The Long and Winding Road
The 1960s and 70s were a wild and crazy time.
It seems hard to believe, sitting in the broken-spring seat of an old Corvair, that someone will ever read this. But I suppose it's possible that they will, and so I'll put up a little introduction, just in case anyone gets confused--it can be confusing at times; I can be confusing at times.

Firstly, I would like to pre-emptively apologise. In the early years of my diary, I was a teenage girl, and in the middle years I was a passionate radical, and in the later years I was nearly always chemically altered. What I mean to say is that sometimes my memory is fragmented, and I've tried to patch that, but maybe it will show through.

And maybe you can't always trust me, because what is this but memory, after all? Still the yellowed pages of my battered little journal, with its battered little self-important scrawlings, come back to me like it was only yesterday...



PART ONE



I, Melinda Douglas (Melly if you are May or Jeannie or Patty or (oh no!) Chris), want to die. Not in a way like Jesus Christ or Audie Murphy, no, nothing like that. It has something to do with a boy--oh, doesn't it always? Doesn't it always?

In this case, it has to do with Christopher Dean, who I think might like me and I know for sure is liked by me and neither of us will do anything about it. Why? Why is that? Because life is unfair, that's what mum says, and she ought to know because she doesn't think I should be thinking about boys at all.

Leastaways not publicly. I have to keep reminding her that I'm 17, and not by any means a child anymore. She doesn't get that, even though she was once 17 herself--I have to guess. Maybe she wasn't? But I'm getting scrambled in my head. What I mean to say is that I think I have what you could call a crush, and it's very strange.

Chris is not your average person (Mr. Mickle says that what we call "average" is really "mean" but ok, he's not a mean person either). He's kind of gangly, and May says he ought to go out for track, but he never has. So that's a bit odd. Also he doesn't listen to KBRO-FM and May says when she mentioned John Lennon he made a face. I think he listens to KING.

So why do I like him? I think it's 'cause he doesn't care what other people think. He doesn't care that he's the only one who's so into his little radio stuff (Chris is a ham, which makes May giggle when she says it. May thinks I'm being silly about Chris, though). He doesn't care that most of the other people who read the kind of books he does are a lot older. Chris is pretty old on the inside, I think.

He and Mr. Mickle get along well, and that's saying something, since nobody likes that old weirdo. But, ok, so it's like Linda Ronstadt has been saying. He travels to the beat of a different drum. But I don't want to run when he makes eyes at me. Or I wouldn't, if he ever did.

It's so frustrating, sometimes it makes me want to just give up.

"Can't I just ask him?" It's 'Penny Lane,' not 'Different Drum,' coming over the speakers in the little burger joint where I have only had one (1) burger, and it wasn't very good. It's 'Penny Lane,' and I do, indeed, feel a lot like I'm in a play. I hum along while I wait for May to finish the sip of her Coke.

"You could." By her tone of voice it's clear that I really can't. "But it would seem so very improper."

"Improper?" I retort. "What am I, the queen of England?

"Think of how it would look," May says.

To be honest I'm thinking more of how it would look if he would just go ahead and acknowledge me already, and to heck with what people think about me asking him if maybe he'd like to see a movie. "So? What do I care?"

This question is far too silly for May, and the wolf huffs and makes me wait for her to take another drink. "You have to care about your image, Melly darling. Well no you don't, you make me do it. I'm like your manager."

I manage a whine over the milkshake. "Then hook us up already, will you?"

May isn't impressed, rolling her eyes quite dramatically. "Fine." A thrill runs through me, then, since May is (for some reason) closer to Chris than I am, even though nobody is really all that close to Chris. "The second-run theatre is showing something I've heard him mention once or twice, and I guess I can try to convince him to ask you."

"What do you want in return?"

She lifts her glass up. "Pay for my drink?"



*



This is how I end up watching Dr. Zhivago, which is really far too long, and I vow to make May pay for this. It didn't help that whatever my plans had been, Chris evidently just wanted to watch the movie, which (I have already mentioned) goes on for about six hours.

"What did you think?" I asked afterwards. Chris's eyes were somewhat damp, which I think is also part of the reason why I idolise him so; he is not at all reserved about his emotions, when he chooses to have them.

"Personally, I thought it was lovely," he said. "In general it stays fairly true to Pasternak... in general." I couldn't tell if he wanted me to prod him for more information, so I didn't. "I'm quite glad you could come to watch it with me."

Now, we're back at his house. There's not really much exciting here; a big radio antenna that I find a little impressive, but his radio itself is broken at the moment. So he says. Chris projects at least a little bit of being normal; he has a car. "It looks nice," I say.

"Oh, uh, it's a work in progress." Chris is making excuses for complaints I haven't yet lodged. "Uh, it'll drive though. If you want."

I do, so he goes inside to find his keys. The car, an early '60s Falcon, has actually seen better days, I have to guess from the rather worn interior--but it has a fresh coat of paint, which makes it easy to compliment. "Where are we going?"

Chris shrugs, being preoccupied at that moment with trying to get the transmission into drive--I think automatic transmissions are kind of gimmicky, to be honest. "I don't know, Melinda. Out, I guess."

We start rolling. "You don't have to call me Melinda," I suggest.

He turns to me, muting the violins and whatnot coming through the radio to ask me a perplexed question. "Isn't that your name?"

'Yes,' I do not say, 'if you're my grandma.' "It is," is what I actually say. "Do you want me to call you Christopher?"

"Oh, I see. No, Chris is better. What is better than Melinda?" His voice is so stilted--he must still feel kind of out of place, which is odd since it's his car and, considering he asked me, his date (if influenced by my lupine girlfriend). And, apparently, his driving plans.

"May calls me Melly," I say. May is the first of only three people who are allowed to call me that, Chris being the fourth. "Lots of people call me Mindy. Nobody says Melinda."

"I'd think Melly would be asking for trouble," Chris muses as the car swings onto a highway and begins anaemically pushing its way to the speed limit. "Peanut butter and Melly, say."

I think he's just made a joke. Of sorts. "Nobody's ever called me that." I have to reconsider this statement. "Not to my face, anyhow."

"Oh. Sorry." A needless apology, which I almost point out but he keeps going. "Well, ok, Mellyfish, I guess Melinda is out."

May will hear about this one. Mellyfish? What the heck is that? But perhaps it means that he's warming up, an encouraging sign! "See, that was easy. But maybe not the 'fish' part."

There is no definite answer provided in "maybe not," which is what he says. "Why did you tell May to have me ask you to see Zhivago?"

Naturally, once I'm done checking for whiplash, I consider my responses. "I thought it might be fun," I settle on. My companion ponders this. He's a wolf like May, or maybe a husky? One of those that, not to be racist, they have to be all muscle-bound, or else they look silly. Chris is built like a reed, and he looks silly, even as he contemplates like that one sculpture.

"Has it been fun?"

"It has been," I say. "To be honest I thought maybe the movie could've been a little shorter."

"An hour or two shorter?"

"About," I admit, and feel kind of silly for being so uncultured. "But look. I asked May because... uh. I like you. Don't tell May I said that," I add hastily, since it presumably would go against her thoughts on decorum. "But I do."

Chris has to think about this one, or at least it seems so because he doesn't talk for a long spell during which I start fidgeting. "I like you too," he says finally, which is a load off my mind, believe me.

"Enough to ask me out?"

Another long silence. Watching trees go by (and other cars, since Chris did not feel like pushing the Falcon very hard) is not very exciting in such troubled times. "Yes."

"But you didn't," I point out.

"I was afraid you'd say no." It's almost a question, like he's fishing for the right thing to say.

"I wouldn't have."

"That's good," Chris says. "Should I do it again, then?"

"I'd like that."

This is the most awkward way I could possibly conceive of a couple starting out. We continue to speak in short, alternating sentences, sort of like an unfunny Abbot and Costello routine, professing some sort of mutual affection in the most convoluted way possible. Then, we stop talking.

The thing is I find him captivating. I wanted to turn on the radio in the silence that followed, and have it be playing 'You've really got a hold on me,' so I could explain to him that he, in fact, really had a hold on me. But of course, it was Chris. If I were to turn on the radio, I know it wouldn't be Smokey Robinson and the Miracles; it would be Mozart and the Flute Players.

Finally he returns the car to his house, which is close to mine, and I walk home (by myself!) and that was my first date with Christopher Dean.



*



"Odd," I say, because May is asking me how it went.

"Did he walk you home?" I try to come up with a way to not make this sound unchivalrous, during which time the Kingsmen rather rudely intrude. I wave them off, which--instead of letting me come up with an answer--allows May to draw her own conclusions. "He didn't, did he?"

"He's a bit weird," I offer for an explanation.

"I need to talk to that boy."

"Don't bother, please. He's really just fine the way he is."

I believe this, and May understands that I believe this, so she just shakes her head sadly. "So Robbie asked me if I wanted to go to a concert in a couple of months. He has tickets."

"Who's playing?"

"Yes," May says cheekily, and I stutter over a response until I pick up on that.

"Oh--really?"

The wolf nods quickly. "They're in Seattle in July. Believe me, I'm really looking forward to it."

And who wouldn't be? But I don't feel jealous, not really. "Well, tell me how it goes, ok?"

She promises to, and after I leave it occurs to me that Chris and I do not have any plans at all. So I give him a call, which goes like this:

"Hey, Chris," I say. "The last game before summer break is going to be this Saturday. You want to go?"

"No," he answers with frightening speed, which ends that particular plan.

"Um. You want to do something else?"

A few seconds of drizzling silence over the line. "The Lyrids are going to be coming off their peak," Chris comes up with, rather cryptically if I do say so myself. "I suppose we could try to find some."

He can't see me blinking. 'Find some?' 'Lyrids'? What the hell are those? Butterflies? "What?"

"Meteor shower," he tells me. A pause and then, as though I'm not very bright, "Shooting stars."

"Thanks." Well, it is a chance to spend time with him. Right? "Would you mind if I tagged along? It sounds like it could be interesting."

It didn't, really. But hey. "No, I don't mind. Do you want to be here at... oh, say, nine or so?"

A bit late to be getting started; my parents wouldn't approve. At least not at first; except that they know Chris, and it's hard to imagine him being inappropriate in any way. I know they'll warm up once I tell them who I plan to be looking for meteors (shooting stars) with. "Alright."

I look at myself in the mirror. It's eight or so, Saturday, and I'm trying to get ready to go, which of necessity involves the mirror. I'm half wolfhound, so my fur can be a bit wiry, though the half of whatever mum is balances that out a bit. Still, I brush myself a few times, and then a few times more. On reflection, I add a little perfume.

"It might not be a good night," Chris warns me when I knock on his door. This is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, it is not "hello" or "gee, you look nice" or anything like that. Secondly, what kind of way is that to start a date?

"It might not be?"

"We'll see," he says, as the Falcon drags itself out onto the street with limp reluctance. We head east, away from the city, and characteristically he doesn't say anything. At all. Finally: "Did you want to see the game?"

"No. I just... thought that you might."

His ears are white, rimmed with a black I see clearly under a streetlamp as he pricks them towards me. "Why would you think that?"

It's a capital question. "I... don't know. Because I don't know what you like, but I want to spend time with you, so I took a guess."

"Sports," he says, turning back to look at the road. "I don't like. They're silly."

"Then what do you like?"

"Radios. Science fiction books. Have you read any Ellison? Ellison edited a good book a few months ago I keep going over."

"I don't know who that is."

"It's ok." Chris is so very magnanimous. "I like you anyway."

This is a small victory, and though I take it, I also don't force the issue. "If I turned on your radio right now, what would I hear?"

"Static." An immediate answer that tells me nothing. "The hills shield us from the broadcasting towers, so we can't get any reception."

"What if we were back home?"

"Well, static. It's a broken radio."

God. I don't quite take the lord's name in vain, then, but I so want to.



*



Chris parks the Falcon, and hunts around with a flashlight for a minute until he finds a likely place to throw the heavy quilt down. It's a warm night, that June, and any policeman who happened by would have much different ideas of what's going on. They would be more in line with mine, actually, but that isn't here or there.

"This isn't going to be very good at all," Chris grouses, with more emotion than I've seen in awhile. "Look."

You may not be aware, but someone pointing up at the night sky is not helpful, especially when they do it quickly, as though offhand gestures were plainly visible at ten or eleven at night. "What?"

"The moon."

I look. It's bright and very pretty. "It's pretty," I say, omitting the bright part, and this turns out to be the wrong answer.

"Yes, but it's putting out too much light." So the brightness had been important. "God damn it."

"Hey!"

Chris looks blankly at me. "'Hey?' Oh. Oh, right, sorry."

He reclines back on the quilt and his head moves a bit, tracking around the sky. I follow his lead after a moment. "I guess I don't really mind."

"There's one," he says, without acknowledging me further. I'm not looking in the right place, or he's making it up, or something. I don't know. We spend about ten minutes looking for these imaginary meteors before I try to turn things to conversation.

"So what are you going to do over the summer?" School ends the next week, the last summer vacation of high school. How thrilling!

"Probably work at pop's store." Chris's father runs a little radio and television repair shop. "Start applying to go to the university after school."

"What do you want to study?"

"I don't know yet," Chris says, still looking straight up and apparently ignorant of the fact that I am not doing the same. "Either math or philosophy."

"Some people would say those aren't very similar." I prop myself up on an elbow and lay on my side, facing Chris as he shrugs.

"They both want answers, like I do. I just don't know yet which answers I think are better."

Like a bolt from the blue (or black, in this case, I suppose), a thought strikes me. "Are you worried about Vietnam?"

"Why would I be worried about Vietnam? If I were drafted, ok, if I were drafted, the odds are still in my favour. But It'll be over by the time I'm out of college anyway."

This is a reasonable answer, even though from anyone else--Robbie Greene, say--it would sound like whistling in the dark. "But you'd take care of yourself anyway."

"Well, naturally."

Since he's distracted, I run a finger along Chris's ear, which causes it, and then him, to twitch. "Sorry," I fail to apologise. "Just thinking about stuff."

"What stuff?" Chris is positively talkative.

"I don't know," I say. "The future, I guess. Us."

"Are we the future?" He finally abandons the night sky and turns to look at me. "Do you think?"

"What... what do you mean?"

"Because I think... that we are the future, you know, our generation. I think it's going to be up to us. Everything is."

That hadn't quite been what I meant. "I wasn't being that philosophical."

"Oh. Then you meant just the two of us?"

"I meant just the two of us." Once again the short, cut-off style, like we only had ten words each to make our respective points.

"Is there an 'us', then?"

"I'd like there to be," I tell him, and this fetches the truly unbelievable: a smile.

"So let's say there is. I could do that."

I would like to do something, here, offer some token of my affection--but knowing Chris, that would be quite entirely futile. Having decided, democratically and dispassionately, to be a couple, we return to staring at the bright moon whose prettiness obscures what we had been after in the first place.



*



Down the coast in San Francisco, 1967 is being called the Summer of Love. But Enumclaw is a long way from the Haight, and the biggest impact on our lives, personally, is Scott McKenzie. I have no plans to go to San Francisco, no flowers in my hair, and no interest in any love-ins. Despite the awkwardness, I have enough love right here. I say.

Summer wears on, and Chris and I begin spending more time together. I would like to say that he is opening up, but we reach kind of a plateau that is broken only very rarely and not very convincingly at that. May finds this silly, and I find May silly for being this way.

