Andy Michael Pilgrim flipped the tears from his face as he snapped his head across the wet pillow. The anxiety generated in his mind created a sense of motion in his body that felt like his bed was cresting and ebbing like a boat on a stormy emotional sea. Andy sprung up from the bed, cupping his face in his hands. How will I handle the leaving?
Tension pushed Andy back onto the bed. Anxiety brought the walls closer. Keeping his eyes closed, he slipped deeper into his thoughts. ‘When I left to spend that summer in Georgia’, Momma cried. Andy rolled over in his sweat. ‘Now, I can’t imagine how she will react.’
He opened his eyes and faced the window that beckoned about four steps from his bed. Andy kicked the forest green sheets and maroon comforter off his sweat-covered body.
He felt for the remote on the night table. The light from the TV screen penetrated the darkness. What Andy saw was one of those old black and white movies. It was a scene where a young boy was leaving home for the army. The young boy felt his friend’s mother horror when she read the telegram from the army telling her about the bravery of her son, and how he died defending his country. Now, the negligible chance of the young man’s survival was evident in his face. The young man’s face on that television screen reflected how Andy felt.
Gradually, Andy drifted back into a restless sleep. The roar of a Brooklyn City bus, speeding down Gates Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, startled him. A young person of the sixties shouldn’t be scared, but he was. After all, he remembered sitting on the stoop in front of the Brownstone and a bullet streaking over his head. Andy ducked. If the bullet were meant for him, ducking wouldn’t have done any good. At this moment he ducked, but fear was still biting into his being.
The television showed a lover’s quarrel bringing conversation into the room. Now, the soldier and his sweetheart looked at each other and realized this could be the last time they could see each other. The soldier kissed his girlfriend and then walked out.
Andy turned off the TV and turned on the radio. The soul station, with the famous call letters WBLS-AM, was playing. The announcer said the weather was typical of late spring: hot, humid and in the nineties. What caught Andy’s attention was the last thing the announcer said, “President Lyndon Johnson ordered an increase of American forces in Vietnam.” Andy thought the Vietnam War would dissolve as a fairy tale of heroism on the cover of Time Magazine. Now, it was up close and personal. Since he got the letter that required him to appear at the military draft board for his physical, he’d spent many sleepless nights worrying about his future.
Andy flipped his legs over the side of the bed. Time passed. He heard another bus, gliding past his family’s apartment, finally squeaking to its regular scheduled stop at Gates and Nostrand avenues.
Andy stared at the window, walked over and gazed at the four-story building at the corner, adjacent to Mr. Possum’s candy store and about a half-block from his own apartment building.
In five hours he would face the military draft board. It was either finish City College of New York or board a military jet to Southeast Asia. Here’s the Vietnam War with all its bitter reality.
He turned and walked to the bed and plopped down. He rolled over on his side and faced the wall. The street light shimmered, danced and made vague images on the yellowish gray wall.
He swayed with the rhythm of his thoughts, “Vietnam, Vietnam, I don’t want to go!” Still it was time to dress and catch the subway to his appointment with the draft board.
Andy stretched, jumped up and walked to the bathroom. He switched on the light, turned on the warm water and looked into the mirror. He leaned forward and stared. His skin was a deep Milky Way chocolate and his eyes a light water color brown. His hair was very soft, curly and parted on the side. His lips were dark, but had a reddish tint. His look was exotic with a feel of the West Indies. Hi gaze revealed something strange. ‘This isn’t me…my eyes, my nose and mouth are mine, but it’s not me.’ What stared back were blood-shot eyes, caused from a lack of sleep.
He put the wash cloth into the warm water and squeezed the soap lightly. On the radio the Drifters sang “Up on the Roof.” Andy knew some of the words and continued to sing as he walked back to the bedroom.
The song faded out. Andy walked over to the radio and turned the knob creating an eerie yet comforting silence. He walked to the bedroom and put on his clothes, which he’d ironed and laid neatly on the chair. He dropped four quarters and eight dimes into his pocket for his rides on the subways today...