What She Did and What I Did
A Play in One Act
Robert Simmons 32, male, a television news reporter
Josh Conley 25, male, a prisoner incarcerated for stalking his ex-girlfriend
(Robert is a television reporter conducting an initial interview with Josh for a cable TV program about stalkers. Josh has been imprisoned on a charge of aggravated stalking of his ex-girlfriend Cathy.)
An adjunct room within a correctional facility. Robert and Josh are seated across from one another at a 4’ x 8’ metal table. Robert is wearing a nicely tailored suit, while Josh is wearing a blue prison jumpsuit. Both of them have tiny microphones attached to their clothing. There is also a static large camera with cameraman at the rear of the table, and a static prison guard standing at the far rear of the room, behind Josh.
[At rise: Robert and Josh are seated on opposite ends of the metal table. The interview has apparently already begun, with Robert speaking his first line to Josh immediately.]
ROBERT: So, when you drove by the house the third time and you didn’t see her car there, what were you thinking?
JOSH: Actually, I was pretty surprised. I’d gone by a bunch of times over the last couple of months and it was almost always there. I mean it was hard to see it in the dark, but she had this little glittery decal of a figure skater on the back, so if I pulled up behind it, it would reflect in my headlights. Then I knew she was in the house.
ROBERT: So now her car hasn’t been there three nights in a row, and you’re taken aback.
JOSH: Yeah, it pretty much meant that either she was on vacation, or she had moved out. Really, I was already thinking she had moved out, because, y’know, you expect that sooner or later the thing you hope won’t happen does. I figured she’d finally gotten out of the place like she always wanted to.
ROBERT: She had expressed that to you in the past?
JOSH: Oh yeah, while I was seeing her, she was always talking about problems with her landlady and the kids upstairs. You could hear ’em early in the morning, making all kinds of noise. It was pretty nuts. I was thinking her lease would have been up right around then.
ROBERT: So that’s what led you to believe that she had moved out.
JOSH: Uh huh.
ROBERT: How did you react?
JOSH: It’s like, there were two places I knew she could be: at home or at her job. Take away the one, and that means fifty percent of the information you had is gone… like that. [Loudly slaps hands together.] But the reality of it is, y’know, I had more control when I knew where she lived, because I could go by her house pretty much any time of night when I wanted to, and keep tabs on her, or, like, I could leave stuff on her car if I felt like it.
ROBERT: Which you did, correct?
JOSH: Yeah, I left a note on there.
ROBERT: What did it say?
JOSH: I mean, how can I put it… basically what I was trying to tell her was that I thought she had treated me like shit, and then tossed me out like a piece of trash. That was in there.
ROBERT: Did you threaten her in the note?
JOSH: [Pauses.] Mmm… not really.
ROBERT: Was there any implied threat?
JOSH: [Pauses.] I guess it depends on how you look at it.
ROBERT: Okay, let’s say I’m her, reading the note that you left on my car. Is there any reason for me to feel that I could be in danger?
JOSH: To be honest, I really didn’t know what was in her head.
ROBERT: So what happened after she found the note?
JOSH: She sent me a text that morning asking if I put a note on her car.
ROBERT: Did you respond to that?
JOSH: I texted her back and said I haven’t tried to contact you since we broke up. Technically, that was true, because up till then, I hadn’t tried to get in touch with her.
ROBERT: Did she reply to what you told her?
JOSH: She sent another text saying, “Okay, thanks.”
ROBERT: What did you take that to mean?
JOSH: I thought she was just trying to be sneaky, playing her little mind games, y’know, that kind of thing.
ROBERT: What made you think that?
JOSH: ‘Cause that’s the way she was. You never knew with her. I mean, it could’ve been that she’d already called the cops on me or something.
ROBERT: But as far as you knew, she hadn’t.
JOSH: Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t. All I know is that the police didn’t show up at my door that day.
ROBERT: Did you leave anything else on her car right after that?
JOSH: No, I mean, not right away. I didn’t want her to be getting the law involved. I figured if I just played it cool, eventually the cards would play in my favor.
JOSH: Just that if I didn’t go announcing myself, she would just sit back and take a breather.
ROBERT: Is that what you thought she was doing when you were driving by her house late at night?
JOSH: She probably didn’t realize I was out there. [Laughs.]
ROBERT: Which meant that you could keep tabs on her.
JOSH: Uh huh. Y’know, I didn’t want to arouse any suspicion, but I wanted to keep an eye on her.
