Photo Source : Henri Huet (www.entrezlesbois.blogspot.com)
I am not a positive thinker, nor am I a cynic. Rather, I refer to myself as a cautious optimist. I don’t like the idea that “everything happens for a reason” because it is a hard pill to swallow when something bad happens and you’re stuck muttering, “Why me?” over and over again. So, in an effort to play this hand I was dealt, I tend to not be a trusting person, I’m ridiculously superstitious, and I refrain from saying, “What else can you put on my plate?” because something else will land there.
I was pondering many things the other day. Is there a timing to bad things happening to us; is there any rhyme or reason? Does fate really exist? I’ve tried to write that off. Why do good people get ailments and diseases that so negatively change their lives or take their lives forever? It happened to me, after all. For some reason, an old memory came to mind. I remembered an X-ray from my childhood and some of my questions were answered.
In 1978, my parents and I moved into a new home that my father, a general contractor, had built. He left the daylight basement unfinished, concrete floor and all, and I spent hours in that oddly-shaped room roller skating to disco on the radio. On one wall was a beautiful, black lacquered cabinet that had belonged to my great-grandfather. It was a treasure chest of sorts and held all of my father’s memorabilia. He had his high school yearbooks, a metal dog collar that said “Waif,” his beloved, childhood pet Boxer, and a big, film X-ray. I would look through his things and wonder about this X-ray. Why was it in there?
The X-ray was of my father’s small intestine. It was from the summer of 1962, not long before he grew out his kinky hair and “conked” it (a chemical relaxer) to look like The Beatles. He was 17 when it was taken and was a recent high school graduate working at the World’s Fair held in Seattle that year. The X-ray revealed a duodenal ulcer that took a year to heal due to the lack of effective medications at the time. Apparently, antacids were all that were available to cure an ulcer in the early ’60s.
As required by law, my father registered with the Selective Service when he turned 18 in the fall of 1962. He was in his 1st year at the University of Washington with plans to major in accounting due to his brain being a human calculator. Unfortunately, my father wasn’t a very good student and decided to sleep late instead of going to school to take his final exams for his 2nd term. It literally was a mistake that could have cost him his life.
1963 was a pivotal year in America. President Kennedy was assassinated and the Vietnam War was escalating. A draft had already been established. My father was issued a draft number, but being a university student could keep you out of the war in the early years. When he dropped-out, however, the draft board sent notice that his number was up. Knowing my father, he must have looked into every way he could to get out of being drafted. Even his shorter stature was above the cut-off mark and he knew it. It seemed he was out of options. My father, however, had one thing the draft board might not like: a duodenal ulcer. Perhaps it had just healed, but it could come back and with records from a good physician, the ulcer could be a golden ticket out of Vietnam. Make that a silver ticket.
My father showed up for his appointment with the draft board with a giant X-ray under his arm and sweat pouring out of his armpits. Would the ulcer suffice? Would he get medical clearance and be saved from certain death in Vietnam? In the end, it did. I think they took one look at this short kid with severe anxiety (all that sweat) whose only athletic talent was playing on his high school’s golf team and figured he’d be more likely to shoot himself than any Viet Cong hiding in the jungle.
My father is now 68 years old, still nostalgic, and still has that X-ray. He’s a smart man, but not a deep thinker so I do that part for him. He knew that ulcer had a deeper meaning though, which is why he always kept that old black and white film of it. As for the ulcer, it never did come back, but my father got GERD instead. For years he’s been on proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and heartburn-free thanks to modern medicine. For him, putting up with a burning pain in his gut and drinking and chewing chalky antacids around the clock for a year changed his fate in life (alright, so maybe it exists).
The ulcer had a silver lining.
I honor the bravery of every Vietnam Veteran and the memory of those who never returned home. This is a true story and it was necessary to write about the sentiment many young men had regarding the draft at that time.