I try to get Chris to dance, and we do so as awkwardly as every thing else we do, to Van Morrison on--strangely enough--the transistor radio in my room. When the song ends, we stop, and Chris looks absolutely adorable, so out of place there. By and large, everything remains the same.

Sonny and Cher say this. May says this. Chris says it sometimes, but then sometimes he seems to think that everything is changing. I disagree, but hey--we are young, and we are in love. No, I put a question mark after that. I am in love; I don't know about him.

"My parents are not going to be home," Chris abruptly informs me--we're walking up along the street towards the school we don't have to return to for a few weeks yet. "Tomorrow night."

That brings me up short. The implications that lurk beneath such words are both subversive and highly unexpected. "What?"

So he extends an invitation, as though that was the part I was curious about. "Would you like to come over?"

He starts walking again, which forces me to resume, hustling to catch up. "Chris? What are you talking about?"

"Huh? Just that. We can stay up late."

"Oh," I say. This is a delicate subject to be raising around Chris, who has yet--three months after Dr. Zhivago--to kiss me.

"At night, I get better reception. My antenna works best at about nineteen hundred kilocycles, and I can get good signal propagation through the ionosphere."

"Oh," I say again, differently.

"Basically, the way it works is..." he continues explaining, mentioning something called 'skywave' a few times. I accept his invitation anyway, which of course is exactly as he suggests it to be. But I do get to talk to someone in Alaska, which I've never been to in person. No, the man says, it's not all that cold there at the moment.

May is rather sour about a few other things in her life, but this anecdote amuses her. "You talked on the radio? He invited you to his house by saying that his parents weren't home, and you talked on the radio?"

"Yeah." It isn't even worth blushing over.

"Have you two... you know..."

"Have we two what?"

May looks around the joint quickly, then leans into me. "You know, gone all the way?"

I laugh, so sharply that the wolf pulls back in shock. "Are you kidding me? May. May. We haven't gone any of the way."

"What do you mean, 'any'?"

"He hasn't kissed me yet. We danced a bit, but that was 'cause I forced him."

May shakes her head with traditional May fake-sadness. "Well, ok. Anyway, don't bother, then."

"Don't?"

"It's not worth it." She stares into her soda. "It's all... painful. And gross. Very overrated if you ask me," which I hadn't. "Very overrated."

"That's not what Patty says," I say, and May glares at me.

"Patty," she mutters. "Oh that girl, I'm going to get her one of these days." Patty is responsible for the union of Rob Greene and May. I snicker and pat the wolf consolingly.

Because the issue is quite academic. Each day is like the next. We talk, sometimes, Chris and I, and we go on walks, and finally he gets me to see a falling star or two. He says you can't make wishes on them if it's part of a shower. I think this is quite unfair, and I make wishes anyway. None of them come true, except the one where Chris keeps letting me hang out with him.

Summer ends in this way, bleeding into fall as we swing languorously into our senior year at the high school. Same old drama, same old friendships, same old classes.

La de da de de, la de da de da.



*



It's a grey Wednesday in Mr. Przewalsky's social studies class, ten minutes before the end of the period, and suddenly it's not Sonny and Cher telling our stories anymore. It's Barry McGuire, troublingly enough, and for a bit we all believe absolutely that we're on the eve of destruction. I'm sitting next to Chris when Mr. Walsky (we could manage that, so that's what he told us to call him) stops lecturing and pulls up a radio from under his desk.

"I think social studies should encompass more than just geography or history. It's about what's going on around us--what's going right now, even as we speak. I'm sure some of you have already heard this, but... here, wait, as it's the top of the hour."

We murmur amongst ourselves and I chance a look at Chris, who probably knows what's going on (since he always does) but gives no outward sign. And the radio--I don't know the station; one I don't listen to, but old teacher people do--starts talking:

"Today's top story comes from Vietnam [pronounced "veet-naam"]. MACV has confirmed reports that, overnight, communist guerrillas have launched a massive offensive across the entirety of South Vietnam, from Saigon to Hue. Paramilitary attacks have been reported against military bases from Da Nang and Pleiku in the north to Can Tho in the south. Westmoreland maintains that the attack is a diversion from intense fighting occurring in the Khe Sahn region, but..."

And that was that. The North Vietnamese, says the radio, have taken over Hue. They have attacked the American embassy in Saigon. Casualties, in standard dispassionate military terminology, are expected to be high.

This takes us by complete surprise--as it takes everyone; as it is intended to. Mr. Walsky, who mentioned at the start of the year, in passing, that he was one of the lucky survivors of the Hungarian resistance to the Soviet Union, looks older now. "It's too early to predict the future," he's saying, as though you can be too late to predict the future. "But I think what you are seeing here changes everything. I know many of you have siblings overseas, probably serving in the country's military in Vietnam. You're going to be worried about them, and you're going to hear that suddenly everything is different. That this matters an awful lot to you. Jennifer?"

"We'll win, won't we?"

"I don't know that anyone can answer that, right now," Walsky answers Jennifer Wayne, whose family is closely tied to the Air Force, I know. Her father is stationed somewhere over in Asia, but I never bothered to ask where and now I regret this.

"They will," she says with conviction. "They make such a big deal about this because they just... want to get people upset. They see all this hippie stuff and they want us to be angry, so now they're tying to tell us that this is something big." She's getting angrier, more passionate--but the passion of fear, I see. "We'll win and everyone will forget this. It doesn't mean anything."

We're kind of a small town, and there's a slight rumbling of agreement. Walsky doesn't respond, just calls on another student. "Yes--Chris?"

Chris has stood up next to me, and all eyes turn to the gangling, denim-clad young man. "It does. It shows us what we're in for. I heard the early news when I was biking to school, and I've been thinking about it." He's saying more than he ever has. "This is important--it's beyond important. Our generation--the young men and women right here in this room, and everyone else like them--is the fulcrum on which our history is going to turn. Archimedes says that given a long enough platform, one man can move the earth. We'll, we're a lot more than one man.

"We're going to have to fight, many of us. But this war is going to be all of ours. It's going to be our legacy--this is how... this is how people will think of us, ten years and fifty years and a hundred years away. It will be won not just in Hanoi, but here, at home. You can see the protests, you can see how people think, how everything's coming around. We have so much power now--more power than we've ever dreamed of. We have to be careful how it's used."

He sits down, and there's a moment of silence. It's not what people want to hear, and Walsky steps in to defuse the rising--if unvoiced--sentiment. "Did you prepare that, Chris?"

"No, sir," he tells Walsky. "I just... felt like saying it."

"Well I agree with you. Are you ready, son?"

Chris doesn't look diminished when he tells the truth. "No, sir."

"Well you've got a few days yet, I guess. Alright, class is dismissed."

It's the last class of the day, Mr. Przewalsky's social studies class, so people rush out quickly--heading home, looking for comfort, looking for the truth. I know both of these are at a premium, so I wait around for Chris instead. For a moment, it looks like the teacher is going to say something to him, something else--but then he leaves, and we're alone in the room.

I'm putting on my heavy coat--we walk home, and it's been cold and rainy--as I talk to him. "I've never heard you put so many words together."

I catch a faint smile before it fades, and a second goes by until he says a more typical short burst, though it isn't quite as self-confident. "I love you."

Stopped in mid-button, I look up at him--it's not the suddenness of the words, or the speed of the conversation change. It's what he's said. "What?" The wrong thing to say, I know, I know.

"I love you," Chris says again. "A lot. I mean, I really do. I don't think we've said that yet, have we? I know I haven't. It's really true, though."

The world has begun the slow and steady process of coming to pieces around us, and there's nothing we can do about it--not right then. So. What I know happens is he does kiss me, then--with a little of the old hesitation and strangeness about it, but it kind of fades away, quickly.

And what I remember, really--what I will remember about it all is that I feel very small, and he feels very big, as he holds me close in the social studies classroom of a school a million miles away from reality.



*



A grey and ugly April Thursday, with rain half-heartedly dribbling on our umbrellas as we walk home from school. What they've called the Tet Offensive is long over, and it almost seems like life is returning to normal. Chris allows me to hold his hand and when I do so, it's possible to forget the weather. Well, again, almost.

It's closing on summer, again. Chris and I have decided we'll both move to Seattle to attend the University of Washington, there. He doesn't know what he wants to do; I don't either. Know what I want that is, but of course I don't know what he wants, either.

It's closing on summer, and the music that's in everyone's ears is from The Graduate, so we're not thinking about much beyond longing for the steady beat of the sun again. I want to hum a little Simon and Garfunkel, come to think of it.

"Melly! Hey!" It's a fevered shout, and I open my eyes to discover Patty Marris barrelling towards me as though fired from a cannon. If this were a cartoon, she would be skidding to a halt, and Chris puts a hand on her shoulder.

"Calm down. What's going on?" Patty looks terrified, but the Border collie is a generally excitable girl and we don't think much of it. I don't anyhow, not then.

She takes a few seconds to stop panting, but her eyes are still wild. "Martin Luther King, he's been killed. They just said on the radio."

"Oh, god," I say, feeling faint. We don't live in a town with many Africans (or for that matter many people who don't pretend they can trace their ancestors back to the pilgrims), but Mr. Walsky cares a lot about civil rights, and we all feel like we know Dr. King well. "That can't be right..."

"It can be right," Chris says in a singularly unnecessary moment of literalism. "Are you sure that's what they said?"

Nodding nervously, the collie looks at both Chris and I. "Yes. They--I--oh." She stammers before taking a deep breath, the words rushing out like milk from a tipped glass. "I guess he was giving a speech and he finished and was going to back to his motel and somebody--like JFK, they just... they said they took him to the hospital but... but..."

"Calm down," Chris says, a useless and unheeded command. "Oh, this is a lot of bad," he continues, ungrammatically and in an aside to nobody I can see.

The collie doesn't calm down, anyway, instead asking the question that must be on the country's mind, then, as the news filters in. "Why?"

"A lot of reasons," Chris says. "Let's sit down. Come on, Trish."

We huddle around a table in the diner, ordering coffee and seeking reassurance in the adult feeling that comes from doing so. Of course we're old enough to remember Kennedy--can tell you exactly where we were--but this is different. This is current, it's a spark from the fire that most of us can feel burning all the time, and none of us know how to put out. Or even if it should be put out.

Patty isn't a particularly tall person, and she looks to be shrinking as she moves closer to tears. I look despairingly at Chris and put my arm around her, holding her tightly and trying to ignore the rainwater seeping into my clothes.

"Is the world ending?" Aside from her uneven breath, we'd been pretty quiet until Patty says this.

Here's the scary thing, for a seventeen year old (almost eighteen, which doesn't impress my mother): I don't know. Once Mrs. Lees, the English teacher, said we were adults now, and this is also scary, because we are so very lost. There aren't maps for 1968, and every new one we draw becomes out of date the moment we start trying to use it. "I don't think so," I tell my friend.

Her ears, coal black like the wings of a raven, flatten until they disappear in her hair. "It's not right," she says with the deliberateness of someone trying to believe that "right" is somehow linked to what will ever really happen. "It wasn't like this before."

"Maybe it was like it, and we didn't notice." Chris looks oddly mature; he's not crying and while I can guess he's as scared as we are, he gives no outward sign. "But now we do, so we have to do something about it, right?"

Patty's family has a small farm; she's more world-wise than most but has no clue what this "something" might be--like most of us. "What?"

"We have to be here for each other," Chris says after a bit of thought. "We should... probably pray for one another, and for the country. But we can't... we can't be on our own, right? I think that's what Kennedy said, was the world was too dangerous to be on our own. We're all part of one big community. I mean it doesn't matter what race you are, or what religion, or anything. Right?"

Her rumoured inclination towards free love aside, Patty is a bit of a conservative thinker--but it's hard to argue with the idea that we should come together in a moment like this and she agrees. "Right. But this..."

Yes, it's too much. Even in Seattle, there's rioting--nothing like back east, of course! But there is rioting, and we don't go to school on Friday. We stay home, where we can be safe, or with friends and family. For my part, I go to Chris's house, and we sit and listen quietly to a thousand lost voices trying to find a new anchor on the medium-wave.



*



"Hot town, summer in the city." We're young and shadowless and the Spoonful doesn't know the half of it as I turn them up on my radio. The sidewalks aren't matchheads; they're tinderboxes. All the world is a tinderbox, in the summer, and we're all so keenly aware of it that it hurts.

May and I are trying for a bit of normalcy, the same normalcy that KBRO is aiming for, even as the music starts to become edgier. It's Stones, now, not the Hermits. It's Hendrix, who gets the key to the city in an event the both of us find surprising.

For now, three weeks after Sirhan Sirhan kicked our generation when it was down, we sit and sip lemonade on my porch. "Can you believe it all?" Even May's bright smile is undercut with something else. "You ever think we'd be eighteen?"

"No." We move off the porch to sit in the sun, on the grass there, and I stretch as the light filters through me. "It's gone so fast."

"You have any plans for the Fourth?"

I don't. I'm planning on seeing if I can find somewhere to watch the fireworks with Chris. "No. See what Chris wants to do."

"How are you two?"

Always a difficult question to answer. "Spending more time together. I just can't believe it took a year." And it is, more than that. The anniversary went unmarked by Chris, which meant that it went unmarked by me because I am learning that his way of doing things makes both of us happier.

"Seen each other naked yet?" I kick May, and she goes sprawling backwards in a fit of drama, snickering. "Didn't think so."

Somehow as some things became more serious, other things became less so. I have no intention of discussing anything about nudity with my parents, but the taboo appears elsewhere to be lifting. Not that it matters to either Chris or I. "It's not... like that."

"It doesn't have to be," May agrees before I can make the charge that she was suggesting otherwise. "Just asking. He seems like he's coming out of his shell, though."

"I think he is." I giggle, thinking about a strange thing. "You know, I talk to his parents sometimes. They're real great people."

May sits up, halfway or so. "And?"

"And they say he talks about me to them. It's funny, I just... learn more from them than I do from him, sometimes. You should've been in Walsky's class, though, I tell you."

May flops back again, her ears fanning through the short-cropped grass. "I know, you keep saying. But I can't go back in time, now can I?"

"You can't," I grant her. "Still."

"You're both going to Seattle in the fall, aren't you?"

"Yeah. You know you'll have to keep in touch." May is planning on studying in Eugene, instead, down in Oregon.

"I will." The wolf lets out a heavy sigh, closing her eyes beneath the peak of the afternoon sun. "It's going to be an experience."

I know this already, though it's hard to say what to expect. The student movements are growing in popularity--I think it's because of the French. We copy them, the rising, inexorable tide of the new generation. "I'm looking forward to it," I say, which is true, so long as Chris is there to keep anything too strange from happening.

Everyone's looking forward to it. The world is a changing place and we all know we're in the thick of it. We all know that Chris is right, that it's up to us. But who's to say what to do? May isn't sure, and neither am I as we drift off to an unintended nap and June ticks on by.

Chris isn't changing, exactly, so much as he's becoming more of what he is, really, on the inside, and more open about expressing it. What he says makes some sense to me, when he talks about fulcrums. It's the passion that makes me love him, the passion for this shared dream that nobody can see the end of.

My folks have decided to go to Renton for the Fourth, and Chris and I watch the fireworks alone, sitting on the hood of the Falcon, which has only become more decrepit (for a 'work in progress'). They've been going on for a bit, and I start to wonder something. "Is this interesting to you?"

