Ohio (1st installment of 4 parts)

It’s ridiculous the way the soldier that stopped their van was dressed, Cheryl thought—fatigues neatly pressed and creased, boots gleaming like black glass. These clothes were meant for killing, bleeding, crawling through mud and barbed wire and in all likelihood, dieing. Why would such clothes need to be neatly pressed and creased?

The soldier in question was standing with an Ohio State Trooper at the roadblock—chatting amiably as behind them, a long, olive-drab convoy of trucks filled with soldiers carrying rifles, slowed at the intersection as they turned the corner and headed down the road into Kent.

“Road guard”—“pulling road guard”—meaning to stop traffic at an intersection or crossing point while troops moved through—Georgie (probably dead now) had used the phrase in one of the letters she had received while he was in basic training.

Since she had arrived in this town to do a concert with Crosby, Stills and Nash, Cheryl had seen troops—Ohio National Guard—daily and it had her thinking almost constantly about her boy friend whom she hadn’t heard from in almost 2 years—“missing in action” she was told and presumed dead—she told herself.

As the last truck rounded the corner, the State Trooper waved the van Cheryl, Graham Nash and others were in, on through. The driver, who was a local, knew an alternate route so they didn’t have to slowly follow the convoy all the way into Kent. It was late, the musicians and crew had been working hard all day preparing for the concert at Kent State Auditorium tomorrow. Supper in a small town restaurant famous for its chicken 18 or 20 miles from Kent, had been great but everybody just wanted to get back and go to bed.

As they entered Kent driving down Main St.—the searing stench of tear-gas was again on the breeze. Driving by the main campus, dozens of police cars and fire-trucks were crowded onto the campus streets surrounding a large structure that was in flames. The driver identified it as the Kent State University ROTC Building—set on fire by students protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. As they drove past on their way to the hotel, Cheryl could see National Guard and local police arresting and detaining numerous protesters as they cheered the burning building. As they were waiting at another road block a jeep roared past. Cheryl was startled at how much the young driver looked like Georgie. It brought to mind pictures he had sent home of himself in fatigues and dress uniform. The jeep driver had the same build—same searching, thoughtful eyes that warmed her soul and aroused her passion. But this guy had a higher hair line than Georgie.

She thought also of Georgie in several snapshots taken of him on campus back home when he was a student. Her favorite was one of him deep in concentration, sitting on a bench in front of the Humanities library reading the English romantic poets. Georgie loved the romantics and used to read Wordsworth to Cheryl in the evenings. She was shocked when he announced at the end of the semester he would be joining the Army.

The CS&N concert the next evening was poorly attended but went well performance-wise. Graham had arranged for her to play a long, intricate solo to give some of the other band members a moment to catch their breath during a long set of sustained numbers. The audience—small due to the unrest in town—cheered their appreciation for the girl guitarist—something few concert-goers had seen in those days.

What with the local rioting, vandalism and violent protesting of the last week, no one was surprised at the small attendance. A curfew had been ordered and there was talk of martial law.

End 1st installment

Note to reader: you can stop here and return for the next installment tomorrow or continue reading and finish the entire piece–all 4 parts.

Begin 2nd installment

During her solo Cheryl stood at stage left front and could clearly see the faces of the audience in the first several rows. She thought for a moment she was hallucinating when she again noticed a boy, Georgie’s age, build, hair color and those same warm, thoughtful eyes, in the front row, staring directly into hers. In those eyes she experienced some sort of strange connection. Her first thought was “God—everywhere I look—another Georgie.” She realized he looked almost exactly like the jeep driver she had seen yesterday—yet she hadn’t the slightest attraction to the other guy—very unlike her reaction to this boy. She spotted several critical differences. This guy was wearing a silly, bright yellow sweater—it was the first thing that caught her eye—Georgie never wore yellow. This guy parted his hair on the left, rather than right and there was an adorable curl to his hair that Cheryl rather liked—it flashed through her mind she wished Georgie’s hair was curly.

When she finished her solo, the Georgie look-something-alike boy applauded the longest and loudest. After the show, because the audience was small and enthusiastic, most of the band members went out into the lobby to chat with fans and sign autographs. Normally Cheryl wouldn’t have but this time she was hoping to meet the boy with the curly hair—and she did.

