I guess my story begins at the age of 10. I have two younger sisters and an older brother. My parents marriage had been on the rocks. My Mom had cheated on my dad and in turn, my dad had cheated on my mom with who is now my stepmom… pretty messed up, right? Well, while my parents were separated, things got bad. My Dad had paid my brother to keep quiet about him seeing my stepmom, so he became anorexic, which stunted his growth. My mom took out her anger on us, in many different ways. She would yell and hit us, then when she would get child support and spousal support, she would spend most of the money on herself. I remember one year, I really wanted to play volleyball and it was $50 for the Uniform. She said she didn’t have the money and made me feel so bad for even asking. This lead to my isolated, depressed, high school experience. My stepdad was now in our lives, and he was great, (at that time). So great that I felt like he was more of a father to me than my own Dad had been. So I changed my last name to his name when I turned 18. This was a big step, and I thought I had finally felt like someone cared for me.

When I graduated high school, I went to EMT School and graduated the fire academy. I got my first job in the fire service in 2007. I thought this was going to be a great opportunity for me, but, I was wrong. A couple of the guys on my crew were kind, and did their best to get me trained. Unfortunately, the rest of them viewed me as a burden, and said that, “Women don’t belong in the fire service.” It was so bad that they wouldn’t eat their meal in the same room as me…. Feeling out of place, and in need of a drastic change, at 20 years old, I decided to enlist in the Marine Corps. As my ship date for boot camp got closer and closer, I felt I should let me biological father know my intentions. At that time, I hadn’t spoken to him for about 5 years. When I finally got the courage to make the phone call, It went like this:

“Hey Dad, It’s me, Marisa.”

“Yeah, I know. What’s going on?”

“I thought I should let you know, that I have decided to enlist in the military and join the Marine Corps.”

“Are you stupid? Why would you want to do that for? You’ll never amount to anything.”

Sad, and broken, I tied up any loose ends I had, and shipped for Boot Camp in February of 2009. I arrived at Parris Island, SC on those yellow footprints, and that’s is when my life, unbeknownst to me, had changed forever.

In my service years to follow, I deployed twice within 3 years, first deployment was great! Hawaii, Japan, Thailand—Vacation spots for most people. I had been in a relationship with (who is now my ex) for 2 years at that point. Everything was going great. When I came back, we had orders to deploy for Afghanistan approximately 7 months later, so we began our work ups, preparing for the deployment. My MOS was 6531, I was an Ordnance Technician with VMA-211 on The AV-8B Harrier platform, based out of MCAS Yuma, AZ. When we were getting ready to leave, week of in fact, my ex-boyfriend had proposed to me, wanting to get married before I would leave. It was something I had wanted to happen for awhile, but something told me to wait until I got back. I don’t know what it was, but I had this strong gut feeling to wait. I told him, “It isn’t a no. It’s a not right now.” That way we could plan better when I came home. The time to leave came, I said my goodbyes and the troop movement began. This deployment felt different, the unknown, the potential of what could happen, and most importantly the safety of both myself and my fellow Marines were at the mercy of the Middle East. We arrived to Kandahar, and the first few months weren’t so bad. We worked crazy hours, loaded a ton of ordnance, and I received care packages from my family and my ex. It’s what kept me going, really. There came a time, about halfway through the deployment, where I went to call my Ex. I was very homesick, and was missing him and my family terribly. So I waited about 1 hour to snag a payphone, when I finally was able  to make a phone call, my Ex told me that he was going through a hard time – financially, because he had just gotten out of the Marine Corps and wanted money from me to fix his project car. I told him that I couldn’t do it, because I was sending money back home to help my family out and that I still had my own bills to pay. He had cursed me out, and I remember sitting on that payphone, with my rifle hanging across my chest, hysterically crying because I felt so terrible for letting him down. I apologized over and over and told him I would send him money when I could….and, unfortunately did.

