I’d make a terrible soldier.
I had this realization on vacation in Pensacola, Florida, as I toured historic Fort Pickens with my daughter-in-law and discussed turning the fort into a house. We marveled at weapons’ storage rooms but were more interested in configuring living spaces: bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens. Wine cellars?
When we encountered puddles of water (leaks!), the house fantasy waned but did not give way. The fort’s crumbling brick walls and views of the Gulf of Mexico were stunning. So we plunged through unventilated tunnels.
July’s heat escalated with every step.
After a long trudge, we wandered outside to what we thought would make a nice courtyard. We then climbed a steep, stone staircase to reach a rooftop mound of grass and dirt. Invigorated by a breeze and beachfront possibilities, we snapped pictures with our cell phones as my granddaughter slapped her ankles and jumped up and down.
Tiny bugs bit our sandaled feet and marched up our bare legs. My daughter-in-law instructed everyone NOT to stop. Like good soldiers, we had to keep moving. So we hopped to keep the bugs at bay, then jetted down the staircase and caught up with my firstborn son and grandson inside the fort.
We complained about the bug attack and learned the boys had met Ranger Mark who said the pests were called Caribbean Crazy Ants. According to the ranger, the ants DO NOT STING. (But I am here to tell you THEY BITE.)
In tow with the boys, we plowed deeper into the fort’s abyss. I panted but no one seemed to notice. So I shouted, “Let’s go back!” My son—the outdoorsman—looked at me as if I’d turned a hundred years old overnight. I explained that I needed water. Desperately. Needed. Water.
He did not move, so I added, “It’ll be dark soon. And I want to see those huge birds we saw on the drive over.” He shuffled his feet but did not turn. Washed out, I threw in the 4-star restaurant he’d found online that morning. “We need to go early to get a table,” I said with a rasp.
He finally turned to follow me.
Down a long hallway, my sinuses blocked up as I studied mold-covered walls and abandoned the idea of turning the fort into a home. Instead, I became a soldier. Dressed in wool uniform. No bath in days. No blow dryer or flatiron. I felt the weight of a rifle on my right shoulder. Or was it my left?
I lumbered toward an exit and envisioned a battle. Enemy fire sang toward me. I considered taking a bullet. Or three. But I decided to raise my arms and surrender. A terrible soldier—the worst—I gave up for water, to see large birds, and to chow-down in a 4-star restaurant.