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His Father's Eyes
"Who can say where the road goes
Where the day flows, only time…"
"You know, you could at least pretend to be proud of me," the young man huffed, tossing his military duffel bag into the back of a battered, blue Chevy Cavalier. The car was nearly as old as he was…he'd been four years old when his parents had purchased the car, shiny and new off the sales lot. There was a lot of family history tied up in the old car…road trips and vacations… Family history that mattered little to him at that moment.
"We are proud of you, Jay. I just don't understand this burning need to be in the military." An older version of the young man, his shoulder-length hair more gray than blond, stood in front of the car, arms crossed over his chest.
"Dad…" Jay paused. His own blond hair was cropped short. His expression became accusing. "I suppose you'd be happier if I'd gone to Canada like you did, rather than register."
The older man shook his head. "No, I wouldn't. You're lucky that enlisting was your choice, though. Remember that."
The quiet tone of his father's voice caught the younger man's attention. His expression changed from one of belligerence to one of curiosity as he studied his father.
"Going to Canada felt like…was…the only choice I had at the time. I was young, and I was scared. And your mother was pregnant."
Leaning against the side of the car, Jay took a moment to consider what had been said. He'd always known that both his sisters had been born in Canada. He hadn't known that his mother had been pregnant before they'd arrived there. His father had gone silent. "Dad?"
Blue eyes seemed to focus on a distant memory…"Right after we-"
"Oh, Christ, not the aliens again," Jay moaned.
The older man glared for a moment. Then his gaze softened. "What we'd seen…it just scared me all the more. I couldn't imagine picking up a loaded gun and actually pointing it at someone. But what scared me the most was not being there for Jenny and our baby. Your mom is a strong woman. But at that point in time, she was just a scared kid. We were both just kids."
"When Dawn was born, I was certain I'd made the right decision. We were able to come back to the States after Holly was born. It was rough at first, but we managed to settle in okay."
Jay remained silent. He'd never heard his father speak much of the time the family had spent in Canada, hiding from the US military and the Vietnam War. He did remember the tense relationship between his father and grandfather. The two never spoke directly to each other, using Jay's grandmother as their go-between. He'd heard his grandfather mutter about his son being a 'coward'. How often over the years had he secretly thought the same thing? For the first time in his life, Jay wondered if maybe it had taken more courage to stand firm for his convictions than his father had ever admitted to…or his grandfather had ever acknowledged.
Coward or not, his father had been branded. Then there was the ridiculous story about helping a group of aliens…humans, or at least humanoid…get back to their home planet. Something accomplished by breaking into an armory on one of the largest military bases in Washington, D.C. His older sisters had always believed every word. They also thought the sun rose and set in their father. He'd been disillusioned early in his life; finding out that his dad was really Santa Claus had made him cynical. From the moment of that discovery, he'd begun doubting everything his father had ever told him.
"I guess I'd hoped you'd find something…not military…to do with your life," his father sighed. "Something that would make you happy. Something relatively safe."
He wondered briefly what it said about his parents - who had never hidden the fact that they had been peace-loving hippies in the late sixties - to have three children who embraced the 'establishment' as much as he and his sisters did. Dawn was a manager at a local bank, having worked her way up, busting through each glass ceiling as only she could. Her determination and incredible charm much greater than any obstacle put in her path. Holly was married to an orthodontist, and spent her days as the receptionist for his office, filling in appointments and mailing out bills. And neither of 'the girls', as Jenny referred to them, seemed inclined to have children, although their mother nagged on the subject often enough.
He'd worked his way through college, with ample help from his parents so that he'd managed to party as much as his friends, and had graduated with a degree in aerodynamic engineering; hoping the degree would land him in the pilot seat of an F-15. He'd been lucky. The Air Force recruiter had found a guaranteed pilot slot for him when he'd enlisted. Now that he was finished with boot camp, he was ready for his first assignment. Sucking in a deep breath, Jay shook his head. "You're pissed about it."
"Jay…I don't understand, but it doesn't mean I'm angry."
