Marty gave me daffodils for my birthday the following Wednesday. “It’s not even daffodil season,” I said. Favorite color? Yellow. Why? My mom’s daffodils. “How did you know? Where did you get them?”
“I was in Chicago yesterday and saw them in a flower shop. They reminded me of you.” I was moved by the gift, by his knowing.
The next weekend Marty took me to Springfield to celebrate his birthday and meet his mom and brother Billy. They sat at the dinner table when we walked in. Billy looked up. “Well, if it isn’t golden boy with his girlfriend.” I wanted to say that I really wasn’t his girlfriend, at least I didn’t know if I was or not. Did one kiss constitute a girlfriend?
“Nice to see you too, brother.” Marty patted Billy on the shoulder.
I walked over and held out my hand. He offered his, looking somewhat surprised. “Hi, Billy. I’m Becky, a friend of your brother.” Billy winked at me. Billy didn’t believe the ‘friend’ thing for a minute.
“It is very nice to meet you, Becky. I look forward to getting to know you this weekend.”
We ate Mom Olsen’s famous spaghetti and meatballs. After dinner Billy said, “While it certainly has been a pleasure eating with you, particularly you, Becky, I’m not sure I can stand much more small talk.” He took a brownie from the plate in the center of the table and rolled away from the table turning back to say, “Becky, I hope you enjoy your stay in Springfield.” He disappeared into this bedroom.
Mom Olsen looked at Marty. “I don’t know how much more I can stand, Marty. You saw his attitude. He’s rude or doesn’t talk at all. All day he sits in his room.”
“Give him time, Mom. He’s been through hell.”
“It’s been almost two and a half years. Isn’t that enough time?”
I folded my napkin and put it on the table. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to go get acquainted with Billy.” The wink invited me.
“Good luck,” Marty said. I smiled at him.
“What’s the worst that could happen?”
I knocked on Billy’s door. “I’m coming in,” I said and did. Billy sat in his chair looking out the window to the back yard tossing a baseball up and down in his right hand. It was dark out. He said nothing. “Do you mind?”
He nodded. “Be my guest. Welcome to my humble abode.”
I put my leather satchel on the bed and looked around. “Nice dresser.” I walked up to the five-drawer dresser that stood against the wall by the bed. “Looks like it has a lot of history.” I rubbed my hand over his name carved in the top drawer next to where he carved ‘Chicago White Sox.’ “I bet your mom was mad as hell when you did this.”
He grinned. “Mad doesn’t even being to describe it. She grounded me.”
“And you obeyed?”
“Except when I crawled out the window and ran around the block. Crawled back in before she even knew I was gone.”
I laughed. “I know that game. Once my little brother followed me around the house singing this one note. It made me crazy. He wouldn’t stop. I finally went into the bathroom and he stood outside the door and sang that note. So I screamed at him and my dad grounded me. I sneaked out the window, climbed a big tree in my back yard, sat awhile, climbed down and sneaked back in.”
I pulled out a joint from the pocket of my satchel, lit it up, took a toke and handed it to Billy. “Thanks, it’s been a long time. In fact, I haven’t had any weed since Vietnam.” He took a toke, held it for a second and took another before handing it back.
“Shit, that’s a long time.” I toked and handed it back to Billy.
“Well, I couldn’t very well ask my mom to go buy me some marijuana, could I?”
I laughed. “It might get a bit complicated.” I rubbed the Chicago White Sox bumper stickers that covered every inch of the third and fourth drawers and the psychedelic swirls painted on the sides.
“Did those in high school. Mom stopped being mad about the dresser by then. She would have had a fit if she knew what I hid in the drawers, though.”
“Cigarettes. Condoms. The typical things.”
I laughed again. The joint came and left.
“Why did you give Marty your Nellie Fox baseball?”
“I have no fucking clue. Doesn’t a day go by when I wish I had it back.” We were both stoned by then.
“I could probably steal it from his room. He’d never notice. Anyhow Nellie Fox wasn’t half bad for a second baseman. Nothing compared to Bobby Richardson.” I lit a second.
“Of the Yankees?”
I sat down on the bed. Billy was still in his chair by the desk.
“1961 Yankees. Best team that ever played. In junior high, I cut out every Yankee box score and tacked them to the wall of my bedroom.”
“Must have been a real turn on for those junior high school guys.”
I threw a pillow at him. He threw the baseball at me. I caught it and tossed it back.
“Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek were the best double play team in baseball. Hands down. No argument,” I said.
