The True Myth of Friendship: Part Two Cont’d.

Continued from Part Two…

Part Two: Billy the Kid, Bill the Buddy, continued…

The 1960s and 1970s. I clearly remember arriving at my fifth grade class on a chilly Friday, November 22, 1963 and seeing my teacher Mrs. Rhoades standing at the front of the classroom, weeping. I soon learned that President Kennedy had been assassinated.

Our class was sent home that morning. Our school was closed for several days the next week. The death of our president, his stately funeral procession and the swearing in ceremony of Lyndon Baines Johnson became the national focus. During this time we as children looked to our parents for meaning and for security. We looked to our friends for a sense of community. Billy and I were close friends throughout the distrssing times we lived through.

At home with my family, I watched as the TV networks replayed Abraham Zepruder’s 8mm film of Kennedy’s assassination. I also saw Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. The black and white images of our TV set seemed to add to the grief we were feeling. I began to sense that there was evil in the world. With curious apprehension I wondered what would happen next. I would sit with my father and watch the news every night.

The international tension of the Cold War was brought home daily via the nightly news. The ongoing events of this stand-off war between the U.S. and the USSR were presented by newscasters Walter Cronkite and Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. Their reports detailed the U.S.’s escalating involvement in the War. The U.S. sought to contain the encroaching U.S.S.R. Communists moving into Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. This escalation began in the early 1960s. U.S. combat troops would be deployed in 1965.

At this time Billy and I were in seventh grade. And though I had no thought at this time that I could later be drafted, I did see that my father took a special interest in the newscasts. As we sat on the couch together his right leg would shake up and down nervously, the motion reminding me of my mom’s sewing machine stitching my pants.

When Billy and I entered high school, we veered off into different directions. Billy, a technology kind of guy, was involved early on with an automotive internship work program. This program allowed him to leave school early and go to a local auto shop and learn about cars. Although Billy, now called Bill, was somewhat lethargic about school studies and strongly opposed to sports, when Bill did focus on something he would put all of his thought, energy and money into that project. He would become a stream of consciousness, in any direction, that nobody could interrupt. One day his mother once told me, as Bill flew out the door on another self-directed mission, that Billy “was like the wind”. I knew what she meant.

High school for me, on the other hand, was about music and sports. I auditioned for the concert band during the summer before our freshman year and I won a seat in the first trumpet section. I also joined the cross country team and began running that same summer. I liked the new friendships these activities brought with them.

Though Bill and I were separated during school hours our social lives were entwined with our church’s teen’s group. It was in this group that we thrived emotionally. We could flirt with the opposite sex and spend endless hours in Bill’s car, just driving around so that we could just hold hands with someone sitting next to us. On the weekends, if were weren’t in church or in Bill’s car we would be at John’s Pizzeria drinking Cokes and gobbling large amounts of salty, greasy pizza.

The tables at John’s Pizzeria each had a flip chart jukebox. On the music menu were songs by groups like the Monkees, the Beatles, the Turtles, the Buckinghams, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, the Association and the Platters. Of course, everyone had their favorites. Bill would play Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business and the Monkees, Last Train to Clarksville.” I would play the Turtles “Happy Together”, the Association’s “Cherish” and the Moody Blues “Nights in White Satin.”

Our church’s teen’s group met at John’s Pizzeria after every Sunday evening service. It was a time and place like no other – a teenage haven. While the rest of the world was splintering into factions and the words of the Beatle’s “Revolution” blared from our table speakers, we met and talked about the things that mattered to us: who we liked, about our church, our parents, and our part-time jobs and about our school. Bill and I felt safe inside this circle of church friends.

Outside our close-knit world, momentous events marked our high school days: Martin Luther King was assassinated, April 4, 1968; Robert Kennedy was shot and killed on June 5, 1968; the first humans landed on Earth’s moon, July 20, 1969; Woodstock took place on Max Yasgur’s farm, August 18, 1969. And, the secularist album “Jesus Christ Superstar” would soon be released.

In 1969 I was informed by mail that I had to register for the draft. I was seventeen. Apparently, the Vietnam War needed more blood to fill its ranks. Bill, because of his school/work program, was not asked to register. After filling out the Selective Service card, I handed it to my mother. She worked at the counter of our local Post Office. As I walked away from her, I began to feel the draw of the world pulling me into its many conflicts. This unsettling feeling hid itself behind a mask of false bravado that I wore only briefly. I soon realized, though the television news didn’t show it, what being drafted could mean for anyone drafted– body bags, missing arms and legs, scars and tremendous loss. A fear grew inside me. A fear I had never known before. A fear of someone waiting to kill me; I could be chosen to step in front of a bullet.

On December 1, 1969, I nervously watched the televised draft lottery with my father. This draft lottery would determine who would be sent to Vietnam. Birthdates were given numbers from 1 to 366. These numbers, put into plastic capsules, were mixed in a large glass jar. A hand would reach in and select a capsule and then someone would read the number to the watching audience. The first number/birth date pulled would be the first persons to serve in the military; the next number would be the second wave of inductees and so on. The drawing would go on until 195 numbers were fished from the bowl. My father and I waited and waited, talking about anything except Vietnam. When the seemingly unending process finally concluded, my number would not be one of the 195 chosen to serve. I breathed a great sigh of relief. My father relaxed back into the couch, his knee finally still.

In 1971 Bill and I would graduate from high school. Bill was planning to go off to a technical school to learn about electronics technology. I would go off to Moody Bible Institute for a teaching and music career. But before we took off for more schooling, Bill and I would travel out west to Yellowstone National Park and the Rocky Mountains. In doing so, we would leave behind the volatile ‘60s and our umbilical youth. In it’s place: a “Lean-On-Me” friendship. This friendship would become the fuel for an exhausting road trip.

(If you wonder why a girl like me hung out with Bill, doing all that we did together, I can only tell you that the story is unfolding out before you. Before Sally there was…)

Part Two: Billy the Kid, Bill the Buddy, to be continued…

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