A memoir of surviving sexual abuse in the Air Force academy.
I want to be in the Air Force someday.
These are the words Polo Tate engraved on her junior dog tags at age eleven. It was an unpopular dream for most young girls, but her hard work paid off and at age eighteen, Polo started basic training at the United States Air Force Academy.
She does everything right, from academics to athletics. But no one prepared her for what came next: physical, sexual, and emotional abuse at the hands of her superiors. Harassment from peers who refused to believe her story.
Deep Dark Blue is more than a memoir about sexual assault. It’s about breaking boundaries but also setting them. It's about learning to trust your instincts. It's a story of survival, resilience, and finally, finding your joy.
|Publisher:||Feiwel & Friends|
|File size:||3 MB|
|Age Range:||17 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
POLO REO TATE USAFA, 15 MAY, O-NEG NO ONE CAN TAKE YOUR JOY
The words were under my thumb from the very beginning. From the time the bus picked us up, until the time its brakes squealed to a halt and exhaled their deep and final sigh, my thumb ran back and forth over each tiny raised letter on my junior dog tags, like a worry stone.
Po-lo Re-o Tate. Rub.
U-Saah-Fa, U-Saah-Fa, U-Saah-Fa. Rub.
After a two-year wait for a senatorial appointment, an application process, and a lifetime of preparation, I had earned the chance to pursue superior academia, to train militarily, and to play Division I volleyball. All while becoming the newest member of the team in charge of protecting our nation. I was living my childhood dream, sitting on a bus that was taking me in to start my first day of basic training at the United States Air Force Academy.
The bus's hydraulics expelled the rest of their air over each wheel, lowering its enormous frame one side at a time. As if kneeling down to pray in the loaded, quiet calm before a storm. Bloated, visceral silence. I sat perfectly still, except for my thumb, rubbing, rubbing, rubbing the dog tags.
I stopped rubbing, afraid the friction was contributing to sweltering heat inside the stuffy bus. I stole the moment to wrap my junior dog tags around and around my arm for good luck and tuck them under the thick leather cuff that hugged my wrist.
This was both one of the happiest days of my life, and one of the scariest. I had always preferred to live on the shiny side of life, and yet I knew that where there was shine, there could also be shadow. I had just turned eighteen. And I had already experienced the extremes of tragedy, loss, and love enough to know that none of us, no situation, was just one thing or another. As I sat on the bus to basic, I had a sneaking suspicion that for better or worse, USAFA was going to force me to see both sides of life's coin. I held my breath.
The energy, like the trapped, stagnant air inside the bus, pulsed to the beat of my accelerating heart, throbbing it like a bladder.
The bus doors blew open, startling even the driver, and a wiry young man bounded up the stairs, blowing a piercingly shrill whistle. WHEEE!
"GET OFF THIS MOTHER-CHUCKING BUS RIGHT NOOOW, BASICS!" For such a small man, his lung capacity was awe-inspiring. Wait ... mother-chucking?
"I SAID MOOOVE, PEOPLE!"
He was gesticulating wildly, as if bringing in a 747 jumbo jet, sans the supercool orange lightsabers. One windmilling arm took a break to point a finger at the Heisman Trophy's bigger, badder younger brother, sitting next to me. I hoped to God that this mountain of a boy was a USAFA football recruit, because our Fighting Falcons could really use this Mack truck of muscle mass barreling down our opponents.
"LET'S GOOO, BOY. ... GET THAT BIG ASS AMOVIN'!"
Basic Cadet Trophy Boy grabbed me by the arm and hoisted me up like a tackling dummy. He dragged me past the roaring mouth and wind-milling arm to the bus's exit.
From my perch one step above his broad shoulders, I could see the utter chaos that met each of my classmates as their feet hit USAFA pavement for the first time. God, I wanted to grab the back of Basic Cadet Trophy Boy's shirt and hang on for dear life. A second later, we were both yanked into the chaotic swell below. I sucked in my last breath of free air and stepped down onto the perilous pavement.
I almost overlooked the small cadet waiting for me off to one side, wearing a perfectly pressed blue uniform and a large hat that looked as if he'd just swiped it from his father's closet. Before I could turn to look at him, he stuck his face so close to mine that I felt his nose dip into my ear. His nose just went inside my ear. Instinctively, I grabbed the side of my head and doubled over with ticklish laughter. I instantly regretted it as I straightened myself up. Too late.