"Honestly? No..." Chris says. Chris isn't ever interested in the things other people find interesting, so who am I to judge?

"My parents aren't home," I point out. "We could go back there and hang out. Is that any better?"

I don't have a radio transmitter in my room, but for once in his life Chris doesn't seem put off by this. "I guess that sounds interesting, sure."



*



It is dark, when we enter, and I keep it dark as I close and latch the door behind us. Enough times avoiding a curfew have let me know how to find my room in the darkness, and I do, pulling Chris along--being the leader, something I don't appreciate enough then.

Being here, in the dark, seems almost a little dangerous--a little rebellious, a little crazy. I oscillate between knowing exactly why I've done it, and thinking it's probably just a bit too farfetched even for someone like Chris. But you have to play with the hand you're dealt, as daddy says.

We can hear the sound of fireworks, in the distance, and an occasional flash from someone less reserved in our neighbourhood. It helps to hide us, or so I think, and I don't have to force him to sit with me together on my bed.

It's instinctive, and natural, the way our muzzles come together in the darkness, and I close my useless eyes by reflex, my hands now at his spine, now his occasionally-presented shoulder-blades. It goes on forever, which is almost long enough; he speaks in a conspiratorial whisper when his lips leave mine. "Is this why you wanted me here?"

I realise he can't see me smile, but I do it anyway. "Is that a problem?"

Fingers spread, his hands find my back, feeling strangely strong as they hold me close. It's a reassuring sensation, not just the presence of another warm body but that it's Chris, and that he isn't running away. Yet.

We kiss again, and a third time, the meeting becoming more and more natural although this is the first time I've really done anything like that, and I have no real doubts it's his first as well. I don't know what Chris is wearing, I become suddenly aware as his hands run over my skirt. Jeans. He's wearing jeans.

At that moment, he was wearing jeans, I correct to myself as I drum up the willpower to concentrate on getting them off of him--it seems important to be doing so, as though the Pope himself had sent me on a mission. Or--well, maybe not that important, but close, and I undo them with a little gasp from him before they're gone.

He gets the message--I'm less and less surprised with each passing moment that he has yet to tear himself away and scamper off into the night. I'm wearing a t-shirt, since I hadn't come up with any plans for people to see my clothes in the dark of the Fourth, and I let him pull it off me--it requires some cooperation, but the initiative (the important thing) is all his.

I feel a hand caressing the curve of my chest, gingerly, and while the moan that answers it isn't given consciously, it has the right effect. My universe shifts on a new axis and he's atop me, then, a warm, comforting, living weight. The long nights working with his radios have paid off, I learn; his fingers undo my bra almost as fast as I'm capable of doing so. Maybe better, actually; I'm a bit muddled, you see.

More muddled than before, perhaps, since I no longer seem to have any clothes on at all. The fact that they've been replaced by Chris's body masks this somewhat, until I feel something rigid press against my thigh and my health lessons rush back where I can bat them away smoothly.

"Melly," he says, his voice... different. Not quite harsher, but definitely with an edge. "Are you sure you--"

Moment of crisis. "Yes." I am. It doesn't happen often in my life.

I have to move a bit, and to spread my legs a little wider, but then it happens. May is wrong, I think to myself; there's no pain. I'll have to tell her that. It's a new sensation, to be sure, but not a painful one. "Melly," Chris says again, voice shifted down half an octave. He says something else, but it's a wordless vowel, and I interrupt it with a quick kiss.

Chris moves a bit, sliding back and away from me until with another wordless noise he pushes into me again, and this time I feel encouraged enough to help with that, and we are more or less on the same page. And yes, it's not quite perfect in places--nothing Chris and I do is--but it serves.

I start to lose myself in it, in the rocking of my lover's body, holding to him with my hands and feeling the wiry muscles bunch up in steady rhythm. I start to lose myself because it does, actually, feel pretty good. I don't regret it.

Then he becomes unsteady, his breathing irregular and quick so that at first I'm worried, but he lets out a yelp of unmistakeable, reassuring pleasure and jerks up against me, holding still for a second or two until he collapses and I'm pinned.

"I love you, Melly" he says, which is uncharacteristic--he doesn't say it often--but it sounds so sincere that it's impossible not to believe him. So I give him a hug, and I tell him that I love him too, and part of me is left wondering what all the fuss is about and part of me is more focused on that it wasn't so bad, was it? Yes; I'll have to tell May, indeed.



PART TWO



It was a little stupid, of course. But God has a special place in His heart for fools and, regardless of what we did and what I do and don't tell May, I don't get pregnant, and I chalk it up to experience and remember to be more careful in the future. I carry this with me to college.

The University of Washington is a large and sprawling campus, with a large and slightly less sprawling student body. We're eager--we've seen what students can do and this college, like any other then, is filled with people who go as much to experience as to learn.

My roommate is an irregularly patched mixed breed named Barbara, but she tells me to call her Bob, so I do. She wants to study political science, and I want to study... well, to be honest, I don't know. We don't have any of the same classes.

"Everything you know is wrong," these are the first words I hear in college, from a doctor of philosophy of philosophy, a mid-morning class on a sunny Monday full of people eager to absorb the wisdom of what we fervently believe is not the Establishment. The Man.

'Everything you know is wrong,' reading between the lines, is the spirit of the times, and it makes sense. Certainly everything I know is wrong, though I make a mess of explaining things to Bob.

"What do you mean, I don't know what I see? Who gives a fuck if my brain has to turn things right-side up? That's what it's there for."

I frown. "But it's not... well, it's not that simple. Because if you can't... if you can't see anything--ow!" I say this not because I hurt, but because I'm surprised at the pillow Bob throws at me. "Hey, what the fuck?"

We curse because it feels rebellious to do so, even though nobody is telling us not to. Back home, I would never think of saying half the things I do at the University.

But then, we're living in curse-worthy times. All eyes turn to Chicago, and the Convention, which turns ugly, and not just because out of it comes someone who, we all tell each other, is certainly no Bobby Kennedy.

"Hell in a handbasket," is how Chris describes it outside the student union. He says this barely a minute after I introduce him to Bob, because we're talking about Chicago and in these troubled times nobody thinks twice about pointing out the handbasket we ride in when you first meet someone.

"We're going to lose," Bob concludes mournfully. "Humphrey can't beat Nixon. Not with Wallace screwing with everything."

Chris stretches broadly and I contrive to get under his arm when he brings it back down. He gives me a pleasant squeeze. "I don't think it's that simple. Wallace is going to hurt Nixon at least as much. Look at the south. Humphrey is going to hurt Humphrey."

This is true. The problem, even I understand it, is that even if we can't vote we in the colleges speak for the spirit of the times. We consider ourselves Democrats, of course (most of us; Patty did not), but Humphrey is part of the old guard, the skin we want to shed. "Fucking spineless bastard," I say, thinking about what I've seen on television.

Bob is about ready to agree with me, but Chris shakes his head. "No, he believes in something. It's just not what you and I believe in."

"Beating protestors half to death?" Bob asks dryly. "I hope there's lots of people who agree with that. Otherwise it goes to the GOP. Then what happens?"

"Who knows? Nixon's no Goldwater." Chris is hard to place sometimes. Occasionally he can be the very picture of rebelliousness; then, a staid conservative, quick to defend... well, to defend Richard Nixon, whom I only knew in history class from the communist flap.

"We should be able to vote." Bob is suddenly defiant. "We'd show 'em."

"That's why they won't let us." This observation gets me another squeeze from Chris, who apparently agrees with it. "We're too dangerous."

That's what it boils down to, see? We are. We're too dangerous, too threatening, too uncertain. Humphrey's victory is a little bit of a setback, but we can see the writing on the wall even if the DNC can't, even if maybe nobody in government can, sitting back complacently and trying to pretend the youth of the world don't exist.

Or worse. At times it's worse. Sometimes the dying beast of the Old Way reacts not with indifference but with anger. We read with horror the newspapers as October opens thick with blood in the streets of Mexico City, empathising with the students there, with their struggle, with their battle against the entrenched and decrepit and orthodox. We don't believe the official word, inventing far more gruesome stories in our heads that turn out, sickeningly, to be true. Of course we don't trust official words on general principle, but the horror remains.

Horror, and then sadness, and a little worry. Bob says it would never happen here, but I think about Chicago, and the thought of university paving-stones slick with young blood doesn't seem too far gone. The government doesn't have any problems with bleeding us dry in the jungle, after all.

"Maybe," Bob tries the word on for size, quietly. "It's a crazy world, isn't it Mel?"

It is.



*



We take to dreaming, in mid-October, as the election draws nearer. Chris steals me from my studies down to the lounge, where the television is carrying a broadcast from space. He holds me tightly. "This is our future." He means it, even though the view is somewhat confusing and the broadcast rather grainy.

From the lovely Apollo room, high atop everything, we know the world looks a very different place. Even the Olympics are muddled by the struggle of the downtrodden, a struggle which--for obvious reasons--must appear rather small in the little spaceship, which Chris attempts vainly to track for me in the sky above Seattle.

Other times we are more circumspect in our aspirations. Bob has a late class on Wednesdays, and Chris and I take advantage of this, so that the week can be strife punctuated by a few hours of bliss. In the quiet moments that follow, we choose to talk of simple things.

The rain is coming down and the temperature drops, but we sit up late, watching the television and listening to the radio as the election results come in. It's close, a veritable dead heat. But in the end, Nixon has a plan to end the war in Vietnam and Humphrey, apparently, does not.

This is selfishly frustrating, I say to Chris the next night as we huddle together in the Falcon. "I mean, I know it's a good thing. They say they're making progress, you know?" I'm referring to the peace talks that will end the war by the spring. "But it's... we have such power here..."

Typically, he understands. "You don't want it wasted."

"I don't."

"It won't be," a declaration that lacks any sense of hedging. "Can't be. We're too strong, we can't let them win. If not here, then next year, or the year after that. We're not getting weaker, Melly."

Perhaps we're not. 1968 has been the Year of the Student, so far; there are too many of us for a mere twelve months. Riding in heavy seas, it's all we can do to keep our feet--but the winds are changing. That much is clear. Chris and I carry out our own act of rebellion, then: I'm on the Pill, and my parents don't know, wouldn't approve, couldn't tolerate this. Fuck them.

Last week they announced the election results, which I'm still upset over, and I'm lying flat on my back staring at the ceiling. Whoever lived in the dorm before me has left a legacy of badly-whitewashed scribblings I can almost read. They're more vulgar than enlightening; even if I can't completely make them out I know most of the words are four letters long.

Bob says she has a test in Freshman English the next day, and that she has to study, and that she needs things quiet--but Bob is never quiet, and she plays with a bit of vinyl, college black gold, like a Chinese fan until her resolve fails.

"Here, listen to this."

My worn-out transistor radio has been playing the Rascals on what seems to be an endless loop. We understand that it's true, that people got to be free, but the beat doesn't move us. It seems, indeed, almost trite. Bob has good taste in music, generally; I sit up. "What is it?"

"That's why you listen," she chides, and I catch a glimpse of the underside--"Burning of the Mid-" before she puts it on the turntable and sets the stylus. The chords will become unmistakeable, but now they drown out the room, until they fade to a man's voice:

"There must be some kind of way out of here," he says.

Bob and I are the anvils upon which Jimi's hammer falls. It makes absolute, perfect sense, even though we have no idea what the song is about. Perhaps it's the invective, the talk of jokers and thieves, which sounds deliciously condemnatory. Nixon, we decide then, is the thief.

"Maybe not." Bob's ears twitch, and she crosses her arms, looking at me while the thought comes to a boil in her head. "Maybe we're the jokers and thieves? Do you suppose?"

"Play it again?"

The guitar soars through the room. It fills us like a good meal, makes love to us, sinks into our brain and clutches it tightly. No reason to get excited, the voice says. But we do: "that's you and I, you see? We've been through that. We see what's going on. We see... we see everything."

Everything, maybe not. But most things, certainly. I nod slowly. There are still jokers in our midst, hippies whose answer to everything involves a little bit of some gentle herb or another. "Who are the princes? No... we know who they are, don't we? Everyone else."

So they are. The policemen in Chicago; the policemen in Ireland, in Mexico, in Greece. The politicians who cling to the old order like a security blanket. And they watch us fearfully, Bob and I, and Chris, and the students on the quad drawing plans for the coming rebellion.

And--outside, in the cold distance--the wind begins to howl.



*



In the eye of the storm, the winds dampen for a bit. Second semester; I'm taking a strange class called the "history of thought". Nobody else shows up--it's not a thinking time, it's a doing time, perhaps. There are hints of lightning, constantly, in the fringes. We wonder, Chris and I do, when the student revolts will hit Seattle.

"Get this," I tell Bob. "Did you know that ten percent of the weight of all the animals on this planet is ants?" She looks up from Tolstoy, canting her head. "It's true. I don't even know what the fuck this has to do with anything." I'm getting comfortable with that word.

"What's that for?"

"Systems in Biology," I hold the book up for her. "But it's saying that you know... even if you can't see them, they're there, right? So... these little things, they add up. Think of how many ants it takes to make up an elephant."

Bob giggles and puts Russian literature aside. "You're stoned," she says.

I am. She is. "But it's true. We all add up."

"It's the like the Grand Canyon. All that water, wearing everything away..."

"Or that book. What is that book? War and Peace? Crime and Punishment? War and Punishment? Cr--"

"The Death," her voice is solemn and grave, "Of Ivan Ilych."

"What's it about?"

"I don't... know..." Momentarily forlorn and, also, off the track of our conversation.

Tenderly, I steer her back. "No. No, it doesn't matter. You think... each little word there, on its own--what does it mean? 'A'? 'The'? But you put them together, you get... sentences. They're still just words though. That's like us. We're like everyone else, but..."

But. But this is how we think of ourselves, as the words that make up an unfolding story. But unlike Tolstoy, none of us knows where it's going. We're along for the ride and we take solace in reflective moments like this, where it can seem terribly, terribly profound to muse about such things.

My roommate sets the book aside without marking her place, and she'll have to start again when she remembers to. "That's kind of frightening, isn't it?"

"Why?"

"Well you say 'the'..." She sits up heavily, leaning towards me. "I say, 'the flowers smell lovely', that's beautiful. But if it's 'the noose is around his neck', that's different. Same 'the' though isn't it?"

True. There is the pesky element of self-control. The drops of water in a wave don't have any control over the sandcastles they destroy, do they now? "Oh."

"Maybe God is a writer? Fuck, if God is Tolstoy I'm going to be sick. Just awful..."

It is a mixed blessing, to be small in the middle of something great. On the one hand, we know that our voices are tiny, that our individual force is negligible. On the other hand, we appear to be joined together in something vast and inevitable.

We're still trying to get a handle on it. The times are strange. We listen to Cream over and over again, between revolutions of Hendrix on Bob's turntable. Sufficiently distant from the blinkered view of our parents, after a joint or two, it makes perfect sense. Perfect, if indescribable sense. When we close our eyes, we can see silver horses running down moonbeams.

Outside our goodbye windows, the word thunders on. The war doesn't end; Nixon takes office and his plan doesn't change anything, if indeed he has one at all. We hear the death toll, the number spiralling up and up, long since past the size of my hometown, long since past the size of the enrolment at the University.

Big and incomprehensible. Schoolchildren, junior high students half a decade younger than us, are getting into the act, donning black armbands and following our vanguard. Drops in the wave--of course the sandcastle, that's just a billion little grains of sand. This slips by us.

