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About the author:
Charles S. Isaacs has been a schoolteacher, college professor, social activist, community organizer, real estate consultant, storyteller and journalist. His undergraduate studies were in Mathematics (LIU-Brooklyn), after which he attended the University of Chicago Law School, living on the city’s South Side during the time period of this story. His later graduate work was in the Social Sciences, earning an M.A. (New School for Social Research) and a Ph.D. (The Union Institute & University). His published work encompasses fiction, poetry and award-winning non-fiction.
What inspired you to write your book?
My original intent was to introduce readers to life in the 1960s antiwar movement. Once the characters took shape, though, they turned it into a love story.
Here is a short sample from the book:
The night before the Civic Center march, Cat asked if the permits had been issued. “Not that I know of,” I replied. “Either way, we have to go.”
“No, we don’t!” she exclaimed. “This will be another trap. The whole thing will be illegal. You’re looking for trouble.”
“We can’t let this bully of a mayor keep us from protesting a war that’s killing innocent people every week,” I argued, my voice rising. “We can’t cave in. We have to go!”
“Then you’ll go by yourself!” she announced, slamming the bedroom door and turning the lock. I slept poorly on the living room couch, wondering how the pieces of my life that I so treasured could ever fit together. The war was blowing everything apart.
I woke early, to an empty apartment. A note on the kitchen counter read, “JUST BE CAREFUL,” but I found no clue to where Cat had gone. Tooter was not where we’d last parked her. I pulled myself together and went to the café for breakfast and a newspaper. The Tribune ran a wire service story reporting that students demonstrated against the war that week in Europe, Asia and South America. The schools were closed In Prague, where thousands of students marched on the U.S. Embassy. In Paris, Vietcong flags were hanging from the Sorbonne, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. There were large demonstrations and hundreds of arrests in Tokyo. Demonstrators in Montevideo marched in solidarity with American draft resisters. We were part of an international movement. I ached to share the excitement with Cat. Where could she be?
I tore the article out and brought it with me to Midway’s art studio, where Sabrina had organized a production center for sign-making. I painted my favorite slogan: Vietnam for the Vietnamese!
Armed with our protest signs, hundreds of us formed a chanting, singing pre-march on our way to the train station. It was a beautiful spring day, and the air was filled with joyful anticipation. I was surrounded by people I knew: Whit and others from The Circle; Sabrina and the Saran Wrap crew; Nicky and the SDS crowd; Jeff Rosen and a bunch of other law students. Even among all those friends and comrades, though, I felt lonely. My mind kept shifting back to Cat. I hated that she was angry with me, and I didn’t even know where she was.
We joined over 5,000 people at the staging area in Grant Park. Without a sound system, parade marshals from the Peace Council and the Mobe had to circulate through the crowd with the latest news. It was confusing, but I gathered that, the day before, a judge ordered the City to grant a permit, but only for the first eleven blocks. For the rest of the two-mile march, we’d be confined to the sidewalks. The police were supposed to “facilitate” our progress and keep it orderly.
The most confusing part was what would happen at the Civic Center. The plan had been to hold a rally on its big plaza, but the City refused to allow it.
“So what are we supposed to do when we get there?” I asked Sabrina.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe they expect us to go shopping!”
As a small marching band began playing, we followed it onto Columbus Drive. The festive mood was irresistible. We took over the street, chanting and singing. Protest signs waved in the air. This was nothing like the somber mood of the much smaller march three weeks earlier.
As the front ranks reached Michigan Avenue, the police ordered our musicians to stop playing. The parade permit had run out, they said, and loud music violated the noise code. They funneled us onto the sidewalk, creating a tight bottleneck. Very slowly, in fits and starts, we made our way forward.
Now the police filled the street, in riot gear or on horseback, along with patrol cars and military-looking vehicles. They stopped us at every red light. Sometimes, when it turned green, we still couldn’t move. Then red again. Green, red, green. Finally, we crossed onto the next block. They packed us in so tightly that people got squeezed off the curb, into the street. The cops grabbed them and threw them into a paddy wagon.
An hour later, I made it to the Civic Center. The plaza was cordoned off, but we were allowed on the sidewalk in front of it. Once that sidewalk filled, the police stopped letting marchers cross the street. People around me yelled for them to join us. Others broke through the ropes onto the plaza. They were clubbed, sprayed with mace and thrown into the reflecting pool. The situation grew increasingly tense. I didn’t know what to do and I suspected no-one else, including the police, did either.
After a half-hour standoff, as if on cue, they charged into the crowds on both sidewalks. We spilled out onto the street and ran. They chased us, clubbing anyone they got their hands on and throwing them into police vans. I saw one cop open a van’s back door, spray mace inside and slam it closed.
