Flight of the Dodo - 7. Chapter 7
Ed is given a chance to prove he can be as normal as everyone else.
Seven weeks after I came home from that rehab place down in Des Moines, I received a letter from the President of the United States. I read the letter at least five times before I realized it was a draft notice. I was supposed to report to the Seattle Armed Forces Induction Center in two weeks with enough clothing for three days. It didn’t say anything about needing money, but I thought that might have been an error and decided to take enough money also for three days. It also said failure to report as directed could result in various criminal actions. I thought about talking to E3 and Syl, but I remembered on my birthday E3 said I was almost an adult, so I needed to start being more responsible for myself. I remember asking if I could have a car and he said, “I don’t think we can go there. I’m sure the Department of Licensing would want to know about your mental status. I’m sure they wouldn’t permit you to have a license.”
“Yeah, crazy people can’t operate dangerous equipment,” I think I said.
“Ed, you have to accept that people like you have to be treated differently by society,” Syl said. “Steps have to be taken to keep your people from running amok. If necessary, the insane must be put away. You should thank God every day that we allow you to continue living in our home and not in some state facility.”
So, I asked myself, why did I get a notice to report to the induction center? I suspected if I went to E3 he would say that I should report as directed because it was obvious the Selective Service System had made an error and it would be corrected at the Seattle Armed Forces Induction Center. We kept all the suitcases up in the attic, but to get to the attic I had to open the trap door in the ceiling of the laundry room and pull down the ladder. Obviously, I couldn’t do that while anyone was home, so I had to wait for a time I was the only one home. I faked a stomach ache on Sunday and after everyone had gone to church, I went up in the attic to find a suitable suitcase for three days of clothes. I didn’t like going up into the attic because there were lots of big spiders up there and I don’t like spiders. I had to go even though I didn’t want to. I found a small suitcase and hurried out of the attic. I put the suitcase under my bed. The money situation was a bit of a problem because I wasn’t permitted to have an allowance like the other kids in the family. I guess E3 and Syl decided their crazy son was too irresponsible to have any extraneous sums of money on hand. Erika and Emmett had allowances, but E4 didn’t because he was still too young. E4 wasn’t a baby, but parents have to draw a line somewhere and if they are not giving their crazy son money, why give their youngest money? I figured I could borrow the money from Erika, but she would want to know why and then she certainly would tell E3 or Syl why I wanted money. Of course, there was that trust fund thing and it was depositing money into my savings account at the bank, but that would require going to a bank branch without E3 or Syl knowing about what I was doing. So I decided I could take some money out of Syl’s household allowance mug. There had to be at least fifty dollars in there. I figured fifty dollars should last me at least three days considering I didn’t know what kind of restaurants I was going to be taken to.
I faked a stomach ache on the day I was to report. Syl told me to take care of myself because she had to go to the church to help with the setup for the Christmas rummage sale even though it wasn’t even Summer, yet. After I filled my toiletries bag, I went to the household allowance mug in the kitchen. I was surprised at the amount of money in the mug. I took out one twenty, two tens, three fives, and five ones, plus six quarters and five dimes. Not being good at arithmetic, I didn’t know if that added up to fifty dollars, but decided that it had to be at least close to that amount. I hated not being able to do arithmetic, but with an IQ of 73 and being crazy in the head, I could only do so much. There were not any pennies because Syl always put them in my orange piggy bank that came to me on a Christmas when I was little. That was before I was really crazy. I was only a little crazy back then because Syl hit me all the time. I had the letter in my coat pocket, so it was only a matter of walking up to the bus stop and waiting. Luckily, I didn’t have long to wait.
I was a little nervous about this obvious adventure I was going on, but as I thought about what was occurring I decided it was an adventure, a real adventure, not like those crazy adventures I had been on those times I was crazy. I wasn’t going to the Ivory Coast or the Arctic. Probably, I was going to be sent to Vietnam to prevent the dominoes from falling into Australia. I wondered if I could be an effective soldier considering I didn’t know how to play dominoes. I’d seen psych aides playing dominoes and wondered if that was the same or similar to how dominoes was played in the Army. Well, all I had to do is put my mind to it; and, then I remembered I had forgotten my all drugs at home. I said a little prayer that my mental issues wouldn’t be discovered until I was discharged at the end of my service in the Army.
I wasn’t positive where the Seattle Armed Forces Induction Center was exactly other than on Fifteenth Avenue West, which meant it was south of the Ship Canal. Although I had the map of Seattle memorized, all the streets down there had names and I didn’t know what names went with the number in an address. As the bus went by it, I pulled the cord and got off at the next stop. Unfortunately, I was on the Crown Hill Flyer and the next stop was way down by the Darigold milk plant. The walk back to the center was nearly half a mile. The closer I got, I more nervous I became. It wasn’t the kind of nervousness that would cause a panic attack because I now knew if I was going to have a meltdown. I was always nervous in unknown situations. I got to the door, opened it, and saw a man in a blue suit sitting at a desk.
