The first time I took LSD was around my fifteenth birthday. It was after school on a warm Friday in April and I was sitting in the backseat of another army brat’s car when I began feeling the effects. At first it was just a few butterflies in my stomach followed by a weird tightness in my jaw. A short while later we were getting on the eastbound ramp on I-70 on our way to a party when I began having strange insights.
To the North was Fort Riley and Marshall Airfield where C-1 Chinooks were lined-up on pads and jeeps and other military vehicles were parked near hangers. In the distance I could see the top two floors of Irwin Army Hospital poking up through the trees. There was an ominous look to everything. I wondered if I’d made a mistake taking the LSD as a flood of memories began pouring in.
I was born in 1958 in Augsburg, Germany, where my father was stationed with the First Infantry Division, and when I was two we received orders for Fort Riley, Kansas.
One of my earliest memories of my father is watching him shine his combat boots in the family quarters. I remember tugging his dog tags whenever he’d hold me.
We only lived in Fort Riley a short time before my parents bought a house in Junction City, a bustling little army town adjacent to the post. My only sibling is a brother six years my senior, and we were never close.
My mother was very active and I recall her pulling me around the neighborhood on a sled one winter, delivering newspapers. It was my brother’s paper route, but he didn’t like going out in the snow so Mom would bundle me up and we’d deliver the papers.
There were many army families in our neighborhood and my mother would sometimes stop and chat with the other army wives. Mom had blonde hair and blue eyes and everyone said I looked just like her.
A couple of afternoons each week my mother and I would visit Mrs. Schmidt and her son Clarence, who lived on the corner. Like many army mothers at that time, Mrs. Schmidt was a German war bride who had come stateside with her husband and children after World War Two. Clarence and I sometimes played with toy soldiers in his living room while our mothers talked and sipped coffee in the kitchen.
My father never cared for religion, but my mother kept a bible on a small bookshelf next to the dictionary and I’m sure it was her decision to enroll my brother and me in a Lutheran School.
I was a very rambunctious child and had behavior problems early on. The first time I recall being disciplined in school was in first grade during recess when my teacher caught me climbing into the classroom window while playing hide and seek. I thought the classroom would be a good place to hide until the teacher snatched me up and escorted me inside to the classroom where she made me sit, facing a corner for the duration of recess. I remember bawling my eyes out because it seemed so unfair.
It was also during recess when I observed some boys playing army for the first time. They were a couple years older than I and pretended to have rifles and were engaged in a make-believe battle by the swing sets. I wanted to play army too, but every time I tried playing with them they’d pretend to shoot me first, and make me play dead. It’s boring having to play dead, but I was extremely imaginative and really got into it. My mother had told me that soldiers went to heaven when they died so I’d close my eyes and cover my ears with my hands, trying to block my senses. Sometimes I felt like I was actually ascending, but my Sunday School teacher told me that couldn’t be.
It was toward the end of first grade when my parents quit requiring me to attend church and Sunday school because I was so hyperactive. The last service I attended I became so restless my father had to take me outside where he leaned against the car and smoked cigarettes and chuckled as I ran around. It wasn’t long after that when my father and I began dropping my brother and mother off at the church on Sunday mornings, and take me fishing. Dad would always bring-along a six pack of beer for himself and a soda for me.
I think it was the summer before second grade when my family was playing crochet in our backyard one Saturday afternoon when we heard a loud blast from nearby. Dad said it sounded like a shotgun and instructed us to go inside our house while he investigated. I recall hearing sirens and my brother and I peeking out our living room window and seeing an ambulance and police cars pulling up at the house next door. Unfortunately our neighbor’s teenaged son and one of his friends were playing with a shotgun when it accidentally discharged. The blast blew off part of the cheek and and eye of the kid who was visiting, but luckily he lived. After the incident took place rumors began circulating that the kid had been crying, worried he was going to die when my father informed him he was going to be okay and to quit crying and act like a man.
I didn’t know at the time why my mother enrolled my brother and me in public schools the following school year, but years later she explained it was over a disagreement with my teacher who felt I had behavioral problems. This was also around the time my mom and brother quit attending church.
Shortly after entering second grade my father retired from the army after twenty years of service at the rank of Chief Warrant Officer Two. The retirement ceremony was held in an auditorium on main post and my father was just one of many retirees. I can still remember his dress uniform with the First Division Patch on the shoulder and ribbons for World War Two and Korea along with his purple heart. I recall thinking how I would someday join the army and become a hero, just like my father.
My father was only out of the army a short time before getting a job with the school district as director of buildings and grounds along with some other responsibilities.
