Bleached white buildings grew from the ground, the Moorish architecture haunting the landscape. We passed through the iron gates, noticing that the barbed wire atop the fence faced inward. Emerging on to the parade ground and my back stiffened and I caught myself holding my breath.

We parked in the first space available; I was hoping for, and found, something that would allow for a quick exit. Numbness swept over my body as I surveyed the land. We walked around the edge of the parade ground taking in our surroundings. Mothballed planes, tanks, and helicopters stood guard over little to nothing. As we walked, I felt nothing save for the cold wind blowing from the Ashley River. We had returned to my alma mater…

The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, was where I learned to be “a whole man.” Walking through the campus ten years after my graduation it still held a minute amount of power over me. Our trip through the gates was the first time in ten years that I wanted to return. I needed to see if it still had a hold on me. I wanted to know if my resentment of this school was justified.

We returned to see a Friday afternoon parade, only we had arrived an hour and fifteen minutes early. I watched as some cadets milled around in full dress salt and pepper, the uniform for the afternoon’s festivities. They were giving tours to prospective students and my wife asked if I wanted to run over and tell them to go somewhere else…

I don’t hate the school; I just don’t know it anymore. I am no longer who I was when I was a cadet. I thank God for that. This is a place the feasts on your insecurities. It takes a person and strips them of all of their uniqueness in the misguided attempt to pour them into a one-size fits all pattern. My younger brother said it best (he graduated from the Citadel in 1998) when he said it would steal your personality if you bought into the system. I think that is why I don’t talk about it much. I think, if I dig deep enough, that I let The Citadel take away pieces of who I am and that ticks me off.

Don’t get me wrong; The Citadel got me through a tough time in my life. It forced me to discipline myself and do the work necessary to graduate from college. Ten years later, I still don’t know if it was worth it though. The Citadel taught me that compassion was weakness and people needed a kick in the ass not a helpful hand. The Citadel taught me that hope was worthless and what we needed was to scare people into submission. The Citadel took someone with a proclivity for caring, and told him it was worthless and that all this world cares about is results. The worst part was that I bought most of it. I hated who they told me to hate; when they screamed at me I learned to scream at others. I could feel myself slowly melting away, being recast into nothing more than a hollow shell of a person.

These are the personal memories that flood back every time I think about college. When I entered the campus that day, they came back in a deluge. This is the personal trauma that I will carry with me forever. As we sat waiting for the parade to begin, I remembered bits and pieces of my life on campus. I remembered push-ups, high stepping, polishing brass and shoes. I remembered classes and classmates, girlfriends and church groups, parades and sports. These are the things that mitigate my sadness, the things that help me when I remember what has been taken from me.

We could hear the band as it competed with the Carillon Tower. The sounds of bagpipes floated effortlessly on the breeze, only to be answered by the bells of the tower. I heard the trumpet sound in the battalions and the knobs (freshman, whose heads are shaved and thus look like doorknobs) head out to formation. The marching began shortly thereafter. Company after company of wool clad men and women filed out of the barracks and lined up in the appropriate spot. They saluted, completed the manual of arms, and fired the cannons. Just like they did ten years ago, just like they’ll do ten years from now.

My wife and I snapped pictures, and I whispered explanations as best as I could remember. It was surreal in many ways. When the cadets began to march off of the parade ground, I knew it was time to go. I am appreciative of my wife’s patience as I dealt with long dead demons that day. I knew when we were heading to Charleston that it was time to return, to attempt to make peace with that part of myself.

I don’t know that I will ever fully believe myself to be a “Citadel Man.” The only thing that ties me to that place is my college ring, which I rarely wear, and a diploma. Someday, I might return to a class reunion, to see who is fat, who is happy, how many times people have been divorced, who else has struggled with these same demons.

Even as I write this now, I can hear the band playing in my head and the thumping of two thousand cadets marching in unison. I can see myself in formation, executing gate turns, telling knobs to stay in step. When I remember college a hardness forms within me that I do not like. The person I remember is but a shadow of the person I am today. I am no longer completely bound by the memories of who I was then. I no longer want to run from that part of me. I know that the only way I will find peace is if I can embrace who I was and be who I am.

I am Lazarus, only not all of the decay is gone yet. I am Lazarus and I have seen the stone roll away from my tomb, yet I have not entered the daylight. I am Lazarus and the bindings of my death are loosening, and I am beginning to live again…

grace and peace



Visit InfoServe for blogger templates