“May I help you?” he asked.
“I received a letter saying I was to report here today at eight o’clock in the morning,” I said.
“Let me see your letter.”
I took it out of my coat pocket and handed it to him.
“Okay, you’re a little early, but I’ll see if we can start the process anyway.”
He put his phone to his ear, pressed a button on the console, and after a moment he said, “Steve, I’ve got an early arrival. Could you come up? Okay, thanks.”
He hung up his phone and pointing across the hall he said, “You can put your bag in that room.”
I did as he told me and went back to his desk. I saw a tall man coming down the hall and walked right up to me. He said, “Come with me and we’ll get you processed. Are you a draftee or an enlistee.”
“I received a letter, so I suppose I’m a draftee,” I said.
“Ever think about going into the Air Force or the Navy?”
“No, I figured I was going to be put in the Army,” I said after we stopped at two elevator doors.
“Since you’re early, you’ll have time to take a test to see what branch of the Armed Forces you’d be better suited for,” he said as the elevator door opened.
“That is nice. I suppose those who are coming later won’t have that chance,” I said as I stepped into the elevator. I turned and saw there were only two buttons: 1 and 2. The man pressed the 1 button.
“No, they’ll only have two choices, Army or Marines, but if one quota is filled they’ll probably end up in the other.”
“My father was in the Marines in the war. He was in the Pacific. He was wounded. Lost his left hand on Iwo Jima. He was a Captain. He is an attorney now.”
“Want to follow his footsteps?”
“No, he told me if I ever got the idea in my head to go into the military to go into the Air Force or the Coast Guard. He was quite emphatic about me and my brothers never going into the Marines or the Navy.”
“I can understand where he’s coming from,” he said as the elevator door opened. “I was in the Army Air Corps in Europe. I was a waist gunner on a B-17 until I lost my lower right leg.”
“I’m sorry for you.”
“That’s okay, kid, you don’t have to worry about anything like that today, unless, of course, you end up in the Marines or Army and run a machine gun in a helicopter door. Okay, come in here with me. Take off your clothes down to your undershorts. After you’re undressed, go through that door over there and they’ll start the examinations.”
I went through the door and there was a man in a white doctor’s jacket who told me to take off my underwear. I thought about that for a moment and decided it must be part of the process, so I did as he told me. It was a basic physical: chest x-ray, turn and cough, listen to the heart and abdomen with a cold stethoscope, do a deep knee bend from which I struggled to get back up (the medical person marked my paper), knock my joints with that hammer thingy, and then I went back to where I had taken off my underwear and put them back on. Then I had to sit at this desk while another man asked me what were obviously psychology questions. I gave him answers that I thought sounded normal. Now, wasn’t the time to be crazy. At the end he marked something on my chart and gave it to me. Considering the man who had me do the deep knee bend from which I couldn’t get up from, I began to wonder if I had said something inappropriate or indicative of being crazy. I was then taken into a room where I had to take off my glasses and read letters on a piece of paper on the wall first with my right eye and then with my left eye. Of course, I did very well with my right eye, but I could only see the two letters under the big E with my left eye. The person giving the examination kept telling me to go further down the chart, but I kept saying I couldn’t see it. He asked why the vision in my left eye was so bad. I told him that I had a skull fracture and my optic nerve was bruised. I told him Dr. O’Brien said I’d always have to wear glasses. He put my glasses in a device that he looked through, and then he marked my paper and gave it back to me. A man at the door to the dressing room took my paper and told me to put on my clothes. I came out of the dressing room and a man who I think was in the Air Force (light blue shirt, dark blue slacks, very shiny black shoes, and a blue and silver rank insignia on his sleeves) led me into a room where there were ten school desks in two rows.
“I’m Staff Sergeant Kelly and I’ll proctor you exam. Sit here,” the man said pointing at one of the first desks. “You will now take a test to evaluate which skills you have so that after you complete basic training you can be directed to the correct Air Force technical school to train for your future job in the Air Force. Here is your answer sheet and test booklet. Put your name and Social Security number on the test sheet. You have forty-five minutes to complete the evaluation. Begin.”
It certainly wasn’t any sort of test I had ever taken. Most of the questions were like: Given the choice would you buy a red or green car? Or, If you saw a small dog in obvious distress in a lake, would you attempt to save it whether you knew how to swim or not? Plus, there were these diagrams that I had to determine which ones matched. Finally, there were a bunch of arithmetic problems with big numbers, but I didn’t do those. I completed the test, turned around, and said, “I’m finished.”