“1961 White Sox. Luis Aparacio. One of the best infielders ever lived. He and Nellie Fox were unbeatable, better stats than Richardson and Kubek.”
“I doubt it. 1961. That’s the year Maris and Mantle had their homerun battle.”
“1961. That’s the year Don Larsen pitched for the White Sox.”
I didn’t know who was winning the argument. “Yeah but he later pitched his perfect game in the World Series as a Yankee.”
“Yeah, well.” Billy had no comeback.
“Yeah, well. I win. The Yankees won the series that year. Where did the White Sox end up?”
“Don’t have a clue. But do you have a baseball signed by Bobby Richardson?”
“Do you have a baseball signed by Nellie Fox? No, Marty has it. We’re even.”
He tossed me the baseball again. I caught it with one hand. “Not bad,” he said.
“Best ball player on my high school softball team.”
Billy paused then gestured towards the door. “Are they out there talking about me?”
“That’s why I left.”
“Bet I know what they’re saying. It’s the same every time. Mom says, ‘I don’t know how much more I can take.’ Marty says, ‘Give him time.’ Then Mom says, ‘It’s been two years.’ Was that about how it was going?”
“Something like that. So how long are you going to be miserable in this little room with your high school dresser?”
“I don’t know. Maybe the rest of my miserable life.”
“That’s completely messed up, Billy. The only thing wrong with you is that your legs don’t work. Get off your ass and do something.”
That got him laughing so hard he could hardly speak. “In case you didn’t notice, it’s pretty difficult for me to get off my ass.”
“Sometime ask Marty about the shit I was in last year. What I learned was that you just have to feel the pain and get through it.”
“That is the stupidest thing anyone has told me. Like that’s going to motivate me or something.”
“Worth a try.” From my satchel I pulled out a package of Oreos and Vanilla Wafers. “Hungry?”
“Oreos or Vanilla Wafers?”
“I knew you would choose Oreos.”
“You had no idea which one I would choose.”
I held onto the packages of cookies. “No, really I did. I’ve been doing this experiment. The intelligent, abstract, sociology types pick the wafers. The down to earth real folks pick the Oreos.”
“Are you telling me that I’m not intelligent or abstract?” He reached for the package. I pulled back.
“Sort of. Most of all I’m telling you that you are real.” He reached for the package again. “Isn’t it tragic for you that I control the cookies?”
The wheel chair spun around, was next to me and the package of Oreos was out of my hand before I knew what happened.
“How did you do that?”
“I haven’t had much more do to for the past two and a half years but practice my chair moves. I figured that someday I’d have to get something quick and I needed to be ready.”
“So the past two and a half years haven’t been a total waste.”
“I got the cookies, didn’t I?” He opened the bag and pulled out seven Oreos. “So which are you choosing?” he asked. He saw the twelve Vanilla Wafers I pulled out. “Intellectual type?”
“No, I like the taste of them.” I may have gone over to the dark side. We were silent for a minute, eating our cookies.
“How did you meet Marty?”
“The first day at school I went up to a table to get my orientation packet and there’s this cute guy sitting there.”
“You actually think my brother is cute?” Billy laughed as he put another cookie in his mouth.
“Adorable. Anyhow I gave him my name, he brushed the hair out of his eyes with the palm of his hand and gave me my packet. And it was uphill from there. It was the hair that got me.”
“Marty and his hair. He keeps cutting it so it never gets long enough to stay put, like mine.”
“I get it completely. I had bangs problems too but now look, entwined in my braids.”
“Well, I say he should either cut the damn hair or grow it out.”
“I have an idea,” Billy said. “Let’s grab him, tie him down and cut it off.”
“He can outrun you. You’ll never catch him.”
“You saw how fast I was with the chair.”
“Maybe we can get him in a quiet moment, grab his head and grease it down.”
“I think he’s trying to imitate Paul McCartney but he’s not that good of a singer.” Then Billy got going. I couldn’t stop him. “Ever hear the story about the tortoise and the hare? The hare lost. And then there’s the story of Rapunzel. ‘Marty, Marty, please for god’s sake grow out your golden hair.’”
By then I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. I fell on the bed, grabbed the pillow, put it over my face to stop the laughing. I hit Billy with the pillow, told him to stop. But he wouldn’t. “Sometimes he makes my hair stand on end. Maybe he can end up on Broadway.”
Billy started singing and although I always thought that everyone could sing but not everyone had a good voice, Billy could not even sing. He opened his mouth and sang like his was on Broadway. Like he was the star of "Hair." He imitated that move of Marty’s where he pushes back his hair with the palm of his hand.
