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

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Chapter 22—"Mr. Tambourine Man"

I forgave Ginger. I still didn’t know what to do with my pain.

The guitars came out every night. Ginger on one chair in the living room, me opposite her so I could see what chords she played. Marty usually on the couch, papers spread around him, organizing, writing the next petition, planning the next meeting.

I loved those times. Jeff’s face left the neighborhood of my mind for a little while Dylan, Pete Seeger and Simon and Garfunkel took his place. I felt normal, alive and happy.

But then Jeff moved back in and I needed R.J. to take over the rent. I needed R.J. so I could forget. I needed the dope and the cheap wine and the sex. That’s what I saw in R.J.

One night, Ginger and I were figuring out an arrangement to “Mr. Tambourine Man.” “The chords don’t follow the usual progression,” Ginger said. “It goes G, A, D.” She played the first few lines for me. Then she stopped playing and looked at me. “I’ll always be here for you. You know that, don’t you?” I counted on that. I shook my head yes.

It didn’t take long for us to figure out the song and soon Marty put down his papers and began to drum on the table.

“Get your guitar, Marty,” I said.

“I’ve got too much work to do.” he pointed to his papers.

“But you’re not doing it. Ten minutes. Come on, it’s good for the soul.” Marty left to get his guitar.

“By the way, Becky,” Ginger said. “I need one more article about the anti-war group before the end of the semester.”

Besides music, my passion was writing. Despite everything, I hadn’t missed a deadline. Ginger understood what it meant to have someone live in your head who needed to move out. Like her mom, Ginger had a string of bad boyfriends. I figure every boyfriend ends up bad except the one you end up with at the end.

“When do you need it?” I asked.

Before she answered and before Marty got back with his guitar, Peter called from his bedroom where he had gone moments before. “Suki’s having her puppies.”

Within the hour Suki’s puppies were born, four flopped eared wiry haired mutts. Peter promised three of them already. When the fourth came out, we knew we had to keep her. She had one white ear and one tan and a pink nose like an elementary school eraser. She became known as Racer.

Peter loved those puppies. He loved all living things. Peter was the real-deal hippie, not the beaded, flowered, bell-bottomed, tie-dyed, fringed moccasins, free sex and drugs hippie. He owned two pairs of blue jeans, frayed at the cuff and thin in the butt. He had a denim jacket he wore over a series of plain colored, faded t-shirts. He went barefoot most of the time. When the cold hit, he put on pair of scuffed boots. He kept the denim jacket and added a sweater underneath, a knit cap on his head and a pair of thick wool gloves. I never saw him take a toke or a tab. Peter was gentle with people and animals. He didn’t eat meat. He lived his life in those faded blue jeans and denim jacket, taking care of his dogs, caring about people and eating radishes.

Those puppies adored Peter, followed him around the house, slept on the floor next to his bed. Every morning he carried them downstairs and put them in front of the warm fire. Every evening he carried them back upstairs. Suki trusted him.

I trusted Peter too. When he spoke, he always told the truth. He was the most genuine person I ever met. A couple days after the puppies were born, Peter and I were alone at home, studying and playing with the pups.

“You going out tonight?” he asked, picking Racer up and putting her next to him on the couch.

“R.J. might call later. He’s at some practice or gig or something.” I reached for the glass of wine on the table in front of me. I already had a joint in the ashtray. Without R.J., I needed something to keep my mind vacant. I intended to drink enough wine and smoke enough dope to do the trick, to be able to sleep a deep and dreamless sleep, a sleep free from terror, free from sadness.

“Good,” he said. He leaned over and extinguished the joint in the ashtray. “It’s time.”

Was it finally the time he was talking about at my birthday when he told Ginger that it wasn’t the time? Was it now? And time for what, exactly? “What does that mean?”

“He doesn’t care for you, Beck. You know he’s using you.”

“Maybe I’m the one using him.”

“You can’t get through your pain this way.”

“What do you know about pain, anyhow? You and your dogs and your talking fasts and your radishes. You’re full of shit, Peter.” I got up and started to walk away. Peter kept talking. I stopped.

“1966. Southern California. I’m doing acid with my girlfriend and a bunch of friends on a boat in the Pacific. We were tripping. We felt invincible. We weren’t. She fell off the boat and they never found her body. No one ever held me responsible. I was. So shut the fuck up.” He got up, picked up the four pups and he and Suki disappeared upstairs. That was the first time I ever heard Peter say fuck.

I knew I was in bad trouble.

U.S. Soldier Body Count: 34,718

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