friends, you first have to be one.” Today, there is not a shy bone in my body and everyone is my “friend.”
Little Creek Amphibious Base, Virginia Beach, VA
“Mom!” I yelled, slamming the screen door behind me. “I’m home!” I threw my bookbag down on the hallway floor and ran to the kitchen, where I knew she would be. After giving her a hug and a kiss, I asked if I could go outside to the park because Charlene, my very best friend, was waiting for me. Like me, she was in the fifth grade, but where I was dark and tall, she was short and blonde. And because we were inseparable, everyone started calling me Marlene. Charlene and Marlene, best friends forever.
We lived in base housing and both our fathers were deployed on ships. I loved living in base housing because we were like one big, giant family where we all took care of each other. Most of the fathers worked on base or were on six-month deployments, and there were other kids everywhere, all allowed to play outside until the streetlights came on. The houses were all connected together, much like townhouses, each one having a very small yard. And when I say very, I mean VERY. Each house had a garage but most families parked their car in the driveway or out on the street, and most cars had a bumper sticker that read “Navy wife- the toughest job in the Navy”. Charlene and I once counted eighteen cars on our block alone that had that bumper sticker. Arms linked together, skipping along, we chanted “Never a Navy wife, never a Navy wife, never a Navy wife…” We laughed and said that we’d never be a Navy wife but would join the Navy ourselves.
When I finally met up with Charlene at the park, she was sitting on one of the benches, crying. I plopped down next to her.
“What’s wrong” I asked.
“My dad’s coming home next week” she answered, wiping her tears away.
“That’s great! Happy tears?” I playfully nudged my leg against hers.
“Nooo!” She wailed, starting to cry again. “We-we’re moving next month, he-he’s getting stationed in San Diego” she stammered, crying even harder with me joining along.
USS Wasp (LHD-1), Norfolk, VA
It’s been about a year since I’ve been stationed aboard the mighty warship, USS Wasp (LHD-1). I had joined the Navy with the intent to become a photojournalist, but somehow got thrown into aircraft firefighting. As one of the only two females in the Crash & Salvage Crew (and in all of the Navy at that time) I worked really hard to prove to myself and to the big, muscled Crash guys, that I could do the job. It was very hard work but I really enjoyed it; and because it was such a masculine job, I always wore red lipstick and fingernail polish to remind myself that I was still a girl.
We were getting ready to be deployed the following year so I was sent to Little Creek Amphibious Base, Virginia Beach, for some additional training. I had always meant to go and visit the base that was a big part of my childhood, but never had any time. Now was the perfect opportunity.
The training was three days long and on the last day, we were let out early. Before heading back to Norfolk, I decided to drive through base housing, which was actually off base. As I was getting ready to turn left to enter through the gate, I had to smile when I turned on the blinker, remembering that as a child, I had always thought that the rhythmic clicking sound of the blinker was our car’s way of letting us know that we were almost home.
Even though I had not been there in fifteen years, I still remembered exactly how to get to Juno Rd, the street I lived on. Everything pretty much looked the same, and as I passed the park that Charlene and I used to play at, a flashback of her last day came to mind. I had taken a pocket knife out of my dad’s toolbox and met her at the park for the very last time. Sitting on the very bench of when she had told me that she was moving, we vowed to be best friends forever, and now blood sisters. We had watched a movie where two boys had cut themselves on their fingers and mashed their wounds together, their blood mixing and binding them together forever. We decided to do that, too. I brought the knife and she brought the Band-Aids. Bravely, we took turns cutting ourselves (more of a prick with the tip of the knife), then rubbed our bloodied fingers together, hugging and crying at the same time. Once our fingers were bandaged and our tears dried up, we decided that since we still had the pocket knife, we would carve our names into a tree. It took us awhile but we did it. Charlene & Marlene – BFF. Reading our crudely carved names sent us into another bout of crying.
I found the house we lived in and since it was early afternoon, there were not much cars parked around. I parked in front but across the street, with a perfect view of my old house. Nothing much had changed – even the very small yard looked the same. When we had first moved in, my mom had planted some flowers and did a tiny bit of landscaping. My mom had a green thumb and it showed in her work. We had won “Yard of the Month” so many times that my mom started feeling sorry for her friends and would purposely not do anything, giving the chance to others. I had thought that was nice of her but at the same time, missed the free base movie tickets that were given out as prizes.
I felt like a stalker, watching the house, but decided that if anyone questioned me (after all, I’m sure everyone still looked after each other) I would just tell them the truth, even as cheesy or sentimental it might be. I just sat in my car, memories flooding me. I was parked directly in front of Denise’s house, where her garage faced mine. Denise was in the 11th grade and the only one on our block who had a serious boyfriend. Charlene and I would sit in my garage and watch Denise and her boyfriend, Dennis, make out and have heavy petting sessions in her garage, where the whole world could see. Either they didn’t care or they were just so into each other, nobody else existed. Charlene and I were grossed out, yet intrigued, by their display. We’d talk about how it would be like when we got our first kiss and if we’d use our tongue or not. We’d say “Eeewww” but secretly hoped it would happen soon. She once brought up the idea that we could practice on each other, which I quickly shot down, yelling “GROSS!!!” She laughed and said it was just a joke – that she wanted her first kiss to be with Scott Baio. I wanted mine to be with Rick Springfield.
