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

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Chapter 17—"Do You Want To Know A Secret?"

We celebrated Jake’s graduation at a white wooden farmhouse in the country five miles west of Lake Forest that Marty rented for the next year. Jeff and I were moving into the attic room. Ginger was taking the first-floor bedroom. Marty was in one of the second-floor bedrooms. He hoped to find someone to take the other room on the second floor. Marty invited Hook but he chose to rent a small apartment in town.

We started the celebration by throwing random flower seeds in the back yard of the farmhouse. Then we went inside and brought out the guitars.

Enough music later and we toasted Jake. Marty started. “Jake, you have been my mentor for two years. When my brother got injured in Vietnam, I was angry at the war and what it did to him. You took my anger, shaped it, and gave it purpose. What will we do without you? Thanks, man.” Then it was my turn.

“Jake, you had me hooked with the first speech I heard you give nine months ago in Bradley Hall. Your heart, spirit, passion, dedication, intelligence. I can’t imagine you not being here. What am I going to do without your guidance and wisdom? Thanks for being true to who you are. Thanks for reminding me to always be true to who I am.” I glanced over at Ginger then finished, “By the way, I am going to love having Ginger all to myself next year.”

“Except for nearly every weekend when I come visit or she comes down to Chicago.”

“My turn,” Hook put his arm around Jake. “This is the man.” He patted Jake’s chest with his hook.

“Watch it with that thing,” Jake laughed.

“When the whole rest of the campus couldn’t figure out what to do with me, Jake was there. ‘See you at the march this Saturday.’ ‘Expect to see you are the meeting.’ ‘We’re handing out literature to commuters.’ ‘We need someone to sit at the table.’ The guy wouldn’t shut up. And because of him I found all of you. I love you, man.”

Jeff was next. “I started going to anti-war meetings because I knew Becky was going.” He grinned and put his arm around me. “But then the movement seduced me and in the process I got some amazing friends. Good luck next year, my friend. We’re only thirty miles away.”

“The anti-war movement is in good hands with all of you.” Jake lifted his glass in a toast to us all. “I have no doubt you are going to do great work next year. I promise to come back for any event or action you plan.”

“We’ll hold you to that,” Jeff said. The toasts were over. The party ended. We said our goodbyes.

My final hug was from Hook. He held me. “You take care of yourself, Becky. If you need anything over the summer, call.” He gave me a card with his mom’s phone number on it. “Promise me you’ll be careful.”

“I promise.”

Jake was moving to Chicago to start his two years of alternative service. Ginger would stay with him for the summer. Marty was spending the summer in his hometown. Hook was heading home to Cleveland to stay with his mom. The garden seeds were left untended.

“How will I survive three months without you?” I said as Jeff drove me to the airport. I was heading home to work in the summer camp for children with disabilities that changed my life once before. He was heading to Boston to take care of his parents’ estate. We would meet back in Chicago the end of August for the Democratic National Convention.

Jeff promised to write every day and as promised, every day I got a brightly colored green neon envelope. Every day I wrote back. The first part of July I got a letter saying he moved in with old friends from his days at Northeastern University. Selective Service was bugging him but all he had to do was prove he was still enrolled at Lake Forest. I didn’t understand. I thought a student deferment was a student deferment.

I hated Sunday. No mail call. And I hated July 22nd. No letter. And I hated July 23rd. No letter. And I hated July 24th. No letter.

The letters simply stopped and I didn’t hear from him again until the last letter. There always is a last one even if you don’t know it’s the last one because you’re waiting for the next one.

All it said was “Northeastern has taken me back for my last semester. It’s been fun. Stay cool.” Signed Jeff. I read it again, hoping I missed some words. It said the same thing the second time, the third time, the fourth time. Each time it said exactly the same thing.

He wasn’t coming back. Not ever. Not I still love you and we’ll keep in touch. Just I’m not coming back. Never.