“Very good, you finished early,” the man said. He came up and took away my answer sheet and test booklet. “Remain here while I process your answer sheet.”
There wasn’t much for me to do, so I just tried to imagine what it was going to be like being in the Air Force. I thought everything was going quite well and then the man who had me do that deep knee bend came in and went over to talk to Sergeant Kelly. Then he came back to me and said, “Come with me. We need to do some evaluations of your knees.”
He took to a part of the Center where there was the x-ray machine. He had me get up on the table and then he took a bunch of x-rays of my knees in different positions. Then he took me to another room and told me to wait for a doctor. It took quite a while and I was beginning to worry that I wasn’t going to get into the Air Force. Finally, a tall skinny balding man wearing one of those white doctor jackets and khaki trousers came in and went around the desk and sat down.
“Have you ever noticed pain in your knees at times you play sports?” he asked.
“I don’t play any sports because I’m so uncoordinated no one picks me to be on their team, plus my mental illness affects my ability to pay attention,” I said and then realized I may have said too much.
“What mental illness?” he asked sounding angry.
“A few months ago down at Western State Hospital and they confirmed my psychiatrist’s diagnosis of early-onset schizophrenia.”
“Why didn’t you tell this to the psychologist?”
“He didn’t ask.”
“Well, that certainly is a typical answer,” he said, still sounding angry. “Do you have a psychiatrist we can call?”
“Yes, Dr. Roberta Kaiser,” I said as I took out my wallet. “Here is one of her cards. I carry them in case I miss my bus or get off a the wrong stop. Also, I have to call her if I experience things that I’m aware are crazy. She has given me instructions on how to recognize the times I’m being crazy.”
“Stay here,” he said.
I knew I had said too much. It was quite a while before he came back. He handed Dr. Kaiser’s card back to me and a new draft card.
“You’re 4-F,” he said. “You know, all of this could have been avoided if you had advised your draft board of your mental illness, bad knees, and being legally blind in your left eye.”
“But I wanted to get in the military and go fight in Vietnam,” I said. “I hoped to be a hero like my father was in World War II. He was an officer in the Marines.”
“Well, that’s never going to happen. Go home, son, and try to live a good life.”
And that ended my attempt to get away from home and be a hero in Vietnam. Unfortunately, Syl was home when I got there. She looked really pissed. I was afraid she was going to hit me.
“Where have you been?” Syl asked.
“Down at the Seattle Armed Forces Induction Center,” I said.
“You know, I got a letter from the President of the United States telling me to report for a physical to determine my eligibility to enter the United States Armed Forces.”
“Did you steal money from the mug?”
“The notice said I needed to take clothing for three days. Although it didn’t say anything about needing money, I figured they must’ve forgotten to include that, so I took money from the mug. I brought everything back. Oh, and, they gave me a new draft card. I’ve been rerated to 4-F. I don’t exactly know what that means, but I think I can’t go in the Armed Forces. I took a test to go into the Air Force, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do that either. I’m a little sad about that.”
“Ed, what are we going to do with you?” Syl asked. “You keep acting like a stupid dodo. It’s as if you don’t even try to act intelligent. All those years of trying to knock some sense into your head seems to have been totally fruitless.”
“E3 said I need to start acting like an adult and I thought going to the Induction Center would prove I can do that, but I failed horribly. Honestly, I think I’m lucky I didn’t have a meltdown. I forgot to take my meds with me to the Seattle Armed Forces Induction Center.”
I gave her the money and went to my room where I lay down on my bed. My mind went blank and I concentrated very hard so I’d not think of anything, but I couldn’t stop thinking how crazy I was to think I was acting like a normal adult by trying to get into the Air Force. And then I started thinking about being in the Air Force and being a fighter pilot. They would surely see that I had the intelligence to fly fighters over North Vietnam. Maybe if I was good enough, I might win a Silver Star like E3 did at Tarawa during World War II that time he was a Lieutenant in the Marines. Then I wondered if Air Force fighter pilots flying over North Vietnam won Silver Stars for heroism. Then I remembered the time E3 told me that after he won that medal he was promoted to Captain because the Captain of his unit was killed at Tarawa. I think E3 told me that Captain won a Navy Cross posthumously, which means his next of kin received the medal because he was dead. I remembered asking E3 why the Captain won a Navy Cross even though he was in the Marines. E3 said that the Marines were part of the Navy. That didn’t make any sense to me, but I didn’t say anything because I was beginning to think there was something wrong in my head and barely anything made sense to me.
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