Date of Award
College of Arts & Sciences
Ceiridwen Terrill, Ph.D.
Savages is a memoir chronicling my near-immediate expulsion from the Army upon arriving to Basic Training. The story begins with my discharge, made on the grounds that I was “psychologically unstable” and therefore couldn’t be trusted as a soldier. The diagnosis was based primarily on a sexual assault I went through several months before shipping. When I was given my in-processing packet on the first day, one of the questions asked “Have you ever been raped or sexually assaulted?” By opting for honesty and marking yes, I sealed my fate and lost my job in a single pen stoke. For the next two months I was stranded at Ft. Sill, forcibly kept in the Army’s “Holdover Program” until my paperwork could be completed.
In the Army, a “holdover” is a soldier who’s somehow been stopped from going to training. This could be due to a number of reasons: illness, injury, family emergency, and mental illness are some of the most common. A “refusal to serve” discharge, AKA quitting, is also among the most common. It would seem that the military would jump at the opportunity to get useless or unmotivated soldiers off the payroll, but they often don’t. Instead, paperwork is constantly lost, ship dates are missed, and deadlines are pushed back with shocking frequency. Less surprising, they seem to use the holdover program as a cheap way to complete daily tasks such as chipping ice or trimming grass.
The memoir deals heavily with themes of mental illness and the stigma surrounding it. Time and time again my characters denies being crazy or mentally ill, but as I proceed through therapy and begin to unwrap my past, a past filled with depression, self-mutilation, anxiety, and attempted suicide is revealed, proving the narrator isn’t as stable as she initially claims.
The overall theme of the memoir surrounds identity and how identity is formed. In the beginning, the narrator’s identity is built almost exclusively upon the Army. She believes it’s the only thing that will give her what she wants in life. When that identity is pulled out from under her, she’s forced to reevaluate what it means to be human, to be fallible, and to be broken in a world that demands perfection.