J.R. & E.L.

by Ellen LaForge

We were young lovers while the war was going on.  We took the shortcut  home from school every day along the railroad tracks, hand in hand, balancing on the rails, laughing and skittering off into the waist-high grass along the sides when the commuter train from Penn Station snaked around the curve and slowed into out station.  It was our station.  We spent so much time there that we felt entitled to carve our initials into the glossy old wooden bench scarred with the hopes of those who came before us: J.T. & S.C.; B.D. & R.K.  They also had sat in the tiny room, shivering and breathing cold breath clouds in the winter, waiting and watching the tracks dissolving into the distance until the tiny speck of train appeared around the curve.

On the weekends, we took my dog Sasha to walk along the old tracks on the other end of town, where only an occasional freight train rumbled along the track bed.  That line led along brushy fields and a thick wood, with the surprise of a creek running through it.  Near the fields, the tracks were trestled over a bridge with a lonely back road underneath.  Here we could test our daring, skipping across the empty spaces between the ties while looking down at the roadway thirty feet below, our long hair flying in the updraft.

Sasha followed along at the edge, foraging and focusing on her own part of the world of odors and small sudden animal movement in the brush.  My boyfriend and I focused on each other and the world around us—the politics of war, the philosophy of Nietzsche, the history of the world and all of its civilizations.  We pondered when the revolution would come and how to next protest the war—what banners to make and which marches we could join when we had time between school and our jobs.

We wondered if in the next draft lottery, his number would be selected, since he had now turned 18.

One evening I heard the familiar ‘ping’ of a small stone hitting my bedroom window, the signal that I should make some excuse to my parents and come down quickly to meet him in the darkened yard or on the front steps.  His face was grim as he told me his number had come up in the lottery.  It wasn’t fair. It was an accident of fate that his birthday was the one chosen. Why him?!  The army—God, he didn’t want anything to do with it then. Going into the Army wasn’t possible—it was everything we hated.  The options were few.  He could go to Canada, perhaps never to return, or voluntarily go into another branch of the service—one maybe not so militant.  His stepfather had been in the Navy years ago and he survived it with a few funny stories to tell, so that seemed to be the only option.  He went to register just before the date he had to appear for the draft intake.

We clung to every moment leading up to the day when he would board the bus that would take him away.  He didn’t want them to cut the long, thick, wavy hair that I loved.  He asked me to do it.  That morning we met on the back steps of my house, me with the scissors and he with his duffel bag.  We sat on the steps as we often did, but this time we struggled to make light of the feeling of doom that hung over us.  I made the first cut and winced—it was like cutting off a living part of us.  As I cut, the dark thick curls wound around my fingers and I burned with anger against the system that forced us into this.  The pieces fell, like the passing of the days along the tracks, part of us that once was, and would never be the same.

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