Chapter 48—"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"
The small sign on the door to the library caught my attention. “Interested in Communal Living? Meet in Hixson Lounge, Thursday, December, 10, 7:00. For more information see Rick Burton, Room 214.” I ripped the sign off the door and went to room 214 to see Rick Burton.
“Thanks for telling me about this.” I tossed the flyer on his desk. “We live together and you don’t tell me that you’re planning on moving to a commune?” I was angry and hurt. “I am trying to make it through the next twenty-five months and you do this without telling me?”
“Twenty-two,” he corrected me. “You’ve already made it through three.”
“Shut up, Rick. What were you going to do? Just move out?”
“You hold your horses, Missy.” Rick never called me Missy. “You graduate this May anyway and you’ll move out.”
“You have no idea what I am going to do in May.”
“Don’t you nevertheless me, Rick. I deserved to know.”
“Nevertheless,” he said again. “Ronda has been researching communes for a while. When she presented the idea to me, it made perfect sense.”
“So this is all Ronda’s fault? Her idea?”
“Don’t blame Ronda, Becky. I had also been thinking about what direction I wanted my life to go.”
“Bullshit. This isn’t about whether you go live on a commune somewhere. It’s about the fact that neither you nor Ronda told me about it.”
Rick dropped his head then looked up at me. He stood, walked around the desk and hugged me. “I am sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I got caught up in the idea of moving to a commune. There’s always a place for you until Marty is released. And for you and Marty after.”
“How could you not tell me?”
“I know. Come to the meeting.” Then he tilted my chin up and looked me in the eye. “We are not going to abandon you.”
“You’ll be fine,” he said. “We’ll all be fine.”
The next night I got the call that Ginger was in labor. It was the 24th of November, one day before the second anniversary of Hook’s death, two days before Thanksgiving. I drove into Chicago.
“How’s she doing,” I asked Jake.
“So far so good but it’s still early. She wanted me to send you back when you arrived. I’m going to eat something while I can.”
Ginger was still early in her labor but when a contraction came she stopped, looked me in the eye and breathed, never losing eye contact. She was determined to have the baby naturally.
Then I waited. I fell asleep in a chair in the waiting room.
At 7:30 a.m. Ginger had been in labor for more than twelve hours. I got a cup of coffee from the pot in the corner of the waiting room. When I turned around there was Jake, a huge grin on his face. “Come meet our child,” he said, born on the second anniversary of Hook’s death.
I hugged him. “Congratulations, Dad. Boy or girl?”
“Ginger wants to tell you.”
I walked into the room. Ginger held out her baby to me. “Meet Dennis McKinney Stedman.”
I took Dennis in my arms, looked up a Jake and Ginger looking at me. The tears came. “Well, hello Dennis,” I said to the baby asleep in my arms. “Welcome to this world. You are a very lucky little boy.” I touched his face, kissed his head. “Thank you,” I said. I’m not sure if I said it to baby Dennis or to Ginger and Jake. It didn’t matter.
I stayed at their apartment for the next four days. I cooked a Thanksgiving meal for Jake, cleaned, got all the laundry done, welcomed Dennis and Ginger home. So much to be thankful for.
On Sunday I drove to the prison to see Marty. Time would pass and I would watch Dennis grow. Marty wouldn’t. I could show him pictures but he wouldn’t hold Dennis or sing to him. He wouldn’t laugh at the funny faces Dennis made or get excited when he took his first step. The baby would be walking before Marty got out. He would be talking, saying mama and dada.
Marty wouldn’t do or see any of that. He was in prison. Behind bars. Because of a damn war. Life goes on. Death goes on. I go on. He goes on.
Two weeks later I walked into the commune meeting in Hixson Lounge. Hixson was still home even though someone sat in the seat I claimed my freshman year. About twenty folks attended. Ronda started the conversation giving some of the research she did about functioning communes. She said she found a small farm about thirty miles north of Lake Forest. Twenty-five acres of tillable land. Ten acres of hills and woods. A large farm house with five bedrooms. A barn in disrepair.
The conversation went on for two hours. Endless questions. What will the structure of the commune be? How will we share the workload and finances? What can we do to make money? How do we get more bedroom space? Should we have a communal eating space?
“We can work in surrounding towns to make enough money for the year, pool our resources and then when we have enough, like man, we quit and enjoy the land and plant crops, and wow, dig it man, groove on the sunrise, you know.” I’m not sure I wanted to live with the guy who said that. I had nothing particularly against ‘wow, dig it man, groove on the sunrise.’ I loved the sunrise. I loved grooving. I wanted normal.
The gathered group came up with a list of questions to explore. The amount of work needed to develop a commune far exceeded anyone’s expectations. Most people thought all you had to do was buy a plot of land, move onto it and groove on the sunrise. Till a garden, buy some chickens, milk some goats. All you need is love and a hell of a lot of work. I’m not sure I was up to it. Maybe they’d let me live with them until Marty got out and I wouldn’t have to milk goats and weed gardens.
“I’m still mad at both of you,” I said to Ronda and Rick after the meeting. “We already have a commune. Why do we have to move?” I thought about Peter in Winnipeg. Each letter he sounded happier. “Let’s go visit Peter before school starts in January,” I said.
“It’s damn cold in Winnipeg this time of the year,” Ronda said.
“Yeah, I know. But we get to see Peter, you can find out how their commune works and I bet we can see the Northern Lights from there.”
U.S. Soldier Body Count: 54,909