I hate going to the doctor. The thought that they might find something wrong with me – some imperfection – terrifies me. Combine that with a 1000-mg/day caffeine habit and a paranoid disposition and I’ve got borderline hypertension. When I was informed that I had to go to a “mental preparation” class that involved wiring me up to a machine the artery in the left side of my neck began to throb.
When I woke that morning I deliberately abstained from caffeine. I pounded out some hard cardio and headed to the classroom. It was full of other officers. After a few minutes I realized that the training was more sports psychology than Army finger-fuck. I heaved a sigh of relief and settled back in my chair.
The instructor released us for a break and I immediately hunted down a cup of coffee. It was weak, but I drank enough to make it work. We settled back in the classroom and were promptly instructed to hook up to a heart rate monitor.
Initial pulse: 65 beats per minute.
It was higher than my average, but I had been moving around. After a minute it settled back under 55 bpm. I fixated on the little green line, watching it roll gently up and down on the screen as the instructor spoke. A little meter said “Coherence: 95%”. I heard the instructor mention Dave Grossman and my ears perked up. I knew exactly where this conversation was going.
I looked down at my gentle, sinusoidal pattern, then I looked around. Almost every screen I looked at was a frantic mess. Sharp rises and falls. Even with low heart-rates, the others had dramatic, incoherent biorhythms. Mine chugged on, steady as a metronome. Even after we did a mental exercise designed to induce stress, I felt my pulse rise but my apparent stress level stayed calm.
I couldn’t fucking believe it.
The instructor talked about stressful situations. He asked us to recall a peak performance. I blanked out – it’s hard to call a bar fight or a bought of binge drinking a “peak performance”. He told us to recall the particulars of our mental state.
I remembered a game of high school football.
It was a Monday evening game. Junior Varsity. I was in a foul mood because, as a sophomore, I wasn’t getting any real Varsity playing time. I went through the pregame motions and, right before we started, Coach asked me to bump down from Defensive tackle to Defensive end.
What followed was a beating.
My “strategy” as a D-lineman was simple: Fire into a gap. Violence of action. In the first series I collected several solo tackles and a sack. When I wasn’t eating their quarterback alive, he was throwing the ball away, or running to the other side of the field to get away from me.
I heard their coach screaming: Cover 64! Double-team his ass! Fucking stop him!
It didn’t matter. I manhandled my way past their line into their backfield. They refused to play to my side of the field. My coach was hysterical. He smacked me upside the helmet with his enormous meat-hooks.
“See? See!? I fucking told you D-End!”
It didn’t matter, though. The only thing worse than their offense was our own. Our best wide receiver dropped a pass that hit him right in the numbers. Our backfield fumbled. Our offensive line couldn’t stop a frantic child. By half-time I was pouring sweat and beat to fuck, and still we were down.
I was furious.
Instead of our normal half-time warm-up/stretching routine, I threw my helmet on the ground and told everyone to circle up. I marched around the ring got in everyone’s faces. I slapped our wide receiver upside the helmet with an open palm. I grabbed him by the front of his pads and shook him back and forth.
“In the numbers, man! In the fucking numbers!” I shouted.
I could barely keep my thoughts straight. I wanted to kill someone. On the brink of strangling a teammate, I picked up a jog-in-place and shouted Get ’em Up!
“Get ’em Up” was our cue to do Hit-Its. Hit-Its are an unpleasant activity in which the team jogs in place. When instructed to “Hit it!” they dive on their face, catching themselves with their hands, and struggling quickly back to their feet. It was an exercise normally performed as punishment for failure. This process continued until enough people puked and Coach was satisfied. We were dropping the ball so shamelessly that I figured we deserved it.
The Army calls this “smoking”.
When I was done working out my anger on my team I stood up and told everyone to stop. I shouted something motivational. I don’t remember what. Stop fucking up!, most likely.
I looked around the group and there was fire in their eyes. Everyone crowded in on me and slapped me on the head. Punched me in the pads. Everyone screamed and our offense charged out onto the field. I walked back to where Coach was standing and he turned from his clipboard and looked at me.
“What the fuck was that?” he asked.
“I dunno . . . ” I said.
Our offense promptly marched down the field. Twice.
We still lost the game. Mistakes late in the forth quarter broke the tie and cost us the win. It didn’t matter . . . Something had happened. I had channeled my anger into something good. I watched it blossom and infect my team-mates. On the bus ride home we held our heads high.
The next week, at half-time, Coach looked at me and instructed me to “Go do your thing . . . ”
Back in the classroom, watching the little green line, I remembered that game and I felt my pulse climb. The meter stayed the same. Steady as a rock. I thought of all the martial arts, all the sparring, all the brawling. I never have time to think. I just get this feeling in my gut and I act.
. . . But the thought of sitting in that chair. The thought of going to the doctor. Of doing paperwork. Of paying bills. All those things made my skin crawl.