*I’d never really looked too much into why Nolan left college to join the Marine Corps. I did just that with this story. Also, reveal a bit of Nolan’s secret(that I’ve hinted at before), that at the moment(he’s about 20 here) he’s still uncomfortable and confused about.
Nolan Hunter sat slouched in his seat in the middle of the auditorium. He could have skipped class for all this professor would have noticed. He didn’t like these large classes as much. They were all lecture, while he’d prefer being able to bounce ideas and theories around the room. Or at least have a discussion with the professor.
Well, maybe not so much today. Just last week they’d been lectured on the chemistry of the brain. Now, the title page of the class’s slideshow read ‘Psychology of War.’ Nolan nearly groaned. Since the month before, the professor hadn’t hidden his feelings on the subject. Nolan’s own father had served in the Army for a short time during Vietnam. And both of his grandpas had served before that. One in the Marines, the other in the Navy. Even with that history, neither of his brothers or Nolan himself had wanted to join up.
His oldest brother Tate had joined his father’s construction company. And Kelan, next in line, had gone off to college for architecture. For some reason, he’d switched his major to education after his first semester. He’d be graduating at the end of this semester, and Nolan knew he was looking for jobs where he could teach drafting. He wondered if schools still had industrial arts classes, though. He hadn’t enjoyed the one he had to take in high school. But, Kelan had loved it. Nolan thought his brother would become an architect and work with their dad that way.
And he’d gone to college for psychology. He could still bring to mind the look on his father’s face when he announced it. Surprise, and he thought even a little disappointment. He’d probably wanted him to join the family business, too. Sure he’d wielded a hammer with the rest of them during the summers. It certainly wasn’t what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
He wondered how deeper his father’s disappointment would be if he knew the truth. Sure, he’d gone into psychology because he wanted to help people. But, he also wanted to figure himself out. Why he had to be so confused. Why he couldn’t just feel like the other guys his age did. He wasn’t sure he could help anyone else out until he did that. He still hoped it was just a stage he’d move past.
Did stages last for more than five years, though?
The kid sitting next to him nudged his arm. “He’s really getting into it today, isn’t he?”
Nolan just grunted and shifted in his seat. The kid, Kyle, was a year older than Nolan but always seemed to find the seat next to him. It made him a little uncomfortable, but not necessarily in a bad way. He liked looking at the other boy. That was the part that made him uncomfortable. He should feel that way if a pretty girl sat beside him, and he did. But, he shouldn’t be having those thoughts about another guy.
He blew out a breath and focused back in on the lecture. If he ignored Kyle, he could ignore his reaction. Anyway, the professor’s words quickly blew away any other thoughts.
“Any theories on what would make a perfectly rational person decide to become a soldier?”
A lot of hands near the front shot up, and several voices shouted out different answers.
The professor just kept shaking his head as more people called out. Then, he held his hands out and brought them down, signalling the class to quiet. “No, no,” he said, as if to all the answers. “Fear. Cowardice. That’s what makes people fight.”
Nolan felt his arms start to shake first. Then, the feeling spread through the rest of him. He imagined the man had never fought a day in his life. Had never stood up for one thing he believed in. Nolan could still see the images from a month ago when he closed his eyes. He had cousins who didn’t live too far from the plane that had gone down in the southern part of the state. One of his cousins was already in the National Guard and another had enlisted in the Army after that day in September.
Now, this professor was saying they were all cowards. That defending your country was an act of fear. He grabbed his books and pushed to his feet. Kyle glanced over at him. “Where you headed, Nolan?”
“Out of here,” he spat the words. “I came here to learn,” he said, pitching his voice. “Not to hear this kind of garbage.”
“You walk out of my class, you don’t walk back in,” the professor threatened.
Like the man would know the difference. He probably wouldn’t remember him the next day. Still, Nolan said, “Fine with me.” He dropped his books into his bag and slung it over his shoulder. Then, he slipped past Kyle and headed up the aisle. The rest of the room fell quiet, but he felt a few other students leave behind him. Obviously he wasn’t the only one who felt the same.
When he got outside, he realized he had two more hours before his next class and no desire to go back to his dorm. He started walking toward the edge of campus and town. He didn’t have any clue where he was going, just that he needed to get out.
Then, he stopped in front of a building he’d passed several times before. He drew in a long breath, looking at the images in each of the windows. What was he doing here? He knew. A part of him had seen this coming since that first news bulletin. Even as he told himself he was cut out for it, he was opening the door and stepping inside.
The man sitting behind the desk looked up as he approached. “Can I help you?”
“Yes,” Nolan said, swallowing past the apprehension suddenly gripping him. Was he really doing this? Then, he reached the desk and said, “I’d like to enlist.”