Even though my father had retired from the army, we’d still go to Fort Riley regularly because his benefits included PX and commissary privileges along with full medical. I loved it when my father drove through post and would look in fascination at the motor pools with rows of tanks, jeeps, and cannons. I’d see soldiers driving trucks and even standing in formation.
Whenever we’d go on post it was like it was inspection time for my father who made it known if a jeep or a deuce-and-a-half looked dirty or a soldier wasn’t standing straight enough.
“It’s a goddamn disgrace,” were usually his words to describe such defects.
One place on post I didn’t like was Irwin Army Hospital which was a big, ugly grey building up the road from the post cemetery. The first time I recall going there was in kindergarten for a blood test when my parents thought I was anemic because I was thin and had a poor appetite. I don’t recall much about my appetite except feeling uncomfortable sometimes because my father would get frustrated and try to force-feed me when he didn’t think I wasn’t eating enough.
“It’ll put hair on your chest. Make you big and strong like a real soldier,” he’d say.
The blood test was a horrible experience in that the technician utilized a procedure which required him to prick my finger numerous times with a pin. I remember screaming in pain and Mom trying to comfort me.
My next visit to Irwin Army Hospital came in first grade when I had to get my eye examined because it was lazy. I remember feeling terrified when my mother and the army doctor explained my eye muscle was too long, but could be corrected by surgery. I didn’t feel any better when my mother assured me I wouldn’t feel a thing because they’d put me to sleep. I felt even more terrified in the days leading up to the surgery when my brother warned the scalpel could slip and cut-out my eye.
On the morning of the surgery I felt doomed as my father drove past the post cemetery with what seemed like endless rows of white markers and the evil-looking hospital loomed into view. I knew for sure it was the end.
My father had promised to buy me a pair of dog tags from the PX if I could be brave like a soldier, but I completely lost it in the waiting room and joined in the crying chorus of army brats.
Fortunately I survived the surgery which corrected my lazy eye, but a short time later it was determined I was near-sighted and was prescribed glasses which I hated wearing because they wouldn’t stay on my head when I played.
I must have acted bravely because my father got me the dog tags which had my name and blood-type engraved on them. I loved the dog tags so much I wanted to sleep with them on, but Mom was worried I’d get the chain caught on the bed post until Dad trimmed it down to size.
I liked attending Lincoln School because it was larger than the Lutheran school and there were more kids to play with. My teacher was nice and Mom liked her too. The school was adjacent to the city park that had a swimming pool along with a large picnic and playground area surrounded by tall pines. I loved walking through the park to and from school.
The first few weeks of school I walked with Clarence who I’d become quite close to. I’d known since summer his father had received orders for Germany and that he’d be moving, but I think we were both in denial because we never discussed it prior to his move.
When the big day came for Clarence to move there was a sadness in the air when my mother and I walked over to the Schmidt’s to say goodbye. Clarence was so distraught he didn’t want to come out of his room. When his mother finally urged him out he stood red-faced by the door for a moment before breaking down in tears, then we both started bawling.
“Saying goodbye is a part of army life,” Mom said. “We’ll stay in touch with Clarence and his mom by writing letters.”
It wasn’t long after Clarence moved when I became friends with Donny, a dark-haired, shifty-eyed little army brat who was in my class. He lived on the other side of Westside Avenue and we’d play army during recess and brag about our fathers’ war heroics.
It was after school in the park when Donny and I met Jeff Campbell, a scrawny fourth-grade, civilian kid who lived up the street and around the corner from me. I’d seen him riding his bicycle slowly past my house a couple times over the summer, like he was looking for someone to play with.
When Jeff informed Donny and me that he played army in the ravine on Saturday mornings I was envious. I’d first heard about the ravine when I was six or seven when I was standing in the driveway with my Mom and brother when a group of older boys came marching down the street with toy rifles slung over their soldiers.
They were singing, “left, right, left, right, left,” and it was the neatest thing I’d ever seen.
I recall my brother commenting that the boys were on their way to the ravine to play army, and Mom having to chase after me because I wanted to join them.
Mom had stressed that I needed to come home immediately after school, but I couldn’t resist when Jeff invited Donny and me to play in the ravine.
The ravine ran diagonally across the Northwest corner of town and was accessible by cutting through yards that didn’t have dogs, fences, or no trespassing signs, and along a couple of bridges and a baseball park. We cut through a backyard about a block from my house and walked down an embankment under a dense cover of trees into a whole new world. I pretended to scout for the enemy as we followed a trail down to a dry stream-bed before traversing up the other side.
