Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How to Break and Ankle, Part 4

Monroe was not the only Perrysburg boy to attend W&J College. Regis was also in our class, and through the two of them and visits to their homes on weekends and vacations, I made other friends in the town I thought of as ideal and dreamlike.

It seemed that most times we approached Perrysburg through thunderstorms on the Ohio Turnpike, but in the distance we could see the town gleaming like a diamond, rays of sunlight from a break in the clouds reflecting off wet roofs and church spires. The weather was always perfect in Perrysburg, its people always pleasant, and if there were any problems there, they were packed away in boxes and stacked in cedar closets.

My recollection of those days I spent there in August is foggy after nearly 40 years, but I do remember that I did not see Regis, because he had already left for basic training in the Air Force. And I recall the guilt I felt for my betrayal of him.

In the beginning of our sophomore year at college, Regis and I became close friends and confided in each other about our fear of the future. We felt trapped in college, needing to be there for the draft deferment only. If we left college, we'd be drafted, and there looked to be no end to the Vietnam War, so once we graduated, we'd be sure to be plucked. The U.S. was drafting more than 300,000 young men a year at the time, and although only a small percentage of them would end up in combat, you couldn't tell us that at the time. In our troubled minds, being in the military was equal to death in a rice paddy.
We were angry at the government for the theft of our freedom, torn by the conflict between our own morality and sense of duty to country, and ashamed of our cowardice. So, we made a plan to escape, to emigrate to Australia. At the end of the semester, we withdrew from W&J. I called home and told them that I had quit college, but not about Australia. The next day, my father flew up from Florida, and he, along with the dean of students, managed to talk some sense into me, and I re-enrolled.

Regis' father did not come. "I knew you wouldn't go through with it," he told me in disgust as he left for home. Rather than be drafted into the Army, he enlisted in the Air Force. Monroe would do the same.

Regis' family lived on Front Street, and I stopped by to see them. They tried to be pleasant and welcoming, but there was a noticeable chill in the conversation, and awkward avoidance of Regis' name. He was gone, and they could not put aside the fact that I was a cause of that.

When I left their house it started to rain, and it rained all night. I decided it was time to move on.

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