"OOOHH, WE GOT A LAUGHER OVER HERE! SHE CAN'T MAINTAIN HER BEARING! YOU THINK THAT'S FUNNY, BASIC?!"
Umm, yasss? Not that I would say it out loud, but OMG, yes. It was hilarious. How was I supposed to maintain my bearing — whatever that was — when this little and loud Jersey-sounding stranger had just stuck his nose inside my ear?
"YOU THINK THIS IS FUNNY, BASIC?! YOU THINK WE ARE HERE FOR YOUR AMUSEMENT?!"
Damn, he is ferocious. I bit my lip to keep from nervously laughing.
Two other uniforms answered Cadet Itty-Bitty's mating call.
"AWWW, GIGGLE-PUSSS, EH?? YOU THINK THAT'S FUNNY??"
"WHAT. THE. MOTHER. CHUCK. ARE. YOU. FRIGGIN. LAUGHING AT, SHIT-CAN?!?"
Fear had shrunken my sphincter to the size of a shriveled currant. Perhaps it was my coping mechanism, or a fear response, that was allowing giggle bubbles to surface from deep inside of me. Either way, I had to answer.
I wondered if laughter was considered an honor code violation. I didn't think so, technically, considering we had not yet taken any kind of oath — unless that was one of the 14,000 papers that I had signed that morning.
"OH, YOU DO NOT THINK IT IS FUNNY, BASIC?? BUT YOU WERE LAUGHING, SHIT-FOR-BRAINS?!"
My body froze like I was buffering, and the upperclassmen just stared at me for a beat, impatiently waiting to refresh my URL. I wasn't sure of anything. They took my silence as a concession.
"THEN YOU DO THINK IT IS FUNNY?!" Shit. I started to gesticulate.
"No, no, no, sir! I mean, it's not funny, sir!"
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING, BASIC? GET YOUR ARMS DOWN! ARE YOU ALLOWED TO USE CONTRACTIONS?! GET BACK AT ATTENTION, YOU DUMB LOOSEY-GOOSEY!"
Wow. The insults so far had sounded like my grandparents trying to speak emoji ... barely comprehensible, but definitely awkward and insulting. However, unlike my grandparents, the cadre — the cadet officers assigned to train us — had meant to insult, and they hurled their language with enough velocity that it stung.
Four more cadre members descended. Each one fired off a question that added to my own personal hell.
Okay, I'm starting to get the hang of this.
I looked into the eyes of the uniformed cadet I'd just answered. She was pissed.
"YOU THINK I LOOK LIKE A BOY, BASIC? HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF I CALLED YOU A BOY, BASIC?!"
Hmm. How would I feel? Well, I'd feel like I was back in elementary school. Back when the elf shelf, pixie, or as my father liked to call it, "Don't you wanna look like a girl, goddamnit" haircut was sweeping the nation and I was its poster child.
If there was anything I understood, it was how shitty it felt to be mistaken for something that I was not — and I had just done that very thing to one of the women in charge of my training, on my first day of college.
"Pardon me, sir, I'm finished. May I give you back the form for my dog tags?" I handed the grizzled gray-haired vet behind the counter back the form he had given me. His wool baseball cap said ARMY in gold letters and was adorned with various combat pins along the sides, hiding most of a jagged and salty sweat ring wrapping all the way around. He squinted at the completed form, then at me.
"Startin' a little early, aren't ya, son?" His eyes pinged off me and landed on another older gentleman sitting behind the register. "Don't think they're gonna believe you when you go to report for duty. ..." They laughed and shook their heads. I ran my hands through my long pixie haircut and tucked it behind my ears, accentuating my gold earrings in each ear. I was finally starting to grow my hair out and dress more femininely; this wasn't supposed to keep happening.
The army/navy surplus store was empty except for my good friend and teammate, Munny, and me. She was over looking at army jackets, and when I looked over at her, embarrassed, she was mouthing something forcefully at me. I shook my head and waved her off. Mr. Army Vet took the form that I had filled out over to a metal press.
"Um, excuse me, sir, she's a girl," Munny said, more strongly than I'd hoped.
"It's okay, Munny, he didn't mean —"
"Is that right? Well, pardon me — wow — are these for your boyfriend, then, sweetie?" He started to press the tags.
"No. They're for her." Munny folded her arms and popped her hip, her blond ponytail punctuating her every point.
Munny was three years older, six inches shorter, and twice as loud as I was. We had been playing basketball together since I was eight. Now that I was eleven, I had been playing in her age bracket for a more competitive traveling league, and we had both just found out that we'd made the All-Star team out of all the fourteen-year-old girls in our region. We were celebrating.