Had he ever seen his father angry? Jay frowned mentally. Michael Graham was the calmest man he'd ever met in his life. Nothing seemed to move him to anger. Frustration, yes. Anger? Never. Not once in his life had he ever heard his father's voice raised in anger. Now that he thought about it, his mother had never raised hers, either; although one look from his mom and words weren't needed. That look had elicited more than one confession of wrong-doing from him and his sisters. It seemed that their mother had an uncanny knack for knowing just when, where, and how her offspring had broken the house rules. She'd level 'The Look' on them, and in spite of their intentions, they would find themselves telling all. He pulled his attention back to the conversation.
"Look, I know you love flying. And if flying for the Air Force is what you want to do, well…" Michael spread his arms. "Go for it. Fly."
"Thanks, Dad," Jay said. He walked into his father's embrace. "I won't be far. I've been assigned to Peterson."
"Home for holidays, then. That will make your mother happy," Michael said. He turned toward the house. "Jenny? Jenny, Jay's gotta go."
The screen door opened, and Jay groaned mentally. Jenny's eyes showed the effects of her tears. "Mom, don't cry. I'm not even gonna be that far."
"You're still going to be living somewhere else. Couldn't you find a nice job for an airline and stay here in Boulder?"
"Airlines don't have F-15s, Mom," Jay grinned.
Jenny forced a smile. "Just be careful. And don't do anything that your heart tells you not to do, regardless of orders."
"Please, remember what we've taught you. Life…all life…is precious," Jenny said softly.
"I'll remember, Mom," Jay promised.
After being properly hugged, warned, and told at least a dozen times that they loved him, Jay climbed into the car, started the engine, and gave a wave to his parents. They stood side by side, arms around one another, their disquiet written in their expressions. Both attempted to force smiles to their lips, and he did the same.
Once again he felt guilty as the relief of having 'escaped' his childhood home after another stressful visit washed over him. He loved his parents, he really did. He just thought they were a bit…eccentric. No, he admitted silently, he thought they were crazy. Did everyone feel the same about their parents? Or were his so completely strange that no one else could even comprehend what it had been like to grow up in that house?
Oh, his life as a child hadn't been bad. His dad had found work at a local factory, his mom had run a daycare as more and more of her friends opted to join the workforce. He and his sisters were fed and clothed and loved. Their home rang with laughter on a daily basis. They had birthday parties with piñatas and pony rides; and picnics in the local park, complete with kites and Frisbees. And on Christmas mornings Santa managed to bring the most coveted toys - with the exception of guns of any sort. He'd never owned a cap pistol, or a plastic dart gun, or just a water gun. Weapons…guns…were a means of destruction, he'd been told. And not even the toy versions would be allowed in their peace-loving home. He figured it had been a major concession on his parent's part that he'd been allowed to have the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and all of the accessories that came with them. Perhaps because they didn't carry guns, only swords and knives, was the reason he was allowed to have the toys. He hadn't been deprived of toys during his childhood, he'd freely admit that. And there had been family vacations to the mountains, the lake, even a trip to Disneyland. No, his childhood hadn't been bad at all.
But his parents insisted on telling stories about their time in a commune. How wonderful it had been. And then the adventure of driving across country to attend Woodstock - one last 'hurrah' before disappearing into Canada, so that his father could avoid the draft. Of meeting 'aliens' on the way, and helping them to escape from the authorities who were looking for them - a 'secret' they'd kept until they'd determined that the aliens were no longer in danger. The stories about the concert were pretty tame, he figured, given what he'd read about the event. It seemed his parents had let half a dozen other people sleep in their bus with them…the hulk of which was still behind the garage. The music had been phenomenal, the crowd peaceful and laid back, and finding philosophical discussions to join had been as easy as finding booze and drugs. The stories about the 'aliens'…he simply ignored them all.
Very few stories were told of their time in Canada, only that they met up with others who were also avoiding the draft. President Jimmy Carter had offered full amnesty to draft dodgers in 1977, Michael and Jenny had returned to Colorado with their two young daughters. He had been born right there in Boulder, just a year after their return to the United States.
Jay pushed away thoughts of his family, both the good and the bad. He was starting a life for himself. One that he'd chosen. Hopefully, he'd never be an embarrassment to his kids. If he ever had any…
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