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

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Chapter 20—"Like A Rolling Stone"

Jake arrived the night before our teach-in, walked in the door, kissed Ginger, walked over to where I was sitting on the couch, took my hands and pulled me up into a tight long hug. It helped.

The administration cancelled classes Friday. We scheduled workshops throughout the day. Jake talked about his CO status. Vietnam Veterans Against the War did draft counseling. A dozen professors conducted sessions about the economic, political, and historical implications of the war. Hook told his story.

The be-in began at 2:00 on Saturday with Ginger singing. I sang with her on “Blowing in the Wind” and “Five Hundred Miles.” God, I loved playing and singing with Ginger. Marty wandered around getting signatures on a petition.

Then I joined the softball game. I tossed my shoes and the brown leather jacket, under a tree. Hook leaned against the tree and watched. I wore Jeff’s olive green long sleeve shirt. My braids were intertwined with beads, my bangs long enough to fit into the first twist of my braids. I blasted every ball pitched to me over the shortstop’s head. I never made it past first, but I often made it home. I was home.

The game ended as the evening sun began to fade and the pink polluted Chicago sky gave us one last look at its beauty. We sat on blankets and the band began to play. I wrapped Jeff’s jacket around me a little tighter. A joint came my way. I toked and handed it to Marty. He passed it on. He always passed it on. I wondered why?

“Who wants to dance?” I asked. Marty shook his head, got up and walked over to the literature table. Hook shook his hook and took another drink of wine out of the cup he carried around most of the night. Ginger and Jake cuddled under a blanket. Peter was nowhere to be seen. I danced alone.

The lead guitarist was a goddamn good guitar player. He put the guitar over his head, turned his back to the audience and played amazing rifts. He turned back and put the guitar up to his mouth and played with his teeth. He caught my eyes, held them there, my stoned eyes, my stoned dead soul and he winked.

It was dark when the band finished their set. I had to get out of there. “I’m going to get some air,” I said to Hook.

“We’re outside,” Hook said. “Air is everywhere.”

I leaned down and took his hand and hook. “Come take a walk with me. I can’t sit here any longer.”

“I’m too drunk to move. But you be careful.”

I kissed him on the head. “Why should I?”

I walked behind Commons not quite knowing where I was headed. I found myself at the coffee house. I hadn’t been there all fall. It was dark. I reached for the doorknob knowing it was probably locked. The door opened. I turned and looked around to make sure no one was watching and then I walked into the darkness. Across the room I could see the end of a cigarette glowing in the dark.

“Who’s here?” I felt maybe I should turn around and leave. The danger made me stay.

“Just me,” I heard a voice say, low, dark, husky. “Care to join me?”

“How did you get in here?” I asked. I still couldn’t see who it was but as my eyes adjusted to the dark I saw a path to where he sat in a metal folding chair, his feet up on the chair in front of him.

“I got in here the same way you did, through the door.” He pulled a chair out from the table and patted the seat. “Want a cigarette?”

“I don’t smoke nicotine,” I tried to get a good look at him. I pulled a joint from my pocket, lit it, toked and handed it to him.

“Thanks,” he said as he handed the joint back to me. “I’m R.J.”

“What does R.J. stand for?”

“Rob Jackson, same name as my dad. Very inconvenient. Folks have always called me R.J.” He had the same initials I had, sort of like the guy I liked in the fifth grade who laughed at me when I fell up the stairs the first day of school. I also couldn’t help thinking that he had one of those names that could go either way, like Joe Scott from orientation. His last name could be his first. Rob Jackson, Jackson Rob, who cared?

From the glow of his cigarette I began to make out his face and realized he was the lead guitar player. “Becky Jamison. And by the way you are a goddamn good guitar player,” I said taking back the joint.

“Thanks. Been playing since my dad gave me a guitar for my tenth birthday. And you’re a damn good dancer.”

That’s when I decided I would love to make out with his face. He looked dangerous and I needed dangerous. He looked rugged and I needed rugged. He looked sexy and I needed sex. I needed something to help me forget and R.J. might be the ticket.

I stifled the urge to take off our clothes and maybe feel normal again. “I don’t know what the hell you’re doing in here or how the hell you got in here. But I do know that you have the same initials I do, because my first name is really Rebecca, and that’s got to count for something.” I looked around to see if I could find something to eat. I found some apple cider and a bag of day old glazed doughnuts in the refrigerator. It would do.

“I learned how to pick locks at fifteen. It’s the most important skill I know.”

“Except for typing,” I said. “I bet typing is more important.”

R.J. put out his cigarette and the joint in the ashtray on the table in front of him. “Well, the lock picking got us both in here.” With that, R.J. stood up and walked over to where I stood with the doughnuts. He took them from me and slipped my arms out of the brown leather jacket. He slid my shirt over my head. I reached down to undo his belt when he pushed me against the refrigerator. Pants off, he lifted me up, covered my mouth with his, entered me, pushed into me hard and we came, standing up, pushed against a cold refrigerator in a darkened room we weren’t supposed to be in.

There wasn’t any love in the lovemaking. It didn’t matter. What happened that night with the man with the same initials as me lifted the black veil. And when we were done, the world was a little bit clearer.

I pulled up my pants, put on my shirt and the leather jacket and said to R.J. “That was about the most fun I’ve had since last June.” The last time I saw Jeff alive. “I’ve got to get back or I’ll lose my ride home.”

R.J. took my arm as I started to walk away. “If you dare, my place tomorrow night. 9:00. Basement of Blackburn. Room 4.”

“I’ll be there.” As I got to the door, I turned back. I could see the glow of R.J.’s cigarette across the room.

The next night I knocked on R.J.s door at five minutes after nine. He lived in a single room almost directly underneath where Jeff’s room had been. He opened the door. “You’re late,” he said.

A bed, dresser, desk, a guitar stand in the corner with two guitars on it and a poster on the wall with a big green peace sign and the words, “Make Love Not War” over the sign. I intended to do just that.

I walked over to the dresser and looked at his collection of pipes. I picked up a black ceramic pipe and turned to him, “Do you ever think about going to Nam?”

“I figure if the war lasts that long, I’ll go underground.”

“What if they catch you, the Army, I mean?” I put the pipe back and walked over to him, ready.

“They’ll never get me.”

We weren’t there to chat about Vietnam or look at posters. I wanted to keep on forgetting. He wanted to keep on getting laid.

I threw the brown leather jacket on his desk. The rest of the clothes landed wherever they happened to land.

It was raw ‘help me forget’ passion, keep me stoned, keep me loved. If god doesn’t exist then Jeff’s gone and I’ll never see him again. Don’t let me remember. Time doesn’t heal. The lake doesn’t heal. The dope doesn’t heal. When a hole the size of your fist is ripped out of your heart, it never heals. It stays forever and every time you remember a little bit, a piece of your soul rushes out. If I lose my soul I may as well be dead. I may as well be dead anyway.

I started hanging out with R.J. Sometimes he kept away the pain. I tried to stay stoned most of the time, particularly on dark and cold nights. That’s when I missed Jeff the most. That’s when I saw his face in the streams of light that filtered through the window. After all these weeks, Jeff was still there. Maybe I could fuck him out of my mind.

U.S. Soldier Body Count: 33,182
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