Chapter 8—"You're The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me"
I often studied in a small room attached to the library, my books, papers and a pack of five-flavor Life Savers on the desk next to me. I was never without Life Savers. I got that from my mom. In addition to Kleenex, she always carried three kinds of Life Savers in her purse, wintergreen, peppermint and cloves. They kept us kids quiet at church.
I reached for another Life Saver. A hand beat me to it. “Cherry, my favorite.”
Jeff put the Life Saver in his mouth. “Haven’t seen you around.”
Before I had a chance to say something like, I’ve been around. Where have you been? he said, “How does your social calendar look for the last weekend in October?”
My social calendar is clear. It will probably be clear for the rest of my life. That’s one thing that’s clear.
Instead I said, “I don’t usually plan that far ahead. And how did you know I was here?” I reached for the Life Saver pack, noticed the orange one on the table and the pineapple gone, my second favorite flavor. I opened the entire pack and found the last cherry one.
“Will you go to the homecoming dance with me on October twenty-eighth?” Jeff asked. He never answered my questions.
“Maybe. I’m not much of a dancer.” I took dance lessons in junior high school from the Hall School of Dance with pretty much everyone in my class. We learned the basic waltz, two-step, and jitterbug, ending each class with a ten-minute dance. I was always the last chosen by the boys to dance. I was also the last to receive my Master Jitterbug Basic award. If you could ‘dig step, dig step, back, front’ you got a ribbon. It didn’t prove I could dance.
“Everyone can dance,” he said. He stood me up, put my left hand behind his back, my right hand in his. “Just relax and follow.” He started to sing as he moved from side to side. He did a quick turn to the right.
He started singing “With a Little Help From My Friends.” It started okay, that thing about love at first sight. Yes. I was in love with Jeff Ledford after two éclairs. But what did I know about love?
Then he got the words all wrong. When sang about what I would do when he turned out the lights, I had to stop him. If I knew anything, it was the words to every Beatle song.
“Those aren’t the words,” I said to him. His arm was strong around my back.
He smiled and let go of me. “Now you can dance.”
“Yes, I accept your invitation.” Jeff Ledford was worming his way deeper into my head. He might be pushing my dad right out of there. Somehow that didn’t seem right.
I’m not sure I learned to dance that night. I didn’t care. I decided to dance anyway.
During the next week, I saw Jeff a few times dash into dinner, grab a tray of food and sit alone at a back table to eat. I saw him twice across the green. He waved but never stopped to talk.
Marty and I were hanging up posters in Commons.
MARCH AGAINST THE WAR. Saturday, October 21, 1:00 p.m. Downtown Lake Forest. Show your support for the Washington D.C. March on the Pentagon. Sponsored by the Lake Forest College Students Against the War.
A student approached us and said, “You’re wrong. You should support the government.” He walked away.
“What was that all about?” I asked Marty. I stared at the guy as he left Commons.
“Well, believe it or not, there are people who support this war.”
I believed it. I wrote the paper. It took death for me to understand.
Marty handed me the rest of the posters. “I’ve got to go to class but I wanted to ask you something first.”
“Would you go to the homecoming dance with me?”
I never went to one homecoming dance in high school. Not one in four years. And now two guys asked me.
“Thanks, Marty. I’ve already got a date,” I said. “I’d love to go out sometime though.”
“Sure.” The awkward silence began.
Jake came with a new stack of posters and spared us from our silence. “Got time to hang these up?” he asked.
“I’m heading to class,” Marty said. He picked up his book bag. “See you around, Becky. Jake, catch you later.”
I watched him go. I turned back to Jake. “Sure.” He handed me the stack of posters.
As Jake walked away, I saw him talking to Dennis McKinney who was headed my way.
I had seen Dennis around the past couple of weeks at anti-war meetings or going to class. He always smiled when he saw me. That ‘angry, mocking, I don’t give a shit’ look that had marred his perfect face was changing.
He nodded towards the poster. “You going?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world. How about you?” I put the posters on the table and reached for the Life Saver pack I had in my pocket.
“Want a Life Saver?” I said, holding out the pack to him.
“Only if the next one is cherry or pineapple,” he said.
“You’ve got good taste.” I found the cherry one and handed it to him. “I’ve never met anyone who liked green the best.”
He put the Life Saver in his mouth. “I think green tastes like the stuff my mom mops the kitchen floor with.”
“How would you know?”
He laughed. “I haven’t had a Life Saver from a five-flavor pack since I was a kid. Did you ever get one of those ten-roll Life Saver boxes for Christmas?” he asked.
