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Stickman: Army Straightened Me Out

Stickman: I have never been caught for anything in my life, but as a young teen that craved attention, nobody was better than me at stealing anything in any store at any time. My sister, who was three years younger than me, was the best I have ever seen at stealing. I guess I learned from her. She and her boyfriend one time stole a canoe from Sears with a receipt dangling from her hand. I am not proud of that fact, and maybe these days I am trying to make up for some of that, but at the time, I surely got a thrill from it. When I turned 18, I got bored with life and joined the Army. I was sent to Vietnam, and my life changed. I always say that was the most important year of my life, though most of it was truly something to forget.

Question: How did you time in the military change your life?

Gone for a Soldier

    They stood on the corner downtown, a loose, silent group of young men. Most not more than boys, really. Each had a bag or duffle at their feet.
    

   I realized they were new recruits on their way to boot camp. To basic training. On their way to an adventure, on their way to the fast-track to maturity. On their way to a place and a future they couldn’t imagine. Gone, as the old folk song goes, for a soldier.
    

    The group paid no attention to me as I walked past. Most were lost in their own thoughts, staring down at their shoes, or at their fingernails. I wondered if they were still under the spell of tearful goodbyes; hugs from crying wives, mothers or girlfriends, awkward handshakes from fathers whose voices were gruff with unshed tears.
    

    It was all I could do to walk on by. I have a son just about their age. I worry about him all the time. When he’s traveling, I call, leaving nagging texts on his phone.
    

    “Where are you?” I write, or “You need to call me now.”
     

    When he’s in town, I cluck and flutter around him like a hen, asking questions and giving advice that is politely taken, but quickly tossed away.
    

    Those boys weren’t mine, but I could barely contain the urge to do the same for them.
    

    “Take care of yourself,” I wanted to say. “Be careful. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Call your mother.”
    

    I wanted to send them off with a blessing.
    

    What would they think, I wondered, if a woman – a woman old enough to be their mother - ran up to each one and, taking their head in her hands, kissed each cheek and told them she loved them? Because at that moment I did love them all. They would remember me I’m sure. From time to time they would talk about the crazy woman who kissed them the day they left. They would laugh about it, but they would never forget.
    

    I didn’t stop. My feet kept walking. They kept their eyes trained at the far edge of the horizon.
And we each kept our thoughts to ourselves.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com