This morning I picked up Sherry at an auto repair shop that looked more like a junk yard. She was carrying one of those long, handled trash-grabbers. She had a neck tattoo and the sides of her head were shaved. She wore owlish round glasses.
We had a good twenty-minute ride. I knew right away we’d have a conversation because she sat up front. Talkers usually sit up front.
Sherry came to the area because her father was in the navy. She, however, is an army vet, she said. Sort of.
According to Sherry, the army screwed her over. She had signed up right out of high school. “I was gung-ho, determined to be a G.I. Jane. In it for a career.”
She said she’d finished in the top two percent of recruits on her tests and I believe it. She is articulate and smart. She got through training in a flash and before she knew it, she was being shipped off to Iraq.
Sherry remembers a captain who commended her and her class of recruits for signing up during time of war. “Not many have that kind of courage,” he’d said. It was 2004 and the U.S. was taking out its post-911 fury on Saddam Hussein. She remembers being proud at that moment.
Then, on merely her third day in Iraq, she took a bullet to her hamstring. She was 168 days into her military career when they sent her home. There she found out that you don’t get VA benefits until you’ve served six months–180 days. She was less than two weeks short. She was released from active duty. Two years later–the minimum they make you wait–she tried to reenlist, but they didn’t want her. But not because of her injury–her leg had healed up fine.
She doesn’t know why they don’t want her back. It has something to do with her official service record (her DD-twelve-somethingy-something). But she hasn’t been able to see it even though she’s been trying to figure it out for a dozen years.
Now Sherry drives a street sweeper and hopes to marry her auto mechanic boyfriend (She’s pretty good at car stuff herself–diagnosing my car’s rattle as a cracked engine mount.)
Sherry came across as bemused but not bitter. She’s not where she thought she’d be at this point in her life, but she said so with a grin and a shrug.