“Every year. I always ate them all in two days except for the butterscotch. I hated those.”
“I ate them all on Christmas day even the butterscotch ones. I wonder who came up with the idea of a candy with the hole in the middle. And how do they make them?”
I handed him the pack again and he took the next one, yellow. “I have no idea. Do they make the candy whole and then punch out the hole in the middle? If so, what happens to those little pieces of candy that were once the hole? Does that make any sense?” I asked.
“In a weird sort of way, it does.”
Joe Scott Joe appeared. I hadn’t talked to him since orientation. “If it isn’t Becky from orientation.” He casually put his arm around me.
I shook it off and wanted to say, “If it isn’t that jerk Joe Scott Joe.” Before I had a chance, he put his arm back around my shoulder and said, “When are you going quit hanging out with these anti-war hippies and go out with me?”
I shook off his arm again and stared at him. He couldn’t see the daggers I was sending into his body.
“Friday night. Keg party. My dorm,” he said.
“No thanks. I don’t drink.”
Joe Scott Joe put his arm around me a third time and pulled me close. “Maybe it’s time to start.” Then he saw Dennis standing there. “What’s up, Hook?”
I never heard anyone call Dennis ‘Hook’ before. Wasn’t sure it was appropriate. Granted he did have a hook on his left arm but did that give people the right to call him Hook?
“Name’s Dennis. Told you that the other day.” Dennis turned to walk away.
“I heard your friends call you Hook.” Joe Scott Joe said to Dennis’ back. He still had his arm around my shoulder. I tried to break free but he held tighter.
Dennis turned back to face him, “Who said you were my friend?”
“I’m as good as they get.” Joe Scott Joe let go of me and spread his arms wide as though he were everyone’s gift. I had an urge to slug him in the stomach. I am a lover of non-violence but something about Joe Scott Joe rubbed me the wrong way.
“Fuck you, Joe,” Dennis said.
“No, fuck you, Hook. You’re not getting any sympathy from me.”
“I didn’t ask for your sympathy.”
Joe Scott Joe continued. “Why did you even go to Vietnam? You could have done what the other long hairs do, go to Canada or jail.”
“You’re not worth it, Joe. Someday they’ll call your number. And although I don’t wish this on anyone,” Dennis held up his hook, “You’ll get what you deserve.”
“By the way, Hook. You ever kill anyone over there?”
I had heard enough. “Shut up, Joe. And get lost,” I moved between him and Dennis.
Dennis smiled at me. He put up his hand as if to tell me he could handle this on his own. “None of your goddamn business, Joe. And by the way, you’re no friend of mine.”
“I’m the best there is, Hook.”
“Lay off him, Joe,” I said.
Joe Scott Joe patted me on the head. As he left he said, “See you around Becky, Hook.” He took a couple steps then turned back. “Friday night. Keg party. My dorm. See you there.”
I turned back to Dennis. “Sorry, Dennis. He’s a jerk. I hope I never see him again. In fact, I think I’ll go out of my way to never see him again.”
“Thanks for trying to help, Becky.” He paused and smiled. God, he was gorgeous. “By the way, my friends call me Hook.”
More than a tenth of the 1,200 students at Lake Forest College showed up for the march. Added to the tenth of the entire population of the United States in rallies around the country, the movement was massive.
We marched around the square in the center of Lake Forest carrying signs—Escalate Peace, War on Poverty Not People, Peace Now, Bring Our Boys Home. Hippies in frayed denims and fringed leather moccasins marched next to fraternity guys, cheerleaders, professors, sorority girls and a few local people.
Jake led the march with his bullhorn. “What do we want? PEACE. When do we want it? NOW.” Another chant started farther down the line. “Hey, Hey, LBJ. How many kids did you kill today?”
Some townspeople urged us to go back to Russia where we belonged. A few held signs. God Yes—Communism No. Support Your Country. Jake handed them leaflets that ended up in the trashcan on the corner. I ignored them.
As I walked with my sign that said Out of Vietnam, I heard a voice from behind. “Hey Becky, good to see you here.” It was my advisor, Tom Garson.
“Hi, Professor Garson.”
“Please call me Tom.”
I slowed down to walk beside him. “My dad’s a college professor and I never heard anyone call him by his first name. It’s a habit I guess.”
“Keep working at it. Habits can be broken. Anyhow, how’s everything going?”
“I love my classes, particularly Intro to Journalism. I’m writing for the school newspaper. And I’m doing anti-war stuff.”