I had loved sports since tumbling out of my mother's womb. I'd played catch at thirteen months and ridden a bike without training wheels at two and a half. Every team that I had joined, and every sport that I had played, just reinforced to me more and more that athletics incorporated almost everything that I adored about people, problem-solving, math, science, and communication. I had instantly felt at home on the playing field or court. And I was going to practice as hard as I could to be able to play Division I volleyball, basketball, or soccer in college. It wasn't until we had started our All-Star team practice that I'd found the "even more" I'd been looking for.
Munny's dad — Coach Munny — was a smart, funny teddy bear of a man, whom I adored, and who had become our assistant coach. Our whole team went back to their house for a slumber party after our first practice. After dinner, we watched one of the movies for which Munny's dad had written the screenplay, called Top Gun. The moment the credits rolled in their home theater, we were up on our feet, high-fiving, cheering loudly, and ready to totally crush our first tournament. Not only did we choose Top Gun as our team name, but we watched the movie before every tournament. A tradition had been born within our team, and an unknown world had just revealed itself to me.
Beyond being a romantic, action-packed blockbuster, Top Gun sparked the flint to my kindling thoughts of the future, immediately igniting a wildfire inside my gut.
As I watched the screen pilots train, work, play, and study, I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. For the first time, I saw that work could be both an academic and a physical challenge. I didn't have to choose a job that only used my brain — like the jobs my parents had — or one that only used my body, like those of professional athletes.
To me, the flyboys of Top Gun challenged themselves in every way, each day. Obviously, it was a movie — not real life — but I'd immediately talked to Coach Munny and found out just how much of it was based on reality, so I added books on navy and air force aviation to my reading list. I had already been reading books about the FBI, and was completely fascinated by profiling and forensic behavioral science, so books on the military were a natural next step.
I had loved seeing how the military honored and encouraged the mind-body connection. I wanted that challenge. I wanted that training. I wanted to be a part of that elite team. Flying planes while getting to learn and work seemed like it would be the ultimate bonus. It was the air force that actually felt like a perfect fit on every level. My friend Munny knew I wanted to get a pair of dog tags, and even though she didn't want any, I knew that she wouldn't tell anyone about mine. It was a promise that I was making to my future self. A commitment to work hard. To go all in. A promise that was to me, for me, by me ... just private. She also knew a friend with a car, and a penchant for Jersey Giant sub sandwiches. Which allowed me to finally get my very own set of dog tags made that pressed my goal — my hope — into metal, and further into its fulfillment:
POLO REO TATE USAFA, 15 MAY, O-NEG NO ONE CAN TAKE YOUR JOY
"Welp — there ya go, hon! Say — where'd that quote come from on the bottom, there?" Mr. Army Vet said as he handed me my shiny new dream.
"Just ... someone close to me said it when I was seven." I reached for the tags.
"Hmm ... They for a Halloween costume or something, darlin'?" Mr. Army Vet pried.
"Um, no, not a costume. Thank you." I took them from him gingerly, holding my dreams close to my heart and my cards close to my vest. I held my money out to Mr. Navy Vet at the register.
"She is gonna be a soldier. Like, an amazing soldier!" Munny couldn't help herself; her heart was ever on her sleeve, and the chip protecting it was ever on her shoulder.
Mr. Navy Vet at the cash register raised his eyebrows, pursed his lips, and nodded. Mr. Army Vet, on the other hand, grimaced.
"Naww, even if you could, why would you wanna go and do that? ... It's no place for little girls like you. Screws with a man's head, seeing women in a place like that. You don't wanna do that, do ya?" His face was gnarled, trying to set us straight. Munny's ponytail started bobbing like a prizefighter's feet before a knockout. I put my hand on her shoulder and gave her a look. Mr. Navy Vet gave me my change. I took it and looked at Mr. Army Vet.
"Why did you go into the service?" I asked, truly wondering.
"Well, back then we didn't have a choice — I had to. Guess it turned out all right, though — had a good career." He crossed his arms, rocked back on his heels.
"Wow — you didn't have a choice?"
"Well, it was a different time back then — old-school —"
"Old-school. Kinda like you still want it to be for us ... women?" I smiled, looked into his eyes. "Wouldn't it have been nice for you to have had a choice ...?" I put the change in my pocket and stood there for a beat.
