Memoir of a War Resister—A Novel of the 1960s

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Chapter 10—"Eve Of Destruction"

“You sure you want to do this?” Jeff asked. It was Saturday night and I was in Jeff’s room ready to get drunk for the first time. Lake Forest College had done away with curfew the previous year but male/female visitation in the dorms was still restricted to Wednesday night from six to ten o’clock, Saturday evening for two hours and Sunday afternoon.

“What’s the big deal about drinking?” I asked Jeff the previous day. “Everyone seems so excited for the weekend to come so they can get drunk.” My mind was thinking about how alcohol tastes like water left in the bottom of a boat for three days. I could also hear my dad tell me—Never lose control. Keep your faculties about you. Drinking is never the answer. Jeff told me that if I wanted to try it, he’d help me out.

“You promise me it won’t taste like boat water?”


“You promise me I won’t lose control?”

“I promise I’ll be here if you do. It’s up to you.” Jeff handed me a glass with orange juice in it.

I pushed the bangs out of my eyes, that first rebellion against my parents who hated hair in the face. It reminded me that I didn’t have to be what my parents thought I should be. I was ready for my second rebellion against my parents.

I drank.

“Boat water?” he asked me.

“No. Kind of bitter orange juice. Not bad.”

I drank the second glass he gave me. I didn’t know I should drink slowly. He didn’t warn me.

“Let’s take a walk,” Jeff said.

The alcohol caught up with me when we hit the cool night air. I liked the feeling of being a bit out of control. The alcohol was driving dad right out of my mind.

I threw up the first time behind the science building. Jeff sat me down on the ground and leaned against a tree. I grabbed a bunch of dried leaves and tried to throw them at him. My arm weighed a ton. I threw up again.

“You son-of-a-bitch. You knew this would happen if I drank that much.” I rolled to my side and threw up a third time. Jeff grabbed my two braids and held them out of the way, then wiped my mouth with the corner of his shirt. I curled up and waited to die.

“I love you,” he said and curled up beside me, rubbing my back. I wanted to stay there forever. I knew if I moved my head, I would throw up again.

“You sure picked a fine time to say it.”

In time, the ground got cold and I forced myself to stand. “I need to go to bed. I am never going to forgive you for this.”

He laughed. “You’ll forgive me. By the way, drinking is a nasty habit. I figured if you got real drunk you’d never do it again. Next time I’ll give you some weed. It’s better.”

“Anything would be better than this. And by the way, I hate you.”

I didn’t get out of bed the next day except to pee and brush my teeth. Late afternoon the phone rang.

“Feeling better?”

I hung up on him.

My first drunk should have been my last. It wasn’t. I learn hard.

5:00 a.m. Friday. November 17, 1967. Jake stood in front of the fifteen of us who were going to talk to commuters as they got on the train to Chicago. “This is a national day of protest. Anti-war groups all around the country are leafleting commuters.” Jake held up the morning newspaper. An article on the front page announced the national effort and warned commuters they would be ‘accosted by Viet Cong sympathizers’ while going to work. It advised commuters to lower their eyes and walk by. “Are we going to let the Chicago newspapers dictate who we are? No. So, let’s go get them.” Jake could convince me to do about anything for him.

“Ready, Becky?” Ginger said. She handed me a bag of doughnuts. I pulled out a chocolate frosted one.

“I’m scared as hell. I hate walking up to people and talking to them. Put a guitar in my hand. Let me write an article. Anything but this.”

“Don’t worry,” Ginger said. “You’ll be fine. Is Jeff coming?”

“He said he was. I have no idea where he is.”

Jeff never showed so Marty and Hook promised to be my partners for the day. We boarded the commuter train and got off at Lake Bluff.

“The key is to tell the truth,” Marty said. He handed me a pile of leaflets.

I glared at him. “That might be the stupidest thing anyone could say right now. It’s freezing out and I’m about to do something petrifying.”

“One way or other this war will touch every person on every block in every city in this country,” Marty said.

