By Reg Doty
After two tours partaking in the great “Asian vacation” I was looking forward to starting my life over as an expatriate in a place far away from the insanity that hijacked my dreams and left my spirit weary—a place where I might find my way to moral redemption.
Fate intervened, though. I met a young woman. As it happened, we became expatriates together, not on the far side of the world but in the community where she was born and raised, deep within the confines of eastern Washington State.
We all know that it takes faith to move mountains. But couple that with love and kindness and you just might be able to save souls, too.
I was a hard case, to be sure, but she was someone who wouldn’t give up on me. Persistence and perseverance is a motto we should all live by. My beautiful friend put meaning and action into those words. Perhaps even a half-wit like me could get swept up in a campaign to salvage himself.
She suggested that cohabitation was both sensible and a practical approach to sharing the cost of living—as well for dealing with my emotional challenges and self-imposed anomie.
She also proposed that we attend the local community college. I could study writing and literature while she kept an eye on me. I agreed that it was a sound plan. The living together part drew concerns from her family, but she scoffed and said I was her ‘higher calling.’
* * *
I started out in life being intelligent. But since leaving the service I had been perfecting the perverse skill of sabotaging my efforts. She sensed this. She told me it was my way of punishing myself for the guilt I suffered for taking part in a war that I couldn’t rationalize participating in. She also said with time and help my wounds would heal. At least I was beginning to feel the joy of love.
She introduced me to her friends, some of whom were part of the local counter-culture community. Yes, there was a hippie movement even in farm country.
Earlier in life, I had been challenged by long hair and tie-dyed garments, but I didn’t care anymore. I was open to any idea or viewpoint that helped me feel less like a prisoner held within the quarantine of his own perspective.
Sadly though, since I’d seen war, I thought it was a little naïve that folks might be ready to “love one-another right now,” and I said so. I’m sure they viewed me as something of a philistine, but I was a good guy and they didn’t seem to hold it against me.
Much activity in the community revolved around college sports, especially football and baseball. At our college if you weren’t sports minded there was little social life to be had. Our athletes had the best of everything, and the jocks dismissed you if you were afflicted by eggheadism, clumsiness, or belonged to a club that involved any intellectual activity. Their jock radar was tuned to those hapless souls, who bore the brunt of much unwanted attention.
The long-hairs got the worst of it. Not only did the jocks get in on the fun, but so did the rest of the community. The straight crowd saw hippies as drug-addled, peace-loving sissies and decided they were fair game.
Luckily, I was perceived as safe. I wore my hair short, dressed casually, and was a member of the campus veterans club, where it was assumed no intellectual activity took place. Because of my size, the football players seemed to think I was choice meat and were disposed to regard me indulgently while they tried to recruit me.
Typical fun for jocks was to come across “long-hairs” and separate them from their clothing and smear bright red lipstick on their lips. This meant that they had to try and navigate the streets au naturel while eluding harm’s way. Of course the jocks were in cahoots with the local constabulary, who would be notified to be on the lookout. When found, the hapless hippies were arrested for streaking and tossed in the drunk tank (no official arrest) until someone came down with clothes and $20 to spring them. Right-minded folks said it was just harmless fun.
Finally, a coalition of the downtrodden sought me out to help them take a stand against these indignities. They recognized me as a patient listener, a circumspect thinker, and a one-time warrior. I agreed to apply the grey matter.
Later that evening my girlfriend and I were sitting around our house when several of her friends stopped by to chat and share tea. In the course of the evening I disclosed the dilemma as reported to me. They spoke practically in unison “That’s easy,” they said. “We’ve all been invited to the jock kegger on Saturday. We’ll bring an abundant sampling of Alice B. Toklas brownies.”
“What are you talking about?” I said.
The kegger was a potluck, they explained. They’d bring the pot, all cooked up nice and neat in sweet chocolate treats.
I said “Ooooooh.” Then I decided it best to stay on the right side of these wily females.
Saturday evening, when we arrived, the party was electric. There must have been a hundred people in attendance. With four kegs on duty, the beer flowed like Niagara Falls.
Folks were enjoying themselves so much that I preferred being a fly on the wall. Soon the ladies put out a buffet of potato and macaroni salads with a humongous platter of fried chicken. When the gorging slowed, my girlfriend and her friends anted-up a monstrous tray of the herb-infused goodies, which were devoured with the alacrity of hogs called to slop.
Within half-an-hour the party got so quiet that you could actually hear music. Guys were standing around, mouths wide open, eyes big as saucers.
One of the girlfriends found the stereo and swapped out the Stones for The Moody Blues. The revelers shifted into deep contemplation. Being inexperienced in such matters, my thoughts ran towards personal safety. If and when the crowed finally figured out what had gone down, there might be an ass stomping. So as nonchalantly as I could, I rounded up my friends and we made our way to the door.
All of a sudden, bigger than life, we began to hear giggling—which soon erupted into deep-down laughing. It became contagious. Some guys were literally rolling on the floor. I overheard one woman say to her friend: “My God, I peed my pants.” Then they looked at each other and burst out laughing.
At this point the girls laid out a second pan of special treats. This kicked off a stampede. I managed to snatch a brownie in order to see what all the excitement was about. At first I felt nothing and thought the whole thing was a bust. But I was content to watch the reverie until I realized that I had been standing there for hours. I looked at my watch, which reported I had only been at the party for about an hour. How could that be? I began panicking that I had somehow fractured the space/time continuum when a girl came over holding two beers, offered me one, and then managed to spill the other one all over herself. She erupted in laughter and at that instant I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever seen.
My laughing went on until sometime after midnight when the entire party left mysteriously en masse and headed to Fancy Man’s all-night diner. I ordered cereal, three eggs over-easy, bacon, sausage, hash browns, a tall stack of pancakes, toast, juice, and cocoa. I ate until I could barely move. My girlfriend took us home and we went directly to bed. It turned out to be the best sleep I ever had in my life.
The following Monday morning I was sitting in a quiet corner of the cafeteria when two co-captains of the football team spotted me. They hurried over, blocking my egress. I figured I’d used up my nine lives when all-of-a-sudden they got right up next to me and shouted “WOW MAN!!”
Life was never the same after that. But things were certainly a little tamer.
Reg Doty was born in 1947 and went to war in 1967. He married his wife Jenise in 1971, graduated from Washington State University in 1976, the same year their son was born. He has been diagnosed with severe PTSD from his war years. “I have great difficulty talking to people,” he says, “but I try to make up for that through writing.”