Chapter 40—"Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?"
It was spring break. Time passed, relentlessly. I could not stop it.
“I can’t. I won’t do it,” I said to Marty. He wanted me to get in the car, turn it on, put it in reverse, turn my head so I could see where I was going, press my foot on the gas pedal and run over his foot with the car. He wanted me to run over his foot. Just like that.
“It’s my way out of Vietnam. You’ve got to do this for me.”
I could hear the bones crushing. I could hear Marty scream, see him collapse, never able to walk again. I could hear the sirens of the ambulance coming to take him to the hospital, the paramedics asking me what happened. “I don’t know,” I would say. But I did know. He wanted me to run over his foot with the car.
Marty smoked a joint and downed two beers. He looked at me. “I’m begging you.”
“Let’s get it over with,” I said. “If I think too much about it I won’t be able to do it.”
Marty put on a pair of tennis shoes he found in the back of his closet, the mud shoes, the ‘I don’t want to ruin a good pair’ shoes.
“Why not go barefoot?” I asked.
“I don’t want you to see it when it’s done.” He kissed me on the nose and went out the back door. I followed.
I got in the car and put the key in the ignition. “I’m ready,” he called from behind the car.
“Why me?” I thought. I was the kind of person who caught spiders in the shower and released them out the window. Despite my cockroach stabbing adventure with Hook, I generally brushed cockroaches aside instead of crushing them. I said sorry to every mosquito I slapped, every fly I swatted.
I sat in the car my hand on the key. “I’m ready,” he called again. He didn’t want me to see his foot when it was over but I could see the picture from my anatomy book, all fifty-two bones, all thirty-three joints, all one hundred and seven ligaments, all nineteen muscles and all the tendons that held everything else together. I could see them all bloody, oozing, smashed.
Then I saw Marty in his army fatigues, a gun in his hands, running through a swamp, sniper fire all around him.
I turned on the car. I could do this for Marty. The thing he begged me to do. I could do it.
“I’m ready.” I could hear the hesitancy in his voice.
“I heard you,” I said back to him. “I heard you,” I said again, quieter, choking back my tears, choking on the words, seeing the pain, seeing the ooze, seeing the swamp. What was I going to do? “I can’t hurt you,” I whispered. Jeff’s face flashed in front of me. Hook’s face flashed in front of me. If I don’t do this, Marty might die. He’ll be sent to Vietnam and he’ll die and I’ll lose him too. If I do this, I’ll hurt him. There has to be another way. There has to be another way.
“I’m ready,” Marty said the fourth time.
“I heard you,” I screamed as I turned off the car. I opened the car door, got out and ran to the back of the car, threw my arms around Marty’s neck. “I heard you,” I said through my tears. I was sure Marty would never forgive me.
Marty hugged me and kissed my hair. “It’s okay. I’ll think of another way out.”
Peter and I were folding laundry thrown in a heap on the Salvation Army couch. It was spring-cleaning time, curtains, blankets, every sheet and towel we owned. In a few short weeks, Peter and Marty would lose their student deferments. Then what? Vietnam? Fort Hood? Jail? Canada? Thrown away like dirty laundry? I tried to make my life boring like Catch 22 to make time pass slower, make life last longer.
I still didn’t know what Marty and Peter were going to do. Maybe if I caught Peter in the middle of doing something where he couldn’t leave, I could get an answer. Folding a blanket was the perfect opportunity. “What are you going to do when you graduate?” I asked.
“It’ll work out.” Peter handed me the two ends of the blanket to fold.
“What do you mean, ‘It’ll work out’? You know as well as I do that the war is not going to work itself out in the next few weeks. You’re not going to get a higher lottery number. No one is going to run over your foot with the car, at least I’m not going to.” I folded the two ends together, handed them to Peter a bit more aggressively than I meant to and picked up the other two ends.
“Twenty years from now it will be over one way or another. A hundred years from now we’ll be no less dead than those in Vietnam.”
Peter stopped folding and looked at me. “It’s the luck of the draw. My lottery number is low. I have to go. You have two X chromosomes. You don’t have to worry what the fuck is going to happen to you.” Peter rarely said fuck and he said it with a rare edge to his voice.
I wanted to quietly put down my two corners of the blanket and sneak out of the room. He continued. “It doesn’t make sense does it? Why should your fucking birthday be number 310 when you’re a girl and it doesn’t matter and I have to fucking worry about whether I’m going to be sent to Vietnam?” That was three fucks in one conversation.
I wanted to yell at him that I didn’t do it, that he couldn’t blame me. I wanted to yell at him that I suggested months ago that he apply for his CO status and he didn’t. I wanted to tell him that my boyfriend had a lower lottery number and that wasn’t my fault either. “Fold your own damn blanket,” was all I could get out of my mouth as I let go of the ends I was holding and headed to the stairs. “Fold your own damn blanket and don’t blame me.”
I stopped and looked at him. “It’s not my fault that you got a low lottery number or that I am a female. It’s not my fault that this goddamn war keeps going on and on. It’s not my fault. I’m as scared as you are.”
Peter threw the half-folded blanket on the couch and followed me to the stairs. “What have you got to be scared of? You’re female. This doesn’t affect you at all.”
“Are you kidding me? Everything about this war affects me.” I turned and started up the stairs. Peter followed and when I tried to slam the bedroom door, he stopped it with his hand.
“I’m going to Canada.” It came out of the blue. He’d made his decision. He knew and I knew, once he left he could never come back. I looked at him. God damn war. God damn stupid war. He turned around and left.
I shut the door. I couldn’t bear it. That gentle soul of a man and his dog, that man who helped me heal with his radishes. That man made a choice. He was leaving.
U.S. Soldier Body Count: 50,424