“My god, Marty. It’s five o’clock in the morning.” I pulled a glazed doughnut out of the bag. “Here, eat another doughnut.” Marty could be overpious at times.

Bleary eyed commuters sauntered warily onto the platform. The first commuter silently took the pamphlet I held out. The second passed me by eyes lowered. The third said, “Go get a haircut.” My hair was tucked under a knit hat so he had no idea what it looked like. One commuter said, “Go get a job.” Another said, “Thank you. Keep up the good fight.”

I was drawn to a commuter talking to Hook. “Move to Russia if you don’t like this country.”

Start on my friends and you’re in trouble. All my fear left me at that moment. I moved between the commuter and Hook and said, “He’s a Vietnam vet. Have some respect.”

Hook put his hand on my shoulder. “It’s okay, Becky. I can handle this.”

“It’s not okay,” I said to Hook. I turned back to the commuter. “You can say that to me but you can’t say that to a veteran. He lost his hand in Vietnam.”

The commuter started to walk away. I moved in front of him again. “If you like this war so much why don’t you enlist? Lose your hand in service to this country. Lose your life for all I care.”

Marty walked over and took my arm to pull me out of harm’s way. I jerked out of his grip and turned back to the commuter. “You move to Russia,” I yelled at him.

Marty took my arm again and pulled me away from the man. “It doesn’t do any good to yell at them.”

I tried to jerk free from his hand. He held on tight. “It doesn’t do any good to not yell at them either. And let go of me.” I jerked again and his hand dropped.

“Calm down,” Marty said.

“Shut up, Marty.”

Hook was still engaged in a conversation with the guy. When the train came, he shook Hook’s hand and boarded the train to Chicago.

Hook walked over to me, kissed me on the head and gave me a hug. It was my first Dennis McKinney hug. I was addicted immediately. Hook hugged with his whole body, shoulders touching, chest touching, thighs touching, knees touching. “Thanks for always trying to protect me. I can fight my own battles.” The hug lingered.

We stayed on the platform for an hour. Students imploring. Commuters ignoring, briefcase in one hand, cup of coffee in the other. They were in a hurry. They had jobs to go to and families to feed, threatened by cries for peace.

The cold apathy of the commuters did not deter us. It enraged us. It goaded us. It pushed us, made us hungry for change, made us feel powerless. Powerlessness made us strong.

Why didn’t Jeff show up? All he said was, “I overslept.” I’d heard that before.

Contributor Column

By Becky Jamison

Fifteen members of the Lake Forest College Students Against the War leafleted commuters up and down the north shore of Chicago last Saturday. The event was coordinated with similar actions around the country.

Despite a few hostile interactions, most of the commuters ignored the students altogether.

Saturday night President Johnson said, “We are inflicting greater losses than we’re taking . . . We are making progress.” Yet, in October more than 700 young men lost their lives in Vietnam and more than 4,000 were injured. It looks like November’s numbers will be larger.

The Lake Forest College Students Against the War meet every Wednesday at 7:00 in Bradley Hall.

With finals in ten days, my parents decided it would be best to stay on campus for Thanksgiving. I ate a plate of turkey and mashed potatoes in a college cafeteria with my friends. I missed my family but was thankful for what I had.

That afternoon I ran into Hook walking to his room across the hall from Jeff’s. We walked down the hall together. Jeff greeted me at the door with one of those twisted ended cigarettes in his hand. I was ready to try it.

“Care to join us, Hook?” Jeff raised the joint.

“I’ll pass, but thanks.” Hook looked at me and back at Jeff. “Don’t forget what I told you the other night, Jeff.”

“What did you tell him?” I glanced back and forth between the two of them.

Hook spoke. “I told him he better not ever hurt you or he would have to answer to me.”

I walked over to Hook and leaned in to kiss him on the cheek. “Don’t worry. He won’t.”

Hook put his arms around me in another one of his hugs. “Be careful, Becky. Promise me.”

