Despite what Dr. Grenshaw’s been saying, I know exactly what’s wrong with me. Known it for a long time. I’ve prayed every day since for the Lord Almighty to go back in time and stop me from doing what I’d done. He’s the Lord of all the world and all the universe, the heavens and the earth, that be including time. He could go back and stop me, or better yet just erase everyone’s memory.
I was only a boy at the time. Hardly even over sleeping in pee-jays and just starting to notice girls. A man shouldn’t have to live his whole life tainted by one mistake. It ain’t right. But He ain’t done nothing yet. I’m tempted to pray to Buddha to see if that’d work, but I don’t fancy having to shave my head and worship animals. Dr. Grenshaw says it don’t work like that, that I need to face the truth of what I’d done. He says I should write it down, to draw it outta me, like leeching bad blood. So that’s what I’m doing.
It happened in the year of our Lord, nineteen sixty-four at the Caldwell County High School. The times were just beginning to change, cause of The Beatles and the good old Texas boy Johnson ratcheting up Vietnam. Course this would lead to Nixon and the draft that stole away so many of us, but we didn’t know that then. We was only kids, our whole lives ahead of us.
It was picture day at the high school and everyone was in their Sunday’s finest, except ole Mr. Carver. He was the agricultural teacher, but don’t let that fancy word fool you, he taught farming. Came right in from the field for the photo, still wearing his straw hat that he always wore and smoking a cigar. He had these clear blue eyes that always looked like they didn’t belong surrounded by his sun-worn plastic skin. He even brought a damn rooster to the photo, you believe that?
The photo booths were up against the far wall so the people getting their picture taken could see everyone waiting in line. My class, the freshmen, was at the very back. And I was last, on account of my last name: Zingba. I always hated that name, it rhymes too easy, dingba, ding-a-lingba, and on and on and on.
So I was standing in the very last spot, already as miserable as I could be. I never did have the best skin. Sometimes I’d get pimples so big it felt like they reached back into my brain, they hurt so bad. I swear I was God’s whipping boy. He planted a whopper on the side of my nose, just like a witch. The only thing missing was an oily black hair coming right out the center. On picture day! I had a whole fleet of the damn things besides. All I wanted to do was turn tail and run.
Now any parent with boys or a boy himself will tell you, there’s something mighty comforting about holding your penis. Don’t know why. I met a Vietnamese girl in Saigon that talked about energy flow and how circles were nature’s strongest shape and other such nonsense, maybe that’s why. But it don’t really matter, it’s just true.
Well, ole Mr. Carver was looking out over the lines while they were setting up for his photo. He suddenly straightened up, pointed at me and shouted, “Hey! Get your hand off your pee-pee!”
And just like that I was labeled. You can imagine the taunts, but for the next four years I was ‘Pee-Pee’. My fate was sealed before it ever really begun. Maybe if things had been different, if I’d been liked, gotten some support, I’d have gone to college. Gotten one of those exemptions, had a career, a family.
I’ve told all this to Dr. Grenshaw repeatedly, but he don’t believe me, said it was the war that caused my condition. That the army didn’t train me for after the war, for civilian life. I told him that was stupid hippie talk.
He disagreed. Asked me if that was the case, then why did I attack that man on the street? I still don’t know what he was talking about. So I got frustrated and told to him to shut up, said he even looks to me like he got some gook in him. He overreacted and called in the white coats. My memory gets a little fuzzy after that.
When I came to, I found myself in this here ‘calm room’. Don’t know why y’all call it that, we ain’t stupid, we know it’s a cell. They’re all the same. This one’s like all the others, except closer to Dr. Grenshaw’s office and on the ground floor. Even offers a view of the road and the bus station.
See, the number one thing the army taught me was opportunity. To take advantage of it whenever you can, cause God only knows when He’ll send another typhoon or send His whipping boy down another rabbit hole. Now I could continue to map out shift changes, figure out security badges and the like. Or I could kick out the rotted frame around this here locked window. Easy-peasy.
So when you find this letter, you can tell Dr. Grenshaw the army prepared me just fine for the real world. It was ole Mr. Carver and God Himself that was the real cause of all this. And now that it’s written down, it’s truth. If he can’t see that, then that’s his own damn fault. I’m done arguing with him about it.
By morning chow I’ll be long gone, leaving on a jet plane, and I ain’t ever coming back again. Don’t worry about me though, the army trained me just fine.
Jeffrey A Ballard is a nomadic Yankee that currently lives in the Texas Hill Country. He is an Acoustician who doesn’t play any musical instruments, but has been published in scientific journals.