We can't describe it all. Is it radical? Some of it is. Some of us want to fight. Some of us cheer loudly and walk out our classes when the SDS occupies a building at Harvard; some of us are secretly thrilled when it comes to blows, when the conflict we can all see in words becomes one we can feel, too.

Is it psychedelic? Is it flipping the stylus back for another whirl of Strawberry Fields with the thick odour of incense filling our noses? Some of it is this, too. Some of it is watching the unsteady dance of a lava lamp, well beyond baked and not knowing which way is up, seeing magic in the melting wax.

Is it real? I can't answer that. Bob is a girl disposed to hugs and I give her one as I pack my stuff into Chris's Falcon for the drive back home, telling her I look forward to the fall--I do. I can't say for certain that what we think is reality even comes close, though. On the radio, John Lennon pleads with us to give peace a chance--as though that will help, as though acorns will help.

So that doesn't quite seem real. Chris does; I squeeze his hand tightly and don't let go until we're pulling into the driveway of my house.



*



The first thing to do, obvious, is touch bases with my friends. The first, by coincidence, is Patty, who isn't going to college ('yet,' she says, though everyone around her knows she probably never will) and so finds me when she's in town on errands. "Melly!" It's a happy squeal; we embrace.

"Pat! How are you? How's Jake?"

Jake's another Border collie; they've been seeing each other off and on since nearly the start of high school. We all know they're getting married, even though "he's ok... overseas at the moment, you know?" A little of Patty's perkiness fades.

"Ah," I say, and I hug her again. "I understand. You've been keeping busy?"

"Oh, always." And it's like old times, as though I've never left Enumclaw at all. She rattles off the anecdotes that define smaller towns, catching me up quickly. Did I know that Earnest is going to have to sell his farm? And did I know that Delores is pregnant and it just absolutely wasn't Mike's? And did I know that they were talking about closing the corner store where we used to go as kids, racing up the street on a Saturday afternoon in late summer to spend our found nickels on soda pop?

Nothing about the war, nothing about the civil rights movement, about the SDS, about Pete Seeger or Bob Dylan or Joan Baez. It's comforting, in a way. Then she has to go and I watch her hop into her pickup truck, tail wagging. I'm going to become another story, I know it. Did you know that Mel walked out of class in solidarity with those Harvard kids?

May is upside-down, reading, and when I approach she tosses Tom Wolfe at me; I catch it and read the title. "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test?"

"We're missing out." Neither May nor I think she's just a little too old to be hanging like a bat; May will never be too old for that. "Some wild stuff, out there."

"You're not getting enough air." I prod at her with a toe and she squirms, ticklish, before pulling herself up and landing on her feet in front of the old monkey bars.

Half an hour later, in the diner. "There's a big world out there," May says over the rim of her Coke. "I guess I didn't know that."

"Sure you did."

"No. I knew it was there, ok. But I didn't know how big it was. Some day, we're going to be cutting through the barbed wire and we're going to look back on Enumclaw and think 'what was this all about?'"

May's caught the bug, too. "It is pretty wild, isn't it?"

The wolf's eyes have a mischievous sparkle that makes it all seem almost a big joke, a prank we're playing on the establishment. "Rob burned his draft card. There was a big rally."

"They can't make us fight," I say--we're a long way from having to fight, of course, so it's easier to make these grand declarations. Even at the University, at least someone might force you into a rally, into a bit of petty vandalism. Here, it's safe. "I mean, they try..."

"They try." May shakes her head vigorously. "Silly bastards." Others are probably going to stare at us--cluck their tongues at our language, look away from our resistance, shamed on our behalf. What's strange is that here, we're radicals. I can't explain that to Patty. "No," May agrees. "She's a good girl, though. I hope Jake makes it back."

I do too. But that's the last we talk about college for awhile, at least seriously. I help my mother work in the yard, keeping the weeds down. Chris brings me flowers, for no reason at all, and we take a walk where we look, to outside eyes, like a normal couple.

Outside the bubble, forward the light brigade. In mid-July, Latin America sinks into war over, so near as the papers can tell, a soccer match. Even further outside, I drag May by the wrist on warm night into Chris's basement, where he has his radio, and a small television that we focus on with hawkish, single-minded intensity. There's occasional narration, but other than that not much; we're left alone with our thoughts as the hour ticks on. It only takes a few minutes, and then...

Well, and then it's a grainy, horrible picture, slow and jerky. "Is this live?" May asks, and Chris nods. Then we don't say anything. A shadow moves against another shadow, alien and mystical. Mumbling. Chris leans forward and turns the volume up a few notches in the pause before the radio comes in again.

"That's one small step for a man," it says. "One giant leap for mankind."

"Jesus Christ." May speaks for all of us. "Oh my god."

We go outside, a few minutes later, and look towards the moon, growing inexorably, imperceptible towards full above us. I squint, straining my eyes as though maybe I could see it happening. May waves. Later on, after she's gone home, Chris and I keep watching. "This is what it's about for you, isn't it? Our species."

"Yes."

"Why?"

"It's not about Vietnam or Malcolm X or even the Beatles." Chris has picked a very opportune time to start appreciating the Fab Four, since personally I think they're careening towards breakup. "It's this. It's going to the moon. I mean, you realise there's something beyond Enumclaw. You even realise there's something beyond America, or beyond fighting the Soviets, or South-East Asia. But think of that--that there's something beyond Earth. There's a place where it doesn't matter if you're black, or if you're Communist or anything. And people are going there. We are going there, as a race."

"It's something special," I nod in agreement.

"More than special," Chris says heatedly. "I don't give two shits about Vietnam. I don't care who wins. Ten years from now it'll be another war. It'll be Israel or Egypt or Iraq. It'll be Cuba or El Salvador, or East Germany or China or Pakistan. Ten years from now, it'll... it'll be another race. It'll be the Asians, or the Hispanics, or the Irish, or something. We'll always have some petty thing to bitch over, Melly. But they don't. Not up there. That's where we're going."

"It isn't just a milestone for you."

"No."

"Freedom," I suggest to him. He nods, spent for the moment, and we go back to watching the bright and pretty moon.



*



So other people are having a more interesting summer. Neil Armstrong is having a much more interesting summer, sure, but so are countless thousands upon thousands in New York. May and Chris and I agree, over milkshakes, that we're much too square for Woodstock. We don't regret not going.

Patty does, inexplicably, until we take the effort to explain what acid is, and who the bands are, and what it's probably like over there, lawless and wild. Jeannie Pratt, who went to school with us, does go, and comes back tired and bewildered, which only cements things.

We tick off another August, and it's back to school. Bob's already moved in when I knock on the door. "How was your summer?"

"Busy," Bob says. "After what happened at Stonewall, I went and rustled up a few people to try and get organised over here."

I raise an eyebrow; the name's only vaguely familiar. "What 'happened at Stonewall'?"

She sighs--not at my ignorance but at the greater injustice of the world, a sigh we've all become familiar with. "Oh, the usual, you know. It's a gay sort of hangout. Same old police crap. They think they can fuck with everyone just 'cause they've got a badge."

Bob's angrier than I've seen her before--at least more passionate. "Demonstrations, then?"

"Downright rebellion," she corrects, happily this time. "Not going to push us anymore. Me and... do you know Mitchy Haskell? Tall black guy--you took English with him?" Sure, I nod. "He's going to put together a Gay Liberation Front chapter out here, and I've been busy trying to help out."

Something catches my attention. "Wait. Are you, uh..."

She grins. "Yes. You didn't know that?"

"Huh uh." I blink a few times. "I've never met a gay person before."

"I bet you have," Bob retorts, taking the box I've brought from the Falcon in and setting it with dramatic flair onto my bed. "Why, it doesn't change anything, does it?"

Should it? Admittedly, I have to think about that until the answer becomes clear a second later. "No," I say, wonderingly. "It really doesn't, does it? I guess I'd just thought of it all about black and white, you know?"

"Black and white's not much good outside crossword puzzles and old movies," she tells me primly, and then spreads her arms. "Anyway, hug? Or are you worried I'll pass it on to you?"

I roll my eyes and give her a big old hug, like... well, like a good friend who hasn't seen someone for a few months. And that's that. She helps me unpack the rest of my things and we forge onwards into a second year. Bob's busy, more with the GLF than with coursework, and towards Halloween, musing about that delicious annual ritual of stabbing into a pumpkin like Anthony Perkins, I think at first I envy that dedication.

She's not the only one lit on fire, of course. This week, campus has been abuzz with talk over what's going on in Chicago--more riots there, of course. More young people, of course. It feels, as it's supposed to feel, wrong.

That's a word I keep close to heart. And as things progress, then, it seems less like envy and more like hunger. I listen to the people giving speeches on the quad and it's as if a switch has been flipped; they make sense to me. It clicks, the raw, primal wrongness of the war in Vietnam.

No--more than that. The raw, primal wrongness of everything, of desegregating schools in name only, of sending men to the moon while countless tens of thousands more shudder in the cold, of locking America's youth up and letting America's politicians remain free.

Wednesday, the middle of the week in the middle of the month, I demonstrate with a host of other students against the war. The media takes notice--more than a cursory notice. Bob clips a picture out of the student paper and shows it to me.

"Huh," I say. "I look so..."

"Cold," Bob answers with a laugh. "How was it?"

"Worth it." It is. I'm tired of being ignored. I'm tired of people just letting everything happen as though they can't do anything to stop it. Because what is happening, ten thousand miles away, shouldn't just be stopped--it should be prosecuted. When I tell my roommate this, she eagerly agrees.

"But," she warns me, "it'll be hard."

"Everything worth doing is hard." I scribble on the paper I'm supposed to be using to write an essay. What can I say? How can I put what's going on into words? The same words--'Vietnam' and 'war' and 'struggle'--that the other side uses, I use too. But I mean something different.

One of my professors tells us about genetics, about how just a handful of little particles combine and recombine to make everything--he says--from "fruit flies to freshmen". How true that is, how true it is that when you boil something down--a language, a person, a thing--it's all made up of the same gunk.

I growl and get back to work on the paper for English Literature, clutching the pencil with a dangerous tightness.



*



Early November, and the energy just keeps building. It's all around us, like the quiver of a guitar string--but when you put your finger on it, it doesn't go away. It gets stronger. I volunteer for Bob sometimes, lugging around flyers and the like, but when push comes to shove that's her fight, not mine.

My last class on Friday lets out and I'm thinking about what to do over the weekend, how best to apply myself to our fight. Chris meets me outside--he generally doesn't take part in all this, but that's ok; I love him anyway. It's a chilly afternoon and when I hug him I don't feel as warm as I'd like, but his lips still have a draw and I find a secluded place outside the main traffic flow to find them.

"I've got to go study," he says, finally, sadly.

"You still want to go to the park on Saturday?" He still trumps anything abstract; we want to go take pictures of the ducks for a photography class he's taking. Bob has her community, on campus; I still just have Chris, and he still just has me.

"Of course." It brings a smile to my face.

I kiss Chris again and when I pull away, my breath forms a little puff. He lets me go and I start back for my dorm, wanting if possible to get there before the sun completely goes away and the temperature really goes to hell. Then, someone taps at my shoulder, and I spin around.

Short, stocky, and feral, she grins daggers. "Hi. Melinda Douglas?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm Deborah Monk. Call me Debs, though. Like Eugene."

"Ok," I say, still lost.

"I noticed you at the Moratorium rally. We need to talk."

Debs is just a little scary, coal black with eyes orange like a nuclear fireball. "What about?"

"Were you at the SDS meeting?" I shake my head 'no'; I had somewhere else to be. "It's breaking up. It's all breaking up, but that's ok. They don't know what they're playing with."

"What... are they playing with?"

"Fire," Debs hisses, and the daggers return in her muzzle. "You know what we're going to have to do, don't you? To win, here?" Shaking my head again, I halfheartedly start back towards the dorm. Deborah grabs my arm roughly and pulls me back up the hill. "No, come here."

Ten minutes later, I'm in a warm office--a professor's; Debs isn't a professor, I know just by looking at her. I hope we won't be disturbed. "What is this all about?"

"Just a private, one-on-one informational meeting. It's important that the people in the movement know what's coming. I won't keep you waiting, Douglas. It's war. We're going to have to fight. We're going to have to take it to the streets, to their office buildings. It can't be safe for them."

"Violence?" I ask. "Are you advocating violence?"

"Sometimes you have to clean blood up with more blood. How long do you think we can sit here, and play this fucking John Lennon game, huh? How many acorn trees are we going to have to plant before that fucking scumbag Nixon pulls the troops out?"

"Well..."

She grabs my muzzle firmly and pulls it to hers, so that our eyes meet, and my gaze wavers first. "No. Answer me. I mean it."

I steal a pause from her, a concession she's willing to accept. "Well, ok, just acorns, no... nobody gives a shit about acorns..."

"And these rallies? You really think Nixon is shaking in his boots because a few dozen college kids who can't even vote stood in a big circle and chanted for a bit? Wake the fuck up, Douglas. This ship is sinking, and singing kumbayah isn't going to keep it afloat."

"We can't go to war, though," I say, secure in this position. "King didn't have to go to war, and look."

"Yeah, look," Deborah sneers. "Worked out well for him. You're still believing what they tell you. You think they'd have got anywhere if it wasn't for the riots? If it wasn't for people willing to throw a punch for their cause? Fuck, Douglas, non-violence isn't worth shit."

I guess she's right. I mean, I'd love to think that one man can get the world to stop just by speaking, but... it's the fighting that's in all our imaginations, whether it's Chicago or the Black Panthers. "But what if I agreed with you. How many people do we have?"

"'We'," she echoes. "I like the way you talk. Not many--not yet. We're still growing. But I wanted to let you know that we're here, and when the day comes you're going to have to take up a sword like everyone else."

"When's the day?"

Deb stands up and opens the door for a bemused older man. "Not today, or tomorrow. Not next month, even, maybe. But soon. When it's close, I'll come talk to you. When it happens--oh, you'll know, when it happens. They're trying to control us, they're trying to keep us down. It's like squeezing tighter on a glass bottle. One day it'll shatter, and it'll be their blood over everything. You'll see."

I am not convinced that I will do any such thing, but Debs is off into the night. I don't get home until I'm shivering; Bob puts on some hot cocoa and I arm myself with it, trying to get ready for the coming apocalypse.



*



Now I am a nattering nabob of negativism, whatever the hell that means. There's so much to be negative about that it's not even funny, though. Where even to begin? A week after Debs steals me into her heart, against my wishes, they start talking about a massacre in Vietnam.

Big news. Not just some small thing, the man on the radio says. Hundreds of people dead, women and children. I feel sick, and I spend a few hours punching things. How do people do that? How do people choose to pull the trigger on a baby? What the fuck is wrong with them? Only the thickness of my sole keeps my foot from breaking, though after the exertion of kicking my bed I collapse on it. Bob doesn't bother trying to stop me; she's stricken too.

So there's that. There's that, and then in early December the police (go figure) shoot a couple of Black Panthers dead. For no reason. Like they always do. There's a downside to Sonny and Cher, and the beat going on. I ball my hands into fists and tremble. The next day, I demonstrate; Debs is there, and she nods to me. "This is how it's going to start," she says, self-assured. "They're going to find out that they ain't the only ones who can get ahold of a gun."

