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

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Chapter 21—"Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds"

On my birthday/election day, Ginger and I got out guitars and played, waiting for election returns. Ginger looked at her watch. “That’s enough for me. Polls are closing in the east in a couple minutes.” She put her guitar away and turned on the TV.

"I'm glad R.J. has a gig tonight. You're better off. He’s not worth it, Becky.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said looking at me. “I love you like a sister but you are messed up right now. R.J. is about the most arrogant, selfish, narcissistic jerk I have ever met.”

“Thanks a lot, Ginger.” I could feel tears coming.

“Open your eyes, Becky. You can’t let Jeff win.”

“What does that even mean? There is nothing to win or lose here. Jeff is dead, in case you forgot. Jeff is dead. R.J. is about the only thing in this whole world right now that helps me forget that.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t be forgetting. Maybe you should feel it and get through it.”

“What do you even know about pain, Ginger? You have no clue what I’m going through. Go to hell.” I got up, intending to go upstairs, pull the covers over my head and sleep. Ginger blocked my way.

“I saw my Dad beat my mom to an inch of dying right before he walked out on us. Two years later I watched my mom die in front of my eyes. I was fifteen years old. One of her many bad boyfriends got her pregnant. She died on a table in some dirty motel room. The doctor’s knife slipped trying to get that baby out of her. She bled to death and I couldn’t do anything for her. What mother takes her fifteen-year old daughter to a motel room to watch an abortion? Pain? You don’t own it.”

Ginger kept talking, wouldn’t let me respond. “You think Marty didn’t feel that pain when his dad died in Korea and his brother almost died in Vietnam? He relives it every time he goes to visit him. When Jake was seven, he watched his four-year old brother die of leukemia. In the two weeks since you’ve known R.J. you have turned into a complete stranger. We love you, Becky. But enough is enough. Pull your shit together.”

Peter walked in from the kitchen carrying a tray with bowls of food and a carob birthday cake. He saw the tears streaming down my cheeks and handed me a napkin. “Ginger, now’s not the time.” That’s all he said.

I didn’t know why it wasn’t the time or when the time would be or what time even had to do with it. Time wasn’t helping. I wanted to eat dinner and get this whole birthday over with.

Marty walked in, hugged me, wished me happy birthday, took a plate of food and planted himself on the couch in front of the TV.

I scooped up a spoonful of brown rice, smothered it with soy sauce and topped it with a few alfalfa sprouts. Peter had taken to growing sprouts in a jar on the counter. He tried to convince me that I could physically live on sprouts. Emotionally I needed chocolate to balance it out.

I ignored Ginger. I didn’t want to fight her. To scream at her. To admit she was right.

“Thanks for dinner, Peter,” I said. He sat next to me on the couch and put Suki in his lap. She was due to litter any day.

“You going over to R.J.’s?” Marty asked.

“You have a world to save. Why do you care?” I said. I don’t know why I acted like that to Marty. He hadn’t done anything except hug me and wish me a happy birthday. “And no, I’m not.”

“You’re better off,” Marty said.

“What does that even mean, Marty?”

“It means what I said. You’re better off without him.” Marty scooped up some more rice from the bowl on the coffee table.

"Fuck all of you.” I put my feet up on the coffee table in front of me, taking a piece of cake. The whole world was against me. Except Peter. He never seemed to be against me.

Marty stopped eating long enough to tell me that rice and alfalfa sprouts were a complete meal and combined with carob cake you couldn’t get much better than that so why didn’t I shut up.

“Shut up, Marty,” I said back to him.

The phone rang. It was Hook.

“Happy Birthday, Becky. Watching election returns?”

“Yes, and everyone is being a complete jerk.”

“I finished writing my paper and am killing cockroaches. Come over if you want to help.”

I grabbed my leather jacket and headed to the door. I really didn’t care about the election, about Marty or Ginger or anybody else. Rice, alfalfa sprouts and election returns have a way of doing that to me.

Ginger touched my arm as I walked towards the door. She had tears in her eyes. She put her arms around me. I didn’t reciprocate. “I love you, Becky. Remember that.”

I walked out the door without saying a word.

I knocked on Hook’s door. He opened it, the red bandana tied around his head. I could hear the TV going in the background.

“They were giving me shit.” Hook gestured for me to come in. I took a toke of the joint burning in the ashtray.

“Where’s R.J.?” he asked.

“Had to be someplace.”

“You’re better off,” Hook offered me a glass of wine.

“Don’t you start too.” I thought, Better off than what? Better off than being alone? Better off than sitting in my attic room obsessing about Jeff? Just what was I better off of? But I didn’t ask him. I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I didn’t want to think about it anymore.

"And by the way. I hate Ripple wine. It's about time you get something decent to drink," I said. I took a drink of wine.

"I love Ripple," Hook said.

Before I got there, Hook had been stabbing cockroaches with his hook. He invited me into the kitchen to join him. “I have learned a lot about the art of cockroach stabbing,” he said handing me a fork. “First, be very quiet and wait. When I say ‘Now,’ attack.”

“Wait for what?”

“Hush and wait.” Slowly a cockroach appeared up through the drawer and started walking across the counter. “Now,” he said and we both stabled at the same time, he with the hook, me with a fork. I could have lost a finger except neither of us were fast enough to do any damage. Cockroach stabbing is an art and apparently, we didn’t have the talent.

“What do you think of the election returns?” I put the fork in the sink after we tired of our adventure, hoping Hook washed it before using it.

“Disappointed but not surprised.” He walked over to the cupboards and opened them up. “I don’t have much to offer in the way of a birthday celebration,” he said, looking back at me. “How about graham crackers?”

“Got any frosting to go with them?”

“Best I can offer you is peanut butter.” We finished off the box and played a couple games of cards. I beat him twice at gin. Hook had still not figured out that luck only played a small part in that game. He beat me at Slap Jack. Something there is about a hook.

The clock struck midnight and my birthday ended. “Mind if I sleep on your couch?” I asked him.

“Take my bed. I’ll take the couch.” How could I resist? He walked me into the bedroom and gave me a hug. That was the real birthday present. That’s why I came. And that’s how I spent election night and my birthday, 1968.

Joseph Heller came to campus the day after the election. Catch-22 was still my favorite laugh-out-loud book. I loved the part about how if you’re having fun, time seems to fly and life, therefore, goes by really fast. It’s better to be bored because when you’re bored, time goes by slowly and life lasts longer. I was caught in a very, very slow time warp. I believed time would heal me. Why was it going so damn slow?

Heller convinced us that we were all caught in a Catch 22. You had to be crazy to support this illegal war. If you opposed it, you weren’t crazy. But if you were of draft age and you didn’t support the war and, therefore you weren’t crazy, you would be drafted because only crazy people got exempt. If you supported the war, you were crazy so you wouldn’t be drafted but that was crazy because if you supported the war you wanted to be drafted which was crazy and so they didn’t draft you. So it went.

After Heller spoke I went up to him with Jeff’s copy of Catch-22. “Best book I ever read. It’s laugh-out-loud funny,” I said to him. I handed Heller the book.

“Whom should I sign it to?” he asked.

“To Becky and Jeff,” I said. Jeff would have loved it.

Ginger apologized. Marty didn’t. I didn’t even wish him a happy birthday the next Friday. Peter hadn’t told me what that time thing was all about. I went on. I couldn’t stop. Something inside had broken and I wasn’t sure it would ever fix itself.

U.S. Soldier Body Count: 33,816

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