Daniel W. Thompson’s “Survival Training”


I’m killing a chicken. Holding its neck so, just how the sergeant says. We’re going to survive, he says. That’s what this is. It’s survival training. I weigh ninety-five pounds. I’m a sophomore in college. When I signed up for a student organization claiming fellowship and community service, I was ordered to fall into an ROTC line. To say the least, the directive shocked me. I hadn’t been ordered into a line since fourth grade. Since having to go to the bathroom as a class. Straight line. Fingers to our mouths. Straight. I’d respected authority. He was a sergeant. Handsome with hard cheeks and big brown eyes.

I said I wanted to survive. To have and behold. When he asked me to fill out a waiver form, I forgot my address. Why a waiver form? Because we will challenge you mentally and physically, he said. Because we will make you into the strong, team-oriented woman you want to be. I forgot where I lived.

I’m killing a chicken. I slam it to the ground. I do it again. I’ve killed something. White feathers among brown roots and leaves. It didn’t do anything to me. It wasn’t attacking me or stinging me or biting me. It was handed to me and I squeezed so hard I felt its heart beating in my wrist. But the beating stopped—I might get sick. That would be bad. Bad and embarrassing.

The others are enjoying this. Enjoying the survival training. Thriving. I’d fallen in line and forgot my address and scaled the wall. It was a five-story campus building, which we were asked to rappel down, and when I got to the bottom, I excused myself because something happened between my legs I’ll never discuss. Then I got in the boat with the sergeant and the others and flipped it. Rolled it. We rolled the boat in Swann Pond to challenge our emergency water skills and I handled the task “with aplomb.”

I was always comfortable in water. My grandparents had a house on Mountain Lake and we spent summers there, swimming, boating, and hunting for eggs. My sister and I and Meme and her chickens. We hunted for eggs first thing in the blue morning, walking barefoot on dewy grass, searching for Bonnie, Betty, and Beatrice. Meme loved names starting with B. “The Beautiful Bs,” she’d called them. Now I’ve killed. I wonder if they were watching.

When he said we were going into the woods to train, he handed me a chicken to kill, which I wanted to do. I wanted to ride him into a dark and dangerous place. He let me. I did what he asked. I survived. Now I want to go home.