On top of this the draft lottery. Chris shows no emotion when they announce it. "It'll happen or it won't," he tells me, holding me as my fury fuels tears. "Always the way." But god damn it, you can't be so complacent. Debs is right--they're trying to control us. They're trying to send more innocent men off to kill yet other innocent men. A whole generation, thrown away, the chaff of Nixon's bloody harvest.

I want to go down to California, but as it turns out it's better that I didn't. The Stones play at a concert in Altamont, which I'd been trying to get into, and everything goes to hell. This isn't Woodstock, it's rough, raw and bloody and exposed. It makes sense that it would be sign of our times. KBRO won't play "Sympathy for the Devil" in the aftermath, so it's up to Bob, spinning it on her turntable as we work until 2 and 3 in the morning.

It has a presence, in our little dorm room. We can see the work of the devil everywhere--yes, even in our words; even in our thoughts. "What do we do?"

Bob shakes her head bitterly and slides the bottle of Absolut we're sharing over towards me. "Accept it. We're not pure, just right. Not the same."

I take a swig, savouring the vodka. "Fuck. Run it again." It's two-thirds of the way through, where he's making the ever-salient point that all the cops are criminals and all the sinners saints. Bob nods obligingly and we start from the beginning. "Damn. Yeah. Been around for a... for a long, long year. Not going away anytime soon. Nope."

"So bitter." Bob smiles, but it's a distant smile. She's kind of pretty, I notice then, but like many people the stress is starting to wear on her. She sweeps her hair back and holds it behind her head. "You're so bitter, Melly." She's allowed to call me that.

"Yeah? Look at you. When do you think they're going to have a gay president? When do you think they're... going to have a woman president? Huh?" I don't give her a chance to answer, though. "Wait. When do you think they're going to have a gay... woman... president?" I emphasise each of these words.

She lets the hair fall. "Soon. Ten years."

"Really?"

Silence. The turntable makes train noises at us. "Fuck. Fuck you and your SDS. Give me the bottle." I slide it back and she grabs it firmly, holding it to her lips for a few seconds, kissing it. "Fuck," Bob says again. "Never, is when it's going to happen."

"It's the system. You can't fix a broken building by repainting it."

Bob slouches. She has a patch of brown fur on her ear that kind of looks like a cloverleaf, at the right angle. The ear wobbles. "You hang out with that Debbie girl too much."

"Debs." I hold my hand out for the Absolut; Bob gives it obligingly. "Like the communist."

"She's a Weatherman, you know."

I sit up straight and stare at Bob. "Really? I guess it makes sense."

"Yeah."

"Maybe they're right." Five years ago it would've been radical--now, it's just another point on the spectrum. "Maybe we need to bring the fight to them."

Bob flicks the turntable off; we've been sympathising with the devil long enough by then. Hours. "You say you want a revolution?" I laugh, finally take my drink, and hand the bottle back. "If you talk... if you want... destruct... fuck, how does it go?"

"When you talk about destruction," I say. "Don't you know that you can--"

"Count me out," we finish together, singing not even the same notes, but close, and Bob grins lopsidedly. "You can count me out. You blow something up, I don't know you. 'K?"

"Do I look like I'd want to destroy anything?"

"You talk like it," Bob points out. "And you don't look like someone who'd pal around with the Weathermen. What do I know?"

A fair question. What do I know?



*



Some good, and some bad, is what I know. Bob and I drink again in February, when the trial ends in Chicago. It's a load off our minds, because it means--we conclude--that we were right all along. It's good to be right, when you're fighting something so huge.

What's happening, I say to Chris, is that the hippies are done. I know this from a couple months ago, at Altamont. "It's about the rebellion now," I say. "It's not the free love anymore, or the drugs."

He agrees, though he's ambivalent on whether or not this is a good thing or a bad thing. He's ambivalent about a lot of things. Like the war, say. "It keeps going," he declares flatly. "It'll end someday. We'll still be here. But it's not just something to protest against."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean it's a real thing. It's a struggle that real people believe in, and real people are dying for. On both sides, of course. I know."

"And they shouldn't be."

"Maybe not." It's as far as he will go.

April is dim. Left on my own, I'd be spending a lot of time in my dorm these days. The Beatles are breaking up--the Beatles, who I've been following for so long. I remember letting them hear some of that rock and roll music; I remember the things we said today. Now they're gone and it's very hard to believe. I'm inconsolable. One of the spaceships that Chris likes so much breaks, and he's inconsolable.

So few bright patches now. He's happier than I've ever seen him when the spaceship comes back to earth, but it doesn't revive the Beatles. Nixon, slimy little son of a bitch that he is, tries to get us into Earth Day--all the while, naturally, dropping god knows what all kinds of chemicals in Vietnam. Like I said, slimy little son of a bitch that he is.

There's a bad moon rising, neither bright nor pretty, as April turns to May. I watch, with Bob and Chris, the news in the dorm lounge as our awkward, fucked-up little president comes on the television and says this: "in cooperation with the armed forces of South Vietnam, attacks are being launched this week to clean out major enemy sanctuaries on the Cambodian-Vietnam border."

"Fuck you!" The shout comes from behind us, and a pear thumps against the wall next to the television. "Who the fuck do you think you are?"

It hits us hard, and then the rage hits us harder. "Is he saying what I think he's saying?" Bob asks.

"He's bringing the troops home," Chris tries to point out. Bob doesn't want to hear it and neither do I.

"Yeah, in exchange for what? He's fucking invading Cambodia." It's at this point, naturally, that Nixon chooses to say that "this is not an invasion of Cambodia," and this time I want to throw something at the screen. "We can't let this happen."

Bob nods, and I hear a chorus of similar inclination. "Agreed." Chris is silent, but that's his opinion and he's allowed to have it. We start putting plans into motion for tomorrow.

Let's get something straight: I'm not really a communist, but May Day seems, a few hours into it, to have a whole lot going for it. Me and a few other students protest outside the dean's office in support of the New Haven Nine. Somebody passing by asks why we care, and here's why: because it's important. Because you can't let the police fuck with people, not even the Black Panthers. You can't let anybody fuck with anybody else.

I leave early, though, because of what happened yesterday. The crowd milling about for the protest against Nixon's decision to invade Cambodia is much larger. Bob and I and (naturally) Debs blend in. We shout, and a few of us have signs, even though by this point I'm sure the tanks are already flattening a few more 'Viet Cong' women and children.

We eventually disperse, though we come back the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that. Bob pulls me away from the crowd by the hand, which confuses me. "Where are we going?"

Chris's Falcon, in the parking lot, far away from the shouting. He looks solemn--bad news, I can already tell. The volume goes up on the breaking news bulletin. "... but police have not released the names or ages of any of the dead."

"What dead?"

"Kent State," he says. "In Ohio. A protest. The National Guard has shot at least a dozen people. They're saying three dead."

My stomach is sinking, resting somewhere around my hips. Bob sounds like she's in a different world. "I heard four, when I went up to get her."

"This can't be happening here," I manage, thinking back two years ago to Patty's incredulity at King's assassination--something which, in retrospect, strikes me as a matter of course. But thinking that the government would kill a civil rights leader and thinking that the government would massacre students is something else. "This doesn't happen in America. It happ--are you sure?"

"I'm sure." Even Chris seems in a state of shock.

"We bring you now this news update," the radio spits and hisses. "The death toll in the shooting that occurred earlier today at Kent State University is now confirmed to be four, with at least eight others wounded..."

I haven't cried for a long time, but I begin sobbing into Chris's chest, then, destroyed; when I wake up the next morning, in my dorm, I don't remember how I got there.



*



That's the catalyst. It turns out that two of the students the National Guard massacred at Kent State four weeks ago weren't even protesting. They were just going to class and then, bam! dead. This is what we give young men guns for, obviously.

I'm still in a state of shock back in Enumclaw. I don't remember having sat for my exams, though I suppose I must've passed them. I don't remember the strikes, though I suppose I protested in them. May is similarly distraught.

"I just don't get it. Not even in Chicago or New York, it's... it's Ohio, for the love of god."

"There's no excuse," I tell May firmly. "None."

"No," she agrees. But it's a hell of a start to our summer, even so.

My philosophy professor spoke at length about the ideals of utilitarianism, which over a few late-night sessions Chris and Bob and I had all but given up on. Now, though, I started to wonder. The bloodbath in Ohio is one of a few that happened last month, but maybe--just maybe--it was what was needed to set things back on their feet.

Things cluster, in threes. It is the end of June; May and I rock together on her parents' porch swing. One, we can now vote, May and I (and everyone else), a power we've never been able to wield before. Two, the much-hated Gulf of Tonkin resolution--you know, the one that let first Johnson and now Nixon carry their affairs out willy-nilly--is repealed. And three, the invasion of Cambodia stops.

Three very great influences. I'm almost in a good mood.

"Yes, it sounds like it," May says with an impish smile. "The world isn't all doom and gloom, is it?"

"No," I agree. "But a lot of it--too much of it--is. How's Rob, by the way?"

"Pretty good." I've only met Rob once or twice, even by now, though they've been dating nearly as long as Chris and I. "We were worried, you know, that he might get called up when Dick, Head of the Country, thought it would be a good idea for Cambodia, but... that Ohio thing, it really scared them."

Dick, head of the country. I laugh and file that one away. "When's the wedding?"

A distant smile, then May stretches out her limbs and leans back on the swing, looking up into the eaves. "I don't know yet. Patty, Patty wants to get married. I... I don't think I do. Not yet, at least."

May will be girlish at sixty. "Have you told him that?"

She laughs and rolls her eyes knowingly. "He's happy with the status quo, I do believe."

"What are you going to do if you get pregnant, May?"

I'm asking the question for myself, not just her. May darkens. "I don't know. A girl in my dorm did, last year. She went to a, uh... a doctor. I'm just worried about that."

"I would be too."

"So far, so good, though. Keep rolling the dice, huh?"

"Yeah."

She perks up again, never able to remain sad for too long. "You and Chris too, huh?"

I grin. It's amazing how the world can fade away; it shrinks to Enumclaw, then, Ohio be damned and to hell with Cambodia. "His parents are going to Las Vegas for a week."

The wolf snickers and pokes my side. "Be careful, will you?"

"You know it," I say. "We're going to be so tired. Sleep for a month."

It's not all physical, though. Feet trailing in a pond, he turns to me on a sun-soaked morning. "You're happier here, I think."

"I'm happy because you're here." That's certainly very true. I have come to appreciate what it means to love someone; to think nothing wasted in passing a wordless afternoon walking in great circles down at the park. The week before last, the Vegas week, we said--and meant--these words a hundred times, each more fervent than the last.

"Sure. But you're a lot calmer when Debs isn't around."

"Debs is Debs." It hardly makes sense when I say it, but I hope it works. "She... oh, you know how things are." I think Chris may be right, partly--but then, sometimes it's not just her spark and my flame. Sometimes it's my spark, too.

"If you say so."

It's undeniable that I'm happier. May and Chris have both said it, by that afternoon. I just don't know what to do with it. If the world is coming apart at the seams, shouldn't I be angry? Enraged, even? In Enumclaw, I return to confusion again.

There will be an answer, the radio tells me. Let it be. Easier said than done. I decide to take my solace in Chris, and he allows me to, quieting. The lapping of diminutive waves against the rocks at our feet says all that needs to be said.



*



I decide to avoid Debs when I get back to Seattle, which is made reassuringly easy by her disappearance. Nobody knows where she's gone, or what she's up to. I spend the time I would've with Debs either listening to music with Bob or wandering around the campus with Chris.

We select the singles we like from the Billboard charts, which are more than willing to cater to us. "War!" Bob shouts, half-drunk, spinning on her heel to face me. "Huh! Yeah! What is it good for?"

I'm not much more sober, myself. "Absolutely nothing!" We giggle and put the record on for another go. Just those first few words, and the great roll of the snare drum. But we can do this because we already believe it. Edwin Starr is not telling us anything new.

Through all of this, Chris is my anchor. He doesn't want to drink with Bob and I, but that's ok; long drives, aimless stretches along the veins and arteries that feed Seattle and draw from her, make up for that. We talk and, finally, I say this: "have you ever thought of getting married?"

"To you, you mean?"

"I guess."

"Sometimes. I think I'll know, when it's right to do that."

"You know. It's been, what, three and a half years?"

I turn to him to say this, and his response is just to lean over, across the wheel of the faithful Falcon, and give me a kiss. "It's pretty amazing," he continues when he's looking at the road again.

"What, that we're still together?"

Chris--Chris--laughs. "No. That I love you every bit as much as I did three years ago. Do you know how stupid we were then? Juniors in high school, thinking we knew everything. Didn't know anything. Still don't."

"Maybe not nothing," I propose.

"Ha." Said like a word, 'ha'. "No, I guess not nothing. Do you think it's been worth it?"

My voice, accustomed to being strident, quiets. "More than worth it."

"Then we've learned something."

Yes. And I'm comfortable. He turns the radio on--it's always been news, before, and now it's music. More than that, it's Neil Diamond. And more than that, even, he knows the words. Knows that if it lasts for an hour, well, that's alright. I wonder how long this has been going on--maybe always--but it's a dream about which I don't ask no questions.

There's justice in the world. William Calley, butcher of My Lai, is on trial. Casualties in Vietnam are at an all time low, and the world--dare I say it--seems bearable, eminently. But it's a mistake to think that--not in these times. Stillness means being caught in an eddy, a temporary respite from the onward rush.

I learn this curled up in Chris's arms on a chilly, evil November night. "I have something to tell you," he says--not ominously, since nothing Chris ever does is ominous, even when it ought to be.

Twisting around to face him, I tilt my head. "What's going on?"

His face, stark but long since to my eyes handsome, darkens. "You're not going to like it."

"You sure?"

"I'm going to Vietnam."

"Oh, fuck." My body temperature drops ten degrees, I'm sure of it. "I thought--oh, fuck, oh--I thought the lottery was... was..."

This is my worst nightmare. And then, he makes it worse. "No. I, ah... I'm enlisting."

I push away from him to get some distance, as though that will make things clearer, as though it's my closeness to him that obstructs my understanding. "What?"

"I was thinking about this... there has to be some hope, some kind of... belief that things will get better. Vietnam... it can't just be massacres and malevolence... it can't, Melly. There's good there, too, there has to be people who think they're doing good, and I can't... leave them to the wolves."

Standing up, I leave him on the sofa, impassive. "You... you know how I feel about this war, Chris. What the fuck are you thinking?"

"It isn't always about what you think. This isn't black and white."

"What's not?" I shoot back, angrily--more angry than I should be. "Gunning down helpless villagers? Dropping napalm on them? Which one are you going to do?" He's quiet. I guess I take this for weakness. "Or are you going to be the one assassinating ninety year old men and telling the papers that they're North Vietnamese operators? Huh? Tell me, damn it!"

"Do you really think that's all it is? War crimes?"

"Vietnam itself is a war crime," I tell him, the coldest fact I know. "Everyone who allows it to happen is a criminal, Chris. That's what you'd be. You'd be a criminal."

He sinks back into the furniture. "If you think that, then there's no hope for us, Melly. If you can't bother to think that there are good and decent and noble reasons for thinking we should be there then... there's nothing more we can do."

I grit my teeth, eyes on fire. "You just want to throw everything away! I won't... I won't support that. I've spent the last year and a half doing everything I can to get us out and now you--you! You want to go in!" Beyond that I'm speechless.