“I promise.” I turned and went into Jeff’s room. I looked back at Hook right before the door closed. He raised his hand in a slight wave.

“Why does Hook think you would ever hurt me?” I took off my jacket and threw it on the bed.

“I think he’s jealous and maybe a little bit in love with you.” Jeff held up the joint.

“Hook has to know I love you.” That was the first time I mentioned love to Jeff. It came out of my mouth unexpectedly.

Jeff smiled and held up the joint. “You ready for this?”

“I’m trusting you,” I said not sure if I really trusted him after the getting drunk debacle.

“It’s not anything like getting drunk. I would never do anything to hurt you.” Then he looked at me. God damn eyes. They did it every time. “You should never pass up the opportunity to try something you’ve never done before.”

“I’m sure there are some opportunities worth passing up.”

“Not this one,” he said and took a book of matches out of the pocket of the leather jacket he always wore, even inside. Jeff lit the joint and inhaled slowly, held it in and then slowly exhaled.

He handed the joint to me while his hand found its way under my shirt. I could hear my dad say, “Tell him to stop.” But I didn’t want him to stop. My body ached for Jeff.

“Inhale slowly and hold it in as long as you can.”

It was like having the angel and the devil on my shoulders. The angel said, “Tell him to stop. Don’t inhale. Leave.” The devil said, “You want him. Inhale. Stay.” They argued back and forth and all the while Jeff is kissing, massaging, blowing, moaning.

The devil won. I inhaled and coughed it out.

“Try again,” Jeff said.

Each time I held it longer.

We finished the joint and Jeff went to roll another. “When will I start to feel something?” As soon as I said that I felt it. “Whoa, that’s kind of nice.”

Jeff came back with the second joint, lit it and handed it to me. He slid my shirt over my head. I didn’t resist. My body arched towards him.

This thing opened up in my head. My dad’s speeches didn’t matter anymore. I was completely at peace with what was happening. Jeff put the unfinished joint in the ashtray, turned off the light, took off his jacket and shirt.

He moved me to the bed and my world changed. What was my dad even talking about?

That night I fell in love with dope and hopelessly over the edge for Jeff. Once you taste the good life, there’s no going back. I was ready to spend the rest of my life with this man.

“I didn’t even think about birth control. What should I do?” I asked Ginger.

“Pray,” she said.

“This isn’t funny.” Maybe it was a mistake to kick Dad out of my head.

“I know. You can’t do anything about it now except wait. And then we’ll get you on the pill.”

“How could I have been so stupid?” I reached for a Kleenex from the box on her desk to wipe the tears from the corners of my eyes.

“My guess is you think you’re in love and whatever magic he did, it was pretty hard to resist.”

She was right. “I was stoned. That was my second mistake.”

Ginger took both of my hands. “None of it was a mistake. What you did was normal. And if you are pregnant, we can deal with that.” Her eyes caught mine. She smiled. “Trust me. I know.”

Turns out I wasn’t pregnant and Ginger went with me to the doctor so I could get on the pill. When I went in for the exam she put a small button in my hand, about the size of the peace button I wore on my jacket. It said, ‘Wet and Wild.’ I needed a good laugh.

While all that was happening, while I fought with my roommate, danced at homecoming, ate Life Savers with Hook and he became my friend, marched around the square and handed out leaflets, got drunk and stoned, had sex and went on the pill, took final exams, while all that happened, the war went on. The powerlessness turned into a hopelessness and, as hopelessness often does, it turned into rage. Does absolute powerlessness corrupt as much as absolute power?

Around the country protesters bombed ROTC offices and took over administration buildings. JFK predicted we’d be out by 1965 but he was dead and the war kept going, getting uglier, more deaths, more napalm, more young boys in body bags.

By the end of 1967, 486,000 troops had been sent to Vietnam. More than 20,000 were dead. My generation was disappearing, one boy killed at a time. You see, politics, policies and treaties aside, war is plain and simply about death.

U.S. Soldier Body Count: 20,057

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