As Soon as I Find My Orders
I read a lot about concussions these days, and how sports in particular is beginning to take a more serious approach, to dealing with a subject, into which a great deal of time and research has been put. I read about disorders of the brain, that arise for former boxers and football players, who share a variety of symptoms, indicating that more research is needed, and it makes me wonder.
Have you ever suffered a concussion? I have, and it is a very surreal experience, kind of like spending the evening at a party, drinking far more than is customary, and then trying to reassemble events the next morning, in some sort of favorable light. It’s difficult to do, because certain key memories, are missing in action.
I was home on leave from duty in the Republic of Korea, in January of 1973, knowing that I had to go back for ten more months of active service. In honor of my being home, the only person in my high school circle to get drafted, my homies all met at the local high school, to play football on a real field. We all jumped the seven-feet-high chain linked fence, and gathered on one end, while we assessed the situation.
The last thing I remember, was going over that fence. Brother Eric takes it from there.
“See, there were a bunch of you, but not enough for two decent teams. Then there were about eight guys who were already there, who we didn’t know. Together there were plenty for two full teams, only the new group was adamant about playing tackle the whole game.”
We had always played tackle on all plays from scrimmage, but two-handed touch, below the waist, on punt returns and kick-offs, just to prevent a guy from getting too carried away, especially on a stretcher.
There was much enthusiasm as teams were chosen and opposing forces lined up on the legitimate, 100 yard field. My team won the toss and elected to receive. As the ball was in the air, my teammates formed the classic wedge, and I took the ball straight up the middle following the wedge, and I had a marvelous go at it, until I got met by a guy, who greeted me, by hitting me hard enough, to send me up into the air, and then down on my head, where I got up a bit unsteadily and galloped over to Eric on the sidelines, sitting in the bleachers.
“Did you see that?” I was breathing hard, and not looking square at him.
“I saw you get knocked around. I think they’re yelling at you.” He gestured toward the field, where my teammates were gathered around in the classic huddle, but they were standing straight up, and several were signaling that whatever I was doing, it could wait, because the game could not.
Eric says I played two downs, before drifting back over to him.
“Is everything all right?” he says I asked him. He looked at me and said, “Everything is fine with me. How about you?”
“Things are kind of messed up, but I’m not sure how they’re messed up. I’m afraid Pa is going to be bummed out.”
“Why would Pa be bummed out?”
“Well, he’s always giving me a ration, about getting hurt. H’e be bummed out, if he thought I was hurt.”
Eric said again, “Is everything all right?”
“Yeah, every thing is fine, as long as Pa is not bummed out.”
And that was the theme for the day. I remember nothing from the time I hopped that fence, until the time I came back to reality, in the living room, talking to my new wife Nancie, and three of my closest friends, who were there as emissaries from the rest of the gang, who were at Doug’s house, awaiting word. I remember nothing, that is, except for the smiling face of the medic down in Long Beach, at the closest military facility with an operating emergency room.
My remembered fragments include this dialogue.
Again, the man was either the happiest individual alive, or he was deriving secret enjoyment at my acting performance, as I tried to “maneuver” my way out of returning to the Republic of Korea. It was dumb on his part, because now that I was married, and taking Nancie back with me, I did not mind the military thing any longer. I was determined to finish out my time, and leave it all behind.
His coal black face wrinkled in amusement as he asked, “Now, P.F.C. O’Neill, you do remember that you are scheduled to return to Korea, is that right?”
“I’m not sure, Sir, but I have my orders right here,” and I started fumbling in my hospital gown for the supposed orders.
He laughed merrily, and patted me on the shoulder. “No need to see your orders, son, I believe you,” he said. “You just got married? Did I hear that?”
“Yes, Drill Sergeant!” I was on top of my game, but all the doc did was laugh again.
“Well, now, let’s see here. I’ll tell you what I’m thinking PFC O’Neill, and you tell me if I am off base. I’m thinking it’s possible that you are trying to pull the wool over my eyes, by doing this amnesia game, and you tell me if I am wrong.”
“Yes Sir, Drill Instructor, Colonel, Sir! You did!” More chuckling.
“I did what? I’m wrong?”
“No, Drill Sergeant, Sir, you did hear that I am married. And I do remember that I am going back to Korea, and I’ll know when, as soon as I find my orders. Sir! Drill Instructor!” And I saluted again.
Mama says I must have asked if Pa was bummed a hundred times over the course of the day, and each time she assured me that he was not.
It was weird, because Pa never did get bummed out, or if he did, he didn’t let me know about it. That’s probably OK too, because I would not have remembered it.