Horseshoeing School, 1971:
War is sometimes a very personal experience and not
always shared on the evening news.
PTSD hadn’t been invented yet, though the whole class decided that we’d be happy to testify that it really exists whenever they actually got around to identifying war as a causative in anomalous behavior. I found these two guys oddly reassuring in what seemed like a morbid or perhaps desperate kind of affection. Certain noises – the backfire of a car, a news helicopter in the distance; those things would suddenly silence them. Their bodies would tighten at the sound, yet their eyes never sought out the source. Then laughter, almost hysterical; another swallow from the brown paper bag. I knew that feeling. It would come over me when I heard a beer can open, or when the door knob rattled in my darkened bedroom. The muffled noises that filtered into my private space, delivered overtly from a sad kind of distant privacy.
1969 also marked the introduction of “The Great Human Egalitarian Though Slightly Obscene Body Lottery for Eighteen Year-Old Males Born in the USA.” Winning was actually losing and the grand prize was an execution hosted by a mob of well-armed angry strangers. Yes, the draft went democratic – or so they said. Instead of poor white boys and poor boys of color going first, the poor white boys and the poor boys of color would compete for the coveted title of, “Less Likely to Celebrate Another Birthday.” I fell for it until I found out that my birthday was drawn in the 38th round. A recount seemed out of the question.
I was requested to report for a physical by the Selective Service the same summer that Jimi Hendrix re-wrote the National Anthem. During the ‘pee in the cup’ ceremony I noticed the fellow next to me was wearing black panties and a bra. One of his fingers looked vaguely familiar. I figured he was a shoe-in for some kind of deferment since the Army probably frowned on cross-dressing in combat. Funny how things work. He went to ‘Nam’ – I was excused by a cliché: flat feet. That only resulted in a 1-Y classification. Three more slightly scorched draft cards finally earned me the coveted 4-F. The only question more difficult than one’s own potential cowardice is the question about who’s left standing at the end and why. But then again, I already knew the terms and consequences of violence. So I suppose if the military taught me how to kill, then the only remaining question would center on who I might shoot first.
From: "Mares, Foals and Ferraris."
And yes, shortly thereafter, I bought a horse. And the horse began the long journey back to humanity. And yes, we have all been at the crossroads. The place where our mind must choose war or peace; in all its complicated and multi-layered facets.