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

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Chapter 31—"In My Life"

Hendrix finished singing before noon on Monday but we didn’t get on the road until 5:00. A walk to the car and a long slow traffic jam. We drove for five hours and found a cheap motel room, taking advantage of the ice machine, the hot water and small bars of soap, calling for extra towels, a dozen doughnuts and a gallon of coffee.

“What would I ever do without you two?” I wrapped my wet hair in a towel and chose a chocolate doughnut filled with lemon cream. Boston cream.

“I guess you’ll find out next year when we’re gone,” Marty said. He headed to the shower.

I followed him into the alcove where I stood at the sink in front of the mirror and yelled at him as he took his clothes off behind the door in front of the shower. “Gone where?”

“Who knows?” He turned on the shower. I could barely hear his next words. Something like graduation. The draft. Vietnam.

I was left looking in the giant mirror. I caught Peter’s eye in the reflection. He shook his head. I was drowning.

We slept until late morning and headed to Cleveland to visit Mama McKinney. I kept seeing Peter’s face in the mirror, smiling and shaking his head. We’re going to have to go it said. You can’t do anything about it.

We arrived in Cleveland late afternoon. The site under the oak tree was shaded from the heat of whatever summer heaviness lingered. Not a cloud in the sky. A slight breeze from the west. All the stone said was “Dennis McKinney. June 12, 1946—November 25, 1968. Beloved son and friend.” That’s what Dennis would have wanted on his tombstone. He didn’t need anything about how god took the best ones first. Or that he was a soldier in a war he didn’t agree with. Or that we missed him or he enriched our lives.

I knelt, placed fresh daisies on his grave and traced his name with my finger. “You would have loved Woodstock, Hook.” I dug a small hole with my bare hands, dirt settling deep into my nails where I wanted it to stay for a while. I took the bandana that I bought for him at Woodstock and buried it deep in the ground. I took his red bandana out of the belt loop where I always carried it and used it to dry my eyes as he had dried them for me. I hadn’t washed the bandana. I would have to someday but for now it still held him holding me.

Peter placed a bouquet of dandelions next to the daisies and stood in silence.

Marty rubbed the tombstone and whispered. I couldn’t hear what he was saying. When he finished, he brushed back his hair, catching a tear.

Then I started singing slowly, “All You Need is Love.” Using the tombstone as a drum, Marty sang with me. I will always carry Hook’s love.

We went to visit Mama McKinney hoping to find a piece of Hook there. She gave us each a McKinney hug, some iced tea and a slice of chocolate pie. The missing would never go away and our missing was fierce.

Down Interstate 90, across Indiana. Marty drove and talked about plans for National Moratoriums to protest the war. “We shut down the country for one day in October and two days in November. If the government doesn’t respond, three days in December.”

“Marty, you know Nixon won’t listen to us anyway. No matter what we do this war isn’t going to stop until he’s ready.” I opened the bag of potato chips we bought at the 7-11 on our last stop. I took a handful and handed the bag to Peter in the back seat.

“Can’t I dream?” Marty asked. “Hand up the chips when you’re done.” Peter handed me the bag. I put it beside Marty.

“Dreams die, Marty. Or they turn into nightmares. Dreamers die too.”

“Becky, didn’t you learn anything at Woodstock? Just you watch.” Marty turned silent.

Did I learn anything at Woodstock? Was there a lesson there? Will it be carried on? Will my children know? Or their children? Will any of it make any difference at all? Does anything ever make any difference? I looked back at Peter. He was silently smiling. He hadn’t said a word since we left Hook’s house. I fell asleep.

We stopped by Ginger and Jake’s apartment to pick up Suki and Racer, staying long enough to regale them with stories of Woodstock and then rolled up to our small white house in the country two and a half weeks before classes were going to start. My junior year. Their senior. I didn’t want to think about it.

U.S. Soldier Body Count: 44,497

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