I'm guessing that to some of you who read this blog, the idea of me wearing a tactical vest and goggles, and drinking water I was wearing on my own back in the middle of a field with 70 guys shooting at each other might seem like my natural habitat, but I was so far out of my element I couldn't even see the periodic table.
It all started the day before the game, when I tremulously drove from NJ to PA to pick up the boss, then head up to NY. (He has no depth perception, or peripheral vision. No, I don't intentionally sneak up on him - he was in the special forces, and I'm not a fan of head locks.)
We made a quick visit to the field, then checked into the motel where we were staying. There were errands to run, hydration bladders to buy and decisions to make about what to unplug in the room so we could charge phones and camera batteries, etc. At this point, my growing panic was reasonably in check - only one of my ears was leaking blood, and I could still feel my face.
|The moment I considered shanking my cellmate for sitting on MY bed.|
That night, the boss had to adjust the tactical vest I was borrowing from him, to fit me properly. The resulting anxiety caused what am I now sure was internal organ swelling and temporary color blindness - I wanted it off, now.
Later in the evening, the bodyguard assigned to me - his primary job in the game was CAVT (control and verification team) - met us at the motel with a friend in tow. I went to jump into the shower, and the second my clothes were off, my boss is knocking at the door to tell me they're here already. Awesome.
I get out of the bathroom, already in full "well this is an awkward." mode, (because even ordinary situations are awkward to me) and my boss is on the phone, unable to properly introduce us. I'm holding my dirty underwear wrapped in a dirty shirt, staring longingly at the corner of the room where my stuff is, which was being blocked by my bed and two tall guys I'd never spoken to. I stood there for 30 minutes (or seconds) like a jackass before I decided to toss the stuff toward my bag.
Where it promptly decided to separate and display itself expertly on the tactical vest. Fabulous.
After exactly zero minutes of sleep, and my newly-decided morning ritual of winging pillows at the window until I ran out (then collecting them to start again) the boss and cranky me arrived at the field a couple of hours before the game started. He took me on a brief tour through the village and through the trees, to where the battle would start at the beach landing site (it was based on the Falklands war). This was the first time I'd ever walked through a wooded area and felt a desperate urge to fake a seizure and subsequent inability to speak my own language.
Back at staging, I asked the boss if he needed me to retrieve the pvc poles he'd brought as a prop from the car for him. In front of a small handful of guys I did not know, he said, "Yes. Just try not to dance on them." I came back with the poles and said, "I managed not to dance on them, just try not to get one stuck up your ass."
That was the first and final time that day I was myself.
When the game began, I had been awake for 36 hours. Right before I put on my gear and got on the field, I sent this message to a good friend:
"I have never been more ready to cry into my own vomit than I am right now."
|I want my mommy.|
I got to the beach landing site, weighed down by gear and feeling like I was wearing a bunny costume to a black tie dinner, and asked my bodyguard, "Where should I stand?" He pointed vaguely. I positioned myself in a vague manner, and waited until smoke filled the field, bomb sound effects began and guys started pouring out of the "boats" shooting at unseen other guys in the woods.
As I squatted, camera in hand, I realized that the foreign sound I was hearing were BBs plinking all around me in the dry weeds. It was more surreal than scary - one of the fears I didn't have about doing the job was getting shot, which is what everyone else assumed was the reason I couldn't function as a sane person that day. I just couldn't believe I was right in the middle of it, and nothing was hitting me.
I sent this text to my sister (who used to regularly play airsoft) 30 minutes before I ate an expired Slim Jim:
"Airsoft is a TOTAL and UTTER nope for me. I tried. No. All the nos. Every no that has ever been or ever will be."
|Please wait to shoot me until after I learn German so I can properly explain how equal parts bored and terrified I am first.|
It is impossible for me to over-state the hell every single second of this was to me. I have crushing social anxiety, and I was wearing gear that made me feel like an dumbass, stuck on a field with dozens of strangers, with absolutely no freaking idea what I was doing. I wanted off that field even before I stepped onto it - making it three hours before I said, "I'm going back to staging, fuck all of this in the ear." was a testament to my will-power. Not weeping and demanding someone carry me off the field was a god damned miracle, what with the screams of my soul's imminent death ringing in my ears. This isn't to say there wasn't crying. There were definitely tears.
By the time I quit, I had over eight hours of sitting there until game end, knowing that I still had to drive from NY to PA and then back to Jersey. I was so sleep-deprived and done with it that it felt as though my skin was peeling in sheets and scuttling off chortling. I had been using nearly all of my mental and physical energy just to appear as if I was simply a conscious human living her own personal nightmare, so I had a prayer of getting us home safely.
Once it was finally, mercifully over, my brain was so crispy I could barely manage the complexities of driving while existing in my body. I could have been pissing myself while my boss punched me in the kidneys and I doubt I would have noticed, for the amount of concentration I had to put into not running red lights and sitting at green ones (both happened).
I like my boss, seriously. But I had a few moments on the ride home where I considered merely slowing in front of his home and kicking him out the door along with his gear.
The only time I laughed that entire day was on the drive home when the boss told me my sister's review of her very first airsoft game: "I'm not saying anyone on that field was gay ... but that was the gayest thing I've ever done."
I don't think airsoft itself is terrible, and the game was very well-written and orchestrated - I saw almost everyone leave (due to choosing a folding chair by the exit and making it mine) and they were thrilled to damned death with it. Airsoft is awesome, for someone who wants to hang out in the woods sweating through their camo and chasing ticks off themselves. If this is how you have fun, and you're in the northeast, I have the information you need to make this happen for you. I can also get you a good deal on rip-stop pants, vests and goggles.
I leave you with what a friend said to me after recounting my day to them, including the expired Slim Jim lunch.
"As my blood thickens and my heart stops, my only regret is that I was here."