If they wanted to disperse the crowd, it worked. But that wasn’t enough. They chased us for blocks, spraying mace and swinging their clubs. I noticed that black tape covered the numbers on some badges. Other badges had been removed. They went after marchers, news photographers, witnesses who were downtown shopping. It was madness.
A woman tripped and fell right in front of me. As I reached down to help her up, a crashing pain exploded in the back of my head. I dropped to my knees. After another blow, everything went black.
I woke up groggy and confused, being dragged by the armpits across a concrete floor. A creaky steel door slid open, and I was tossed into a big, crowded jail cell. A few people came over and leaned me up against the wall. Soon Nicky was there.
“Are you all right?” he asked as I was coming to.
“I guess so. What about you, Nicky? Your head is bandaged.”
“So is yours,” he said. I reached up and felt thick gauze wrapped around my head, which throbbed mercilessly.
“What happened?” I asked. “How many of us are in here?”
“Including you, I count sixty-three. They brought the wounded into the infirmary for first aid, and then threw us in here. I saw a cop trying to slap you into consciousness. Or maybe just having fun slapping you around.”
“Anyone else from our crowd?”
“Jeff and Sabrina,” he replied. “They’re not hurt.” Looking up, I saw them coming closer.
“And Larry Graff,” he added. “Over there.” I looked to a corner of the cell and saw Larry, one arm in a sling and bandaged, waving his good arm and making a speech to a small group of listeners.
“So now what?”
“I don’t know. I guess we wait.”
So we waited. Hours went by. I dozed off once or twice, but someone woke me. He said I might have a concussion, and should try to stay awake.
Finally, they herded us into a courtroom. One by one, we went before a judge. Most of us, including me, were charged with disorderly conduct, some with resisting arrest, Larry and a few others with assault. After the judge set bail at fifty dollars, they took us into another room where we lined up for our one phone call.
Who to call? Not Cat. I wanted to explain this to her in person, not over the phone. I didn’t want to wake Emma in the middle of the night. I hadn’t seen Whit in the jail cell, so I tried him at home. Fortunately, he answered the phone. I explained the situation, and asked if he would loan me the bail money.
“I’m on my way,” he said.
Back in the cell, time dragged by. It seemed an eternity before they started calling names and taking us out. Whit grabbed my arm in an outside hallway and said, “You’re all set. Let’s get out of here.”
I didn’t breathe a sigh of relief until we were inside his car. The clock said it was 3 a.m.
“I really appreciate this, Whit,” I said. “But what took so long?”
“They kept us waiting,” he explained. “I was there for an hour and a half. They didn’t even let people sit down.”
My head throbbed. I asked if he knew anything about Cat.
“Emma called me last night, around ten, to ask if I knew anything. I told her you’d been arrested, and asked how Cat was doing. Emma said she was right there, but too hysterical to come to the phone.”
“Whit, she didn’t want me to even go to this march. I don’t know what to expect.”
Back home, he put a hand on my shoulder, looked up at the apartment, and said, “Good luck.”
I ran up the stairs and went straight to the bedroom. Through the locked door, I heard Cat whimpering.
“Cat,” I called, “It’s me. Open the door.”
“No,” she yelled. “Go away!”
“Please, Cat. Let me in!”
“No, no, no, no, no,” she sobbed. “Go away!”
It was another night on the couch. But I couldn’t have stayed awake any longer if I’d wanted to.
The phone woke me on Sunday.
“Steve, are you all right?” Emma asked. “I’ve been calling for hours.”
“I don’t know. I guess so. What time is it?”
“1:30. Can you come downstairs?”
“I guess so, but I better shower first. I’ll be half an hour.”
“Okay. I’ll fix you some breakfast. You probably haven’t eaten since yesterday morning.”
Oh, my God, I thought. Cat! I ran through the apartment calling her name. She wasn’t there. I looked every place she might have left me a note. There wasn’t one.
Emma nearly dropped the coffeepot when I came through the door. I suddenly realized I must be quite a sight with that big bandage wrapped around my head. She motioned to the table, where a plate of toast and scrambled eggs was waiting. Before taking a bite, I asked, “Emma, do you know where Cat is?”
“I’m not sure,” she responded while pouring the coffee. “She said she had research to do.”
“I have to find her.”
“Bad idea, Steve. Let her be for a while. Now eat, before it gets cold.”