ROBERT: You did know where she worked.
JOSH: Yeah, and that was good, but the problem was that I couldn’t do anything with it. It wasn’t like I could just show up at her office, and I mean, that was during the day, so… really, it was just so I knew she was still in the area.
ROBERT: Even though, at this point, you weren’t sure she still lived in that same house.
JOSH: Yeah, at that point, she could have been any number of places.
ROBERT: So once you felt certain she no longer lived there, what did you do then?
JOSH: I was hoping her car would just show up again one night, but then a couple of weeks went by, and I started getting nervous. I mean, I didn’t want to go by her office or anything, but I really needed to find out where she was living.
ROBERT: You began trying to find her new address.
JOSH: That was pretty tough, too. I mean, nowadays, you can move somewhere and nobody knows where you are. Unless you go around trying to get that information from people, but its like, what am I gonna do, go up to one of her co-workers, like “Hey, can you tell me where Cathy lives now?” [Laughs.]
ROBERT: But eventually, you were able to locate her.
JOSH: It took a while, but I figured it out. You know what they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. [Laughs loudly.] I already went through this thing where I was looking on the internet for her, going through Facebook, putting her name in Google.
ROBERT: Did you gain any info from that?
JOSH: No, it was mostly stuff like her work e-mail, and her LinkedIn page, y’know, things I already knew about.
ROBERT: How did you track her down?
JOSH: I was lying in bed one night, and then I remembered that her mom lived in a townhouse about ten miles or so from where she had been living, and it could’ve been that she moved back in with her.
ROBERT: What did you do after that thought occurred to you?
JOSH: I was pretty excited, so I got up, and pulled out the envelope where I kept all my information about her, because one time she said she would be visiting her mom that afternoon and she wrote the address down on a post-it note. I forgot all about it, but after going through all those papers I found the note.
ROBERT: Did you drive to her mother’s house?
JOSH: Yeah, that same night. I mean, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sleep, so I figured I’d just drive over there.
ROBERT: And when you got there, did you see Cathy’s car?
JOSH: Uh huh. It was the same thing, I drove up and thought I saw her car in the parking lot, and then I pulled up behind it and saw the little skater decal and I knew it was her car.
ROBERT: You were glad that you had found her.
JOSH: Yeah, I felt really excited, like I’d just been on a roller coaster or something. It’s hard to even describe it. I mean, up ’til then, I was thinking I had lost her.
ROBERT: Did you stay for a while after you found her car?
JOSH: No, I mean, I didn’t need to. I just thought that I would have to keep checking back to make sure she really was living there now.
ROBERT: And did you?
JOSH: Yeah, I mean, early on, I was driving by at night, just about every night, to see if her car was still there.
ROBERT: So at a certain point you felt confident that she was living there.
JOSH: Well, I knew at least she was living there right then.
ROBERT: Did you try to contact her again?
JOSH: No, not right away. After a while though, after I saw her car at her mom’s all those times… [Long pause.]
ROBERT: You began leaving things on her car again.
JOSH: Yeah, I mean… one night I went to the supermarket and bought a rose, and I pulled some of the petals off it, and I went over there and scattered a few of those around.
ROBERT: On the car or on the ground?
JOSH: I put maybe two or three on the windshield, and some on the hood, and a few more on the pavement.
ROBERT: So the next morning she’d know that you or possibly someone else had been there in the night and left the rose petals on her car.
JOSH: I thought maybe it could’ve looked like they had just gotten there somehow.
ROBERT: But you wanted her to know that you had been there.
JOSH: Yeah, I guess you could say that.
ROBERT: So what happened the next morning? Did she contact you?
JOSH: Naw, I got up that morning thinking she might send me a text or something, but I didn’t hear from her.
ROBERT: What did you take that to mean?
JOSH: Well, I mean, really, I didn’t know what to think. I thought maybe she didn’t see them, and just drove to work.
ROBERT: What did you do then?
JOSH: I guess a few days went by, and I wasn’t really sure she had seen the rose petals, so I decided to go back and put something there that she would notice.
ROBERT: What did you leave?
JOSH: I went to the drugstore and got one of those really small boxes of chocolates that they have for ninety-nine cents or whatever.
ROBERT: You left the chocolates on her car?
JOSH: Yeah, but first I took it home and got this black spray paint I had, and I sprayed a little of it onto the plastic wrap.
