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Noonday cement is awfully hot, even through the thick soles of my boots. That’s one fact I learned from Citizen Army Training (CAT). That and the more gut-wrenching certainty that, for the life of me, I can not run fast enough to keep up with the boy I was secretly crushing on.
It was not a thing to be trifled with, this crush. It burned steadily from sophomore year and went on and on, beyond high school, even beyond college. It is a most curious thing, it refuses to fade with time.
A foolish thing, even by girlhood standards—to sign up for CAT officership just for the privilege of doing sweaty pushups next to a boy. But I was a girl, a teenager, and I was, of course, foolish.
You, on the other hand, were oblivious. All summer long I watched you under all manner of light. There was the lambent 5AM sunrise when we group-jogged at the Capitol Lagoon. We were a platoon of adolescents doing rhythmic calisthenics on the grass, skin glistening, hair goldened, seemingly immortal. Your ankles were quite slim, you had the legs of a long-distance runner. There was the mottled pattern the leaves of the lone tree on campus made on your face as we sat under its shade in a post-lunch inertia. There was the shadow of dusk on your skin, a tan that darkened into bronze, the color that draw my day to a close.
On Fridays there was our platoon drill in the quadrangle, rows upon rows of pimply juvenile would-be combatants, shifting impatiently foot to foot. Only by leaning slightly forward while in line could I see your profile. You often wore such a serious expression, all this was a discipline to you. From the corner of my eye I could see you coming down the line towards me, your expression stern, ready to issue demerits for a dirty sword, boots laced in error, general misbehaviour. This close I could see the brown flecks in your eyes, the beginnings of stubble on your jaw.
My girl friends thought I had found a calling or sorts, the way I became so devoted to waking up early on Fridays. At the crack of dawn, I was running out the dorm and knocking on the school gate, all tucked into that scratchy green uniform, boots polished a shiny black, the silly beret snug on my head.
I did not plan on becoming Ex-O, or some such silly officer ranking they bestowed upon me. I got tired keeping up with so many “Sir, yes sirs!,” salutes, and snap-tos. The only reason why my sword was exceptionally clean and spit-shiny was that it was taken cared of by a senior officer, a boy who took on the task of cleaning my sword in exchange of my cleaning up his grammar in love letters to the girl who was our Corps Commander.
I thought it a fair deal—I proofread his declarations of love for the wavy-haired mestiza while he polished my metals to dazzle your discerning eye come inspection time.
“What goes on here must stay here.”
It was all so silly really, the subterfuge, the closing of ranks, the mock-seriousness of CAT. A teenage army marching in place military-style with wooden rifles—who were we kidding, right? Hormones and heartaches sweltering in the heat. It’s enough to give a girl delusions.
One of my tasks as officer is to echo the command yelled out by the Corps Commander, in effect passing it along the line to the troops in an attempt at pageantry. I never liked this task, I felt like an impostor passing along a rumor.
But one thing made this ridiculous exercise worth doing. The Corps Commander issues the order, and with the words losing none of their crispness, the command is passed on to the colonels, the captains, and then to me. From you, I must catch the vowels and consonants and add to them my breath, shouting the words into fulfillment.
I imagine the letters leaving your lips, like fervently sent kisses, to land on my lips, rest there a while and then be sent out again. Sometimes I wish they would all just yell command after command after command, while I stand there, back straight, feet together, sword at my side—silently hoarding your kisses.