It was a boy’s paradise and I didn’t think it could get any better until Jeff made me and Donny promise to keep a secret before leading us to a brush pile where we helped him remove some limbs. I was excited when we got down to a sheet of half-rotten plywood that covered a foxhole large enough to accommodate four kids.
I listened in fascination as Jeff explained how some older boys had dug the foxhole which they used it as a fort on Saturday mornings when they played army.
I’m not sure how long I was playing in the foxhole when I heard mom calling my name and knew I was in trouble. I immediately started running home and as soon as I reached the top of the embankment she was on her way down to look for me.
“You know you’re supposed to come right home after school! Do you know how worried I was,” she asked?
I’d never seen my mother so upset and knew I’d messed up when she scolded me and said she didn’t want me playing in the ravine, ever again. When we got home she sent me to my room where I threw a big fit because I wanted to play army in the ravine on Saturday mornings more than anything in the world.
I wasn’t aware that one of my fathers other responsibilities with the school district was that of truant officer until he started bringing home teenaged boys and giving them haircuts in the garage.
One stood nervously in our living room one evening while Dad went to get his clippers. The kid was scared and looked like he was facing execution when Dad returned and grabbed a stool and led him to the garage. When I asked Mom why Dad was cutting his hair she explained the boy was a juvenile delinquent who had gotten into some kind of trouble, like playing hooky.
“Your father’s trying to straighten him out,” she said.
When they returned to the living room the boy’s head was buzzed and his face red, like he was holding back tears. The kid’s hair had barely touched his ears before Dad had gotten a hold of him.
It must have been a big deal when my brother wanted to grow a flat-top because I recall my parents arguing about it one evening. My father must have given in because my brother started going to the barbershop and eventually grew the flat-top which I thought looked stupid. I preferred the G.I. cuts my father gave me.
I don’t know how many weeks I nagged my mother about letting me go to the ravine, but one Saturday morning she finally gave in.
I had my toy rifle slung over my shoulder and was wearing an army surplus helmet my father had recently brought home for me. My dog tags bounced against my chest as I rounded the corner to Jeff’s house.
When I got to Jeff’s he grabbed his toy rifle and on our way to the ravine he suggested we stop by Doug Reeves’ house to see if he wanted to play. Doug was a sixth-grade army brat who along with some other boys had dug the foxhole. When we got to Doug’s, he was standing outside talking to Mark White, another army brat who lived nearby.
I was in awe of Doug the moment I saw him because he started talking about enlarging the foxhole, setting booby traps, and all kinds of other neat, army stuff. I was so excited I kept interrupting Doug, begging him to go to the ravine. I must have gotten on his nerves because he kept pushing my helmet down, over my face and calling me names. When I asked him to stop he gave my dog tags a yank and ordered me to shut up.
When Doug finally decided to go to the ravine I was overjoyed, but it was only temporary because he elbowed me a couple times along the way because I wasn’t marching properly. When we got to the ravine he yanked my dog tags again when I forgot to salute him, then pushed me to the ground.
I was crying and just about ready to run home to Mom when Doug helped me up and instructed me on my first mission which was to charge up the hill with Jeff and try to take the foxhole which he and Mark were going to defend.
I’d crossed the dry stream bed and was maybe halfway up the ridge when Jeff and I began encountering heavy machine gun fire. I lost my helmet when I dived behind a fallen tree for cover. My little heart raced as I pretended to reload and bravely returned fire. I even tossed a couple of make-believe grenades.
I knew Doug and Mark were dead because I’d seen them drop their weapons and fall, but shit got really hairy when I charged back up the ridge and they suddenly sprang back to life and began hurling dirt-clods at me. It was a total cluster-fuck and I didn’t know what the hell to do when I saw the dirt clod coming. I could hear Jeff and the others laughing when it exploded on my forehead. I fell to the ground with dirt in my eyes. When I got up I grabbed my rifle and helmet then ran home, crying.
“Don’t play with them if they treat you like that,” Mom said, as she rinsed my eye.
I was quick to forgive, especially when Jeff apologized to me after school the following Monday, but I knew I still had Doug and Mark to contend with.
Although I had problems cleaning my plate at supper, breakfast was a different story thanks to a visiting aunt who introduced me to toast-to-dunk. Toast-to-dunk consisted of dunking a folded slices of buttered toast sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon into heavily creamed and sugared coffee. Toast-to-dunk instantly became my favorite food and I refused to eat anything else for breakfast. Mom did require me to drink a glass of milk, which wasn’t a problem.