I really was ravenous, so I followed orders. While I ate, Emma handed me the morning Tribune. The headline of a small front-page article read, “Antiwar Protesters Battle Police: 15 Hurt, 50 Arrests.” The gist of the story was that the majority of the marchers were peaceful, though noisy, but a small group attacked the police, who handled them professionally. The Sun-Times ran a similar story. Neither of these accounts came even close to the truth. By the time I finished skimming them, I was on my third cup of coffee.
“Now,” Emma said when I looked up, “tell me what actually happened.”
After I told her the whole story, she said, “I was afraid of something like this, after what happened a few weeks ago.”
“So was Cat,” I responded. “But I thought she was over-reacting. What do you think is happening here?”
“Daley’s sending a message. The Democratic Convention will put him and his city on the international stage. He doesn’t want anyone spoiling the party.”
“So he’s trying to scare us away?”
“Yes, and it works on more than one level. First, he’s shown what can be expected from his police, and he’s provided them with a dry run. More insidiously, by blaming the violence on the marchers, he’s given people reason to be afraid of the very demonstrators they’d be joining up with in August. And, of course, he’s shown he can control the local press coverage.”
“Do you think it’ll work?” I asked. “Will it hurt the turnout?”
“It probably will, and that worries me. Now, here’s what else you missed.”
It was at the top of the front page. Hubert Humphrey had officially declared his candidacy. His speech was filled with meaningless phrases like “the politics of happiness, the politics of purpose and the politics of joy.” Not a word about Vietnam. The article said he would pursue a first-ballot victory without entering any primaries, presumably through the party bosses.
I felt like I was drowning again.
“Exactly what you predicted,” I said. “But, Emma, I have to find Cat. I need her, and now I’m worried. I haven’t seen or heard her since she locked me out of the bedroom.”
“I know, Steve. But you have to respect her process. She’ll come back when she’s ready. Remember, this was a nightmare for her, and she needs time to sort things out.”
“What you do need to do,” she added, “is get yourself checked out at the E.R. I don’t like the look of that bandage.” She touched her hand to it, and it came away red. “See?”
I was a little concerned too. My head still throbbing, I walked over to the Midway Medical Center. An hour later, I was led into an examination room. A young doctor soon followed. He introduced himself as Hal Dreyer, a resident..
“You don’t have to tell me what happened,” he said. “I already know.”
“Yes, I was there too.”
“You were? Where?”
“First, on the march. Then in the jail cell. You were woozy, but do you remember someone advising you to stay awake because you might have a concussion?”
“Kind of. It’s really blurry.”
“Sure it is,” he said, smiling. “Well, that was me. Now let’s have a look.”
He kept talking as he unwrapped the bandage, pausing to whistle as the wounds became visible. He carefully cleaned them with what felt like a quart of burning iodine and began sewing.
“I was far back in the march,” he explained, “so I didn’t get to the Civic Center until all hell had already broken loose. I told the police I was a doctor and wanted to help. They told me to drop dead. I found a pay phone in a drug store, called the E.R. and asked them to send every available ambulance. Outside, I walked right into a bunch of cops and got arrested. They didn’t even have to chase me.”
“It’s a good thing you came in today,” he added. “They did a real botch job on you last night.”
A half hour later, I had eleven stitches in my head, a much more attractive bandage and a sample bottle of a new painkiller called Tylenol.
“You may have gotten a mild concussion,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. Now follow the directions on the bottle and come back next week. Ask for me at the desk. We’ll see about taking these stitches out.”
I shook his hand, thanked him and headed out.
“Stay out of trouble,” he called, “and get some rest. You’ve been through a trauma.”
I spent the rest of the day waiting for Cat to come home, growing more anxious by the hour. At around seven, the doorknob turned and my heart leapt. But it dropped as soon as I saw the stern, stoic look on her face. The joyful reunion I’d hoped for wasn’t going to happen.
I wasn’t sure what to say, so I asked, “Have you eaten?”
“Yes, with Emma,” she replied in kind of a detached, robotic voice. “She told me everything that happened to you, and that made up my mind. She said you deserved an explanation, so here I am.”
“Made up your mind about what?” I asked.
She headed for the couch and pointed me to the chair. “Steve,” she announced, “I can’t be with you anymore.”
“Why?” I implored, my eyes tearing. “We’ve been perfect together. This was our first and only fight.”
“And that’s the reason. I’m not saying it’s your fault. But I can’t handle the anxiety, the fear. I’ve been thinking it through, and well, I can start from the beginning if you want.” I nodded.
“Do you remember, during the first night we spent together, I told you it was my first time?”
“I’ll never forget it.”
“Well, that wasn’t all. After my parents were killed, I never even went out on a date.”
“I bet you had plenty of offers.”