There were two more weeks of camp. I woke up my campers, took them to breakfast, did exercises on the lawn, hiked to the edge of the forest, taught swimming, sang around the campfire. It was torture. All I kept thinking about was Jeff. All that went through my head was, “Northeastern has taken me back for my last semester. It’s been fun. Stay cool.”

My dad wrote my mom every day when she was in college and he was two hundred miles away at another college. Every single day. She still has all the letters he wrote. They are bound together in a crimson ribbon in a box. Sometimes when I’m home, I pull out the box, sit on the bed and read the letters. My dad called my mom Muffin and always ended his letters with, “No one could love you more than I do.”

I was going to save all the letters Jeff wrote. I was going to tie them up in a florescent yellow ribbon and put them in a box in my closet. I was going to let our daughter pull the box out of the closet and read the letters. Mom and Dad did it. We could too.

I wrote Jeff back. “We can work this out.” I didn’t hear from him. I knew if I got to Boston we could figure it out.

Camp dragged on and on and on. Campfires, s’mores and hikes. Swimming, canoe rides and sing-alongs.

Time goes by. Step by step it passes. Excruciatingly slow when we want it to go fast. Too fast when we want it to slow down. Finally, on August 17th, the campers left. I drove home, packed the car my parents bought me knowing I’d be living off campus, and said goodbye. I was on the road by two p.m. I drove possessed to Boston. I intended to drive until I couldn’t go anymore. Sleep in a cheap motel. Finish the trip the next day. All thousand miles of it.

The odometer clicked off the miles. Mile one. Mile two. Mile three. Three point one. Three point two. Relentless clicking. Mile four. Mile five. I got caught in a traffic jam in Cincinnati. The Reds baseball game just ended. I was stuck on the highway with fans honking horns and waving pennants. I didn’t care about the Reds. I cared about, “Northeastern has taken me back for the last semester. It’s been fun. Stay cool.”

The traffic stopped. “Fuck you, Jeff.” I yelled at no one in particular hoping the ten-year old girl in the car in front of me waving her pennant out the window couldn’t hear. “You can’t do this to me. I gave you everything. You can’t just say, ‘Stay cool.’” He did.

I couldn’t allow myself to cry. If I cried I wouldn’t be able to drive and I had to drive.

By the time Cincinnati cleared out I’d been on the road for four and a half hours and gone one hundred and twenty miles of a thousand mile trip. I was twelve percent of the way there. At this rate I’d never arrive. I’d never find out. I’d never know.

By eleven o’clock that night, I couldn’t drive another ten yards. I found a cheap motel, got the key to room eight, ripped the paper off the toilet that told me someone had sanitized it for my personal use and crashed on the bed without changing my clothes or brushing my teeth. I was half way there.

I woke up as the sun came up, splashed cold water on my face and rinsed the awful taste out of my mouth. My toothbrush was somewhere in my suitcase in the car.

Five hundred more miles, ten more hours. I should be there before dinner. Jeff and I could have a nice dinner and talk things out.

In Milton, Pennsylvania, I passed a sign pointing north to Elmira, New York, one hundred miles. My eyes filled with tears and I pulled over to the side of the road. My mom grew up in Elmira and my parents got married there. I needed to feel my parents’ love affair. I needed to believe that I had the same kind of love affair, that it would work out, that it would be okay. I slammed my fists into the steering wheel. I screamed at the people passing me on the highway. Then I opened the door of the car, walked to the passenger side, pulled down my pants and peed. I didn’t give a damn if the whole world was watching.

I got back in the car, put three lifesavers in my mouth, one cherry, one pineapple, one orange. I took a deep breath, wiped my eyes and pulled back onto the highway. The road to Elmira disappeared in the rear view mirror and I kept driving east.

About a hundred miles out of Boston I stopped at a Texaco station to fill up. On the rack next to the bathroom was a map of Boston for sale. Maybe there is a god. I circled the street where Jeff lived and mapped out the shortest route.