We approached the Marshall Fields store on the square where Dennis stood in the doorway. He wore his army jacket with the peace button pinned on the pocket the red bandana around his head. “Hey, Becky. Tom.” He shook Garson’s hand who stopped to talk to him.
“Hi, Dennis,” I said. “Why aren’t you marching?”
He smiled. “Don’t forget, my friends call me Hook. And I’d rather watch than march.”
I said good-bye to the two of them and continued to march. From the other side of the square I noticed they were still talking.
By Becky Jamison
More than 120 college students and townspeople marched in an anti-war protest in Lake Forest last Saturday. The Lake Forest College Students Against the War organized the event in support of a march on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
A few local townspeople confronted the marchers holding signs such as “Win in Vietnam” The marchers handed out literature to the onlookers.
More than 100,000 people showed up for the march in Washington D.C. on Saturday. Later in the day 35,000 marched to the Pentagon that was surrounded by military police officers. The police arrested eight hundred protesters.
The next meeting of the Lake Forest College Students Against the War will be in Bradley Hall on Wednesday at 7:00. Come help us end this war.
Officials called the march at the Pentagon a riot. Protesters called it their right to assemble. Government infiltrators threw bottles and called the movement violent.
I was walking back to my dorm after Sunday brunch, an orange in my pocket, when Jeff snuck up behind me and tackled me to the ground. We rolled, smashing the orange. Three seconds was all it took but in the end, I lay on the ground, Jeff on top of me. Our lips met.
He rolled off of me and I retrieved the orange from my pocket. When we finished eating it, Jeff rubbed sticky fingers over my cheeks and asked me to marry him.
“Don’t ask if you’re not serious,” I said.
Jeff took my hand and wiped off the sticky orange goo from each finger with the corner of his shirt. “I’m deadly serious.”
“I don’t know anything about you,” I said. My dad popped into my head telling me to back off. Should I really be hanging out with a guy who was kicked out of college because of drugs? I breathed deeply and pushed Dad away.
“Ask away. But I get to ask you back.” He lay down on the grass on his side.
“Favorite color,” I asked him.
“No one likes yellow.” He picked up a rock and rolled it between his fingers.
“It reminds me of the daffodils that grow behind our house. Your turn.” I wanted to brush the hair out of my eyes but my fingers were still too orange-sticky.
“Favorite book,” he asked me.
“Cat’s Cradle,” he said.
“We’re reading that in my freshman English class.”
“You’ll love it,” Jeff said.
“My turn,” I said. I lay down on my side. We faced each other. “Favorite movie.”
“Cool Hand Luke. Yours?”
“To Sir With Love.”
He laughed. “A feel-good movie with little substance.”
I threw a handful of leaves at him. “How can you not like the scene towards the end where the girl asks Sidney Poitier to dance and he acts cool and says, ‘The whole world is waiting for you. You’re a smash hit.’ Then they sing a song and give him a present and all he can say is ‘Well, well’ and he’s going to cry if he stays there so he walks out, sits at his desk and rips up his resignation letter.”
“It doesn’t compare to Paul Newman saying ‘I can eat fifty eggs.’ And he does.” Jeff tossed the rock he had been rolling between his fingers.
“Favorite song,” he asked me.
“Any Beatles song. Yours?” I asked him.
“Anything by the Rolling Stones.”
“Favorite baseball team.”
“I love to play but I don’t watch baseball so don’t have a favorite team,” he said.
“That’s a deal breaker. I could never marry anyone who doesn’t love to watch baseball. The wedding is off.”
“Darn. I’ll try again later.” Jeff’s eyes held a hint of laughter, a hint of gentleness, a hint of melancholy.
“Hey, I thought you were going to the march yesterday” I said, brushing the leaves out of my hair, leaving sticky orange goo on the bangs.
“I woke up late.”
After the homecoming dance the following weekend, Jeff and I became an item. I had never been an item before. I was sort of an item with the first guy I kissed when I was sixteen but he lived eighty miles away so I don’t think that really counts.
Jeff waited for me after every class, took my books in one hand and held my hand with the other. We sat in Hixson Lounge while he asked me about my classes. When I asked him what he learned, he always said, “Nothing much.” In the evenings we’d go to the campus coffee house behind Commons, eat doughnuts, drink hot apple cider and listen to music.
Pretty soon I wondered what my dad meant in those speeches he made.
I had fallen for Jeff and needed to get my dad out of my head.
U.S. Soldier Body Count: 17,522