“I did, and some were from young men who seemed very nice. That was the problem. I’d resolved not to gamble on letting anyone into my heart, because risking another loss would be too much to bear. Bonding with Emma was the only exception, but that just happened. I made friends, of course, but I never let any of them get too close.”
“I understand that. You were grieving for your parents.”
“I was. But I was also protecting myself. It worked fine for two years. I stayed focused on my studies, and helped Emma with the store. Then you came along and my wall crumbled.”
“I don’t know for sure. The first time we talked, I sensed you were a good listener. I was comfortable sharing personal stuff with you, but I couldn’t talk about the accident. That would’ve been too painful. In fact, Emma was the only one I’d ever told about it. By the next time, though, I felt compelled to share it with you too.”
“It was the way you heard it, Steve. I saw it in your eyes. Empathy. Compassion. They reflected my pain. I felt you connecting with me in my deepest, most guarded level. You said you’d always be there for me, and somehow I believed you. I felt cared for, safe. But I was sliding down a slippery slope.”
“Those words popped right out,” I said, “from the bottom of my heart. I meant them.”
“I know you did, and I knew it then. I still tried to keep my guard up, but I was conflicted. While you were off on the Pentagon march, my feelings rose to the surface, but I still fought to keep them down. The dam broke on Thanksgiving, when you chose to take care of me instead of appeasing your own family. It scared me, and I told you that during the bus ride. By the time we got back, though, I couldn’t resist anymore. I had to open my heart.”
“The happiest night of my life,” I said, “and what a weekend we had. I was already head over heels in love with you.”
“And I with you. But I was still conflicted. The deeper I let you in, the more afraid I became of losing you. For two months, I tried all kinds of strategies to protect myself. Then, almost three months ago now, I finally gave in. I had to have you here with me.”
“And haven’t we been happy together?” I asked. “I love you more each day.”
“Oh yes, and every day my being has become more entangled with yours. For a while, my fears even began to subside.”
“That’s what I wanted,” I said. “I’ll always love you.”
Cat’s demeanor softened for a moment. She leaned against the cushions and closed her eyes. Suddenly, she shot straight back up, her brow furrowed in anger, her eyes glistening.
“And then came yesterday! All day, I worried and waited for you to come home. But you didn’t. I knew something terrible must’ve happened. I was already frantic when Whit called and told us you got arrested. The gut-wrenching pain of loss I’d worked so hard to prevent came back with a bang. If it wasn’t for Emma, I don’t know what I would’ve done.”
“But you must know I wanted to come home, Cat. But I couldn’t.”
“Getting arrested was bad enough. But you also got beaten. One more blow, and you might never have come home. I can’t live like this. The fear is too much. I know I’m hyper-sensitive, but I’m not imagining things. You can be reckless, and then my world falls apart. That’s why we have to get away from each other, before it gets any worse. I need to leave you while I still can.”
At first, I didn’t respond. My head started throbbing again. I leaned back and closed my eyes, feeling the ground beneath me slipping away.
“Steve?” she called out, alarmed. “Are you there?”
I shook my head and opened my eyes. I went to her, dropped to one knee and took her hands in mine.
“Cat, I know I’ve put you through a lot, and I’m so, so sorry. But please don’t do this. I can’t live without you. I wouldn’t want to. We can work it out. Look at me. Please.”
Our tear-filled eyes bore into each other’s souls.
“But I don’t see how we can work it out,” she said. “You crave danger and I need safety. You can’t imagine my pain last night, my despair, not knowing if I’d ever see you again. I saw you in my mind’s eye lying in the street, your head all bloody. Then Emma told me that was what happened. I can’t do it. I can’t do it.”
“What I need above everything, Cat, is you,” I spluttered. “I know I’ve been unstable lately. I’ve handled the pressure badly, and I need to do better. It might not look like it, but I really am trying. Really, I am. The one thing I know for sure, though, is that I can’t do any of it without you. Stay with me. Please. I’ll do anything.”
“If we stay together, Steve, I’ll need you to trust my instincts about these marches and demonstrations, about confrontations with the police. That’s the only way. But I don’t know if you can do that. You need to be in the middle of everything, no matter how dangerous it might be.”
“I can do it. Yes, I know it’ll be hard at times, but I can do it. I will do it. I promise.”
“You really think you can control that restless energy?”
“I have to. I have to keep my priorities straight. You will always come first”
“Oh, I want that so much,” she said, starting to cry. “I’ve been so scared and lonely these past two days…”
“Never again, Cat. I promise.”
“Come up here now,” she said, “and hold me.”
We held each other tight, as I kissed her tears away. Our lovemaking was long and languid. We’d come through the wilderness and found our way back. It was so good to be home again.
But I had to keep my promise. Never again. Could I really do it?