I reached Boston at four. Bad timing. The whole world was heading into or out of Boston. The whole entire world. The cars moved at snail speed. “Damn, damn, damn.” I slammed my arms on the steering wheel. “Get out of the way.” I yelled at no one in particular. I passed Fenway Park going a mile an hour. At that rate I could pull off the highway, go to a ballgame and not lose any time. It was tempting. I love baseball.

I finally exited the highway, turned down a side road and pulled over to look at the map again. I was still miles away through back streets. An hour later I found a parking place. I walked up to the house where Jeff lived. I could hear the Rolling Stones singing inside. I took a deep breath and knocked on the door.

A very stoned looking girl wearing a long peasant skirt answered. She didn’t say anything. “Hi,” I said.

She stared at me and still didn’t say anything. I looked behind her into the living room. The curtains were drawn and it was dark. I didn’t see Jeff.

“Is Jeff around?” I asked.

She stared at me. “Huh?” She grabbed onto the doorframe to steady herself.

“I said, is Jeff around?”

“I know you.” She poked me in the chest. “You’re that girl of his. I recognize you from the pictures in his room.” She turned towards the living room. “Turn the record player down. I can’t hear myself think.” Nothing happened. “Hold on a minute,” she said as she went into the dark living room and turned down the music. She still hadn’t invited me in.

She came back to the door. “Now what did you say you wanted?”

I was getting impatient. Her hand on the doorframe blocked the way in. “I’m looking for Jeff. Can I come in?”

She moved out of the way and gestured with her arm. “Be my guest.” The only light on in the house was a 40-watt bulb in the hallway. It took a second for my eyes to adjust. So this is where Jeff lived. A tattered red chair with only one arm, an old couch with a blanket and sheet thrown over the back, a beanbag chair on the floor, a coffee table with ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts and what was left of those twisted ended cigarettes, plates, bottles, cups on every surface. The room was filled with smoke and smelled of incense, cigarettes, marijuana. God, I hate the smell of incense.

I turned towards the woman who answered the door. “Is Jeff here? If not, do you know where he is?”

She stared at me real hard. “Well, I’m not quite sure where he is right now.” She took a pack of cigarettes out of the pocket of her skirt, put one in her mouth and lit it. She offered me one. I declined.

“Can I wait for him?”

She inhaled, put her head back, exhaled and then laughed. “That would be a mighty long wait. Jeff’s dead. He overdosed a couple days ago.”

All I could get out of my mouth was, “What?”

“I said Jeff’s dead. He overdosed a couple days ago. Do you want to go through his stuff?”

I had been on the road for two days. I wanted to see Jeff. But nothing seemed to be working in my brain. I needed to sit down before I fell down. I walked over and sat on the red chair with the broken arm. She followed me. I sensed something was terribly wrong here, terribly, terribly wrong. The room was scant, bare. My eyes adjusted enough to realize someone was asleep on the beanbag chair. “What did you say?”

“Look. We could really use his room. Someone’s been sleeping on the couch at night. Do you want to go through his stuff?”

I looked up at her and said as calmly as I could, “What are you talking about?”

She looked down at me and spoke as though I didn’t speak English but could understand if she slowed down. “I don’t know how I can be any clearer. Jeff is dead. Do you want to go through his stuff?”

My brain went numb. I couldn’t feel. I couldn’t think. I could only respond. “Yes, I would like to go through his stuff. Show me his room.” I followed the girl.

“Here it is. Good luck.”

I went in and shut the door behind me. Enough light came through the window that I could see what Jeff had been here, who he had been. An old, dirty, double mattress on the floor with a crumpled-up sheet half-on, half-off the bed. A caseless pillow with stained blue and white ticking. A pile of clothes in the corner. A dresser against one wall with every drawer pulled out a little, except the bottom one. An ashtray on the floor by the bed filled with cigarette butts and the remains of joints. Another on the dresser. A small table under the window with a folding chair under it. On the table a half-filled pad of green neon paper and a box of matching envelopes. A pile of papers stacked on the edge of the table. Dirty dishes on every surface, rotten fruit, stale cigarettes. Jeff never smoked cigarettes.

