I write a poem about hazing. In the poem I’ve just been promoted to corporal. The lieutenant has gone home for the day, so the other corporals take turns dead-legging me over and over again while I brace myself against a trash can and dry-heave over a puddle of my own sweat. Their laughter billows in rhythm with my throbbing skull. In the poem the room is white, but our thoughts are red as the stripe on a pair of dress blue trousers. I write this and we read it in class. I explain that a marine often gets promoted to corporal because they have already died, so the least I could do was take my licks like a man. This is what I say. We sit in a circle in the classroom, all of us secretly wishing we were elsewhere on campus getting drunk or high or fucking each other or fucking anyone. I lie to myself. I pretend I don’t want to scare these suburban kids with my scars. But I do. I want to paralyze them with the fear of something that isn’t a midterm exam or a Republican. No one knows what to say. They never do. They never will. The professor isn’t buying my pride in this scene that I say really happened. He says the poem is about peer pressure, and then we move on to someone else’s work. The poem doesn’t get me laid. I give up on the veteran stuff with them, but they don’t know what I’ve left out. I don’t tell them about the other marines who left me duct-taped to a chair while they took cellphone pictures of the gray mask wrapped around my head.
John Milas grew up in Champaign, Illinois. After serving four years in the Marine Corps, he studied creative writing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign while simultaneously working in local television news. His awards include three letters of appreciation along with the Afghanistan Campaign Medal from the Marine Corps, the Junior Quinn Award from UIUC’s creative writing program, and the Quintilian Award from ICaP at Purdue University. He has judged University Laboratory High School’s Iris Chang & Peter Kolodziej Writing Awards in fiction since 2015 and has read for both Ninth Letter and Sycamore Review. He currently studies creative writing in Purdue University’s MFA program and teaches English composition. His website can be found here.