We had ten minutes.
As a child, I never understood the phrase: Time is relative.
What does that even mean? Time is my uncle? Relative…? Sheesh. Stupid.
As an adult, I am 1,000% in agreeance (I know what I wrote). I get it now. I wake up early. I have a plan for the day. Suddenly, it’s noon and I’m pretty sure that I just barely showered five minutes ago. Check the clock… Nope, that was five hours ago. Where did the morning go?!? Then, while I’m figuring that out, it has become dinner time. WHAT!?!! Crud…! Fine, let’s check the day’s To Do List and see how much I got done: Two things. Okay, not bad. Out of ten? Well, could be better.
Wait… Uh, that second one isn’t supposed to be crossed off. That was a mixup. I accidentally crossed it off when I was attempting to cross off the first one but left it because I figured I would get it done too and it wouldn’t matter. I was wrong. Double crud…!
Anyone else have days like that? Anyone…? Bueller…?
Time is relative. It has to be. How else do you explain how the best date you ever had seemed to last forever and still ended right after it began? Or, how the wedding you didn’t want to attend lasts five days when you’re only five minutes into it? Or better still, how Christmas seems to take all year to get here, and then it’s over, in like… a morning? Okay, that last one was a poor example, but still, you know what I’m talking about. You can have all the time in the world—or none at all—and it would be all that you would ever need. That happened to me, once.
There is a place in the United States called the Mojave Desert. It is located in California. Also located there is the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center – Twentynine Palms Base. It is huge and has wonderful training facilities. And for you touristy types, here’s a little something extra: How hot is the Mojave Desert on average?
Mojave Desert experiences change with the seasons. In winter, freezing temperatures and strong winds can be expected, with rain and snow in the mountains. With enough moisture, spring wildflowers may carpet the desert floor with vivid colors. Summers are hot, and temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit are typical. (at least, so says Google)
And, there you go. So, imagine you have been training there—in the summer—for a few weeks. To stay alive you are drinking about five gallons of water a day. But, in reality, you are drinking about eight. Temperatures are staying in the mid to high 120s’. The days have been long and exhausting. It’s evening. You’ve still got more to do. Uncle Sam doesn’t like it when you waste his precious time—you gotta use it all. That’s where we were. It had been several days of intense—and still high-quality—training. Evening had finally come along. It was beginning to cool and we were waiting for transport. It would be there in ten minutes. What could be done in ten minutes? Lots of things (remember Uncle Sam and his time-wasting?). What was our Commanding Officer going to have us do?
“Take a break. Take a nap. I don’t care. But, when the trucks are here, be on your feet ready to move out!”
It was already dark, yet there was a small building near my position that cast soft illumination from the single lamp that hung over the doorway. We had ten minutes to rest and I was not going to let that light affect me. No, sir. This was before I knew I had narcolepsy, but I was already familiar enough with the signs that my body sent to me that communicated, “You are gonna sleep hard—right now—if you stop moving at all.” Yeah, buddy! I was almost so excited that I could have woken myself up from sleep—had I been asleep.
Staying in our respective squads and fire teams, most of us opted to lay down and catch a few Zz’s. I set my pack strap-side down, this way the softer pack side would act as a pillow/back support/lounge chair. As I laid myself down I easily slipped into an almost perfect sleepable position. I was about to zonk right out. I could feel it deep within me. But, I didn’t. I couldn’t. As my brain began to realize that the very much required sleep was slipping from its grasp it began to send waves of panic throughout the rest of me. Oh no! No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No! This could not be happening. This could not happen. Each second this continued was one more second I was closer to alertness in the now, which I would only pay harder for later when I was supposed to be awake. I HAD to sleep now!
I think it’s safe to say that most people had a stuffed animal or something that brought them comfort when they were little. Something that helped them sleep better. Mine was Train Bear. He was a teddy bear dressed in a train engineer’s outfit. I still have him. Sorry, slightly off-topic. My point is that once in a while we need something to help us relax and sleep. And, even though I was (am) a rough, tough Marine, I needed something to relax me. I needed the soft, warming comfort of the simplicity of an item not unlike a blankie that small children keep. Out in the field that would be next to impossible to find. Except, I did have one. In my pack, I had my government-issued security blanket: My poncho liner!
Quick note here: In the desert, despite how hot it can get during the daytime, at night it gets cold. Also, there was just enough chill in the air, at that time of day, to help keep me from relaxation and rest—and thus, part of the issue in the first place.
A poncho liner is simply that. It is a soft, camouflage-patterned, thin blanket (almost useless) that is designed to be attached to the inside of your poncho so you can have a make-shift water-proof sleeping setup. The problem was, it was packed away in my pack, and, if I opened up my pack to get it out, I would have to pack it back up again when we moved out…
“But, when the trucks are here, be on your feet ready to move out!” The haunting words of my C.O. came to the forefront of my thoughts. I did not want to be the one to create a slow-down for the company because I needed a woobie. Fortunately, I pack well. Very well. I knew exactly where it was within my pack. On the left side (facing the pack), toward the outer side, about a third of the way down, folded for quick retrieval and storage. If I could undo one strap just enough, I would be able to uncinch the top of the pack, grab the poncho liner, and cover up for the remaining ‘free time’.
The poncho liner was exactly where I put it, easily within arms reach. And rather than pull out the entire thing, I just pulled out a corner—enough to cover my shoulders and chest. I then rolled back into a sleeping position that was even better than before. My U.S.M.C.-issued woobie worked like a charm. Before my eyes were fully closed I had fallen into the deepest void of unconscious sleep mind-state that I believe any human being could ever have been in. I was gone. Out of it. The world as I knew it rapidly dissolved into thick, inky blackness… Bliss.
Five years later I was awoken by the sounds of transport trucks approaching and my platoon sergeant yelling at us, “On your feet! Let’s go! Move it! Move it! Move it!”
One of the nice things about narcolepsy is that quite often you can resume your normal activities without interruption, after being in a sleep state. In addition, a short rest can really rejuvenate you. Before the Marine nearest me was halfway standing upright I had my poncho liner packed, the pack was cinched, on, and I was on my way to the transport.
It was seven minutes of the most invigorating rest I have ever had. Bar none.