The more I played army the more I became curious about my father’s combat experiences. I recall my brother once telling me Dad was awarded a purple heart for getting shot in the foot in Korea. When I asked Mom about his experiences she confirmed he’d gotten wounded in the foot, but provided few other details. When I asked my father to tell me a war story he said he’d tell me when I got older.
Most evenings my father would get home from work in time to watch the evening news. I had difficulty sitting still, especially in front of a TV, but if the program featured war footage or combat scenes it got my full-attention. I’d sit on the floor wearing my helmet, pretending to shoot the enemy on the TV screen whenever I had a clean shot.
After supper Dad always grabbed a toothpick and the newspaper and go sit in the living room. I’d usually remain in the kitchen with Mom who’d help me with any homework after she did the dishes. At some point in the evening the family would usually gather in the living room around the TV.
One evening I was picking my toys up after watching an episode of Combat! with my father when he asked if I wanted to hear a real war story. I recall him sitting me down and pointing to an army surplus canteen he’d recently brought home for me, explaining it got so cold in Korea that their water and rations froze and the troops often went thirsty and hungry. He said it was especially bad for the wounded because the morphine froze and many soldiers died in pain. He described how the division’s advance North was hampered by vehicles that wouldn’t start and equipment and weapons that malfunctioned as a result of the extreme cold.
My father’s war story didn’t get any better as he explained that the soldiers suffered frostbite and didn’t get much rest at night because that’s when the heavy fighting took place.
He said thousands of Chinese soldiers, whom he referred to as “gooks”, had closed in on three American divisions in what he referred to as the Battle of Chosin.
My father described how he was directing artillery fire one night when a barrage of enemy missiles began pounding their positions. He said he remembered a boom and a flash, then being overran by the Chinese. He said there were many deaths and casualties.
“I think he wants to see your wound,” Mom said, when she walked into the living room.
I felt almost disappointed when Dad pulled off his sock and pointed to a hairline scar that ran the length of a slightly enlarged-looking second toe which he said he’d received from either small arms fire or shrapnel. The scar looked so small and insignificant, not even worth bragging about to my friends.
My father’s war story soon came to haunt me as I began having nightmares about his battles. It wasn’t unusual for me to actually fall asleep to the sound of artillery fire from the training exercises on post. The artillery fire was so intense at times that the rumble of the 155 mm howitzers would rattle the windows and shake our house.
I’d recovered from my wounds and had resumed playing army in the ravine and luckily hadn’t ran into Doug or Mark. It was out of pure desperation when Jeff wasn’t home one Saturday morning when I decided to knock on Doug’s door to see if he wanted to play. I was standing on his porch with my shovel and toy rifle when his mother answered the door and told me to wait. After waiting what seemed like a long time, I knocked on the door again.
Doug didn’t look happy when he came to the door. When I asked if he wanted to go to the ravine and play army there was a devious look on his face before suggesting we play in his backyard instead. He led me to the back where he told me to wait while he grabbed his coat.
I didn’t know what took Doug so long and I grew impatient and began digging a foxhole in the middle of his backyard. The hole was about a foot deep when I heard the back door swing open and Doug’s mom began yelling at me for tearing up her yard. Moments later Doug came out and escorted me to the side of his house where he knocked me to the ground.
“I just wanted to play army with you,” I cried.
Doug got on top of me, quickly pinning my shoulders with his knees and informed me he was going to be perform Chinese torture. I’d heard my father mention torture when they showed some P.O.W.s on the news but wasn’t sure what to expect until Doug began tapping on my chest with his knuckles. At first the taps were light but they became harder and more painful as he perfected his rhythm.
It was a horrible experience and I cried, begging Doug to stop. Although the torture only lasted a few minutes, it seemed like hours.
“Playing army is for little kids!” Doug said, before finally letting me up.
I never saw much of Doug after that and a short time later was happy when I saw a moving truck parked in front of his house and Mom informed me his father had received orders for Germany.
Doug had mentioned something about niggers living on the other side of the ravine, but I had no idea what the word meant until Jeff alerted me to a couple of colored boys walking through the ravine one Saturday morning. We took cover in the foxhole as they walked along the stream bed. Jeff wanted to ambush them with dirt-clods, but I stood up and invited them over because I recognized one of them from the playground at school. He was a tiny, baby-faced kindergartner named, Little Joe. The other boy was his cousin Chris, who was a year older than I. They lived in a big house on the other side of the ravine with a bunch of brother’s, sisters, and cousins. The house was once a farm house and sat on a large lot with a well-tended garden and a mean rooster that strutted around.
