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The day I snapped

/ 05:00 AM September 24, 2017

 

The first semester was almost done. The final examinations were approaching. I was an outstanding cadet in a semi-regimental maritime school that is highly recognized, a respected second-year cadet with a big responsibility to his juniors. My unwavering leadership made a positive impact on them. Simply put, everything was smooth sailing and it seemed a good closure to an almost finished semester.

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Until that one fateful day when I snapped.

It was the morning of the last day of Finals Week. We officers were being bombarded with negative feedback about a freshman cadet who was pretty much a pain in the neck to us during the entire semester, and we were to blame for his lousy misdemeanors. Although we did our best to teach and enlighten our juniors on the ways of being a cadet, the rants from our seniors just piled up. My tolerance was wavering and my anger was full to the brim. It was at that moment that I forgot who I was.

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I told the nuisance cadet to report to me at the back of the barracks. I was furious. I forced him against the wall and started raining blows on his torso. I knew he had had enough, and his body language was showing signs of fainting. But I wasn’t done yet. Had a fellow officer not subdued me, I would have continued and almost killed the cadet.

“What in the world are you trying to do?! Do you even know what you’re doing right now!?” my fellow officer shouted at me.

To this day two years later, I have yet to find the answer to those questions.

My anticipation of the consequences of my actions was never more accurate. As I expected, I was instantly expelled from the prestigious academy, and a dream with high potential was wrecked in a snap. Fortunately, the junior cadet decided not to tell his family about the incident when he learned of my expulsion, thus preventing the case from being investigated and leading to a complicated court trial.

I became a victim of hazing, but I was the offender.

When I went home that day, I steeled myself for my mother’s fury. But it was for naught, because when I told her about what had happened, she was tranquil and just listened to my tearful explanations. Later she talked calmly about what to do next. She did not show it, but I could sense the shattered hope she had invested in me, the disappointment—and I became more devastated because I didn’t want to see my mother like that.

At that moment, I was stuck in the realm of hopelessness and regret. I wept bitterly, desperately looking for answers to the question I kept asking myself back then: “Why?”

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It was not worth the beating I gave the junior cadet, and it will never be. I lost friends who were like family to me. I lost a reputation that was molded by discipline. In an instant, I lost all the respect I had gained. I lost things aplenty, and worst of all I lost myself. Indeed, it was an experience that sent me into deep contemplation.

Maybe I forgot. I forgot who I was. I forgot that I was supposed to lead, to be an example. I forgot that he is human, as I am, too. I forgot that he has a family, as I have one as well. I forgot I had a bright future to fulfill. I forgot I can instill discipline in a thousand other ways, and beating someone is not one of those ways regardless of the severity of the violation.

People forget. It may sound like a cliché, even like an excuse, but it is what it is. I forgot many things myself, but this kind of experience I will never forget. And as in any other story, a lesson can be learned from it.

People learn, and people should move on. For me, regret is the prevailing emotion of this story. As I have said, I was the victim of hazing because I wake up every day remembering what I did wrong two years ago, and still telling myself that I could have done better.

In retrospect, it was bound to happen.

Why? Sometimes, as painful as it may seem, we need to look back and accept what is. We need to rethink our actions to make ourselves ready for tomorrow, to be more careful of our actions. We may experience regret, but we should also remember that the choices we make define who we are today, where we are today. We should not try to forget our experiences, both the bitter and the sweet. More so, we should remember. It will teach us more about life. It will redefine us, like it did to me.

Let my experience serve as a reminder to student leaders and to everyone in authority that we are responsible for our actions as well as for the welfare of those we lead. Their progress will be our pride. Their shortcomings will be our failure. Their success will be our honor.

I have dreamt of the good life—a seaman with financial security and stability up to retirement.

But I have learned that life doesn’t work that way. Life finds a way to teach us lessons we will never forget. Life provides a thrilling roller-coaster ride for us all: We get a treat from the random ups and downs, continuous spins, and insane turnarounds.

And that is how it’s supposed to be.

* * *

Alec Naldo, 18, is taking journalism at The Manila Times College. He is a former student of Baliwag Maritime Academy.

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