Kindle Edition: $0.99 8/8/2015 - 8/15/2015
Kindle Edition: $0.99 8/8/2015 - 8/15/2015
Jan Wishart is back in her second year at West Point. Her former roommate’s sudden resignation triggers Jan's mission to find out what's happening to women at the academy. She discovers a systemic problem that has been ignored and perhaps cultivated at the highest levels. In order to fulfill her duty, Jan must break with tradition and the longstanding culture of the United States Military Academy. Her coming-of-age year is thrown into further chaos by the death of a classmate. Yet not everything is as it seems. Once again Jan's worldview is about to be upended by the secrets of West Point.
April 3, 1983
She almost didn’t see the car go over the cliff. If it hadn’t been for the seat belt buckle pressing into her right butt cheek, she would have missed the flying automobile altogether. The protruding safety feature, however, caused a literal “pain in the ass.” She rotated her body, knocking her boyfriend off the back seat. Fortunately, he landed on the hump in the middle of the floorboard, which prevented him from becoming completely stuck in the small space between the front and back seats. With his face mushed up against the red vinyl, he asked, “Um, what did I do to deserve that?”
She sat upright rubbing her sore backside. “Sorry,” she said, “didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Oh, waking wasn’t the problem. It was the excruciating fall after that.”
“You poor baby,” she teased.
The sun began peeking over the horizon and a beam of light streamed through the windshield illuminating her face. They had spent the night in his car, parked at the small scenic overlook at the apex of Storm King Highway. They would have preferred a hotel, but everything from Highland Falls to Newburgh had been booked solid due to Plebe-Parent Weekend. It was also the last day of spring leave for the upperclassmen.
“Why don’t you join me down here in the ditch? It’s kind of cozy.”
“No, thanks, I’ve already had one thing poking me this morning…”
That’s when it happened.
They heard a revving engine followed by screaming wheels. Jan turned her head toward the commotion just in time to see a flash of red whizz by. In hindsight, she would remember the car seemed to glide by their parked car before soaring, in slow motion, up and over the low stone wall. The screeching abruptly stopped as the vehicle disappeared from sight.
“Did you just see that?” she screamed.
“I saw something—what was it?”
“It was a car! I think it was a red sports car!”
He jumped up, sitting beside her on the back seat. “No! Can’t be.”
She opened the back door. They scrambled out of his 1965 Mustang and raced to the front of the car. They stood beside the stone wall, now with a gaping hole separating the scenic overlook from the dramatic drop-off.
Several hundred feet below, smoldering on its side, with wheels still spinning, the red 1982 Chevy Camaro appeared to be resting. Jan thought the car seemed relieved somehow.
“Jesus,” her boyfriend whispered.
“Oh, my God!” she replied just as the sun came fully over the horizon. Then she remembered that it was Easter Sunday.
YEARLING, n. A member of the Third Class; Also, Yuk. (A Glossary of Cadet Slang, Bugle Notes, 1981, p.294)
August 15, 1982
Mandatory chapel ended in the early 1970s, however the Cadet Chapel bells still awoke cadets on the only day they could sleep in. The incessant ringing every Sunday morning continued to haze Jan Wishart long after plebe year. Only now, in New South Barracks, she was even closer to the huge, annoying alarm clock.
How hard would it be to take a sledgehammer to those things? Thoughts of sabotage circled her brain until she awoke enough to realize that the bells were the least of her worries.
She and her thousand or so classmates had recently returned to West Point at the start of “Re-Orgy” week. Jan felt somewhat relieved that it was pronounced with a hard “g” as in “great” as opposed to a soft “g” as in “general.” Short for “re-organizational,” it was the week before classes started when the entire Corps of Cadets returned from summer training and settled into their new rooms and companies. The freshmen, called plebes at West Point, got their full dose of hazing for the first time during Re-Orgy week.
Jan and her classmates were yearlings now, or sophomores to everyone who lived in the real world. They just finished “the best summer of their lives” at Camp Buckner. It was the best summer they would have as cadets but certainly not the best summer they might have attending the University of Michigan or Ohio State or Boston College.
That was okay though. They had signed up for this stuff. They could still resign anytime until the first day of classes cow (junior) year and not have any commitment to the military. Jan planned to use every bit of that time before making a definitive decision about staying. If she showed up to the first class next year, however, she would be required to serve five years in the Army after graduation.
That’s assuming she survived until then. Since last year, Jan tried not to assume anything anymore.
“Jan, you awake?” Kristi McCarron poked her head in the door.
“I am now, thanks to the bells.”
“Great, get dressed so we can grab brunch at the mess hall.” Kristi walked into the room and sat in Jan’s desk chair.
Jan would have preferred to skip brunch. As upperclassmen, they could always go to Tony’s Pizza in the cellar of Building One in Central Area or to Grant Hall for another version of pizza, or burgers. They could even make the longer walk to Ike Hall for still another kind of pizza, burgers or even hotdogs. It seemed that all the meal choices at West Point involved huge portions of Y-chromosome food—pizza, burgers, dogs, chips, nachos, brats and beer. At least the mess hall offered additional choices like steaks, French fries, potatoes, peanut butter, eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, creamed chipped beef on toast and bread of every variety by the pound. The only version of salad Jan ever saw involved shredded iceberg lettuce on a large platter soaked in Italian dressing. Fresh fruit was practically nonexistent, although occasionally they could find a banana or an apple, usually offered at breakfast.
“Well, wouldn’t want to miss brunch,” Jan groaned as she stood up.
All yearlings had been assigned to new companies at the start of the academic year. It was a way of giving them a fresh start after the hardest year of their lives. It certainly helped in Jan and Kristi’s case, given that they had been involved in the death of a firstie (senior cadet) last year. Even though First Regiment was considered the harshest of the four, Jan welcomed the move to Company G-1.
Kristi’s room was located upstairs in Company H-1. Jan felt grateful that they were not in the same company again. To overcome their past, she felt it was best for them to be separated. This way they could both start over, fresh, with new company mates and hopefully, in time, new friends.
Still, being only one floor apart and having shared a harrowing experience last year, they continued to be an inseparable duo.
“The dicks have struck again,” Kristi announced.
Jan walked over to her closet. “What this time?”
Kristi sighed. “Someone peed in my shoes.”
“Are you kidding me?” Jan slid a thin gray polyester bathrobe over her t-shirt and underwear. “What’s wrong with these people?”
This was Kristi’s second incident since the end of Buckner. On the first day back from summer, she discovered a dead snake on her bed when she returned from dinner.
Jan slipped on a pair of flip-flops, grabbed a towel and a bra. “Remember, the superintendent said we should expect these kinds of things.”
“I guess I had expected the silent treatment or maybe even a few ugly comments. I didn’t expect dead snakes and piss in my shoes.”
“It’s probably not going to last, Kissy. Just ‘keep cool and carry on,’ as they say.”
“It’s ‘keep calm and carry on,’” Kristi said.
“Right, whatever.” Jan turned to grab the doorknob. “Be right back,” she said as she headed to the women’s latrine down the hall.
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Susan I. Spieth graduated from West Point in 1985 and served five years in the Army as a Missile Maintenance Officer. After completing her military service, she attended Seminary where she earned a Master of Divinity degree. She is an ordained clergywoman in the United Methodist Church, having served five churches as Pastor/Associate Pastor for seventeen years. Susan and her husband have two children and live in Seattle, WA. The Gray Girl Series depicts the authentic experiences of women cadets at West Point from 1981-1985.