Little Joe and I quickly became good friends and spent many Saturday mornings together, playing army and digging foxholes in the ravine. I even suggested he and his cousins knock on my door on their way to school in the mornings.
Mom seemed to get a kick out of my “nigger friends” as she called them. I recall her telling Dad about them during super one evening and he responded by telling a racist joke. I didn’t know any better when I repeated the joke to Little Joe who was obviously was hurt over it because a tear streamed out of his eye and down his cheek. I felt tears welling in my eyes and realized the word was derogatory. I wasn’t sure if my parents really liked my colored friends despite Mom telling me Little Joe was the cutest negro boy she’d ever seen.
It was around the middle of second grade when my brother showed me the neatest thing I’d ever seen, a hand grenade which he’d bought from a classmate at the junior high. I remember him letting me hold it and being surprised by its weight. It was olive-drab with perforations and had a pin and lever, just like the ones on TV. My brother swore it was live, but it was a replica most likely purchased at a local army surplus store. I desperately wanted to show the grenade to my friends, but my brother wouldn’t let me. Mom was aware my brother had the grenade and when I asked if I could take it to school for Show and Tell, she suggested I take a pair of ceramic praying hands instead.
I pestered Mom for days about the grenade and on the morning of Show and Tell I threw a big fit until she finally gave in. It was a frigid morning and I remember showing the grenade to Donny and Little Joe on the way to school and they were impressed. When I got to school I left the grenade in my coat which I hanged in the closet. Show and Tell wasn’t until afternoon and I forgot about the grenade until I grabbed my coat at recess. It was freezing cold out and as soon as Donny and I got outside we met up with Little Joe, then walked to a corner of the school yard where we huddled in the cold, admiring the grenade. It wasn’t long before a group of boys had gathered and I was bragging about the grenade. I felt like the most important kid in the world until I saw Little Joe’s teacher coming.
“Let me see that,”she said.
Before I could respond she plucked the grenade from my hands. I could feel my stomach turn as my friends slowly backed away, trying to distance themselves from me.
“I want to see you immediately after school,” she said.
The teacher turned and started walking toward the building, clutching the grenade. I knew I was in big trouble.
“I gotta’ go,” I told my friends.
The reason I decided to go to the nurse’s office was because weeks earlier I’d gotten a stomach ache during class and was sent there where I was allowed to lie on a cot behind a partition. The nurse asked if I wanted to go home but it was almost time for recess and I’d started feeling better.
I was in tears and rubbing my belly when I walked into the nurse’s office.
“I got a tummy ache again, I wanna’ go home.”
The nurse said I felt warm, but didn’t have a temperature and allowed me to lie on the the cot again and I was scared to death. A short time later the nurse informed me she’d called my mom and that a cab was on the way. When the nurse said she was going to step out of the office a few minutes, I decided to make my break.
My heart raced as I slipped on my jacket and pulled on my stocking cap and sneaked out of the office and down the hall toward the exit. As soon as I pushed open the door I felt a blast of wind and the bitter cold. I could hear the chatter of kids still on the playground as I walked down the sidewalk nonchalantly a bit, then bolted through the park toward home.
It was freezing cold and I’d lost my gloves and I remember feeling a connection to my father’s combat experiences.
As soon as I walked in the door Mom asked where the cab was and I told her I’d been too sick to wait. There was a look of dread on Mom’s face when I informed her Little Joe’s teacher confiscated the grenade during recess.
“Don’t you know your father works for the school district and could lose his job,” Mom asked? “Oh my God, I knew I shouldn’t have let you taken that thing to school!”
Mom told me not to say a word about it to Dad before picking up the phone to cancel the cab and notify the nurse I was home.
The next morning I was finishing my toast-to-dunk when Mom called the school and informed them I was still sick. When Donnie and Little Joe knocked on the door she told them I wasn’t feeling well and was staying home. Mom about flipped when the newspaper arrived and there was an article on the second page about an unidentified boy bringing a simulated grenade to Lincoln School. I don’t recall much else about the article except that it was a column wide and about an inch long because Mom clipped it out of the paper so Dad wouldn’t see it. That evening after supper, Dad asked what happened to the paper and Mom lied, telling him she’d clipped an article about a car accident for my brother’s drivers education class.
Mom kept me out of school the remainder of the week and I absolutely loved it because she’d read and tell me stories and even looked up words in the dictionary when I asked their meaning.