It's an incredibly idiotic thing, going to Vietnam. Why would he do that? He can't. He can't just up and think that suddenly that's ok, that I'll love him for that. Certain things you can't forgive. You don't forgive. I leave the room.

Halfway back to my dorm the tears start. Angry tears, hotter than the sun on your back in August. They don't stop until the next day, when I fall asleep. I can't explain it to Bob until the day after that.

It's even longer before I can explain it to myself.



PART THREE



"Cracklin' Rosie" makes me sob, so, huddled in a corner, I play it over and over again, until the record wears out and I leave the solace of the dorm room to buy another. Bob tries to help, bless her. But she thinks of Chris as a friend--or a boyfriend, maybe. She doesn't understand that he's my link back to Enumclaw, back to the lazy summer of 1967, before everything changed.

December and then early January. It's then that the letters start, and I pick up on a different emotion. "Who the fuck," I ask Bob, abruptly furious, "does he think that he is?

"Read it?"

Instead, I put it in a box. I do not read it, and I don't read the next one that comes, or the next. Each one makes me angrier--like he expects things to continue as usual. Like he expects me to just up and forget that he's joining up to go 'grease' a few dozen 'gooks' or whatever, better, disturbing way of putting it they're using these days. The anger makes the pain much more bearable, until eventually it's all that's left.

In March, the letters stop.

Later in the month, there's a knock at my door. I'm alone--Bob is out at class--and I open it to find Debs, clad in combat fatigues. Last January this sight alone might've left me in tears, but considering the person, it's almost bearable.

"How's it going?"

She shakes her head. "That's not the question you ask."

"What... is the question I ask?"

"The question you ask," she repeats after me, "is what I do when the fighting starts."

"Soon, I imagine, isn't it?"

"Sooner than you think, Douglas." Debs' voice is colder than I remember it, though of course she had never been especially warm. "The revolution is being taken to the streets. We're going to bring it down, Douglas. We're going to bring it all down."

"All of what?"

"Everything," comes the low, serpentine hiss. "Everything. Every wall the Man puts up, we're going to tear down. Every trough the pigs feed from, we're going to poison. Every corner the government cockroaches try to hide in, we're going to put to the torch."

I try to back up and sit down on the bed, but Deborah grabs me roughly. "What do you want me to do?"

"Fight. The waters of this country are going to run red. The rats are going to feast in the halls of the Pentagon and the office of every police station in this country. Do you see? Do you see what I'm saying?" She shakes me for emphasis.

"I... I do."

"Good. I always knew I could trust you. Can you build bombs, Douglas?"

I go white, or whiter than normal. "What?"

"Never mind. Did you take chemistry?"

I try to form words. "I... I haven't yet..." She shakes me again and I yelp. "Stop! What the hell?"

"Sorry." A cursory word, ugly from her mouth. "Alright. Take this, then." She lets me go and pushes a heavy bundle of rags into my arms. "Know it. Love it, Douglas. We're going to have to slaughter them here, before they slaughter us. It's as simple as that."

And she's gone, slamming the door. I feel like crying again. I want to report her, I think, but I don't even know who to. I don't know her last name--she said it was 'Monk' but I found out early last year that, no, that's just a title she's picked for herself. With shaking hands, I undo the rags I've been given.

It's a handgun. A revolver, of a type I've seen before in Enumclaw, heavy, the steel polished to a mirror finish. Another rag contains a bundle of bullets. Out of curiosity I try one in the chamber. It fits.

I remove the cartridge and wrap everything back up, setting it on my desk and curling up on my bed. When Bob comes home I'm still shaking, and she sits next to me, her weight comforting on the mattress. "What the hell happened?"

"Debs. Debs came to see me. It's... I don't even know, she gave me a gun, she... I think she's lost it..."

Bob pulls me up enough that she can hug me and I find myself close to crying again. I don't even know what to do with myself. In the past there had been an element, if muted, of fun--the fun that comes of being part of something as it happens, of having stories to tell to your friends. The fun that comes of being on the winning team.

I was no longer certain that I was on the winning team, though, or for that matter even if there were teams. It was the idea of a true revolution that frightened me--months and months ago, now, Bob had said that I could count her out but, really, I could count myself out too.

She understands. She understands, and holds me, stroking my hair, while Carole King softly tells us that it's too late, baby, now, it's too late.



*



As spring starts to bring warmth down into the city again, I come to think that I am putting my life back together. Debs stays out of it, though last month a bomb exploded in the US Capitol building and I'm not convinced she didn't have something to do with it.

But if it isn't Debs, it would be someone else. There's anger, here, a desire for revenge against oppressors both real and wholly imagined. It's easier to take refuge in music, which I do--though I miss the old feeling that I was doing something important.

Bob and I spin Three Dog Night on her turntable. At first it doesn't really make sense; what the fuck does a bullfrog need wine for? Then Bob's fudge is done, mixed with liberal amounts of what she refers to, generally, as "exotic seasonings." It's how the night will end, we know that already; we're prepared for it, freshly showered and clean and ready to embark on this little journey. Next week we'll do it all again.

Things fall into place, anchored by that great opening instrumental. We don't understand a single word they say, really, but who cares? Throwing away the cars and the bars and the wars, it sounds like such a wonderful idea. Daring.

Our M.O. is to lie on our backs, listening to the songs until we can sing, in a very off-key way, along with them. Three Dog Night is not easy to understand, but they're easy to parrot. It doesn't take long. I turn on my side to face my roommate, giggling in spite of myself, in spite of the fishes in the deep blue sea.

I haven't asked her what she is--a mixed-breed, surely; beyond that I'm in the dark. Her ears don't stick up; fringed and speckled, they make an attempt, sometimes, but always fail, never getting more than halfway. They're patched with the same brown as her hair and neck and they are--I discover from a carelessly exploring finger--very soft. Downy.

She tilts her head at me, then, gives me a curious look. What the hell. In a swift movement I press my muzzle to hers, hitting my mark on the first try, tilting to lock my lips against my roommate's. There's a heart-stopping half second of resistance--from my brain; from her--before she begins to respond and that's enough, more than enough.

Her tongue flickers against my lips and I part them, sucking it into my muzzle, wrapping it with mine, breath whistling in my nose as I feel an arm at my back, pulling me close to her and down, against the soft warmth of her body. It feels like hours, or long minutes at least, before I pull my muzzle from hers, leaving the rest of us a tangle, and she pants, mumbling. "Need to... need to put the stylus back..."

And she does, a raspy voice telling us about Jeremiah all over again, but of course we don't care; our hands roam eagerly and I undo the knot on her nightgown, pressing the two halves open. Her front is a thin strip of white, bordered by a creamy, almost dirty looking tan, except along her sides, close to her hips, where she's dappled like a fawn. I don't know, in that single, crystalised moment, if I've ever seen anything more beautiful.

Fingers. I feel fingers, gliding down my spine and, giddy, I flatten myself against her, merging in another fluid kiss, and this time she doesn't bother to start the song over again. Or doesn't notice that it's ended. The fingers continue, sliding beneath my shirt, cupping about a breast--not roughly, certainly, but not delicately either; I squirm and she takes this as encouragement.

We have moved, a distant and ignored part of my brain tries to tell me, past the point at which I can describe this to May. Her loss. The fur of Bob's tail is thick and coarse, and I stroke it down, towards the tip, smoothing it until it flips again and goes all mussed. I think Bob is starting to make noises now and I do not, in any way, shape, or form, give a shit what anyone can hear.

She stiffens for a half second, breaking the kiss and halting the roaming of her paws. It takes a moment until I realise that this is because her shifting--constant, incessant shifting, until now--has brought my paw to wetness, between her legs. Easy enough. I skirt this once, stretching out a finger, and then I press it slowly into her, and she whines in my ear.

Bob's flesh is warm, incomparably warm, and soft and yielding. I can't move my finger any further and I wriggle it a bit, exploring. There are teeth on my ear as I do this, and then bite down gently when I pull the finger back. Her breath is panting and desperate, hot and ruffling the guard hairs around my ear; all the advice I need. I let my finger dictate its own rhythm, and then I add a second because just using my middle finger strikes me as bizarrely obscene. But it works; something my inept body does works because she makes a strange squeaking noise and goes rigid, chest heaving as though she can't breathe.

I let her calm down and am planning my next course of action when she shakes herself to clarity and bites my ear again. Hard. I yelp, and she grins. "Don't move. Close your eyes." I don't move, and I close my eyes, and I can feel movement, movement abstracted and stretched out and transformed by chemicals in a most perplexing way. Then there's a hand on my inner thigh, pressing my legs apart. And the hot breath that had been at my ear. And then, a tongue.

I start to shout something but a paw clamps over my mouth and I obligingly shut my muzzle; the paw disappears. The tongue doesn't; long, and velvet-soft, and probing, she obliges me with a few passes before I start to feel it press its way inside. My fingers are digging into the sheets now, looking for purchase, because Bob doesn't let up, pressing her nose, cold at first and then warming quickly, into my crotch, letting her tongue seek me out at its leisure.

The world becomes much smaller, smaller than spaceships on the moon, smaller than Washington state, smaller than the campus, the dorm, our room. It wraps around us, like a heavy cloak and then--then, without any warning, without any abbreviation, it collapses on me with all the force of a B-52 raid, and I want to scream, this time, but I can't; she's clamping me again so that I let loose the howl into her paw, and then a second because she doesn't stop and I'm helpless, like a fairy-tale princess.

Things are a bizarre-if-happy blur after this, but we wake up the next morning sharing a bed, fur blending together. And we rise at the same time, meet each-other's eyes, and burst out giggling.



*



I don't try to blame the marijuana, and she doesn't either, and it felt so good neither of us have any qualms about repeating it, and so for two weeks now I've been in a relationship with my roommate, who happens to share a gender with me.

I don't know how this happens--of course. And I don't know where it will go--of course. I feel very regretful, as though I've cheated on someone--but Bob is such a tremendous comfort, and she does look so lovely. All the same, we're friends, not lovers; the relationship never even really gets started before we agree to let it drop.

The last day before we go home for the summer, I tell her I think I might not be coming back in the fall. She nods softly. "Go find yourself?"

"Maybe," I say. "I can't hang around here, I don't think. World's getting too crazy for a backwater conservative like me. Small-town America; you know?"

"Toppenish ain't much bigger," Bob retorts, but she knows she can't convince me and instead gives me a sad smile. "I hope this isn't... this isn't about us, is it?"

I grin--infectiously; she returns it. We haven't showered yet, from the night before. "No. No, I think not. I just... I just..."

"You're worried you're making the wrong choice. It's ok. I understand. I really do." Bob sits cross-legged on the bed, still grinning. "You have to do what's best for you and... well hey, who knows, maybe you'll come back here and we'll get married, huh?"

I give her a warm hug and don't want to let go, ever, but the constraints of time force my hand. "Maybe."

And it's possible. There's the faintest tinge of regret colouring my thoughts. I've been thinking about Chris more. I still resent what he did to me, but it's not as fierce a resentment; not as strong a condemnation. It's possible, I suppose, that it's not even his fault as much as it's mine. Possible.

Enumclaw. I try to explain this to my old friend. "I am lost. I don't know what to do anymore."

"'Anymore'?" May repeats the words as though it were a secret of some kind. "If you ever knew, that's a leg up on me you have. But what do you mean?"

"There's too much confusion." I find myself looking at the glass of root beer like it, itself, is confusing. "I can't get no relief."

May quirks an eyebrow. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about."

"What it is, I think... I think things are changing. Not for the better, either. You see on the news, all the bombings, the shootings... it didn't used to be like that." Or maybe it did, but over the past few days I've been racking my brain and come to the conclusion that no, it wasn't.

"You're real big into that, aren't you?" May realises. "All the anti-war, anti-government..."

"Yes!" I shout, my frustration coming through. "But that's not what it's supposed to be. It's supposed to be about change, and... Christ, you know, all this 'come on, people now' stuff? I believe that, for god's sake."

"I wasn't ever that gullible," May declares. "Stayed clear of it. Mostly. You and Chris, though, you didn't. How's he doing, anyway?"

I drum my fingers along the Formica. "I... I don't know. He enlisted, uh, went to Vietnam. We had a big fight; I haven't heard anything from him since." It's weird to realise I haven't told anyone about this; so near as they're concerned, Chris and I are still destined for the walk down the long aisle.

May tilts her head. "You hadn't said anything... I'm sorry."

Silence, long silence, and I tap my foot to Creedence. "I haven't said anything to anyone. It's hard to talk about. I keep thinking, you know. What if I did the wrong thing? How is he? Where is he?" Who'll stop the rain?

May and I have been friends since the world started, twenty years ago. She slides off the other side of the booth to sit next to me, put an arm around me gently. "I really, really am sorry. I'm... I'm sure he's ok, if it helps you. He's too smart to get killed over there." As though that matters.

Her arm is still around me later that day, sitting on the porch swing again. We've been sitting on it long back into yesterday, the 50s we hardly even remember, the glorious, open years of the Beach Boys and long summers that never seemed to end. I've told her my plan.

"And you don't know where you're going?"

"Not clue one," I say, evenly. "I'm going to see if there's something out there worth seeing, you know?"

"I don't know," May admits. I squeeze her tightly.

"And neither do I. But I can't go back. Not right now, anyway. I don't understand what anybody says to me. They have these plans, these Revelation plans and they all want to see the Four Horsemen riding up Main Street. It's what they're living for. They're looking for blood. I wish I'd seen that, May. I wish I'd seen where it was going."

"None of us are that lucky," the wolf tells me. "Can't see the future. Can't go back to the past. What does that leave you, Melly?"

I want to say something concise and pretty. I want to say "the present" and mean it. But I can't; that's a lie. I have no answer, none at all.



*



I've packed a satchel. By now I'm just south of Portland, on I-5. It's August, I don't know the day, and I feel like I might have been hitchhiking forever. I'm giving up for a bit, letting the traffic pass, when a battered T2 microbus pulls to a wheezing halt next to me and a man leans out the window. "Goin' somewhere?"

"Yeah. Well. Not somewhere," I tell him. "Anywhere."

"Don't mind a little grass, do you?"

I shake my head. "Nothing I ain't done before, mister."

"Well, hop in if you want." I do, and we ease off the shoulder. "I'm Daniel Becker, folks call me Dan, or... Danny... anyway, whatever you want. What are you?"

"Mindy. My last name... I don't know, I think it's my parents'."

"One of them, huh?"

"Not quite. I dropped out of college; they didn't approve."

"Mm." He has a joint rolled, and lit, and he passes it to me. It's been a few months, but I take a quick pull and hand it back. Danny Becker is a hippie--the best word to describe him. There are clothes and bottles of water and Jack in the back of the microbus--that's all there is in the back of the microbus, in fact, I think.

He's got long hair and a scarred muzzle. He's not wearing a shirt, and it lets the muscles show, though a bit of a gut spills onto his shorts. At first I think he's a grey-brown, but looking at our surroundings, no, that's just ash and grime and a few tens of thousands of miles on the road.

The pot helps a bit; I'm calm as we cruise through Salem, and then Eugene--I don't know if May will be back there yet, but I wave anyway. "Where are we going, anyway?"

"I don't know yet," Becker says with a shrug. "I got my money I saved up when I was in 'Nam, and... well don't you know I suppose I'm going to drive for a bit. You been to New England?"

