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

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Chapter 2—"Glad All Over"

I explored every corner of the three campuses that made up the college. The freshman women’s dorm was on North Campus along with another women’s dorm, the English/Theater building and Bradley Hall, the men’s honor dorm.

Across a bridge that passed over a small ravine was Middle Campus, home of most of the academic and administration buildings, the dining hall/student center/snack bar known as Commons, and two men’s dorms. It was also home to a three-acre green filled with trees and space for softball.

South Campus was through the arch connecting the two men’s dorms with its fraternity and sorority houses, the gym and the football field.

Saturday evening I put on my new sweatshirt, organized the desk with my books and hung the LFC pennant over the window. I lay on my bed wondering what to do.

There was a mixer in the dining room. There was also a coffee house open every night in a small building behind Commons where folks could play guitars, smoke cigarettes, drink coffee or apple cider and eat doughnuts.

The phone rang. “Ten minutes. Snack bar. See you there.” He hung up.

I was two minutes early. Jeff sat in the same chair at the same table in the same position as before. He stood up when he saw me and pulled out my chair. “Thanks.” I gestured at the éclair and coke on the table. “You’ve got my number. By the way, how did you get my number?”

Jeff didn’t answer. Instead he said, “Why aren’t you at the mixer?”

For a second I thought maybe he was going to ask me to go. I waited. He didn’t.

“Why aren’t you there?” I asked rather than answering.

“Had a hankering for an éclair. Besides, I didn’t finish my story. Two weeks after I got kicked out of school my parents died in a car accident.”

I couldn’t imagine losing my family like that. “I’m so sorry.”

“Doesn’t matter. They were drunk. They never cared much about what I did.”

“Every parent cares.”

“They didn’t. My parents sent me to boarding school in seventh grade. They also left me a shit-load of money when they died. Lucky me.”

Jeff reached over with a napkin and wiped the tears off my cheeks. “I’m sorry,” I said again.

With the back of my hand I dried what the napkin missed and took a deep breath. “So why Lake Forest?”

“They accepted me. Probably the money.” He paused. “And I guess I knew you’d be here.”

There it was again, that stomach flipping thing, that twitching down there.

That was that. Jeff stood up, stacked up our éclair dishes, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I’ll see you around.” He left, dishes in hand. Me, still sitting at the table wondering what just happened. He turned at the door and waved, knowing I’d be looking. I watched the door close behind him.

Some things were beyond my ability to understand. Not caring about your parents was one of them. Parents not caring about their kids was another. What to do about this twitching feeling that wouldn’t stop when I thought about Jeff was the third.

Classes started Monday, Biology, Journalism, English, Intro to Sociology. In the afternoon, I wandered around the extra-curricular fair on the patio outside Commons. The Young Republicans’ table was filled with bowls of candy and decked out in red, white, and blue bunting. They would never convince me to go over to the dark side with candy alone. I had been a Democrat ever since my mom and dad told me they voted for Kennedy.

I walked by the Fencing Club table. Two students dressed in gloves, jackets, masks and swords parried on the grass. There were tables for the photography club, the yearbook, drama club, tutorial project, foreign language club. Each group of students tried to convince me they were the club I needed to join.

I stopped at the school newspaper table. A girl with long dark hair, bangs all grown out, was sitting behind the table playing guitar and singing with a voice like Joni Mitchell. She stopped when she saw me. “Welcome to ‘The Forester,’ our weekly campus newspaper. I’m Ginger, Assistant Editor this year.” She put the guitar on the ground and stood up.

“Hi, I’m Becky. I’m majoring in journalism.” I picked up a sample newspaper from the table.

“Great. We need help. Sign your name and mailbox number. We’ll send out a notice of our first meeting.”

I signed the paper latched to the clipboard then said to Ginger, “Great voice. Great guitar.”

“Thanks. Do you play?”

“Got me through high school sane. My guitar was my salvation.” I bought my first guitar from my sister for $60 after she decided she didn’t want to play anymore. It was a Gibson small-sized sunburst guitar. We were inseparable. At our high school graduation party, my friends got Ambush perfume and I got Bob Dylan records. My friends got blenders for their new apartments and I got guitar strings. Ambush perfume vs. Dylan? Dylan wins every time.

“I understand. I can always count on my guitar,” she said.

I smiled at Ginger. “Recommend any other clubs?”

She pointed across the patio where a “Peace Now” banner flapped in the breeze. “If you’re against the war, talk to them.”

“Thanks. I’ll see you around.” I headed across the patio. The guy who handed me my orientation packet on my first day tried to tie the banner to the table legs while simultaneously brushing the dark hair out of his eyes. A stack of pamphlets blew off the table. He reached for them, holding on to the banner and losing the battle of the bangs. I picked up the pamphlets and put them on the table under a small rock.

“Need help?” I didn’t wait for the reply but took one end of the banner and tied it to a table leg.

“Thanks.” He tied down the other end then stuck out his hand and introduced himself. “Marty Olsen, sophomore, government major. This is the Lake Forest College Students Against the War.” I introduced myself and he said, “I remember you from registration. How was Garson?”

