Seeing Through Walls

Winter 1967. The Vietnam war was in the news every night. High school classmates headed to DC to protest during lunch hour. I caught rides once or twice a week, standing at the periphery of a huge swell of bodies. I was determined to follow the Rev. Martin Luther’s King’s non-violent protest teachings. So instead of yelling “Nix on Nixon!” I shouted “Peace! Love!” and handed out flowers to cops and soldiers.

shadow Dionysus's flower power giftI hardly slept at all. Studying for the AP classes, the terror of having friends send to war, and undiagnosed manic-depression tortured me.  

One morning, I walked into school and a friend rushed up to me, “Dixie! This week is a moratorium! No classes! To observe the war. Seminars on a lot of topics. Like peace-making, non-violent protest, the history of protest songs and all sorts of stuff.”

I couldn’t believe the teachers had come up with this idea. But yes, maybe it was in response to so many of us asking during lessons about Moby Dick, “How is this relevant? There’s a war on! We could all die tomorrow!”

A few friends and I had got together the previous month and produced an underground newspaper. It was on mimeograph paper. I’d drawn a cartoon of the statue of liberty, wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt, her arm lifted up with fingers in the familiar peace gesture instead of holding a torch. One classmate had written an article on why the Vietnam war was a losing proposition. Another drew in between the margins, imitating R. Crumb, people trucking along. One guy’s Mom was the secretary of the PTA. She had a mimeograph machine in the basement of their McLean home. We went over after school one day and ran off 100 copies.

We all dashed around the following day, handing out free newspapers. As I passed the teachers’ table in the cafeteria, carrying a sheaf of the underground paper, Mr. Ward called out, “Don’t we get a copy?” I was stunned. A teacher? Wanting to read an anti-establishment newspaper? “Sure!” I responded and handed my last copies to the grinning teachers.

Many years later, I was a student teacher at Langley High. I realized those teachers had been in their late 20s and early 30s when I was a teenager. I sat in the student lounge with them, laughing about the underground paper and our earnest efforts to end the war.

But it was a moratorium! Students handed out black arm bands. My brother came up to me and whispered fiercely “You freaky little hippie! Don’t even say Hi to me in the hallway.”

So when I came upon my brother and his fellow Young Republicans, I merely smiled and gave them the peace sign. They chanted, “Yay, Nixon!”

I entered the classroom that was usually for American Civ’. A visiting lecturer stood at the podium, talking and talking. I stood there for ten or fifteen minutes before realizing I understood not one word he said. I wandered into the girls’ room and splashed cold water on my face. My cheekbones jutted out, I’d lost weight again. No matter how much I ate, sometimes two dinners (one at home, one at my friend’s house), often finishing friends’ lunch room meals, the hyperactivity kept me bone thin. I went back into the crammed-full hallway. Student were meandering from one seminar to another.

My friend Michael sat on the polished floor, strumming his guitar, singing “I Wanna Go Home.”

I joined him and sang along. Then I realized there was no wall behind us. It was a clear window, overlooking a beautiful garden.

Wow, it’s so cool how they built that atrium overnight.” I stared down into the lush forest.

What atrium?” Michael stared at me with his bright blue eyes. He looked where I was staring.

I pointed at the wall. “Right there. Trees, a creek, birds.”

Wow, Dixie. What are you on? I want some!”

You know I don’t do drugs! Dammit!” I stood up, angrily and walked away from my pal.

Of course there was no atrium in the middle of Langley High. The tiled wall was as sturdy as ever. My mind had gone off on its own, sending me into visions of natural beauty.

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