Long Time Gone

It”s been a long time coming and it’s going to be a long time gone. Youth never knows where it’s headed until some outside action points to the direction one is suppose to take, required to take. At least that is what my invitation to join Uncle Sam’s merry band of pranksters said. It had taken the selective Service board to find, me, catch up to my lack or wherewithal.  I looked at Jeanne, those tears were over the loss of puppy more than the loss of a love affair.  I was being rescued and I knew that things would never be the same.  If not the draft, then the problem of a pregnancy and years of low wage unskilled labor would be our reward.  No, Uncle sam was doing us both a favor and we both knew it.  You know haw that goes, you gotta put on the show that somehow you cared because it is required and makes both your lives seem noble.  It’s the mid sixties, for god’s sake, we’re supposed to have these noble dreams.  Still, three years is a long time gone, a long time for a young man and a young woman.

 

So there I stood, suitcase at my feet, packed with what few portable luxuries I could afford to bring.  She was worried that I would be sent to Viet Man to die in some rice paddy.  I told her it would take six months before they would even consider sending me.  Well, at least I meant that much to her.  But I knew it wasn’t me, I wasn’t the one she saw herself settled down to for thirty or forty years of marriage.  I couldn’t conceive of twenty years of marriage, let alone ten.  Hell, I couldn’t conceive of marriage right now in the next six months.  No, I knew this breakup was a long time coming, it had no where else to go.  I mean, what was the point?  No, we both deserved better.  she with her mother’s influence, call it the reality of being dominated, manipulated.  I instinctively knew the pattern, my mother tried her best to manipulate me.  I was a hard sell, a tough customer to close.  So here I was at the Greyhound station waiting for the bus that would take me to the airport, would take me out of my adolescent years and put me on the road to manhood.  Yeah, I had some idea what was in store.  Shaved heads, marching all day, sergeants yelling at you all the time.  Yeah, that premonition of something worse than football summer camp and three or four practices a day.  Marriage wasn’t as easy to figure and I didn’t want to try.

 

The bus pulled in, the driver took my suitcase and placed it in the belly.  I gave her a quick kiss, nothing longer, nothing prolonged like the movies show you’re suppose to do.  I knew it would be a long time before I came back.  I didn’t want to come back.  I was breaking my ties for something unknown and I knew it.  I just didn’t know what.  Yes, I’ll write.  Everybody writes, it’s a fact of loneliness.  But what would I write?  Did I miss you?  You were handy, comfortable to have around.  Yeah, you can spend all your love making time and wasn’t that what we had done for the past year?  So she waves, sheds a tear or two, draws back from the platform, waiting for the final curtain.  The other passengers are now aboard and the driver has closed the door.  As we pull out, I see her turn around and head for her mother’s car, the canary yellow Buick coupe.  She always called it the Yellow Bird, as if it had some soul of it’s own.  I think it was a projection of her own wish, to be her own person.  Momma wouldn’t permit that.  Momma had control over the family fortune and that meant no matter what Jeanne wanted momma would decide what was best.  Yeah, I bet she could kick some friendly sargeant ass any day of the week.

 

An hour later the bus pulled into the airport unloading zone.  Inside I met the recruiting sergeant with his sharp pressed uniform.  He handed me a vanilla envelope with the paperwork for the six of us traveling on to the next city.  My name is low on the alphabet so I am appointed in charge of the other five.  So make me an officier.  It wouldn’t be the first time that the alphabet gave me a “command”, for what it’s worth.  Half an hour later we are on board the aircraft headed for basic training.  No brass band, just a welcome from the stewardess.  Yes, that is what they were called back then.  Bought myself a whiskey sour for the ride, it’d be a long time before I would ever have another.  Another two hours and we would land near the basic training base.  Another bus ride, late night assembly and official swearing in, barricks assignment.  In the morning we would find our assignments and be marched by one of the friendly sergeants to that company headquarters where a disinterested captain or lieutenant would tell us what a great adventure awaited us in his company and by the way, don’t fuck up.  Yes, we are ushered into the world of hurry up and wait.  Later I find it’s just like marriage, but that’s another story.  Right now we have to go through the various buildings to get our shots, our clothes, and some chow between the buildings.  then it’s to the barracks where we will spend twelve weeks learning how to spit shine boots and march in formation.  Time enough to learn how to fire a rifle, qualify as markman, and learn how to break it down and clean it.  Yeah, lots of busy work and maybe a sunday to write someone.

 

Mail call and you stand in formation at ease, smoke em if you got em.  God, I quit that habit just to take it back up again, what a waste.  She got the address from my mother, helpful woman.  Some get mail, most don’t.  In another week more mail will show up.  We got all kinds in our company, even one we have to give a shower party, a special invite, so to speak.  Yeah, this is democracy and we are all the same, except for the friendly sergeants who are god, just ask them.  A few more letters and a fem more exchanges of lies.  We graduate from boot camp, as if we had a choice in the matter.  Now it is off to whatever school, from AIT to electronics to Mp or cook school.  One has to be real low IQ to be assigned as a cook or MP.  the cooks are always the little guys while the MPs are always the big guys, go figure.  Then six months later and it’s off to Hell, her fears came true.  I don’t mind, I know she is ready to find Mr Right, or at least the approved individual her mother selects.  so I head for southeast asia and she heads for the approved man in her life.  Life has a way of being perverse in an almost unintelligible way.  He would be no where near Mr Right.  He would beat her, beat the children, go on alcoholic binges, and then when he saw the light, would be dead from a heart attack six months later.  I never got so much as a scratch in my year of hell.  Go figure.

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