The Heart of Darkness
The Vietnam war was everywhere, and so were the protests. In 1968, I was 13 years old, but that didn’t seem to matter. The Vietnam war was in everyone’s home. I don’t remember if we had a color TV yet, but my memory tells me that the war was in Black & White…and every night.
Every night my dad would watch the news at 10 PM (we were in Central Time, so we didn’t have the phrase “…video at 11:00…”), so therefore every night I would watch the news at 10 PM.
It wasn’t like it is today. The TV news outlets were allowed to show every bit of the Vietnam war. Not only the body bags and caskets, but also the fighting and the dead and wounded soldiers lying on the ground. The perfect fodder for a 13 year old future alcoholic to become consumed.
I had a peace sign sticker on everything I owned; I wore a peace sign on a leather string around my neck; I had neon flower stickers on the walls of my room; and I owned this poster:
I wasn’t allowed to grow my hair long as long as I lived under the roof that apparently belonged to my father, but I got away with as much as I could.
It didn’t seem right that all these people were getting killed in a place I had never heard of, in a war I didn’t understand, and all the kids who were allowed to protest were older than me and once again I hated the fact I was so young and uncomfortable in my own skin. I wanted to be part of them. I wanted to help stop the war. I wanted to hold a girl who should have been wearing a bra, but wasn’t.
Then I heard about the protest to be held in Grant Park in Chicago. There were going to be thousands there, protesting the war and protesting the Democratic National Convention. I needed to be there. The odds were certain that there was going to be hundreds of girls there who should have been wearing a bra, but weren’t.
I snuck out of the house, took the CTA Bus #1 down Jeffrey Avenue to Grant Park. There were literally one gazillion people there. I had gone alone because my friends weren’t as politically active as myself, and I wasn’t sure I had the balls to go until I got on the bus.
Then the violence started. Although I later told my friends that I was in the thick of it, I lied. I was far away from the action, but the chaos was unavoidable. Everyone was running in all different directions. Hundreds of girls who should have been wearing a bra, but weren’t, were running! Damn to my politics; damn to my self-preservation; I wasn’t going anywhere!
My eyes started burning and they itched. I felt them tear up and I made the mistake of rubbing them. That made it worse. Everything was blurry. I was only 13, but I knew this wasn’t good.
Tear gas. The police were using tear gas. I wasn’t even near the tear gas, but funny thing about gaseous products in general. They seem to travel lightly on the wind. I could barely see the Grant Park bandshell, but the tear gas still got me. I no longer thought about stopping the Vietnam war. I no longer thought (much) about the braless girls. I thought about my parents killing me for coming home with red puffy eyes because I was at the Grant Park riots.
I made my way to the bus, got home, and went straight to my room. My parents were watching the riots on TV (what if they saw me?!…yeah, right), so they didn’t notice I was even home. My eyes were clearing up, and lay on my back thinking about the day’s activities. I smiled. That was so cool!
I was soon to learn the names of my new heroes, and they possessed me.
Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner… and Bobby Seales.
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