It was as though she already knew him—in some strange sense she felt she did. After a few moments of initial, banal chatter, the boy, whose name was Kevin and a student at the Stark campus of the Ohio University System, tugged at Cheryl to move away from the crowd down a hall toward a conference room area. Cheryl let herself be led into a corridor of dim, recessed ambient lighting—she could tell he had done this with other girls. The more time she spent with him the less he reminded her of Georgie though his eyes continued to have the same haunting warmth and charm. With the rustle and murmur of the crowd at a comforting distance, she took his right hand in hers, pressed it against her cheek, looked directly into up his eyes and slightly parted her lips.

With a sensual confidence that seemed to flutter between gentle control and innocent romantic wonderment, he took both her hands in his, kissed her fingers then pressed his lips to hers, immediately bringing his tongue into her mouth.

Cheryl involuntarily quivered, clutching him as much in passion as the need to steady herself against the spinning of the room. With soft moans and catches of breath she subtly encouraged him to explore her body with his hands.

He suddenly stopped and softly suggested they go to her room—it somehow sounded like both a respectful request and a command. Cheryl said nothing, but took his hand and wordlessly led him the several hundred yards across the parking lot to the hotel. As they left the building she caught a glimpse of a distant Graham Nash watching them with a gentle if sad, smile.

In her room, the two of them, naked in street lamp light filtering through the window, devoured each other. The last man she had made love with was Georgie over 2 years before—her lust was endless, savage and outside her control. Cheryl lost count of the orgasms, eventually passing out, exhausted. She felt as though her insides were reduced to slumbering jelly.

The two lovers woke during the night and chatted. Cheryl told him about the soldier he so resembled. “Hah,” he laughed—“that’s my brother—I didn’t know A Company had been sent here.” Kevin went on to tell Cheryl he was an ROTC student himself and was considering the Army as a career. Kevin also remarked how he had not been simply attracted to her as he would to any attractive girl but felt some sort of mystical connection. Cheryl could tell Kevin was not used to making these sorts of comments—she suspected he did not believe in mysticism—but felt certain he was being absolutely honest.

End 2nd installment

Begin 3rd installment

At dawn Kevin showered, dressed and told her to meet him in front of Taylor Hall on main campus at 12:30. Buttoning his un-Georgie-like yellow sweater, he told her he would take her to his favorite restaurant for lunch where he wanted her to tell him everything about herself, adding in a childish and yet earnest tone, “I want to be a proper suitor—I’ll bring you a flower—what kind do you like?” Barely awake Cheryl said “Red Rose—a bud—no vase—I may wear it in my hair,” she snickered, falling back asleep—and slept until after 11.

She would have slept right through her lunch date with Kevin if the maid hadn’t knocked

on her door about 11:15 to change the sheets and clean the room. In a near panic Cheryl leaped out of bed and into the shower, washing her hair, carefully combing the conditioner through her hair, rinsing it then combing it through a second time.

Not normally a woman to spend a lot of time on make-up, she painstakingly applied eye-liner, mascara, eye shadow, blush, artificial lashes, looked in the mirror and decided she looked like the whore of Babylon—then laughed to herself—last night she was the whore of Babylon. She had surprised herself with the uncompromising passion she felt toward Kevin—it was as though she had been waiting for him her entire life. She washed all the make-up off and started again.

At noon Cheryl was on campus walking toward Taylor Hall. She heard a bell ringing and remembered something the local driver had said about a “Victory Bell” that was rung whenever Kent State  teams won a game.

As she rounded the corner she was surprised to see a crowd of at least 500 people—mostly students—many of them carrying home-made signs demanding the U.S. get out of Cambodia  and Viet-Nam,”bring home the troops,” “bring home the war.” Several kids wore Richard Nixon masks and were holding both arms over their heads, flashing the double victory sign.

The air was electric with impending conflict. As she stood with her back against the entrance to Taylor Hall watching the huge crowd of protesters, a contingent of 70 to 80 Ohio National Guardsmen carrying rifles with fixed bayonets, came around the right side of Taylor. They moved directly toward the milling crowd which began to break up—one large group moving toward a parking lot—several smaller groups moving in various directions.

As the company of soldiers moved past, Cheryl immediately spotted Kevin’s brother—again she had that curious response of noting a resemblance to Georgie and certainly to Kevin—but not the slightest attraction.