About a month later, we were moved to A FOB (forward operating base), where resources were drastically reduced, logistics weren’t so great, and our safety was compromised. I noticed that the care packages stopped coming and the emails were getting shorter from my Ex. I was worried that he found someone else to be with (after all, our last phone conversation wasn’t so great). Well, before I had the chance to call him again, a terrible event had taken place. I had just made my one mile walk back to where we were living, showered, and was getting ready to go to bed. It was 10:17 PM on September 14th when both myself and roommate felt the thin walls shake. At first we thought it was just the Marines next door to us, rough housing. Not even 15 seconds later, we heard and felt 2 really loud explosions. Within 2 minutes one of our pilots was pounding on our door, I opened it, and he said, “Get your flak and Kevlar on, go condition 1, we are under attack.” So we threw our flak and Kevlar on, made our rifles condition 1 and went to the bunker. As we were running to the bunker, I could see an orange glow cast over the flight line, where I had just left an hour prior. My first thought was that all of our night crew Marines were there, my second thought was that I had just loaded 6 aircraft worth of High Explosive ordnance, chaff and flare, with HEI rounds. As this was transpiring, I looked around the bunker and I saw 2 types of Marines. First type were the ones terrified for their lives, on the ground praying, crying, screaming….and the second type were just quiet and awaited orders. I was the latter, due to the fact I was probably in shock. Within several minutes, each bunker had one of our pilots, and we were formulating a plan. They had decided that we needed to secure a perimeter, and by this time, more explosions were happening, and we could hear rounds hitting the T-Barriers that surrounded where we were living. When our Pilot told us the plan, he said he needed 10 Marines, everyone kind of looked at each other for a brief moment, then he started calling names out...I was the first one out of my Bunker, followed by each Marine whose name he called. We secured the perimeter, and continued to take intermittent fire. As the night went on, we heard the helicopters lift and begin returning fire on our flight line. We had come to know that insurgents made their way through a vulnerable location on the flight line, and began to open fire on our Marines, Aircraft, and anything else they could see. Many hours passed, night came and went, and I anxiously awaited for our night crew Marines to come back. My best friend had returned, and I hugged her, probably for a solid 10 minutes straight. We cried. But we were alive. When we were reunited, we were told that our Commanding Officer was KIA. He died saving his Marines. Six of our harriers were burned to the ground, we only had 4 left, 2 of which had already started their way home and were in Spain. About 1 week later, our lines of communication were opened back up, I called my family first and told them I was alright. Then I called my Ex, and told him briefly (what I was allowed to say) what had happened. All he said to me was, “Yeah, I heard.” I lost it on him, cursed him out, and asked him what his problem was. He said, “I don’t love you anymore.” And there it was. My gut feeling was right.”

Fast forward few months, I had gotten out of the Marine Corps, feeling lost in the world I came from. I moved back home with my family. I was angry, confused, lost, and suffered severely from PTSD. My family didn’t understand, nor did they try to. My stepdad told me I was, “Fucked in the head and will never be the same.” No one helped me. I moved 7 times in that first year of being out and drank heavily. I ended up getting together with a very Toxic Man, who was also a severe alcoholic. He said he cared for me, but didn’t. We ultimately got in an argument one night, and he pointed his loaded .45 at me and told me to get out. I was intoxicated at the time as well, and provoked him further. I said, “What are gonna do, shoot me?! Go right ahead.” Thankfully, he didn’t. After that year was gone, and that relationship done I had started talking to my ex-turned friend from years ago. Mike and I started talking more, he was always there for me. He was in North Carolina, and I was in California, working 3 jobs, trying to make ends meet. I told him I wanted to go back to school and become a Paramedic, possibly get back in the Fire Service. He came to visit me, and it was like we had picked up where we left off all those years ago. I felt loved and, truly loved. He asked me to move back to North Carolina with him, and that he would help me get setup for school. So I thought, “Well, nothing is holding me here.” 2 months later, we packed everything we could in my mustang and drove cross country from California to North Carolina, and that was in May of 2014.

Today, I can say that I have overcome a lot. I spent 2 years in therapy overcoming PTSD and all the behaviors that stemmed from it. I got my degree in EMS and had graduated the top of my class in the fire academy. I became an EMS Instructor and taught EMT-Basics and Paramedics. I left the fire service last year and have started my new career as a Flight Paramedic. Mike proposed to me when we were on vacation in Aruba in 2019, our wedding is October of this year, and I couldn’t be happier.

If there is one message I want to put out to the BD tribe, it is this: Life is hard, and sometimes we feel that the weight of the world is on our shoulders. We just have to remember that we are strong and can get through anything with the right mindset. Own up. Stand up. Be victorious.

My favorite BD Collection is the Stronger collection, my second favorite is the Phoenix. I identify with both because of everything I have been through over the past years. From a rough home life, not feeling loved by my father, to not being accepted as an equal in the fire service, to becoming a stereotype combat veteran with PTSD, finally being with Mike and taking the initiative to get help, and rising from the ashes of self-hate and darkness to self-love and light. I am a Beautiful Disaster.

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May 14, 2021