I couldn’t make sense of the room. I wanted Jeff. I wanted to feel him again. I wanted him to cup my chin in his hand and kiss me. The woman kept telling me he was dead but he had been here. He had been alive here. He slept here and wrote me letters here.

I walked to the table. On the top of the pile of papers was the last letter I’d written, unopened.

I looked around the room ever so slowly. I sat on the mattress, grabbed the pillow and held it to my face, hoping to have one last smell of him. But the pillow didn’t smell like him. It smelled dirty and musty. And then I cried and cried and cried. He was my life, my future, my everything. I couldn’t breathe. I looked around the room again. I wanted something to hold onto, something that made sense. Something that didn’t smell musty and dead. The brown leather jacket was on top of the pile of clothes in the corner. I crawled over to it, dragged it back to the bed, put it on, laid my head on the musty, mildewed pillow that held his head, and fell asleep. When I woke up, it was dark out.

Jeff was still dead.

I stood up and found my way to the wall, feeling for the light switch. A lone 100-watt bulb lit up the room. On the wall, next to the light switch, were two pictures, each held up with one tack, both hanging at a slant. One was a picture of me he took one night trying to get him to stop taking pictures of me. One hand on my hip. The other reaching out to take the camera away from him. The other picture was of both of us taken by the school photographer during a softball game. Jeff hit a home run. I met him at home base and jumped into his arms. We both had our heads thrown back and we were laughing. It appeared in the campus newspaper the next week. I took the picture of both of us off the wall, sticking the tack back in the wall. I held it to my chest and slid down the wall to the floor, tears flooding.

I couldn’t move but I had to do whatever it meant to go through his stuff. I put the picture of us in the inside pocket of the brown leather jacket I still wore, went over to the top drawer of the dresser, pulled it out and poured everything on the bed. Everything wasn’t much. For a guy who claimed he had a lot of money from his parents’ estate, he sure had a pile of junk. There were three pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, four pencils, the pocket watch that I remembered him telling me belonged to his dad, a blue ceramic pipe, a smaller wooden pipe, a pack of rolling papers and a bag of marijuana. I pocketed the watch, the two pipes and the papers. I left the bag of marijuana. I have no idea why.

I emptied the second drawer and then the third. I found the oversized sweater we both fit in together, the olive green long sleeve t-shirt with three buttons at the neckline. It was my favorite shirt. I threw it and the sweater on the mildewed pillow, the stuff I wanted to keep, except for the pillow. I found a similar dark blue shirt with holes in the elbows. It went in the keep pile.

Suddenly I desperately wanted his well-worn leather belt. It reminded me of him, of us. I went through all the clothes in the dresser, all the clothes in the corner. It wasn’t there. I jerked all the clothes out of the closet. The thought crossed my mind that maybe he was wearing it when he died. I would have to go to the morgue to find it. I needed it. Then I saw the belt in a pair of pants under the window. When I went to pull out the belt I saw a piece of rubber tubing next to a needle on the floor.

My stomach lurched. I ran out of the room. Most of the vomit made it into the filthy toilet, the rest on the seat. I didn’t worry about cleaning it up. When I came out of the bathroom, that woman stood there in the hall, the 40-watts of light reflecting off her face. “You okay?” she asked me.

I stopped. “Who are you anyway?” I asked.

“I’m Linda. Are you okay?”

I walked up to Linda and stood not more than six inches from her face. “You fucking bitch,” I said to her. “This is all your fault.”

She took a puff of a cigarette and blew the smoke in my face. “Believe what you want. Jeff was an addict for as long as I have known him. And believe me, I have known him.”

“Shut up,” I yelled at her. “You’re lying. I knew him. You didn’t know shit about him.” I tried to get by her. I wanted to finish ‘going through his stuff’ and get out of there.

