Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A young soldier's journey

Walking home from school that day, my throat was dry, a sensation of strength washed over me.  I had really wanted to hurt that guy, to see blood.  Right now I figured my blood pressure was like 160 at least.  I was grateful for the eight miles between the school and my house.  I needed this long walk to help silence the blood pounding in my ears.  I knew my parents might be upset when they heard what I'd done but this showdown had been a long time coming.  Right now I didn't care about the possible consequences.  Besides, I felt like that guy had been just looking for a fight and he nearly got one from me.  

  Maybe my vision was clouded as I walked home from high school for the last time on that warm day in 1965, the year I turned 16 and knew I didn't have to take that mistreatment anymore.  Hell, it wasn’t like it was my first trip to the Principal’s office, I had gotten used to that, but on this day, I was determined it would be my last trip there.
I was sent to his office, this time, from shop class.  I had rigged a piece of lumber in the lathe so it would fling out at the shop teacher when he turned it on.  While that action had gotten a rousing laugh out of the class, the shop teacher was far from amused so it earned me a trip to the principal’s office, nothing new for me.  But this time it was different from the three days of detention I usually got. This time he told me he ‘would have to paddle me’ because it was such a ‘serious offense,’ and someone could have been hurt badly or even killed by the flying wood.  He then took a significantly sized paddle from behind his desk and came at me with it, a look of almost delight in his eyes, as if hitting students made his day.  I decided I wasn't going to make it easy for him either.   I had already decided that he wasn't going to lay a hand on me. 

As he approached me, I bit my lip, felt my hands clench and unclench as I moved slowly and deliberately towards him.  As soon as he entered my personal space, I planted my feet further apart to let him know I was standing my ground.  I defiantly said: “If you touch me with that damn paddle, I’ll break it over your f%*@king head.” 

Suddenly he stopped in his tracks, as his eyes widened he seemed to be doing a double take about the whole situation.  He was probably stunned by my language.  Back then, small town Indiana nice kids weren’t supposed to talk like that.   But I had always been a rebel in those days anyway, and I admit I had a definite problem with authority figures. 

Whatever the reason for his abrupt stop I will never fully know, but after lowering the paddle he looked at me through squinted eyes.  Finding his voice again, he asked: “What did you just say?”

 Infusing as much anger into my voice as I could, I answered: “You heard what I said."  Once I repeated myself he then pointed out I would have to be suspended for three days at the very least.  I lowered my head and mumbled something about how it was going to be the longest three days he would ever see.   With that having been said, I slammed out of his office, walked through the big glass doors, away from the building, never once looking back. 

That son of a bi&@h sure didn’t need to tell me twice.  I knew I was never going back to that school.   I really hated school anymore anyway.  For a long time now school seemed to hold little meaning for me.  I had grown restless and failed to see any reason for continuing high school.  

On any other day but today I would not have liked the eight mile walk home because it usually seemed so long.  But today I was grateful for the distance between the school and my house because it gave me a chance to think as I walked.  While walking the eight mile journey home, I mulled over in my head what I was going to say to my parents about my plans to never go back to high school.  I had been thinking of joining the Army for some time and I could think of no better time than now but I would need my parents to sign papers for me because I was only 16.  I would just need to convince them it was the right decision.  


As a young soldier in Vietnam