"Haven't been anywhere but Washington, Oregon, and California," I tell him, and this depresses him so much that he passes the joint back again. He's not the kind of person I would've tried to associate with in Enumclaw or for that matter at the University, but he's also not a bad fellow, at heart.

We pull off the road somewhere in northern California; I don't know where. The sun's going down, and he puts together a couple of quick sandwiches, drowning them in a few swigs of the Jack Daniels. Then he stretches theatrically. "Well," he says, "I think it's bed."

"Goodnight," I say quietly. The stars are clear tonight; I wonder if anyone's on the moon.

"You can have some of it too, if you want. Wouldn't want you to feel left out."

He's kind of bear-like, Danny Becker is, and it's not too hard to go to sleep next to him. In the morning, we're back on the road, this time with a new agenda.

"Phoenix. Got a couple friends there we should pick up first. They'll want to see New England, too."

It takes a couple of days. Phoenix is painful, an intolerable, oppressive heat that we arrive in when the sun is doing its best to make us all just keel over and die. As much as I've not really cared for the bus, especially as we came down through southern California, at least it had windows, and air blowing by outside. Phoenix doesn't move.

Becker's friends live in an unassuming second-floor walkup. Artists, it's plain, when we open the door. Ian Simone and Wayfarer Jeffs, tall and elegant and a rich chocolate hue. They look almost like twins, standing next to each other--an effect that is magnified by the intoxication I first meet them under.

Their studio is a brilliant world of colours, paintings taped to the wall atop other paintings. It's all terrifically abstract, and somewhat garish, and I want to sit down. "Put this on your tongue," Ian tells me, handing me a bit of paper. I follow his instructions with the strip, which tastes slightly bitter, regarding him strangely. I've never been told to eat paper before. "Drink this," he also tells me, a few minutes later. It's just water. I think.

Danny and Ian get to talking, and this leaves me with Wayfarer--who tells me, charitably enough, to call her Wayfarer. It's no easier to remember, and I feel somewhat dizzy. She reaches towards me with fingers that are very, very long. Her hand stops moving; the fingers extend, like antennas, until they grip my hand and pull it off. My hand is gone.

I experience a moment of sheer terror; it flashes away for a few seconds of respite, then returns as Wayfarer Jeffs begins to shimmer in front of me like the travelling globes in a lava lamp, shifting back and forth until she dissolves. The wall doesn't want me to, but I curl up against it, in a corner, keeping my back secure.

I have many more fingers than normal.

Then I have none.

Before my eyes--I tear them away from my hands, which are an endless source of torment--the paintings slide down the wall, turning into a liquid, frothing puddle in the gutters of the walls, running together and spilling out, spreading in thin tendrils.

"It's ok," says the banana I find myself to be holding, without fingers. And then it is ok, the banana is right, speaking to me in a yellow sound. It is ok. It's very ok. All's right with the world.



*



We make room in Becker's bus. I try to help, but the tyres are round, very round--rounder than round, I tell them. Everything in the universe becomes very clear to me and this is immensely reassuring, immensely comforting as we wind up on the road again, speeding eastwards.

I am myself again by Amarillo.

We pass around another joint, and another. I don't know when we get to Tulsa; I don't know when we get to St. Louis. Before the day--a day, anyhow--is up we are gazing upon the beach in north New Jersey. It's worth a communion; Ian offers me some more acid, and I take it.

The Atlantic is hot, boiling hot, hot enough to cook things, like the jellyfish that pulse and burble at the water's edge. Waves lap across my feet until I realise--know, beyond a doubt--that they're not coming in, they're going out, they're coming from the land, out into the water. Then they stop, for awhile. When the sun rises for the third time the next morning the waves are reconciled; they cling to my feet as I walk, and to Danny's feet as he walks in front of me, except his feet lift up each time in a cascade of sparks that fade in a merry lavender sort of tinkle.

From New Jersey up into upstate New York, the quiet grounds of Woodstock. The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, cracked and warbling a sprightly Japanese tune. Virginia. Ohio, with West Virginia uncomfortably sandwiched in between. Virginia again, and North Carolina, and South Carolina, and West Carolina and West West Carolina until we are in Mexico.

From Mexico to Texas to Oklahoma, and from 1971 to 1972 to 1973 to maybe 1977, or 1987, 97, I don't know. We don't know. We don't know what the time is, what the day is, or the hour. We slide down the strands of America's frictionless spiderweb, now swerving onto another spoke, now tending towards the hub.

What scares me, thinking about what is probably last month but could be yesterday, is that I remember none of this. I don't know what I'm doing, where I'm going, where I am. They only have two tapes for the car, one of them the Beatles and one of them the Doors. Music fades into the background. My life fades into the background.

I have long hair, straight and dirt-greasy. I give up on my nails, and they too are unkempt and strangely-coloured. In between acid droughts we entertain ourselves with sex; I have nothing to compare Danny against except Chris (Chris? I think in a panicked nightmare, now and then, and it takes me awhile to remember who he is). In narcotic haze he is large, and amorphous. A few times he has me screaming as though my soul was being ripped from me with the sheer joy of it; mostly it is unmemorable, and the following day it might not have happened at all.

That is the part that wears on me. Sometimes when we stop for the night I go off by myself, and open my satchel, and unwrap the gun that nobody else knows I have. I wonder what it might be like, just click, lights out children! and I never wake up again. It isn't a prospect that frightens me.

Sanity wraps its fingers around me, occasionally. Then I tell myself I won't use any more acid, but the answers are so clear to me when the very trees can whisper oaken wisdom to my bended ears, and the temptation--not addiction, mere temptation--is very strong.

I think back to I don't even know how many years ago, which terrifies me. I think about Bob, and sticky unconfessed nights in a college dorm room. And I think about May, hanging upside-down from a metal pole, or grinning around a pear, or laughing at high school me and my high school crush in a dingy burger shop right off the main drag where the boys roll their muscle cars down and try to woo us.

More than this I think about Chris. I miss him. I miss his laconic advice, and the feel of the never-relaxed muscles of his arms. I miss his completely unflappable demeanour, and his rarely-won smile, and the moving stars, far up above me, that he told me were satellites.

I wonder if he got back from Vietnam. I suppose he did, because most people seem to, but then I wonder where he's gotten to. Is he back in Enumclaw even now, waiting for me to knock at the door? Is he tinkering on his radio, asking people in Tennessee and the Dakotas and British Columbia if maybe haven't they seen a young woman, about so tall and with eyes that look like slate, but warmer?

I wonder if he misses me, if he's found someone else, if he lies awake at night and tries to find out what the world means. I wonder if maybe I haven't seen him, driving by the other way on a lonely stretch of Interstate. But it's something else, when I get my brain back in Texas.

I wonder why I did what I did. I wonder why I told him that I couldn't love someone who stood up for what they believed in when it wasn't what I believed in. I wonder if he knew that I couldn't mean something so stupid, so juvenile, so immature.

I unwrap Debs' gun, finger the shiny bullets, and I wonder what I'm still doing alive. I haven't earned this. I haven't done anything worth living for. It's an indeterminable date in what I can only imagine is 1974, and all I have to my name is a transistor radio, a portable cassette player, six half-used batteries, a hundred and six dollars... and the means to end my whole existence.

Click. Lights out. Since I don't dream anymore, it's just like going to sleep.







I don't return to the microbus that night, a humid and clingy night in August. I don't return that night, or the next morning; Danny Becker looks around the bus, and around the general area--I'm in a diner, watching this. He gives up after fifteen or twenty minutes, knowing I'm gone, and they get into the bus and drive away. Chris would not have done this, I tell myself--aloud; it puzzles the waitress.

I buy a blank tape at RadioShack and fill it up.

It's September 2nd, 1974, the day I decide to leave Danny and his merry pranksters behind. I'm in Corpus Christi, Texas, and I walk out onto a pier the most secluded part of the harbour I can find, which is not very secluded, but it serves. The tape is Otis Redding, over and over and over again, on both sides.

I sing along with it. I haven't been singing for a long time, now--years, perhaps; my voice is cracked and doesn't want to work right. So I rock back and forth, humming quietly to myself sometimes, singing in a whisper at others. I eat once a day, at night, in the diner I watched Danny from.

Sittin' in the morning sun and, yes, I'm still sittin' when the evening comes. All of September 2nd, and September 3rd, and September 4th and 5th. Nobody knows where I am, I think; nobody knows who I am. Nobody wants me, here. It's peaceful--not quiet; too much noise in a harbour for quiet. But peaceful.

What I want to do, watching the tide roll in, is to figure out what life is about. I had thought it was about understanding, and then I had thought it was about struggle, and for a bit over last year and the year before that I thought it was about chemical enlightenment. Maybe it still is these things.

But they haven't worked for me. I've got nothing to live for, and it looks like nothing is going to come my way. This depresses me for a day, and then I turn it on its head.

Perhaps, I reason, it isn't that nothing is out there. Just that it's not going to come to me; I'm going to have to go to it. But I don't know where it is. It's a big country; that much, I seem to remember from riding in Danny's bus. Presuming it's even in this country. Maybe it's in another. Or the moon.

The sad truth hits me in the gut. "We've lost," I say to the aimless waves that tickle the jetty.

We have. We've lost the struggle we'd been fighting. Metaphorically, some of us (for Debs, literally, I imagine). Either way we've lost. The old order is still in power and when push comes to shove not much has changed since we started fighting it. So we're leaving Vietnam--Chris is right; there will be another one. All we've done is stage photo opportunities.

It is worse for me. I had a chance for something else, something much more important than any silly student organisation. I had a chance to be with Chris, who I have idolised... well, it's been eight or nine years, now. I had that chance, and I lost it. It wasn't even a gamble, it was just... throwing it all away.

I don't sit anymore; I lie on my back, feel the wood creak beneath me. At least the sunlight feels good; I'd started to worry that there wasn't anything worth anything in this godforsaken world. I let it cover me like a second skin, bleaching my face as I rest, and hum, and listen. Wasting time.

How much time? How much time should I waste? It's good for twenty minutes over coffee in the diner. I wish to god May was here with me. May could help me puzzle it out--but no, I'm left to my own rather flimsy devices. Anyway, I don't know how much time I have left to waste. If it is wasting; perhaps this is what I'm meant for, sitting and being plagued by loneliness.

I toy with going somewhere else, looking at a map in a gas station. Could I walk to Houston? I think. Should I? Another question entirely. Really I'm back in the drug world of the microbus, except without the microbus and without the drugs.

September 9th, my tape breaks. That puts a damper on my plans; my voice isn't good enough to carry Redding without accompaniment. I sigh, tossing the tape into a dumpster and returning to my pier. A little, I'm surprised nobody has asked me what I'm doing, at the end of this week. There can't be that many homeless girls going crazy in the last gasp of summer, can there be?

I feel the weight of the gun in my satchel. "Lights out," I whisper, but it's a hollow threat. I can't kill myself, at least not yet. It doesn't feel right--not threatening. I mean, if tomorrow a bus were to come and take me away, I wouldn't mind it. But I can't pull the trigger.

Out of options. I walk up to the highway, satchel slung over my shoulder, and I stick my thumb out. It's 1971 all over again, and I don't have a clue where I'm going. So lots of places. Corpus Christi up to San Antonio. San Antone to Dallas, Dallas to Jackson, Jackson to Memphis, Memphis to Little Rock, Little Rock to Dallas again.

Sometimes people just want company; sometimes they want a little more. I'm resigned to either eventuality, because damn it, I'm looking; so I get used to the taste and the few seconds of shame. Nothing comes my way, and nothing continues to come my way through October, and November.

And I keep trying, because it's the only thing I can do.



*



Snow is falling as my latest courier pulls into a truck stop. GRAND JUNCTION, it says, ELEV 4580. He doesn't want to take me any further, but at least the truck stop is warm. I order a coffee and retreat reclusively to a booth in the far corner of the restaurant.

I'd been gallivanting about the South, and I hadn't really given much thought to what I was going to do in the snow. Freeze to death, apparently, unless I could find a suitably accommodating truck stop everywhere I reached the end of someone's courtesy.

Different music than I'm used to. Someone sings about Bennie and the Jets. I'm high up, it's snowing outside, and the radio is wrong, so very wrong. It's hard to think of a more alien place, though I try. The moon, I keep coming back to. Are we still landing on the moon? Nobody I've asked has known.

This song, I've heard before. "They say the Oregon rain will get you down," the singer admits, but he longs to be there. For all we make fun of them, Oregon's close enough to my home to be worth admiring. I long to be there, too, and when he says he feels how lonely and forgotten he could be it touches a chord, even though the song is not about me.

I close my eyes to grab a few minutes of sleep, and when I open them again there's a man sitting across from me. He smiles. "Nice nap?" It's an interesting voice, almost musical.

"You know how it is, on the road." I venture to say he does not. The man is well-dressed and well-spoken--a business traveller. He has to be. "You take what you can get, where and when you can get it. Right?"

"Right. I'm sorry, I couldn't help but notice you--are you alright?"

The one thing I'm not--this, I'm grateful for--is so cynical that I immediately try to figure out what some newcomer's angle is. Maybe he doesn't have one. "I'm ok," I say, and make a see-sawing motion with my hand. "It's been a long couple of years."

"Couple of years?"

"I've been travelling." It's close enough to reality to be useful. Two weeks ago I told a trucker the truth--that I was a spaced-out druggie, looking for truth wherever she could find it, and he let me out the next time his truck came to a stop.

"You look," he observes, "like someone who would be happier with a shower."

"To be honest," I say to the man, who does seem genuinely friendly, "I don't have the first clue what I look like. I have to take your word for it."

He nods gently. "Well, I tell you what. I've got a motel room booked here, waiting out the storm... if you'd like, I'll lend you the use of my mirror and my shower. If not, that's ok. I understand. But it's awfully cold outside, if you're thinking about moving on."

"You want something in return?"

"Not really."

I feel my lips curling up in a smile. "Well, alright, I suppose."

One look in the mirror and three showers later, I'm sitting in the easy chair of his motel room and he's sitting on the bed, legs crossed and looking like a yogi. "Better?"

"Much." I hope nobody from the hotel complains about how much grime has been washed down the drain. My hair is still too long, but I feel--and look, for the most part--like a civilised human being. "Is this where the small talk goes about names?"

"Could be. I'm Ron, Ron Carter."

"Melinda Douglas. Thank you very much for all this, Ron. I... " A pause, searching for the easiest way to say it without using the actual words. "I understand something about quid pro quo, so if you want me to... not... put my clothes back on that's... that's alright..."

Carter, a slender ruddy fox who looks exactly as I've always imagined Richard Cory must look, smiles sadly at me. "How many times have you made that offer, now."

I suspect he's going to decline it, so I don't feel too bad about a bit of melancholy. "A bunch, by now. I don't have much else to give, Mr. Carter."

This time, he actually laughs. "Ron, Ms. Douglas. I suppose I would appreciate your offer, dear, if it didn't seem so vulgar, somehow... but I'm afraid you're rather lacking in some important parts."

"Are you gay?"

"Guilty as charged," he grins. "Hope it's not a problem."

"No! No... no," I say, and shake my head. "I am too." Well, only sort of, but it's a point of solidarity.

And Ron brightens up at it. "Great!"

We go back to the truck stop for a more proper dinner. I've been explaining the last few years, with only an abbreviated story of college itself, an experience I haven't decided on the best way to explain yet. "And I started hitchhiking again back in September, and now I'm here."