She grabbed my arm and put her face close to mine. Her breath had the acrid smell of sleep and decay combined with marijuana, cigarettes and booze. It was nasty. “Did you ever see his arms? Did you ever see him wear anything but a long sleeve shirt? Did he ever even take that jacket off?” She grabbed hold of the collar of the brown leather jacket.

I slapped her hand. “Don’t ever touch this jacket.”

“Did he ever just not show up? Did he ever just leave? Think about it. Your boyfriend lived and died an addict.”

The acid churned in my stomach again. I ran to the bathroom, retched, and knew that was all there was. Next time it would be pure, acidy bile. I picked up the seat because it had vomit all over it and stooped over the bowl to pee. I left it there without flushing. I splashed some water on my face, rinsed out my mouth and finger brushed my teeth with the last squeeze of toothpaste from the tube I found on the corner of the sink. I looked at my reflection in the mirror. It wasn’t me. It was. It was me without him.

I left the bathroom and brushed past Linda. I didn’t give a shit about her anymore. I didn’t give a shit about her bathroom or vomit on the toilet seat or empty toothpaste tubes or cleaning up the dirty dishes in Jeff’s room. I wanted out of there.

I went back in the room. I was angry. At Linda. At heroin. Mostly at Jeff. How dare he do this to me? How did he expect me to go on living? I frantically looked through all his clothes trying to find a short sleeve shirt, an undershirt, anything to convince me Linda was wrong. Why didn't I ever notice? I spent many nights in his arms and never noticed.

Jeff had been an addict all along. He was a fucking addict. Everything he told me was a long list of addict lies. In the fourth drawer I found a small baggie with white residue stuck on the side and a small box I was afraid to open. I left them in the drawer.

I had to get out of there. I had to. I couldn’t. I had to. Fuck him. Fuck her. What could I do? I had to get out of there. My eyes focused on a backpack in the corner of the closet. I grabbed it. I stuffed in the big sweater, the green and blue long-sleeved shirts, the belt.

I looked at the pile of papers on the table. Was there something important in there? An electric bill? Who cared anymore? Turn off the damn electricity. His homework? Unfinished Psychology paper? Who cared? His transcript would be incomplete. I picked up the unopened last letter I wrote him. Maybe he saved all the letters I wrote to him. Maybe I could tie them in a florescent yellow ribbon and put them in a cardboard box in my attic. With my right arm I swept everything off the desk to wherever it landed on the floor. I threw the unopened letter on top. “Fuck you, Jeff,” I yelled. Let Linda clean up this shit. Let Linda deal with his stuff.

I noticed a dog-eared copy of Catch-22 on the floor by the bed. I had a copy but needed his. I took his wallet from the pocket of the pants. In it were his drivers’ license, $17 and a picture of me. In the other pocket of the pants was a half-eaten package of five-flavored lifesavers. I put it in the pocket of the brown leather jacket.

This was it. The last look of him. The last vision of where he was, where he lived, where he died. I couldn’t afford any more tears. I couldn’t afford any more vomit. I had to get out of there. I opened the door. Turned off the light switch and, at the last moment, ripped off the picture of me on the wall hanging there with one tack. I needed to remember how he remembered me. I walked out of the door of that nasty, dirty, mildewed, musty, moldy place without saying goodbye. That was the end of Jeff Ledford. I missed him fiercely.

It was five in the morning when I got to my car. There was a ticket on the windshield. I didn’t care. I ripped it up and threw it on the ground. I opened the front door of my car and threw the backpack on the passenger seat. Then I sat down, pounded the steering wheel and screamed. The screams turned to tears. Nobody was around. They couldn’t have done anything anyway.

I stopped at the first open 24-hour a day 7-11 store I found. I spent the entire $17 on a package of NoDoz, five rolls of life-savers, two five-flavored, one wintergreen, one peppermint, one cloves—I needed mom with me, two bags of Oreos, two packages of crackers and peanut butter, a cup of coffee, and a pound of chocolate covered peanuts. When I was young, my dad and I had this thing for chocolate covered peanuts. Every now and then he’d wink and say, “Let’s pretend we’re depressed and go buy some chocolate covered peanuts to make us feel better.” This time I really was depressed, about as low as I could get. I needed dad with me. I couldn’t make it to Chicago alone. I left Boston.