“He didn’t convince me to major in sociology but I enjoyed discussing Catch-22 from his perspective.”

“Best book ever written.”

“I agree.” I picked up a flyer that announced a march in downtown Lake Forest on October 21st in solidarity with a protest in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam.

“We’re having our organizing meeting Wednesday night, seven o’clock, Bradley Hall on North Campus. We’d love to see you there.”

I felt a tug on my braids. “Signing up for anything?” I turned to face the brown leather motorcycle jacket. Jeff smiled. God, he unnerved me.

“Maybe,” I said.

Jeff shook Marty’s hand. “Just don’t get involved with this guy.” He patted Marty on the shoulder.

I signed my name to the list and promised to be at the organizing meeting on Wednesday. “Too late.”

So it began, my life in the anti-war movement. My life at college.

Jeff put his hand on the small of my back, leaving it there only long enough for me to remember how I wanted to feel all those nights in high school when I cried into my pillow wishing for a date. “Another éclair?” he asked.

“Although I do have a fondness for éclairs, I’ll pass. I could use a coke.”

“Bet you filled up with candy from the Republicans.” He returned his hand to my back and guided me to the door of Commons.

“I will never sell my soul for some sweets.”

“What will you sell your soul for?” Without waiting for my reply, we went into Commons. “Sure you don’t want anything to eat?” Jeff asked. He ordered two cokes and a large fries at the snack bar.

“Absolutely sure.”

He poured a huge glob of ketchup on the side of the French fry plate and picked up a coke. I picked up the other. Jeff led me to a small room adjacent to the snack bar with a brass sign outside it that said Hixson Lounge.

He pushed open the French doors to Hixson. I wondered who Hixson was and what you have to do to get yourself a lounge. “Are you sure we can be in here?” It looked like one of those fancy rooms at my dad’s college that served as a faculty center or a place to entertain anyone wanting to give a big endowment to the campus. But there was no sign on the French doors that said “Faculty Only.”

Hixson Lounge was unique. Victorian style couches with flowered upholstery and curved backs and arms. Carpeted. A grand piano up against the back wall. Easy chairs. Coffee tables of rich dark wood. Floor to ceiling bookcases filled with old editions of campus yearbooks. There was nothing casual looking about the furniture in the room yet the students sitting in there made it seem casual.

“This is Hixson Lounge,” Jeff said. “The place to be on campus.”

Hixson Lounge had been appropriated by the hippies. A couple folks strummed guitars. Four or five bell-bottomed, beaded, tie-dyed t-shirted folks read, chatted or ate ice cream sundaes. The thought went through my head that maybe I would see a twisted ended cigarette in an ashtray.

“When did you turn against the war?” Jeff put the fries on the coffee table in front of the couch.

“I never thought about it much before last spring. I had to write a paper for Senior English class defending our support or opposition to the war.”

“I’m guessing you did a lot of research and came out against the war.”

“No. Since I was going to graduate in a couple months, I didn’t much care so I took the easy way out and wrote in support of the war. I cited treaties I’d read about in the paper and did no more research. I got an ‘A’” I took a drink of coke. “My dad saw the paper on the dining room table and ripped into me about war and how I didn’t deserve an ‘A’ on a paper that glorified killing. He told me I needed to pay more attention to the news.”

“That seems pretty harsh.”

“That’s my dad. I love him but he has definite views about things. My parents are pacifists and I have two brothers who might get drafted.”

“So what you’re telling me is that you sold your soul for a grade?” He took a fry, dipped it in the ketchup, sucked off all the ketchup, dipping it again before actually eating the fry. He picked up another fry and did the same thing.

“I’ve pretty much regretted it since. My brother’s best friend died in Vietnam a week after I handed in my paper. I was stupid to write it.”

I needed to change the subject before I cried. Jeff sucked ketchup off another fry. “Why order fries when all you really want is ketchup?” I stole a fry from his plate, dipping it in ketchup and sticking the whole thing in my mouth.

He took another fry, dipped it in ketchup, sucked the ketchup off and didn’t answer.

“How did your classes go today?” I asked.

“Didn’t show up. First week nothing much happens anyway.” I couldn’t imagine not going to class for the sake of not going.

I took another fry from his plate and looked at my watch. “Much as I enjoy this fry eating adventure, I have to go. I told my roommate I’d meet her outside so we could walk to town. Thanks for the coke and fries, Jeff. See you around.” We both got up.

“First of all, I didn’t get you fries. Remember? You weren’t hungry. You stole them.” Jeff walked to my side of the table.

“Yeah, but you didn’t stop me.” I smiled at him and started to walk away. He stopped me.

He touched me on the shoulder, turned me to face him, put his hands on either side of my face. “Second of all.” His lips gently caressed mine. “See you around, Becky.”

That night I lay in bed staring at the ceiling. I had no idea what to do next. Dad on one side of my mind. Jeff Ledford on the other.

U.S. Soldier Body Count: 16,529

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