Mr. Navy Vet's eyebrows went up and he crossed his arms and nodded over at his buddy, throwing his head over his shoulder at me and chuckling. Mr. Army Vet grimaced at his buddy's razzing, and squinted for a grizzled, contemplative beat. Munny had her hand over her mouth, but took it down, revealing a giant smile, held her head higher, and took my arm as she spun on her heels and pranced back out the door. I turned before getting outside.
"Thank you for my dog tags!"
The moment we were out of eyeshot, Munny spun around.
"Holy crap, Popo!" She had her fist in front of her mouth. "That was just ... bomb!" She looked up, enjoying it. "Ha — oh man, his face! Epic."
I was looking at my dog tags, rolling them over in my hand. I put them around my neck, and felt the cold metal over my heart, the rubber silencers absorb their clank. Yesss. My goal. Declared in metal, protecting my heart.CHAPTER 2
"Ma'am, I am sorry!"
"WHAAAT?! YOU ARE SORRY?! IS THAT PART OF YOUR ALLOTTED VOCABULARY, BASIC?!"
Ahh .. I don't know ... is it?
"No? ... Ma'am?"
"THEN WHAT ARE YOUR BASIC RESPONSES, BASIC?!"
Shitballs. It was the first time I had ever been called basic. In any way. I still didn't know the answer to her question. In fact, I had never not known so many things in my entire life.
The only thing I did know was that I had to give it my all. I knew that if I gave 200 percent all day, every day here at the academy, success would find me. This was the standard I'd set for myself before, and it only made sense that it would carry me through military training and beyond. It was about time I, once again, started to appreciate the power of leaving everything out on the floor. I wrapped up my train of thought, in time for Cadet She-Not-He to go one more round with our eardrums.
"ALL OF YOU BASICS: LISTEN UP!"
The audible chaos stopped.
"FROM NOW ON, YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO ANSWER WITH ANYTHING OTHER THAN THESE SEVEN BASIC RESPONSES:
"SIR, I DO NOT KNOW.
"SIR, I DO NOT UNDERSTAND.
"SIR, MAY I ASK A QUESTION?
"SIR, MAY I MAKE A STATEMENT?
"AND FINALLY: NO EXCUSE, SIR.
"YOU MAY NOT USE ANY VARIANCE IN TONE OR INFLECTION WHEN RESPONDING. AND BE SURE YOU KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SIR ... AND MA'AM. TRUST US WHEN WE SAY THESE ARE ALL OF THE RESPONSES THAT YOU WILL NEED FOR THE NEXT SIX WEEKS ... IF YOU EVEN MAKE IT THAT LONG."
Her eyes burned a hole into me as she finished her speech, and like a perfectly timed tag team, her compatriot then jumped into the ring to verbally wrestle us to the ground.
"FAAALLL INNN, BASICS!"
I stopped midbreath like a game of freeze tag.
I felt a few classmates make sharp movements like mimes locking themselves into imaginary phone booths. Their muscles locked tightly, perfectly still. The rest of us looked like a bunch of deer in headlights.
"PATHETIC! ABSOLUTELY PATHETIC, BASICS! FROM THIS POINT FORWARD IN YOUR CADET CAREER STOP EVERYTHING AND SHOOT TO ATTENTION WHEN YOU HEAR THIS COMMAND. NOOOWW, PEOPLE!"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Deep Dark Blue"
Copyright © 2018 Polo Tate.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part One: Wading In,
1. The Academy,
2. The Academy,
3. The Academy,
4. The Academy,
5. The Academy,
6. The Academy,
7. The Academy,
8. The Academy,
9. The Academy,
10. The Academy,
11. The Academy,
12. The Academy,
13. The Academy,
14. The Academy,
Part Two: Rising Tide,
15. The Academy,
16. The Academy,
17. The Academy,
18. The Academy,
19. The Academy,
20. The Academy,
21. The Academy,
22. The Academy,
Part Three: Drowning,
23. The Academy,
24. The Academy,
25. The Academy,
26. The Academy,
27. The Academy,
28. The Academy,
29. The Academy,
30. The Academy,
31. The Academy,
32. The Academy,
33. The Academy,
Part Four: Dry Land,
34. The Academy,
35. The Academy,
36. The Academy,
37. The Academy,
38. The Academy,
39. The Academy,
40. The Academy,
41. The Academy,
42. The Academy,
43. The Academy,
44. The Academy,
45. The Academy,
Resources & Support,
About the Author,