One thousand miles. At 50 mph it would take twenty hours. Add in a few gas stops, a few pee stops, I’d be in Lake Forest by 5:00 the next morning. I couldn’t do it. I had to do it. I couldn’t do it. The trip to Boston had been a thousand miles. I couldn’t do another thousand. I had to. I had to get somewhere. How in the world was I going to travel a thousand miles on two hours of sleep and a huge hole in my heart?

I headed out I90. I wanted to leave Massachusetts. If I left Massachusetts things would be better. For some reason I believed the farther I drove, the easier it would get. It wasn’t true but it kept me going. Another mile and I’ll be all right. Another ten miles and it won’t hurt so much. I drove like a maniac, high on NoDoz, coffee, Oreos, lifesavers, and a fierce determination to be where it seemed safe. Demon possessed, breaking the limit, stretching the limit, wanting to be home.

I followed the Erie Canal through New York. To keep awake, I sang a song I’d learned in fifth grade. “You’ll always know your neighbor, you’ll always know your pal if you’ve ever navigated on the Erie Canal.” Maybe that was the problem. I hadn’t navigated the Erie Canal so I didn’t know Jeff. It didn’t make any sense. Nothing made any sense. I stopped for gas and to pee, bought another coke, took another NoDoz and kept going.

The longer it went, the harder it got. Every hour I stopped to run around and breathe some fresh air. Every couple of hours I got another cup of coffee. At a rest stop outside of Cleveland, I closed my eyes and slept for a half hour. I replenished the Oreos, bought a cheese sandwich from a refrigerator in a convenient store, and another bag of chocolate covered peanuts. I turned the radio on loud, opened the windows and pushed it through. I’d been on the road forever. Never would I do that again. Never. I promised myself I would never drive through the night again.

It was just past 5:00 a.m. when I arrived at the two-story white wooden farmhouse where I was living this year. A porch with a swing filled the entire front of the house. Trees covered the front yard. I walked to the back of the house. In the garden grew a myriad of zinnias, marigolds and other flowers in the hodgepodge way they’d been planted at Jake’s graduation party. I knelt down by the flowers and picked a pink one, an orange one and a purple one. I was exhausted.

I fell asleep on the front porch swing, my hand still holding the three drooping flowers. Two hours later a slamming screen door woke me. I opened my eyes. A long-haired bare-footed guy in faded blue jeans, frayed at the cuff, walked down the front stairs followed by a small brown and white wiry haired dog. The guy’s hair came to the middle of his back in soft, wavy, light brown curves. The dog’s hair looked more like a brillo pad. When they returned, the dog bounded over to me, stuck her nose in my hand dangling off the porch swing and demanded a pat. I was scratching the dog behind the ears when the bare-footed guy came up the stairs, his hand full of radishes. He walked over, pulled a radish out of the pile, rubbed off the visible dirt and handed it to me. I reached out to take it and looked into a gentle pair of deep brown eyes, compassionate eyes, benevolent eyes, silent eyes.

“Thanks.” I tried to become a fan of radishes in high school the summer I headed to the hills of Tennessee with my church youth group to help build a church in the mountains. Local folks fed us lunch every day and fresh radishes were plentiful. I decided I would learn to love radishes that summer. I did learn to tolerate them but never love them. Today, though, was different. When the silent guy handed me a radish, the ragged hole in my heart filled a tiny, tiny pinhole bit.

I bit into the radish. The barefoot man without a name went into the house. The dog stayed for one more scratch and then trotted through the still open door.

I was eating the radish when Marty came out with two cups of coffee. I sat up. After drinking coffee for twenty-four straight hours, I swore I would never drink it again. But nothing would ever compare to that cup of coffee on the porch swing that August morning.

