Chapter 52—"Wonderful World"
Vietnam. It was as much a part of my growing up as Wonder Bread, lilac bushes, Kool-Aid popsicles in the freezer, hide and seek games with the entire neighborhood, and the giant dog house in my neighbor’s back yard. From the time I was five to the time I was ready to graduate from college, Vietnam was there.
I’d been to the last anti-war event of my college career. It started four years earlier helping a guy with hair in his eyes hang a banner at a table during the extra-curricular fair. Four years later I led the anti-war group on campus. In those four years I picketed, canvassed, marched, yelled, taught, spoke, demanded. I saw raw violence in the streets of Chicago and marched peacefully on those same streets. I met Abbie Hoffman and touched Dustin Hoffman. With the help of two vets I learned that ‘it don’t mean nothin’ meant everything.
I pretty much figured out my life after graduation. I was going to buy the white house in the country with some of the settlement money I got from Jeff. The rest of the money would stay in the bank until Marty got out. I planned on working at the local newspaper for a while. In the fall, I’d look for more roommates. My other friends would scatter but never be gone.
Rick and Ronda were moving onto the property. Ronda was pregnant and they planned on marrying sometime during the summer. I would build a small cabin there, a place to go to when I was lonely and sad. Jake, Ginger and their baby boy, Dennis, would stay in the Chicago area. Billy and Julie put their wedding on hold until Marty got released. And every week, month in and month out, I would visit Marty.
That’s how it went. That’s how it was going to go. I’d keep going to events at Lake Forest College, march in their marches, protest at their protests, attend their lectures and symposiums. I’d head home to Kentucky a few times. I’d head down to Springfield to visit Mom Olsen, sit and talk about Marty, miss him together. I’d take a trip or two to Cleveland to visit Hook, talk to him when I needed to and get a hug from his mom.
Things never go as planned of course. So, of course, my story didn’t go as planned. I bought the house and had a job lined up. I didn’t get any farther. Thank god my plan didn’t go as planned. Somebody else wrote a better script. A script of perfect endings.
I heard the whole story later.
The prison released Marty after seven and a half months. Universal opposition to the war and a sympathetic parole board were his ticket out. It cost the government too much to keep him in.
Instead of a one-way ticket to Vietnam, they gave him a one-way ticket to Lake Forest. He got off the train, found a pay phone and called the house. No one answered. He walked the half-mile to campus to find me or someone to drive him home to me.
He first checked the newspaper office. It was locked. He stopped at the softball game on the green. I wasn’t there. He checked Hixson Lounge. I wasn’t there. What he didn’t see was the dog-eared copy of Catch-22 next to a hot cup of tea on the table in front of my place on the couch. I was in the bathroom and in that two moments he came and went.
Marty checked Rick’s office. He wasn’t there. Then he saw Rick teaching class in one of the rooms down the hall from his office. Marty felt a sense of ease, a sense of coming home, a sense that everything was okay. He said, from the back of the classroom, “Sorry for interrupting class, but I’m looking for a ride home.”
Rick looked up and saw Marty standing in the back of the room, a bag casually tossed over his shoulder. Rick paused, adjusted his glasses to make sure he saw what he thought he saw and said two things. “Far out” and “Class dismissed.”
He pushed his way through the students and the desks to the back of the room and embraced Marty in a bear hug. Then he lifted him off the ground and hugged him some more. “Why didn’t you tell us you were getting out?” He put Marty down to take a good look at him.
“I didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up. Too many guys have been denied parole. I lucked out.”
Rick looked at him again. “You look great. Dropped a few pounds in prison.”
“Well, all I did was work or exercise. No junk food except the care packages you all sent. Do you know where Becky is?”
“Should be waiting for me in Hixson. We’re having lunch together.”
“I was just over there. Didn’t see her.”
“She can’t be far.” Rick put his arm around Marty and they walked out of the classroom, out of the building, over to Hixson.
They saw me through the French doors drinking a cup of tea, sitting on the couch with my feet up on the coffee table in front of me reading Catch-22 for the fourth time.
That’s what they told me.
Rick said, “Ready for lunch?”
Without looking up I held my hand up to him. “Just a second. I’m almost done with this chapter.”
“I don’t have a lot of time. Let’s go.”
That didn’t sound like Rick. He always had time. Even when Rick needed to be someplace right away, he always had time. I loved that about him. He set himself down, stopped everything, and was there for as long as he needed. What’s got him in such a hurry? I thought. I only need fifteen seconds to finish the last two sentences of the chapter.
I looked up and started to say, “Give me fifteen seconds,” but before I got it out I saw Marty. It didn’t register. It looked like Marty. It looked like the person who had first been my mentor and my idol. Who became my housemate and my best friend. Who became my lover and my future. Who became my joy and my loneliness. But what my brain told me about where Marty was supposed to be and what my eyes told me didn’t match.
Then he smiled and pushed back his hair and the brain and eyes connected. I threw the book, bounded over the top of the table, leaped into his arms, both legs wrapped around his waist. He twirled me around and held me tight. After the third turn he stopped twirling. Maybe it was because he knew I was prone to motion sickness. Maybe he just wanted to look at me. It didn’t matter why. Marty was home.
U.S. Soldier Body Count: 56,369