I got the hiccups and my ribs hurt. “Stop it, Billy. I beg you.”
But he wouldn’t stop. He kept singing about beautiful hair and pushing back his hair with his hand. I grabbed the pillow and smothered his face. It didn’t stop him. “They couldn’t stop me with a bullet. You think you can stop me with a pillow?” He kept singing. Poorly at best. But it sounded beautiful.
A knock on the door. “You okay in there?” It was Marty.
“Hush,” Billy said. “He’ll know we’re in here.”
“Nobody’s here,” I said.
A second knock. I stood up. Straightened my face, opened the door and hiccupped. Marty stood there with his hand in his hair. “What’s going on . . .?”
That was all he got out before I shut the door in his face and rolled back on the bed in hysterics.
Marty opened the door and closed it quickly behind it. “What is going on in here?”
I swallowed, trying to stop the hiccups but one escaped. “I’m getting to know your brother. You didn’t tell me he was such a great singer.”
Billy took the pillow that was still in his lap and covered his face to try and control his laugh. It didn’t work.
Marty picked up the two roaches in the ashtray. I wish I had eaten them to hide the evidence not that everything wasn’t completely evident.
Billy threw the pillow at Marty who ducked. It landed on the floor behind him. Marty picked it up and tossed it on the bed glancing from Billy to me.
“Well, my brother with the beautiful hair. For the first time in two and a half years someone treated me like a human being. Hang on to this one. She’s for real.”
“Despite the Vanilla Wafers,” I said. Billy winked.
Marty tackled me on the bed and whispered in my ear, “I think I might keep you.” Then he looked at Billy. “Have you been telling lies about me?”
“Au contraire, brother. I told her the absolute truth.”
I said to Marty who was still on top of me. “I know absolutely everything there is to know about you.”
“Well, if you don’t mind, I’m going to take her to bed.”
Billy grinned at both of us. “Try to be quiet so you don’t bother Mom. Or me. Your bedroom is right above mine.”
I took the pillow off the bed and hit Billy with it again, “He doesn’t mean that.” But he did.
Billy brushed pretend hair out of his eyes. I gave him a quick hug. “Thanks for the fun. I haven’t laughed that much in a long time.”
He squeezed me back. “Me neither.”
Marty took my hand as we walked up the stairs to our separate bedrooms. As we got to his door, Marty pulled me in with him, closed the door and took me in his arms. What happened next was slow and gentle. Marty, my friend and soul mate, was now my lover and everything mate.
I sneaked into Billy’s old room early in the morning before Mom Olsen woke up. It was pretty much as he left it. A desk under the window. I could practically see it covered with hamster cages, an aquarium, a baseball glove, baseball cards, model cars, rocks, snake skins, plates filled with crumbs from midnight snacks. Some of the remnants remained. A trophy from his Little League baseball tournament. The model ship I’m sure took him an entire summer to put together. Cans filled with pens and chewed on pencils.
Sunday morning before we left I walked into Billy’s new bedroom and pulled the red bandana out of my belt loop, the one that belonged to Hook. I tied it around Billy’s forehead. It looked perfect. “This belonged to a Vietnam Vet who I probably was in love with. He didn’t live long enough for me to find out. Died in a car accident a year ago. Had a hook where his hand used to be.” And then I told Billy the story of the 55-gallon drums of fuel and the four dead bodies.
“I get it,” Billy said. “And you know what? It don’t mean nothin’.”
I leaned down and kissed him. “That’s what I hear.” I gently touched the red bandana. “You look great.”
He took my hands and looked me in the eyes. “Thanks.”
Assistant Editor’s Corner
By Becky Jamison
Americans woke up this week to gruesome front page pictures of the killing of hundreds of civilians in My Lai, Vietnam. Five hundred innocent people and children were rounded up, slaughtered and left to bleed and die. The U.S. government covered up this horrific massacre for eighteen months.
In his inaugural speech, Richard Nixon asked America to call forth “the better angels of our nature” such as love, kindness, decency and goodness. We hold Nixon responsible and will not forget what happened at My Lai.
Join our efforts to stop this war. On November 14th and 15th we will observe two days of actions against our government’s policies in Vietnam. Join us on the 14th in the chapel where we will read the names of all the U.S soldiers killed in Vietnam. Join us on the 15th for a peace rally in Chicago. We will be chartering buses. Sign up in Commons.
U.S. Soldier Body Count: 47,276