“Welcome to Chicago,” Marty said, sitting on the swing next to me. “I see you met our newest house mate, Peter, and his dog, Suki.”

“I didn’t exactly meet him. He gave me a radish. He didn’t say anything.” I finished the radish and threw the green top off the porch.

“Periodically Peter quits talking. He calls it a voice fast. Transferring junior, been in school for a while. Still has his student deferment. Not for long though.”

“Where’s Ginger?” My eyes filled with tears. “Sorry.” I wiped the tears away but they wouldn’t seem to stay away. “I’m exhausted. I drove straight through from Boston without stopping, four gallons of coffee, three bags of Oreos and a dozen packs of lifesavers.”

“She’s in Chicago with Jake. When’s Jeff getting here?” Marty put his foot down to start the porch swing swinging.

“He’s not coming.” I looked around frantic. “When is Ginger coming back? I really need to talk to her.”

Marty stopped the porch swing and turned to me, “Becky, are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” I started the porch swing swinging again. “I need Ginger is all. When is she going to get here?” I threw the three drooping flowers off the porch next to the green leafy part of the radish.

He stopped the swing with his foot. “Becky, she’ll be here in a couple days. Are you sure you’re okay?”

I turned to Marty. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to hear I told you so. I didn’t want to hear I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to hear time would take way the goddamn pain. I didn’t want to hear it would eventually be all right. I didn’t want to hear that everything happens for a reason. Nothing I said would make any sense and nothing Marty said would make any difference. I put my foot down and started the porch swing swinging.

I tried to speak but the words wouldn’t come out. They stopped about half way up. I jumped off the porch swing, spilling half of my coffee, bolted off the porch and vomited the last twenty-four hours onto the top of the radish greens and the three flowers. When it was all gone, when there was no more, I said to Marty who was standing at the edge of the steps, “He’s dead.” I sat down in the grass. Marty came down, wiped off my mouth with the red bandana he always had in his belt loop, picked me up and carried me into the house. He laid me on the tattered couch and covered me up with a blanket. I turned over so I was facing the back of the couch, closed my eyes and fell asleep.

When I woke up Ginger was next to me. Hook sat in a chair across the room. Jake sat at the counter in the kitchen talking with Marty. Peter was cooking something at the stove. Everyone was there.

I sat up. “You came,” I said through my sobs. Then I looked at Hook. “You came.” He smiled and raised his hook.

“I’m not going anywhere. None of us are going anywhere,” Ginger said, handing me a cup of tea.

“Thanks,” I took the tea and felt the warmth go down my nasty tasting throat. Ginger picked up her guitar and quietly began to play. It was what I needed.

Peter handed me a plate of brown rice and a fork. “Thanks,” I said again, not knowing if I could even keep anything down.

I didn’t want to tell anyone what happened to Jeff and no one asked. I didn’t want Ginger to say she noticed how Jeff disappeared. I didn’t want to hear Marty say he made me promise at our conception party that I would never let Jeff hurt me.

Hook sat next to me on the couch. “Don’t say a thing,” I said to him. I didn’t want to hear Hook say he warned me to be careful, that he told Jeff if he hurt me he would have to answer to him. He reached out, took my hand and held it without saying a word. When I cried, he took the red bandana off his head and wiped my eyes with it.

During the long nights, I slept on the couch. Someone always slept on a sleeping bag on the floor next to me. When I woke up in the middle of the night in a panic, not able to breathe someone was there.

It went on for five days. Then one day I said, “He overdosed. He stuck a needle in his arm and shot too much heroin into his vein and he died. I had to go through his stuff.” That seemed the important piece, that I had to go through his stuff. Throughout the day bits and pieces of the story came out. The letter I got at camp, the drive to Boston, finding the house, meeting Linda, finding out he was dead, cleaning out his stuff, the drive to Chicago. They listened and never once, not once, not ever, not the whole time did anyone say, “I warned you about him.” Never. They loved me and sat with me and fed me.

U.S. Soldier Body Count: 31,618

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