"What got you on the road in the first place? You're from... where did you say?"

"Seattle." I sigh heavily, and drain my coffee. And then I start talking--rambling really, starting so many years ago in high school. I tell him about listening to garbled voices in Hawai'i; I tell him about going to school and falling in love not just with a man, but with an idea. I tell him about the feeling of power, and progress, and justice. I tell him about being doubled-over and incapacitated with grief, hearing about the deaths of my fellow students in Ohio. I tell him about snapping and telling the only man I've loved that he was a criminal because I couldn't see any other way to the world. I go on, and on, and on, and he just nods.

"You don't want to go home," he says, when I've been quiet for a minute and I think I'm done. "I mean, maybe you do, but that's not it. You want a reason to be alive."

"Yes," I practically moan. "Where is it?"

"It's in this." He raises up a mug of coffee. "Everything. You know I figure death is probably just like going to sleep. Everything's black, and you don't wake up. The trick to wanting to live is the trick to looking at life and anticipating opening your eyes again. It doesn't have to be big, you know, like a kid on Christmas Eve? Nah. It can be small. Just wanting to see the sunrise, or hear the ocean, or talk with a friend on the telephone. All you have to do to make life worth living is to want to be alive."

"And if you don't?"

"Then you don't," he says. "No great crime."



*



But perhaps I do. When the storm clears, he asks me if perhaps I don't want to stay with him for a little bit, back at his home. The day before yesterday, the thought of even having a home would be pretty outrageous, for me, but now I am on my way to San Francisco.

It's a crazy place, Ron warns me. He lives in Oakland and commutes down into the city over the metro, but even Oakland can't escape the restless pull of the Bay in the mid-70s, 73 and 74, stretching into 75 over champagne as we sit, and talk. Ron is a good friend, of a kind I haven't had since leaving Enumclaw.

San Francisco is crazy, and more than that it's crazy in the kind of way I had hoped before arriving here to avoid. People still talk about the Zodiac in hushed tones, and last summer it was the Zebra killings, again, random slaughter. And the SLA, and the Weather Underground... it is a terrifying, bloody thing. I try to stay out of it as much as I can.

Like Woodstock (five years ago--no, more. I shudder), I don't regret this decision. Ron says he doesn't want my money, so I hide it from him in the books of his library, working in a restaurant off the Interstate highway. More of it I save, for reasons I can't put my finger on. Perhaps it's that I want some kind of stability, even as my radical past reaches out to me from the grave and warns me that money can't do any such thing.

I stayed away from the GLF at the University of Washington, but they're around me constantly now. Friends of Harvey Milk, like Ron, they gravitate towards the western edge of the world. A few I see only for a night; a couple of hours, a couple of drinks. A mere handful stay longer; lengthy romance implies stagnation, and the community here is nothing if not vibrant.

He has an interesting circle of friends, my roommate. Some of them are flamboyant, travelling from across the country to gather here and raise their flags in proud defiance, but most are like him--intellectuals, fleeing from the 1960s as it catches us in its death throes. I've missed out on a lot, riding in the microbus--among them the departure last August of that blight on our country, Richard Nixon. I was against him from the start.

I do sort of regret not being conscious for that.

What it seems to me, though, is that the country is tired. Tired, deep down into its bones, reeling from the sickness and the unsettlement and the strife of Vietnam--now slowly drawing to a close--and Kent State and the SDS and the drugs. It comes through in the music, the Jackson Five on the radio starting up with the delirious tarantella, beckoning us to dance.

When I think of dance, though, I think of Van Morrison, and the battered, barely-working radio I have with me in my satchel, and a July afternoon dead nearly eight years now. I don't want to dance now. Like the nation, like my generation, I am tired. Exhausted, in every way. Somehow in the intervening decade, the world has ceased to be mine. It's somebody else's now, the torch has been passed.

I wish it hadn't been. I wish I still wanted to sing along with the radio. I wish the Beatles were together again, that Bobby Kennedy was still alive, that the moon-shot was still an aspiration, not a footnote. I hum Otis Redding to myself, wandering out on a long walk out into the Bay. Gentle hands fall on my shoulders; I turn.

"Hey, Ron. You follow me out here?"

"I did. You look forlorn."

"I want to give up," I say. "If I jumped off this pier, I'd be dead before you could get the police, isn't that so?" It isn't a threat, more a question; he knows that.

"It is. You see that?" March, the fog is thick across the water; it's impossible to see what lies there. I shake my head.

"I don't."

"Facing west from California's shores; inquiring, tireless, seeking what is yet unfound I--a child, very old--over waves, towards the house of maternity, the land of migrations, look afar. Look off the shores of my Western sea, the circle almost circled; for starting westward from Hindustan, from the vales of Kashmere. From Asia, from the north, from the god, the sage, and the hero; from the south, from the flowery peninsulas and the spice islands..." He takes a lengthy pause, a lengthy breath. "Long having wandered, since--round the earth having wandered--now I face home again, very pleased and joyous." His voice drops to a whisper I have to strain to hear. "But where is what I started for so long ago? And why is it yet unfound?"

"Who is that?"

He squeezes my shoulders warmly. "Walt Whitman."

"Did he have an answer?"

"I don't think so."

"Do you?"

"No."

I turn around and look at him. "I have to go."

"I know."

"Now."

He just smiles. "I know. Do you want my car?"

"Can I pay you for it?"

"Sure," he agrees. I rummage through my satchel and pull from it a wad of bills, press them to his hand. I don't know how much exactly; twelve, thirteen hundred--more than the beat-up Corvair is worth, but I'm not just paying him for the car. He knows that. "Melinda. There is something you should know."

"Yeah?" We're walking back, back down the pier, tightening our coats.

"I used to do a lot of business in Seattle. After you told me your name, I recognised you."

"Am I missing?"

"You are. But you didn't seem like someone who wanted to be found."

The conclusion is half right. "Didn't know where I was."

"Do you now?"

I shrug. The starter turns over quickly; we've said our goodbyes without saying the word itself; my noncommitment is answer enough. But I have an idea--for once, an idea, following the signs, trawling Berkeley for one last glimpse of yesteryear before pulling onto State 24, through the Caldecott Tunnel and north across Suisun Bay, to Vacaville and Red Bluff and Redding, to Weed, skirting Shasta's watchful gaze. Past the lumber mills of Roseburg and Albany--the things that I have known before--to familiar names, Chehalis and Olympia and Steilacoom and Puyallup.

Pulling into the driveway of a home I fled without a real goodbye, killing the motor and waiting. Gathering courage. The solid thunk! of the car door makes it impossible to turn back.



*



"Oh... oh my god. James!" I guess it's a Sunday; my father's not up yet. Mum holds the door open, beckoning me in. "Oh, where have you been?"

"I've been... I've been travelling," I say. "I told you I was going to do that..."

"But you didn't write, or call, we--we phoned the police. James!" When my father sees who it is, he accelerates, thundering down the stairs and taking me in a big, endless hug.

"I'm sorry for everything." The words sound so small. "I'm sorry for all the pain I've caused you and all the worry and--"

"It's ok," my father says, and hugs me again until I think he might not ever let go. "It's so very ok... I'm so glad you're home. We thought we weren't ever going to see you again. You know, all these... all these serial killers, the thought of you out there... alone..."

"I know." I do know. "It was reckless and immature and I'm so incredibly sorry, daddy, I... oh god it's good to be home, though."

"Jesus fucking Christ! You're not dead!" May, who lives in an apartment closer to where the shops are, now, is much less circumspect than my parents are. "Where have you been, Melly?"

"I've been a lot of places. I think I have been in every state of the Union except Hawaii and that doesn't hardly count. But I don't remember it. Can I sit down?"

"Oh, yeah, here." May grabs a couple of Cokes from the fridge, opens them and hands one over. "We all thought you'd gotten eaten by a bear or stabbed or something."

"Nothing that exciting," I tell her. "Nothing that dangerous. Just... well, you know. You read Tom Wolfe, didn't you? Just me and three other people in a bus... with a lot of acid... then I met a gay man and moved to San Francisco... then I came here." I grin, and as I do it hits me that the last time I did that I was probably facing this very person, in this very town. "Not much."

"Acid, huh?"

"Not worth it," I say. "Well. You told me that about sex, too, didn't you? I mean it this time."

"Did I say that? Huh. My mistake. Gay man, Melly?"

"Rescued me at a truck stop... I was his roommate until the day before yesterday. How about you, though? I already know too much about my life, I want to hear about yours."

May is ageless. Except that the dingy apartment is nothing like her parents' house, I can't tell that any time has passed from her smile. "Oh, I haven't done much. I graduated. Degree in biology."

"Biology?"

"Yeah, I work in a real estate office." Hesitation flickers over her face, threatening the spell. "For now, I mean. I just needed to stay in town a little while. Hold down the fort until you got back... now you're here, I can go make my fortune somewhere else, right?"

"Right."

I hope May will. I hope she'll go on to do something with her life even more than I hope I'll go on to do something with mine. She has a bizarre, perverse respect for what I've been doing over the past three years that I can't fathom and don't approve of, at first. Then I think what the hell, so I'll call it an adventure.

I try to get caught up with what's been going on. Jake and Patty have been married for a year now, I learn; they're expecting a baby in the fall. Jeannie Pratt, who went to Woodstock, moved to Portland and nobody's heard of her since. I scrupulously avoid the elephant in the room.

"What are you going to do now?"

"I don't know." I hope for an answer.

She doesn't disappoint. "You'll find something, then. First thing you need is to get back up to Seattle. That's, what, another year or two? Then we'll talk. Whatever happens, we're going to have to do it together. Obviously."

Obviously. "It's been a long time, May."

She punches me, not hard, just enough to make me wince. "Shut up, shut up. So you're a bit behind. You've got the stories, I've got the advice. That's how we are, Melly, sure it is. You'll go on and catch up, and maybe I'll try to get some stories of my own, right? You think I can dance?"

"May, you can do anything you want. If you want to do it."

"I'll think about it."

She pulls me to my feet and we go for a walk, down streets my feet haven't touched in ages. The diner's closed--two years ago, May says. A lot has changed, the wolf admits. It doesn't quite defeat the purpose of my return, but it does make me sad, and we end up on the bumper of the Corvair, hunting for a signal on the radio, looking for the past sneaking through an FM broadcast.

Paydirt. The Animals. An electric guitar; May and I lock eyes, begin singing with the same husky voice about a house in New Orleans. We both remember the song, the last year of Junior High. It's enough to bring us back; when it's over I hug her, laughing. The next song is the Beatles, slower and more melancholy; I don't need that, click the radio off and stand to leave; I've done enough thinking about yesterday as it is. May leans over and whispers something in my ear.



*



Once there was a way to get back homewards, I tell myself, and I knock heavily on the door. The same response I've gotten elsewhere--shock, surprise, a religious oath. "Please, please, do come in." Chris's folks' house looks like it did the last time I saw it. "It's such a surprise."

"I know. That's my fault."

"Bygones are best left bygones," his mother says. "You know there's some stuff of yours, up in his room?" I shake my head and she leads me there. My heart stops--it looks like five years ago, here. A time capsule. "We've kind of kept it pretty much the same..."

"Oh, god," I say--this time it's my turn for the oath. "Did he--when--what?"

His mother's face is blank, and then she perks up, realising what I'm trying to say. "Oh! Oh, no, no. He's... he moved to Albuquerque. But you're actually lucky, he's... back up in town, getting a few of his old things." Albuquerque. I force myself to start breathing again as she hands me a letter, written on military paper and with a censor's approval.

"Melly," it begins. "There's no reason to be long, here. I hope someday you'll get this, if you come back home. Forget everything else I ever said, I just want you to know that I love you. That's it. That's all that matters." I read it again. And again. It's kind of hard to do now, because it's blurry.

I take it down with me and go up to the park, and sit, and think. It's a warm day, just like four thousand other warm days I've seen. People stroll slowly on the tarmac, talking to one another. You can hear the light whisper of young lovers; the laughter of children who will, in ten years, be like I was before everything happened. 'Everything' is probably the right word. At least, I can't think of another.

If I close my eyes, who would know the difference? So I do. The bench beneath me creaks; someone sits next to me. I keep my eyes closed, and it could be anyone. "I see you got my letter," the person says. "It took a little bit."

"I didn't leave a forwarding address."

"I guess that was to be expected."

"I should've." I open my eyes, finally. Chris has changed; he looks older now, a little more worn--like me, and unlike May. He's added some muscle, and it looks good on him. "Wasn't fair to you. I was being kind of immature... I never read your letters."

"Not a bad idea. They were... somewhat harsh. I wasn't at the peak of my own maturity, you see. I wish I could unsend letters; I said some things I regret."

"That's hard to believe." I smile, a little, and he smiles back, which is encouraging.

"They weren't mean things on the surface." A sigh, the dredging-up of loathed memories. "But they were things I said because I knew they would get to you. I'm glad you didn't read them. You might not have come back if you had."

"Doubtful." I take a chance and lean on him, leaving the bench to support most of my back. He doesn't shy away. "How was Vietnam?"

"Bad. I mean not ghastly, not--uh, how did you call it? Criminal? Not that. But there was nothing I could do there, either. And I saw some things I rather would not have. On the whole, I should've stayed in Seattle. I was hoping you'd be there, when I finally got back to campus. Bob stayed on an extra year."

"Did she?"

"Yes. She's in New York now, last I heard. You missed out on some excitement."

"I kind of ran away from excitement," I point out. "That was the idea."

"Debs got arrested. She blew up the ROTC office."

"Go figure," I say. Go figure, he replies. "Albuquerque?"

"Computers--that's where it's at, now. I took a class about computers up at Seattle, sparked my interest. You know?" I don't. The sun is gently easing its way towards the west, though in the summer, here, it will be awhile until darkness. "I waited a long time, Melly."

I sigh. It had to be coming. "Is there someone else, then, I guess?"

"No. I just mean I waited a long time. It's not 1971 anymore." I know that. More than anything else, I know that. "I don't think we can just pick up the pieces and keep going. It's a different world; we're different people."

I swallow heavily, tears beginning to creep back into my vision again. On the way up, yesterday, I had tried to tell myself that this was a possibility. "Is that it, then? I mean, for us?"

There is a beat and a slight ray of hope; he puts an arm around my shoulder. "I don't know. There is a very large part of me that wants to think that it isn't, right?" I don't say anything, and after a while he starts again. "You know... after everything that's happened, after all this time, I still love you." He chews on his lip and repeats it. "I still love you. I'd do anything for you, Mel."

"I know. Or I guessed. And I feel the same way, Chris--really. I came back, after all. It took three years to wake up, but... but I came back."

"You came back," he murmurs in echo. "And when you came back, I happened to be here."

"Fate," I suggest.

"Perhaps."

I take his hand, and squeeze it tightly, and then I stand up, pulling him to his feet, remembering how tall he is. I manage a bright look. "I tell you what," I say. "Have you heard of a movie called Dr. Zhivago? It's playing up in Auburn tonight, if you'd like to go."

Chris smiles and just barely stifles a quiet laugh. "I have always wanted to see that." I'll have to thank May later. We walk back to his car, a battered early '60s Ford Falcon with a fading coat of paint that was new when Sergeant Pepper was. "I've heard it's a bit long, though."

So have I, but--and call me crazy--I've just the slightest hunch it might be worth it.
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