Mom was a good story teller and I loved the ones she told about the gypsies and hobos who’d camp near the outskirts of her hometown in Iowa, when she was a little girl. She’d describe how mothers would hide their children when the Gypsies came to town because they feared they’d get kidnapped. She said when the Gypsies came they’d steal from the merchants and townspeople. She told me Gypsies were dirty but wore colorful clothing and sang and danced around fires at night. My mother’s stories livened my imagination and were better than any I’d heard in school.
A few days before returning to school Mom and I bundled up and walked downtown where she bought me a new jacket, gloves, stocking cap and some other clothes. When we got home she placed my old jacket in a box along with some other clothes which she said I could give to Little Joe’s family because they were poor. She also suggested I avoid Little Joe’s teacher.
Fortunately I wasn’t questioned about the grenade when I returned to school and luckily Dad never found out about it.
I’m not sure why I had to see the school district’s psychologist, but it was shortly after a parent-teacher conference. The school psychologist was married to the superintendent of schools who was Dad’s boss and I don’t think Mom liked her.
Shortly before seeing the psychologist, Mom explained I was going to be interviewed. “Psychologist” and “interview” were big words I really liked, and I remember Mom pronouncing them slowly and showing them to me in the dictionary. I had a good vocabulary for a second grader, but my pronunciation skills were awful.
My appointment with the psychologist was late in the afternoon in a room near the principal’s office. When the psychologist asked if I knew who she was I explained she was Dr. Denver, the school psychologist and that she was going to be interviewing me.
Dr. Denver complimented my vocabulary, but almost laughed when I added my dad worked with her husband at the “menstruation” building.
I don’t recall much about the interview except being happy it was over because it was almost time for school to get out.
I never heard anything about the results of the interview.
It was a big surprise when shortly after entering third grade Dad accepted a job offer that would relocate our family to Seattle. All I knew about Dad’s new job was that he was going to be working with an old army buddy for a large moving and storage company. Dad’s plan was to move to Seattle first, and once he found a place and got things situated, the rest of the family would follow.
The prospect of moving sounded exciting as Dad explained I’d get to fly in a jet to Seattle and we’d get to visit the space needle and other attractions.
As Dad was lowering his shotgun at me my friend Jeff, came running to the scene.
“What’s going on,” Jeff asked?
Jeff about shit when he realized my father was standing on the side of the house, armed with a shotgun. I quickly turned and ran for my car and Jeff tried to follow but I was in such a crazy state I told him to get away. Neighbors had come outside to investigate the disturbance and I felt like a madman as I started my car, peeled out of the driveway and sped down the street. Blood was gushing out of my wrist and I knew I had to get to the hospital. When I turned the corner I stopped long enough to grab a rag behind the seat that I wrapped around my wrist which I squeezed between my legs as I drove.
The civilian hospital was only a few minutes away and I hoped I could get stitched-up and out of there quickly. I was wearing blue jean cutoffs, canvas sneakers, and my marijuana leaf shirt. I had blood all over me.
“I accidentally cut myself and think I need stitches,” I calmly informed a lady behind a counter.
I handed her my drivers license and military dependent ID card, explaining I’d accidentally cut myself trying to break into my parents house after losing my key.
I was led to an examination room where a nurse stopped the bleeding and confirmed I needed stitches. I was informed that since I was an army dependent, I’d have to be transported to Irwin Army Hospital and that an ambulance was on the way.
My hands were bandaged then I was wheeled to the lobby to wait for the ambulance. I felt both physically and emotionally drained. I thought I was imagining things when the doors swung open and my brother entered the lobby. He said something before charging and diving on top of me, knocking me out of the wheelchair.
I felt another surge of anger as I maneuvered myself on top of my brother and began beating the shit out of him.
“Somebody help! My brother’s on drugs,” he yelled!
I heard footsteps and I looked up and saw a couple aides running our way, then calmly got up and sat back down in the wheelchair.
Hospital staff were assisting my brother up when Jeff came through the door. He looked stunned as he observed the latest round of violence.
“Give me your keys so I can get the stuff out of your car,” he whispered.
A nurse tended to my wounds which had reopened and were bleeding again. When Jeff returned he handed me my keys then quickly left.
I don’t remember much about the ambulance ride except thinking about Valencia.
When we got to Irwin Army Hospital I was wheeled to an examination room on a gurney.
“Are you feeling faint or disorientated,” a nurse asked?
“I’m okay. I just need a few stitches,” I said.
The nurse protested when I sat up and slided off the examination table and took a seat in a chair.
“I’m alright,” I said.
“Someone will be with you shortly.”
