By Sarah Flores, United States Marine Corps
My earliest memory of writing was around the fifth grade when I was supposed to write a fictional short story. I don’t remember writing as much as I remember sitting down with my mother crying from the painfully constipated block of words. Like any mother, she coached me through it. She encouraged me to push it out, sometimes helping with the occasional sentence or two. I don’t know why some memories stick while others, probably more significant ones, don’t. Nonetheless, the hours of hard writing in which my mother broke down and wrote an absurd story about a Christian ghost who haunts bad children is one memory that has stuck with me; I ended up hating writing. I found it illogical, ridiculous, and senseless so much so that I also stopped reading. I never moved past R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. In high school, Cliff notes saved me from having to dog-ear a page or crease a spine, which was perfect for an easy grade but a disservice to the would be lessons. I could have learned from Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage protagonist, Henry Fleming, about the difference between courage and cowardice. If I would have read George Orwell’s, 1984 I probably would have never joined the military.
I joined the Marine Corps without having read stories parallel to my own, to which I could have compared and contrasted to make a better decision. Instead, I stepped into the world on my own without any concept of how cruel it could be. Being in the Marine Corps for eight years proved how cruel the world can be. I was raped twice while serving my country. At eighteen, I had no clear definition of rape. It wasn’t something that was talked about at home or the community I grew up in. I never knew a person could or would want to physically abuse another person’s body like a pincushion. I was told I was raped the second time when I confided in my roommate what had happened the night before. As was her duty, she reported the crime up the chain of command. Being that we were at the bottom of the chain, more people found out than should have. They found out not only what had happened, but also whom it had happened to. The crime went to trial, and the rapist was found not guilty of rape but guilty of consensual sex. The jury didn’t believe him or me. They split the metaphorical baby down the middle. The only thing worse for me than not being believed was realizing that I had been raped before, except that time I was ignorant to it, so it hurt less.
During and after the trial, I was seeing a therapist for insomnia, hyper-vigilance, high anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations, alcohol abuse, and the list goes on; they called it PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), something else I was unfamiliar with. Now that I knew what rape was, I could remember being raped twice in my youth and now twice in the military. As anyone can imagine, it was a lot to be made aware of at once. I blamed myself. I felt used, unwanted, like trash, filthy, unworthy of anything good, and targeted. I sank into a deep depression and tried to kill myself by bottle and knife, anything to get rid of the memories playing on a loop in my mind. As horribly broken as I was on the inside I hid it every day I put on my uniform. I had to. I had to do better and be better than my rapists. I never wanted them on top of me again not even in rank, so I created an alter ego, Sgt Flores. She was cold-blooded, afraid of nothing, conquered everything−a model marine by anyone’s standards−and it was all true, as long as my uniform was on. Once it came off, even the satellites from space could see my pus-filled wounds oozing from infection.
I wasn’t well, and it showed when I finally broke when a close friend and lover was drugged and raped. Like a fly in a spider’s web, I felt caught, trapped even. No matter how hard I struggled to free myself from the world of rape, it would never let me go. I did my best to help my friend through the invasive scrapping, prodding, and scanning of the medical exam, the pills to prevent pregnancy and STD, the physical pain of moving, but it all got to be too much. I tried to kill myself again before the spider came for me. My friend who I helped through her trauma convinced me to check myself into rehab. It was a hard adjustment. I had to break from my alter ego, realize I was in a world where rape is real even though it is hidden, and find an outlet for my anger, pain, and guilt other than booze and sharp objects. I fought my therapist every step of the way. I wanted my protector, Sgt Flores. I didn’t want to believe in a wicked world where women are treated the way that they are.
Finding a different outlet was the simplest out of the three because there were no alcohol or knives around. The sharpest thing in rehab was a pen. I used my pen to cut open letters from the few friends who knew where I was or to gut the dirt out from under my uncut fingernails. I used my pen as tool for grooming and correspondence. I used rehab in a similar way, as a way of escape rather than for its intended purpose. I would sit in group therapy and not share, sit alone for each meal, avoid other patients, and not really communicate in my one-on-one therapy sessions. Thankfully, I had a very patient therapist who gave me a composition book instead of making vain attempts to have a conversation. She told me to write each time I felt depressed, wanted to drink or am already drunk. At any moment I am unable or unwilling to talk, I should use my pen to speak for me. I took her advice because it was better than cleaning my fingernails, and the longer that I was in rehab, the less often letters came. Some people drown or bury their demons; I stabbed mine with a pen.
Sgt Sarah H. Flores enlisted into the Marine Corps delayed entry program on 23 June 2006. After high school graduation, she was shipped to MCRD Parris Island, SC. Upon completion from Marine Corps boot camp on 23 February 2007 as Private First Class (PFC), she was ordered to report to Camp Geiger, NC for Marine Corps Combat Training (MCT). With the completion of training, she was sent to her Primary Military Occupational Specialty (PMOS) in 29 Palms, CA to be trained as a Field Radio Operator. Once meeting all of the qualifications she was sent to her first duty station 7th Communications Battalion in Okinawa, Japan. In August 2007, PFC Flores was promoted to Lance Corporal (LCpl) then attached to 9th Engineer Support Battalion (ESB) for cold weather operations in Korea. In 2008, LCpl Flores was promoted to Corporal (Cpl) during her time with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) that participated in operations throughout the Pacific. Cpl Flores completed her overseas assignment and was ordered to Cherry Point, NC to check into 28th Communications Battalion in 2009. Shortly after arrival she was sent on a detachment to Afghanistan in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF). While in support of OEF, she volunteered for the developing Female Engagement Team (FET), which, after training, attached her to an infantry unit in the southernmost tip of Helmand province. While serving in Afghanistan, Cpl Flores earned a meritorious Combat promotion to Sergeant (Sgt). Returning to Cherry Point, NC Sgt Flores volunteered to deploy on the 22nd MEU in support of operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR in the Mediterranean Sea. Sgt Flores received an honorable discharge from the United States Marine Corps after eight years of faithful service on 30 June 2014.