Since my father was always gone, my mom parked our car in the driveway and let us kids use the garage as a hang-out. We had a mini-fridge in there that was always stocked with 7-Up cans and Capri-Sun juice pouches. My mom loved to bake so there was always an endless supply of cookies for the neighborhood kids. I was a middle child with an older sister and younger brother. Charlene was also a middle child, so together we formed the Middle Child Club. There was only one requirement to be a member, and even though I felt bad for our other friends who weren’t middle children, I was adamant about that one requirement. I was the president of the club because the meetings were held in my garage, every Wednesday afternoon, with my mom serving us cookies and milk. There were about six of us and basically all we did was complain about our siblings: how it wasn’t fair that we got hand-me-down clothing while the older ones got brand new clothes; the younger ones were spoiled babies and got away with everything; and as middle children, we were expected to be good at all times and be the peacekeepers between the other two. In a way, I guess it was kind of like a support group, where we could voice our complaints and share stories of the latest injustice done to us as a middle child. I did notice, however, that after these meetings, my mom would pay extra attention to me.
After about ten minutes of just sitting in the car, reminiscing about my time here on Juno Rd, I decided to get out and stretch my legs. I walked down the street in front of Tina’s house. Tina was my sister’s best friend and her younger sister, Toni, was a friend of mine and Charlene’s. I walked slowly on the sidewalk in front of their house, looking down, trying to find the cement square that my sister and Tina had written their names on when the cement was still wet. Found it! Maricel was here – 1981 and Tina. Tina’s name was written inside of a drawn heart. I couldn’t wait until I spoke to my sister so I could tell her what I had found. It made me want to go to the park and try to find the tree where Charlene and I had carved our names. But I knew it would probably be a lost cause because when I had passed by the park earlier, I noticed that a lot of trees had been chopped down to make room for new playground equipment. Besides, even if the tree was still there, who knew how much taller it had grown in fifteen years.
I walked a little further down and stopped in front of Tony’s house. Tony was in 9th grade but had a gang of elementary school kids that followed him around. Charlene and I didn’t like him because he always called us “Lezzies” and make kissing sounds to us. We usually ignored him but I once asked Charlene, “How would you like him to be your first kiss?”
“Eeewww! Gross!” she yelled, as we both burst out laughing.
When I found out that my nine-year old brother started hanging out with Tony and his base housing thugs, I immediately told my mom. I was apparently too late, because that very afternoon, base police came to our door, with my brother in tow. He and two other boys had been caught stealing hubcaps (in broad daylight!) off cars. When questioned, they ratted out Tony, who apparently had them doing this and bringing the hubcaps to one of the deserted dug-outs at the baseball field. When base police went to the dug-out, Tony was there, with a pile of stolen hubcaps. It turned out, that a friend of a friend of Tony’s uncle ran a used tire/car lot and paid Tony for the hubcaps. Tony would then pay the younger kids in candy and snacks.
I don’t remember what happened to Tony, but I do remember that after that incident, my sister had a friend, Melissa, sleep over. Melissa’s younger brother was one of the boys who also got caught stealing hubcaps. My sister and Melissa both decided to sneak out of the house while my mom was asleep, and even though I saw them climb out her window, onto the roof, and down a drainpipe, I knew I wouldn’t tell on them – for now. Maybe I would use this information to blackmail my sister at another time.
My sister and Melissa came home about two hours later, climbing back up onto the roof. But since I liked to antagonize my sister (payback for always being mean to me), I had locked her window. My sister then came to my window, frantically knocking on it. I got up and asked her what she wanted. She started cussing at me, trying not to yell. I brought my finger to my mouth to shush her, then grabbed a notebook and wrote: I’ll let you in only if you tell me where you went. I held it up so she could read it. She started making angry motions with her hands so I turned around and acted like I was going back to bed. She knocked back on the window to get my attention. I looked over to see her nodding her head yes, but still with a pissed-off look on her face. I nervously opened the window and hurriedly jumped back, in case she tried to hit me. I guess since Melissa was with her, she didn’t. In a low voice, I asked them where they went. “None of your freakin’ business!” was my sister’s answer. I just shrugged and said, “I’m telling Ma.” She grabbed my arm to stop me and told me where she and Melissa had gone. They had gone to Tony’s house and on his garage door, had smeared peanut butter with dry cat food, spelling out the words SHITBAG and THIEF. I thought it was funny but felt sorry for his parents because they were really nice.
I made my way back to my old house and saw that the garage door was open. A red-headed woman, who looked to be in her early thirties, was getting groceries out of the trunk of a car. I giggled to myself when I saw the requisite Navy Wife bumper sticker. She must have pulled in while I was taking a walk down the street. I walked up the driveway and stood at the garage door.
“Excuse me!?” I said loudly, to get her attention. She turned around, still holding a bag of groceries.
“Hi, my name is Marilyn. I don’t mean to bother you but I just wanted to introduce myself and let you know why I’m here…”
After putting down her bag of groceries, we started talking. She invited me in, but I declined, saying that I had to leave soon, to beat the traffic going back to Norfolk. I told her that for four of the best years of my childhood, I had lived in her house, making memories on Juno Rd, and that I was now in the Navy myself. She told me that she was a Navy wife (toughest job in the Navy), had two school-age children, and that her husband was on a six-month deployment (surprise, surprise). I asked her how she and her children liked living there and we compared notes. Turns out, nothing much had changed.
Marilyn Alkire served in the United States Navy from 1996 to 2006. An Aviation Boatswain Mate Handler (Air Warfare Specialist), she trained in aircraft firefighting. Her various duty commands include the USS Wasp (LHD-1); Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland; USS Roosevelt (CVN-71); and Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma, AZ.
An alumnus of CFCC, Marilyn has been involved with StoryForce since its inception in 2012. This is her fifth year writing for StoryForce. Marilyn is married to a former Marine and together they have four sons. Having lived in Wilmington, NC, for twelve years, they now call Wilmington their home.