My mind raced: Did this really happen? Why do my parents hate me? Why didn’t I ask Valencia to run away? Valencia! Valencia! Valencia!
An aide came in and examined me. I had several lacerations, but the one that had bled most was a one inch cut on my right wrist. The knuckles on both my hands were scraped and swelling and my right foot throbbed from kicking the door.
My mind raced more.
After a long wait the doctor came in and stitched the lacerations.
“Almost done,” he said as he applied ointment.
I thought about mentioning my foot, but I just wanted to get discharged and out of there as quickly as possible.
The doctor was bandaging my hands when I glanced up and saw a
a military policeman sheriff poking his head through the door and knew I was going to jail.
When the doctor finished he informed me that someone else needed to examine me then left the room. When I peeked out the door the MP was standing in the hall, bullshitting with a sheriff deputy, and beyond them I could see my parents talking to the doctor who’d stitched me up.
I was leafing through an issue of Army Times when a second doctor walked in and introduced himself as a psychologist. He asked if he ask me some questions and I told him I didn’t mind. When he inquired about my injuries I explained I’d accidentally cut myself trying to break into my parent’s house after losing my key. I admitted to having gotten into a big argument with my parents earlier that evening because they’d wanted me to stay home for dinner, but I’d already eaten.
“Do you ever hear voices?”
“Ever use drugs like LSD, PCP, speed, –”
“When was the last time?”
“I haven’t done anything in months except for smoking dope and drinking beer.”
“Have you ever thought of suicide?”
When the psychologist asked how I felt, I told him I was fine and just needed to get some rest because I had to work in the morning. When he asked what I’d do if I was discharged, I told him I’d probably walk back to Junction City and get my car then stay at a friend’s house.
After the psychologist left I peeked down the hall. The sheriff deputy and MP were drinking coffee from styrofoam cups and I could see my parents talking to the psychologist in the waiting area. I wondered what they were talking about.
My mind continued to race as I considered possible scenarios and none of them were pretty: Jail; Boys Industrial School; commitment until the age of eighteen; and, never seeing Valencia again. I felt hurt, scared, and confused.
It was after eleven when I realized my parents had left the hospital and the nurse and deputy came into the examination room. The nurse had some extra bandages along with some antibiotics which she handed to the deputy.
“Don’t suppose I need to put these on you,” the deputy asked, patting a pair of handcuffs on his side.
I tried not to limp as I walked with the deputy to the patrol car. It was still hot as hell out and I felt miserable, inside and out. I gladly accepted the cigarette the deputy offered because my nerves were shot. It was hard to believe my father had intended to kill me, but I was the one going to jail.
When we arrived at the sheriff station the deputy parked in the garage then walked me up some stairs to the booking room. A jailer had me empty my pockets and remove my shoelaces. My right foot was throbbing in pain. My personal belongings were inventoried before being placed in a manilla envelope with my name written on it. The deputy informed the jailer my hands were in bad shape and that they’d probably have to wait a couple days before fingerprinting me.
A couple days!
I remember wondering how long I’d be in jail.
On the way to the cell the jailer stopped by a room where he handed me a toothbrush and cup along with a mattress and bedding.
“By the way, you’re gonna’ have cellmates. Couple nigger boys, cousins. They’re the ones who shot up the old grocer on Eleventh and Clay. They damn near killed the ol’ boy. Ain’t had an ounce of trouble out of ‘em, but let me know if they cause you any problems,” he said.
I couldn’t believe the jailer referred to my cellmates as niggers and felt scared knowing I was being locked up with a pair of allegedly violent criminals.
The jailer flicked a light switch before unlocking a solid steel door. Two armed deputies stood behind us.
“Wake up, boys,” the jailer called! You got a new cellmate and need to help him with his bedding because he’s a little banged up.”
“Yes suh,” the cousins replied.
The jailer led me into the cell block before unlocking the door to one of the four-man cells.
The cousins were tall and lean and their white boxer shorts stood out against their black skin. One of the cousins grabbed my mattress and bedding and the other helped me to a steel table and sat me down. I offered to take a top bunk and make my own bed, but the cousin’s insisted otherwise. The youngest looking cousin quickly moved his mattress and bedding to the bunk above his cousin. It only took the cousins a couple minutes to get things situated, then the jailer cut the light and the steel door banged shut. I sat there, dazed.
I’d had to urinate for some time, but felt so weak and in pain I could barely move. When I limped to the toilet I had problems because my fingers were still numb from the anesthetic, resulting in me urinating on the commode and floor. I apologized to the cousins but they told me not worry, that they’d take care of it in the morning. It took several tries to flush the toilet because the steel button was hard to push and caused a pain shoot up my arm.
