Attending the military ball – Chicago, IL

I spent four years living in Chicago. It was my first time living overseas, but not the first time living independently. You see I had gone to a boarding school for three years, six years prior to the US, and had grown accustomed to taking care of myself. But the US… the US was such a different ball game for me. I spoke English fluently even before I moved, but didn’t really understand what people were saying to me. Like everyone else, I too suffered a bit of culture shock, and took some time adjusting. It wasn’t as easy as I expected to make friends. And many of those I did make in that first year were fellow international students, or Asian Americans that made me feel they were like me. One of my friends, was an Indian American. S was pre-med, and enrolled in the ROTC.

For those who don’t know, the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (ROTC) is a program involving college students all over America. The students could either volunteer to join, or may receive a scholarship in exchange for services to the country (in the future). The students would attend college, just like everyone else, but also have to participate in military training on the side.

Now, this is a simplified explanation of it, and my friend S was explaining this to me. Except he made the mistake of explaining this only after he had told me in passing he was attending the military ball which was happening that weekend. Solo. And therefore my mind had already wandered off to images of men in uniform and women in ballroom gowns dancing away.

Before he had even finished explaining the ROTC, I jumped in. “Can I go with you?” I saw that it took him by surprise. It wasn’t a date. It wasn’t even partly romantic. It was me, trying to live out a dream, and damnit! He was my key!

S, the true gentleman that he was, composed himself and agreed to bring me. And so on a chilly Chicago evening, we headed off.

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We entered, and the ballroom was exactly what I imagine. Men in uniform. EVERYWHERE. S gave me a grand tour and explained. The navy. The marines. The air force. The army. An officer walked in (I suppose), and a group of them stood to attention and pulled out their bayonets for the officer to walk under. I stood over the balcony of the hotel and watched in awe.

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I was on cloud nine. We walked into the main ballroom for the sit down dinner and drinks. A speech or two, and a whole lot of cheers. A cake cutting even! Before everyone hit the floor to cut the rug up with their fast dance moves. Lights dimmed and music booming.

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I was thankful to S then. I am thankful to him now. For accepting a foreign friend who really wanted to attend an American military ball. For kindly looking the other way as I drooled over the men in uniform. The gesture may not have been as sweet as when that Marine invited Mila Kunis to the ball. Or when Justin Timberlake went to one as well. But it is seared in my memory till now, 10 years later.

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What a great welcome I had to the United States of America.

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