Thursday, January 3, 2019

1968: winter, her basement, the school playground

The Vietnam war was raging on.  I was coming of age. We thought the world was going to end in our time.  I don’t remember the death of Kennedy but I sure do remember the Kennedy Missile Crisis. That was in 1962.  We were just glad to be alive. Living fast on the edge.  In 1968 there were riots. Martin Luther King was killed.  Bobby Kennedy was killed.  We were just in high school at the time.

‘I don’t want to go to war, ‘ I told my friend. 

‘Me neither,’ he said.  

I was afraid of being maimed and mutilated. I was still a virgin too.

We sat in her basement talking late into the night.  Our group.  Friends. Artists. Actors and actresses.  Painters.  We burned incense because no one had access to bash or marijuana back then.  The drinking age was 21. We drank tea instead. Exotic eastern tea. Burning sandalwood incense. Heady stuff. Listening to Cream on the portable turntable.  Some of the guys had tried smoking banana leaves but didn’t get high.

‘What do you want to be,’ she said.  

‘A writer,’ I said. ‘I want to be a playwright and write plays.’

‘I’m going to be a designer,’ she said.  She had the most incredible long brown hair that nearly  hung down to the floor. She wore clothes that no one in Canada had seen. Long gowns in velvet with sleeves that were fluted like medieval dresses and African bead necklaces.

I’d give a life time to be back with those guys talking shit.  It was so long ago but we were so close.  So many changes were there.  Our blond bombshell friend lost her virginity first.  On a gym mattress in the school.  

‘I didn’t want to be a virgin when I married, ‘ she said. It seemed like a satisfactory reason.  I was the intellectual and assumed it was something well thought out.

The incense was sandalwood.  There were only candles lighting the room.  Psychedelic posters adorned the walls along with peacock feathers and posters of Don Quixote and Desiderata.  I understood Sear’s catalogue underwear sections but these real live girls, our friends were something, too unbelievable.  Exotic butterflies. They flitted all over the place, laughing like elves.  Fairies giggling.  Giving spice to life.

Outside the heavy falling snow was piling on the sidewalk and in the streets. I’d hitchhike home past midnight. The buses having stopped at 11.  I was madly in love but it wasn’t with just her, more with love itself. Madly in love with love. And lust and all the angst wrapped up in her little smiles and the depth of her deep blue eyes as she looked at me.  Mesmerizing. I was a doe caught in the headlights of a semi truck trailer.  She killed me every time she looked at me.  Star struck.

‘I don’t think I could kill another human being’ I said.  

‘I don’t want to be in a wheel chair the rest of my life,’ he replied

‘I don’t want to be a coward though. I’m afraid I’d be a coward.’

‘You’re not a coward,’ he said.

We were walking in our parkas, just walking down the road.  We could see our breath. We crossed the main street to walk around the back of the elementary school we’d attended short years before. We were friends since we were young.

‘Remembre the Cuban missile crisis.’ I said as we swung on swings for little kids.  Teenagers playing on swings, in our parkas, wearing mittens, snow boots on our feet.

‘Yea. That was worse.’  He said.

‘But this could become a nuclear war. ‘ We were silent for a long while.

Everyday the radio reported the dead from Vietnam. The TĂȘt Offensive.  Draft dodgers were coming through the town. I’d talked to some. They were cool with their long hair and girls who liked them. But I thought they were cowards. I worried I might be s a coward.

‘I’m afraid if I killed someone I’d like it and maybe not be able to stop. ‘. I said.  We’d left the swings and were walking across the field lumpy with snow drifts. The cold wind was blowing 30 below.  

‘I don’t want to kill people. ‘ he said.  ‘If they were going to harm my mom, maybe but,not because someone told me to. I don’t think I could do it.’

I liked most kissing girls.  We played spin the bottle in that basement . We also read each other what we were reading. We all read books. I loved poetry and read Souster and Cohen.  She liked Emily Dickinson.  I don’t remember who liked E.E. Cummings but I remember someone read his poetry. We talked of ghosts and supernatural.  The basement, snowdrifts against the basement windows, wind howling outside,candles flickering, corners of the large room black and mysterious.  Drinking oolong tea.  

I loved the the laughter of the girls. Giggling high pitched. Easily elicited,  One or two would stand and dance to the music. Swaying to Joni Mitchell Both Sides Now.  Some nights the music was hardly more than a whisper because her parents were asleep upstairs.  Other nights they were out and we could talk louder.  The laughter was richer then.  I remember best the group of us close together in a circle old hassocks and couch pulled close so we could talk together leaning in, staring at lips and teeth.  Talking low , afraid to wake the grown ups. 


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