The crowd began throwing rocks. The soldiers put on gas masks and began throwing tear-gas canisters which members of the crowd picked up and threw back—because of the wind the gas didn’t seem to make much difference. Groups of kids chanted “Pigs off campus.”

The soldiers began advancing toward the largest group which fell back as the troops moved toward them. With kids throwing rocks, cafeteria trays and yelling profanity, the soldiers moved across the open expanse of campus in front of Taylor and over a low rise where they stopped for a few minutes on a baseball diamond. They turned around and completed a huge loop, crossing in front of Taylor then stopped to form ranks to the right of the building where they had first appeared.

A large bunch of kids had again formed in front of Taylor—the yelling and throwing of things at the troops continued at an even higher pitch. The crowd could sense the soldiers were uncertain.

End third installment

Begin 4th installment

Suddenly a single shot echoed like a crack of thunder off campus buildings and the soldiers began firing into the crowd of students. Several students fell to the ground—dropping like marionettes with cut strings—others scattered, still others simply stood motionless, gazing impassively at the troops or looking casually at the wounded and dying kids lying on the ground while bullets flew around them.

The soldiers continued firing, over and over. The shooting—a hideous, unreal banging roar—seemed to go on for hours. Cheryl like many others, stood passively frozen watching the troops pulling the triggers, firing, rifles recoiling backward into their shoulders, firing again, rifles recoiling again, firing again. Cheryl noticed some soldiers pointing their weapons but not firing. She saw Kevin’s brother fire his weapon several times—the empty shell casings spinning out of his rifle, glinting gold briefly in the sunshine as he pulled the trigger.

When the firing stopped and the last echoes faded into the trees, the air was thick with the smell of burnt sulphur. Blue smoke drifted slowly, silently across the benches and sidewalks in front of Taylor, briefly clinging to bushes. A girl who Cheryl could not see, was somewhere screaming, “Oh God—God—it’s blank—they’re using—they’re blanking—they’re not using—blanks, they’re not using blanks.”

About fifty feet from Cheryl a boy lay unmoving, face down on the pavement. A girl walked over to him, kneeled down and touched him, then began calling for help. The soldiers were holding their rifles in front of them, seemingly unclear what was to happen next. Kevin’s brother was doing something—looking for a cigarette or stick of gum. In the distance—several hundred yards across the commons area—a dozen or more students could be seen casually walking to class as though nothing had happened.

One, carrying a drink, suddenly stopped, put his drink down on the sidewalk and kneeled down to look at a student lying motionless on the grass—a boy wearing a bright yellow sweater—who had been carrying a single red rose bud. The soldiers, including Kevin’s brother, were gone. Cheryl found herself standing on the grass about a hundred feet from where Kevin lay—confused and frozen.

Somewhere behind her and to her left she could hear Graham Nash’s voice saying something and someone else from the band was saying something. All around her vehicles with sirens screaming were converging on the area where the shooting had taken place.

A 1971 study by the Urban Institute concluded in the weeks following the Kent State shootings, over 900 American college campuses were closed—over four million students were involved in protests. Five days after the Kent State incident 100, 000 people demonstrated in Washington, DC against the war and the shooting of unarmed student protesters. The city became an armed camp and descended into chaos—mobs were smashing windows, slashing tires, throwing furniture off overpasses onto passing cars. The 82nd Airborne, fully armed, was positioned in the basement of the executive office building. The president had been taken to Camp David for his protection. Ray Price, Nixon’s speech-writer commented regarding the D.C. violence, “That’s not student protest—that’s civil war.”

Graham Nash accompanied Cheryl back to Chapel Hill. Looked after by her good friend Samantha and several members of her band, Cheryl remained quietly in her house, not leaving for nearly a week. She spent this time silently staring at the TV, reading,

practicing guitar, thinking about the people in her life she loved. She spoke on the phone several times with her mother, Jenny. Her appetite was poor, she had difficulty sleeping. She spent hours every day that week, looking out the window watching campus and local police cars patrolling a vacant, silent UNC campus.

Across the street from her house was a large, high-rise dormitory. On the third floor a banner, crudely made out of a bed sheet, limply hung between two windows moving slowly in the hot Carolina sunshine. The message across it, in angry black letters read, “They can’t kill us all.”

End 4th installment—End “Ohio” piece

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