I limped to my bunk and collapsed. It was hot as hell in the cell and the only ventilation was an open window covered with bars on the other side of a catwalk. It was eerie laying there, looking at the shadows of the bars cast across the walls and floor of the cell. There was little to see outside except some insects buzzing around a light. A distant chorus of cicadas sounded like they were taunting me. When I closed my eyes I could see images of Dad lowering the shotgun. I wished it were all a bad dream.
It was still hot and I had just started dozing off when I heard the clanging of pots and pans in the jail’s kitchen and the crackle of police radios as the daytime jailers made their rounds. My foot was throbbing. When they began serving breakfast I heard a cart rolling down the hall, then the steel door opened and a trustee slided three trays through the bean hole. Before I could get up one of the cousins handed me my tray and coffee. The cousins ate at the steel table and I ate sitting-up in my bunk. While drinking my coffee I realized I’d probably lose my job. I felt like I was losing everything.
It was hot as hell in the cell both day and night making it difficult to sleep which didn’t help my already poor emotional state.
I think it was my second day in jail when a jailer came by the cell after breakfast and informed me I had a hearing scheduled later that morning.
Showering was difficult because I tried to center my weight on my good foot and had to frequently press the steel water button to maintain the flow which caused pain around my knuckles and shot up my arm.
When I finished showering before court and realized I and still had soap in my hair the cousins offered to help rinse it out, but I declined because I was in too much pain. The cousins had washed my cut-offs and t-shirt in the sink the previous day, but had been unable to get the bloodstains out. My foot was so swollen I couldn’t slip on my shoe. I must have looked like a zombie.
When it was time for court a jailer placed me in handcuffs then led me through the booking room, past the dispatcher and down the stairs. I tried not to limp, but the pain was too intense. I felt like a tortured POW as I hobbled alongside the jailer to the courthouse next door.
I felt sick to my stomach when we entered the courtroom and saw my parents seated at a table. I glanced their way a couple times, but they didn’t acknowledge me. I felt like the worst person in the world.
The case was called and the complaint read. Dad was sworn in first and couldn’t even look me in the eye when the prosecutor asked him to identify me. I was in such bad shape emotionally I recall little of my father’s testimony, but what I heard hit me like shrapnel.
“…and after he assaulted his mother and me, he attacked his brother at the hospital. He’s uncontrollable!”
When Mom took the stand I noticed a faint bruise on the side of her face which the prosecutor asked to display to the judge. I don’t recall what Mom said, but I remember feeling horrible when she started crying on the stand.
After the hearing my lawyer asked about my foot and said he’d arrange for me to see a doctor.
It was after lunch when a jailer came by the cell and turned me over to a deputy who transported me back to Irwin Army.
It was a long wait as usual at Irwin Army, but I didn’t mind because the air conditioning felt great and I was able to bum smokes from soldiers. After getting x-rayed it was determined my foot was broken and it took the better part of the afternoon to get the swelling down so the cast could be put on. The cast went up to my knee and felt like it weighed ninety pounds. When I got back to the cell I remember a jailer giving me a plastic bag to cover it when I showered, but it still got wet.
I was also prescribed codeine which the jailers dispensed for several days. I felt like I was in a sweat box on the Fourth of July when I heard what sounded like small arms fire and dreamed I was being liberated.
I also suffered constipation for the first time. It was so hot in the cell that sweat poured out of me as I sat on the toilet grunting with my cellmates resting on their bunks a few feet away. I ended up having to dig-out the turd which was hard as clay. I remember getting shit on my bandage which I ended up tearing off and flushing down the toilet. I never complained.
My lawyer had given me a copy of the complaint in which I’d been charged with being wayward and miscreant. As far as I was concerned the so-called supporting facts were nothing but distorted half-truths with numerous omissions. It made me sick just looking at it.
I tried to find things to keep me occupied, but it was a challenge. The trustee came by the cell a couple times a week rolling a cart with books and magazines, but the pickings were slim. It was mostly westerns and crime stories along with a few outdated issues of Ebony and Jet. I did find a dog-eared copy of Slaughter House Five, but couldn’t concentrate enough to read it because it was hot and my brain felt scrambled. I tried writing poems on the back of the complaint with a stubby pencil the cousins had, but couldn’t focus enough to write anything meaningful. I remember getting angry and tearing up the complaint and dropping the pieces into the trash.
I tried to make sense of my situation, but couldn’t.
(to be continued)