Updated: Jan 11
Okay so I'm starting a blog. "Write, Julia, it'll be good for you. It'll help you. It'll empower you. It's therapeutic," my therapist said in one of my ears as I decided to capture some of the words whilst they exited the other. I've had this urge to write my story, to tell the world... idk. Who am I kidding? I guess I've had this urge to just write because I know it's good for me.
Who are you, again?
My story is, well, it's complicated. I'm broken, but aren't we all in some form or another? I'll start with why I began painting: therapy.
The story goes- it's raining. "It never rains here, every day is a beautiful day here and then you show up and the glory of San Diego is cloudy and crying." This was my introduction to fellow Corporal I-don't-remember-his-name. We were standing in formation uncharacteristically inside the Wounded Warriors Unit at Balboa Hospital Navy Medical Center. My head hurt, but that wasn't anything new, and I wasn't looking forward to the reason why I'd landed in a sobbing San Diego. A renowned TMJ (Temporal Mandibular Joint) dental surgeon called the Naval Medical Center home, and had summoned me as her case of interest from my home base at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay, Oahu.
I know, Hawaii, it's the best place to serve a duty station and I got lucky, stay with me now! I had previously been serving in one of the 12 bands (at the time, they've since paired the Marine bands back by one or a few) and had earned a coveted position as a trumpeter as my military occupation speciality within the United States Marines. We are Marines first, then our occupations <- more on that in another blog probably.
I digress. To earn the title of Marine, I had made it through one of the world's most difficult and extreme boot camps. This did not come easy and without injury. During my 3 months in boot camp, I found myself in the dental chair at an intake check-up. All I remember is the incredibly old, giant handed, evil and annoyed male dentist decided to drill a tooth because he felt like it? There was honestly no need for it, I know this because my faithful mother had taken me to our family dentist before I left for boot camp.
This crotchety old man forced my jaw open to a point where it locked open, then shook with tension in his arms as he painfully forced my jaw to unhitch and close again. I couldn't argue or speak up, or talk back. I couldn't ask questions, and I couldn't tell him no. I had to just take it. Ever since that day, my jaw had problems, and it only got worse from there.
Fast forward to month 2 of boot camp training and our Drill Instructors are having us practice our Marine Corps Martial Arts Program training (McMap as we lovingly referred to it), with pugal sticks. Not sure if I'm spelling that right... but they were sticks with large tufts of hardened foam on the ends of them. Before I tell you this part, a question: have you ever seen stars?
Lying there under the walking bridge we had been fighting on, I saw them. It was exactly like I'd seen in the Looney Tunes cartoons: stars. A fellow recruit had got me with an uppercut right under my jaw. I flew backwards in the air, flipped off the bridge we had been sparring on, and landed flat on my back. I don't remember much after, just that my nose wouldn't stop bleeding and after a day or two the DI's got so annoyed that I was making a mess doing push-ups that they reluctantly took me to the hospital. Thus began my increasing issues with my jaw pain, and being a trumpet player, constantly adding pressure to the joints for
hours each day, that's what did me in. Well, that, and a few other McMap blows... I really wasn't good at hand to hand combat. Or the rifle range, or running, or memorizing any of my required materials, or following orders... I really wasn't that good at the whole military thing if we're being really honest. I'll probably tell the story of how I ended up joining the Marines in another blog, too.
I had found myself in concert at the Officer's Club on base in Kaneohe and my jaw locked closed during a performance. I froze. I couldn't play a note and mimed the rest of the event. My Staff Sergeant took me outside after we finished to chew my ass for it, and all I could do was explain thru tears via mumbling what was happening. He sent me to the emergency dental clinic. For months I got bounced back and forth between specialists before I was sent off to the the highest ranking one available in the American military industrial complex.
So, back to the surprisingly weeping skies of San Diego... I'm standing with a group of misfit Marines. Most of which had career ending injuries from serving courageously in war somewhere in Iraq, and me? Julia? Corporal Roberts? I'm there because my jaw don't work so good and I can't play taps at funerals no more. So many conflicting emotions, none of which I had the capacity to decipher or even register at the time.
I can tell you that I was forever changed by my experience with that lot. One of which had lost both his legs and was gifted the most up-to-date technology for prosthetics. He was so motivated by his new legs that he'd force me to run with him daily. "I got two robo-legs Roberts, what's your excuse?" he'd say with a smirk, and then take off running in the "catch-me-if-you-can fashion" that a child would. Haha, I still think of that shit today.
Anyway, the doc there attempted to "fix" me with some surgery that got botched and landed me in the ER after a negative drug interaction from it. I told the nurse- "I can't control my eye balls," to which she responded "Ma'am, you're having a panic attack" and then stabbed a syringe of Valium in my leg and shoved me in a back room for four hours. Turns out I was having a type of seizure, but what recourse did I have? I signed my life away and had no legal standing to hold any sort of accountability.
How does all of this relate to my painting?? Okay fine. I'll stop adding flare to how I got to painting and just tell you already.
I had never painted before this, I wanted to, but my parents forced me to focus on music in school and my electives only allowed for one or the other. The day after my botched surgery and drug interaction, the Wounded Warrior's unit had offered me a seat in an art therapy class they had there. I was told to paint whatever makes me happy. I wasn't really happy at all, in fact I was very not okay at the time, and it was really difficult for me to think of anything at all. Then, I recalled swimming in my favorite location on base, and meeting a sea turtle amid the coral. I named him Bob, not sure why. He just seemed like a Bob.
I've since painted many renditions of Bob. I'm sure I'll get around to telling the story of him. But for now, just know that it was that sea turtle who started my artistic endeavor. I continued painting beyond the therapy setting, as it was one of the few things that brought me any sort of joy, stability, grounding, and validation of my personhood. Painting has and still does help me to stay in the now.
This is what got me to painting, and I never really looked back. I began with watercolors and found a wonderful local artist in Kaneohe who would give me lessons. I loved my time with her, she will forever be in my heart. I went on after my honorable discharge from the Marines to continue in paint and create my own art businesses along the way... but that'll have to be saved for another blog.