You see, the devil haunts a hungry man. If you don’t wanna join him, you got to beat him. I ain’t sayin’ I beat the devil, but I drank his beer for nothin’. Then I stole his song.” –– Kris Kristofferson, “To Beat the Devil”
‘Say goodbye to the sun, gents.’
We all lined up like good little school boys and waved goodbye to the Earth’s sole source of warmth. The mythical and terrible figure known as the BUD/S instructor had commanded it. So it was done.
Thus commenced the first night of Hell Week. We had survived the daylight hours. The darkness was falling over us like a creeping horror that brought nothing but fear and the promise of goddamned cold. A few had already quit. The shock of the opening hours of Hell Week had beaten them. That was by design. You see, they wanted you to quit. They demanded it of you over and over again. They enticed you with the promise of hot coffee. They reminded you that you could be back in the barracks fast asleep. They teased and tormented you with the Devil’s temptation of warm, dry comfort.
My boat crew was still intact. None of us had quit yet. We were at the pool. It was also called the training tank in BUD/S lingo. The first chill set in as the sun disappeared behind the horizon. That was when we supposed we had to find that part of ourselves that some called grit. Some of us knew we had it. Some of us hoped we did and some knew it lacked. Those latter did not make it through the night.
The dark hours were a frightening time in BUD/S. The demons within the souls of the instructors made their appearance, set free from their daylight-enforced shackles. They seemed to take ghoulish glee as the cool southern California breezes mixed with the frigid Pacific waters to make us shiver down to our bones.
The instructors inflicted upon us a series of humiliating and painful ordeals. We jumped from the diving platforms. We frolicked in the water like children in some warped version of a kiddie pool that you’d find in Hell. We shivered. We swam. They laughed at us and at our misery. I came to know intimately the rightful meaning of sadism.
The instructors took every opportunity to sink the talons of doubt and fear into us. They pushed us to quit. They also made us keep going. We grew colder and colder. We grew more tired. No end was visible to us from any quarter. Hell Week was going to continue for the next 5 days, God and heaven and all that was good be damned. It was going to carry on whether we liked it or not. We did not.
We lost to the bell a handful of men that night. They rang out of training and sounded a mournful tone of defeat and regret. We meanwhile made our way from the pool to the ocean. The waves rolled on top of us like infernal aquatic punishments. Neptune taunted us mercilessly. He hammered us into almost-submission through his instrument of fury, the BUD/S instructor. The man next to me finally uttered a dismal ‘fuck this.’ He got up from the surf and walked over to the instructors. He quit then and there. He was a tough man up to that point. Or at least I thought he was. Turns out he did not want it bad enough.
Truth be told I do not remember the specifics of what else we suffered that first night of Hell Week. It is all hazy, like the memory of a dream. I think we went through the obstacle course countless times. I think we ran four or five miles on the beach. I know we shivered incessantly. I know we grew tired. And I know I made it through that night. That is all that mattered.
See, we were up against the Devil, and we had to beat him to keep going. He fought like a son of a bitch. But we won that night.
Featured image courtesy of the author.