A Warrior’s Meal by Gabriel Thompson

A Warrior’s Meal by Gabriel Thompson
The year was 2004, some day in November around Thanksgiving. My clothes were as wet as if I just pulled them out of the washing machine, but I knew that wasn't the case by any means. I was soaked to the bone; it had been raining for as long as I could remember, which was only yesterday. I had mud from head to toe, and it was squashing in my boots. My feet were covered front to back by silver-dollar-sized blisters. It felt like a belt sander was being taken to the bottom of my feet every time I took a step. I looked like a Sasquatch who had tripped and fallen into a mud puddle. I didn't think I could go on any longer. Outside for many days, I was sleep deprived; my body was sore. I hadn't eaten much for what seemed to be ten lifetimes. I was in Zombie-mode, in a single-file line walking like I was heading to a Holocaust gas chamber.
In the distance, civilization could be seen on the horizon: it was a building. My heart lifted with hope of survival. "I am going to see my family again" was running through my mind, and it's all I could think about. As the building got closer an eerie feeling dropped over me. It felt like I was a kid trapped on his bed in the middle of the night waiting for the monster underneath to take his feet the moment they hit the floor. The building was nearing and my heart was pounding as if it were going to jump out of my chest.
As we reached the building, there was much commotion and panic going on, but then I realized the line I was in was slowly diminishing. I was thinking to myself, "Where are all these people going?" They went into the building but never came out. Now, I was terrified. I was next to go into the building. My hands were clammy, and I didn't know if it was sweat or rain beading off my forehead. I was nervous, scared, and wondering what to expect. The thought of death was chilling my mind. As soon as the door swung open I was grabbed and pulled into a fifteen-by-fifteen foot room with a strange heater in the middle. I wasn't alone. There were about twenty of us wrapped around the walls of the room. We were all lost in thought wondering what was going to happen next. All of a sudden smoke emitted out of the strange device and filled the room. I looked around; men were choking, coughing, gasping for air and rubbing their faces like they were on fire. I started praying to God as I believed I was slowly dying, and this would be my final resting place. My prayers were answered as a door adjacent to the one we came in swung open. Like a group of girls fighting over the last Coach bag on sale, all of us gasped and choked, hoping to get a breath of fresh air. People tripped everywhere. Once outside, what I saw was people vomiting, snot exuding from everyone's noses, and men rubbing their faces trying to remove what they thought was still stuck on their face like napalm. The smell of vomit, sweat, urine, and what seemed to be decomposing flesh from cellulite pockets oozing puss filled the air, and I remember thinking "This has to be what death smells like."
It seemed like forever before recovered and reoriented, and I found myself back in a single file line, as long as the eyes could see. Someone spoke, and everyone fell to the ground like an elephant being hurled out of an airplane to earth. While lying on the ground, I was looking around to see what was going on. Three men moved in like a mongoose on a cobra. They carried the man away who had spoken, never to be seen again. I was ordered to get to my feet and to keep moving. I lifted my now-flesh torn, bleeding body, and started walking. The pace of the line had become a quick walk. It reminded me of when I, as a teenager, would go to the mall before opening, and it seemed like the geriatric Olympics was in session. My heart stopped, along with the rain. The mud was drying to my clothes and chipping off me as bark being chiseled off of a tree.
Another building was coming up on us fast. It was a larger building with smoke coming out of it, like a sleeping dragon. I began to think this journey of devilish terror would never end, when all of a sudden I smelled an aroma of breads, meats, vegetables, cakes, cookies--and freedom. That beautiful smell pushed all the pain out of my body; I was exhilarated! I felt amazing, but the feeling quickly disappeared as they stacked us against the wall outside of another door. Now the pain was returning, the hunger was crippling, blisters were throbbing, face tingling like it was being poked with needles, and I was still bleeding from going to the ground. I was eagerly waiting to see the next form of torture I'd endure. The door flew open, and I was told to "Get inside." Upon entering I stopped abruptly, looked around in amazement, and realized I had died but had also been reborn.
It had been a week in the wilderness. I had ventured to hell and back. I had endured what few have had the opportunity to do with the greatest group of men ever. I realized I was now a Warrior of the most elite: I was a United States Marine. Death couldn't budge my soul or will from my desire to complete my mission.
The building was filled with silence and Marines eating at the cyclic rate. The food on every tray was stacked the height of Mount Suribachi. I finally got to the place where I could grab a tray, some silverware, and got ready to smash my face into some food. I got mashed potatoes, gravy, a hamburger, French fries, corn, peas, fish, cauliflower, and more gravy just to top off the heart stopping stack of deliciousness. My eyes obviously bigger than my stomach at this point, I had enough food to feed a family of four for two days. I got to the table, set my food down, ran back to take a piece of cake with a side of cookies, and set them down next to Suribachi. I went back for something to help wash down all this excellent mouthwatering food. With two glasses of milk in hand, I was on a mission to get back to sit down and inhale my food, all while being in the zone. I bit into my food; there was still not a word being spoken. The only sounds in the place were Marines eating! You could feel the level of accomplishment; it was stacked so high it was just under the Pearly gates. In our own minds, we all felt like gods. The mountains of food had come and gone without any textures or even flavor due to being consumed so fast.
Everyone was sitting in amazement at their achievements. We were untouchable; I looked like a beat-up old haggard teddy bear that had seen brighter days, and at that point, I could have been mistaken for being seven months pregnant. My stomach, like all the others', was protruding far past where it had been for seven days.
Suddenly the silence was broken, as the words "Get the hell out of my chow hall" echoed through the whole building like a tiger in a cave being hit with a whip. It sent a chill up my spine. I grabbed my tray and headed outside to formation. Once outside I knew that the movement back to the barracks was not going to be fun.

We moved into a quick walk, which turned into a slow run, and then a full sprint, going for the gold. I started to feel the food in my stomach not settling right. I could hear it wanting to howl at the moon. I was not the only one; people all around were spewing like old faithful. It was a five minute run that seemed as long as the whole last week of my life had been. We stopped and were instructed to fall out and get ourselves cleaned up. We ran into our barracks like cockroaches from light. Clothes, boots, mud, and bodies were flying in every direction; Marines were fighting to get into a hot, soothing shower. Once in the shower, I was able to process what had happened. Pain was endured; memories made, thoughts of family, knowledge learned, new family formed. A sound realization my first meal as a starving, sleep deprived, sore, dirty, beat-up, flesh torn body, blood flowing like Niagara Falls, clinging for life, smelly, vomit on the breath Marine was my most memorable meal.