ROBERT: Why did you do that?
JOSH: I thought if I left it on the pavement next to the driver’s side of her car, it wouldn’t stick out too much. Just like the rose petals, I mean, I could leave it there and it wouldn’t be so obvious.
ROBERT: After you left the chocolates, did she contact you the next morning?
JOSH: No, I never heard from her, and I mean, just like before I began to wonder if maybe she hadn’t seen it. I mean if it was still dark, she might not have noticed it there and just ran over it. [Laughs.]
ROBERT: Did you think that maybe she had seen the chocolates and just wasn’t acknowledging that you had left them there?
JOSH: That was the whole mystery of it, I mean, it began to drive me a little nuts, y’know. I drove back the next night to see if maybe the chocolates were still there on the ground, but I looked around, even a few houses down, and I couldn’t find anything.
ROBERT: So what did you do after that?
JOSH: I figured next time I had to put something there that she would notice, in case she hadn’t seen the stuff I’d already left.
ROBERT: What did you leave this time?
JOSH: I got this really nice necklace at a jewelry store, it was like fifty bucks or something. I tried to pick out one I thought she would like, and maybe y’know, she could wear it around.
ROBERT: And again, you left this on her car.
JOSH: I had them gift wrap it at the store with this silver wrap they had, just so it would stick out a little more, and I went by the house that night and put it on her windshield.
ROBERT: Did you get any response from her after that?
JOSH: No, and by then I was thinking, y’know, there she goes again, treating me like shit and just ignoring me. I couldn’t understand it, really. I thought I was being nice, y’know, making these kind gestures toward her, but she didn’t care about me, and she could just blow me off like she did before.
ROBERT: You were sure then, that she’d seen the items you were leaving for her.
JOSH: Yeah, I mean, she must have seen that necklace.
ROBERT: When you didn’t hear back from her, did you get angry?
JOSH: [Pauses.] I think I was getting a little pissed off by then, so yeah, I… you could say I was angry.
ROBERT: You felt certain that she was ignoring you.
JOSH: Uh huh.
ROBERT: You kept trying to contact her though.
JOSH: Yeah, but I thought maybe I was using the wrong approach. It was like, y’know, maybe I just needed to tell her… [Pauses.]
ROBERT: Tell her what?
JOSH: Well, I just, y’know, like I didn’t want her to be scared of me or anything. Really, I wanted to let her know that I was there for her. Just… [Pauses.] well, just that I was doing okay.
ROBERT: Did you think that was something that she would be concerned about?
JOSH: Maybe, maybe not. I was thinking that if I could just show… [Pauses.] If I could tell her that I wasn’t trying to make her afraid of me or anything like that.
ROBERT: How did you hope to express this to her?
JOSH: I just wrote out another letter to her, put it in an envelope, and left it on her car that night.
ROBERT: What was written in the letter?
JOSH: Just about… y’know, just how I felt about me and her. Like I thought we should give it another chance.
ROBERT: After she had ignored all of the other things you left for her, what made you think that she would respond this new communication?
JOSH: [Pauses.] Well, I mean… [Pauses.] I thought that if I showed her a better side of me, she might come around, and maybe talk to me again, and we could go out for drinks or whatever.
ROBERT: You expressed this feeling in the letter.
JOSH: Not exactly like that, ’cause I wrote… [Long pause.]
ROBERT: What did you write?
JOSH: I wrote that… [Pauses] that I still loved her even after all the bad things she did… [Pauses] and that I… [Voice trembling] that I really… I really wanted her to be with me again. [Long pause.] I’m sorry… let me get it together…
ROBERT: Its okay, take your time.
JOSH: [Pause. Josh reaches up and wipes his eyes, which have gotten teary.] This is the hard part for me, ‘cause, like, I loved this girl really just because I did, y’know, but then I hated her for what she did to me, and I went back and forth on that.
ROBERT: Conflicting emotions.
JOSH: Uh huh.
ROBERT: So now, you’ve left this new letter on her car. Did she contact you?
JOSH: I got up the next morning and checked my phone to see if there was a text message, but there wasn’t. So I got in the shower, and thought that maybe by the time I was done showering, there would be a new text message on my phone.
ROBERT: Was there?
JOSH: No. Nothing came in.
ROBERT: Did that surprise you?
JOSH: No, I really… I mean, I knew it might have been something she would need some time to think about, but I was hoping she’d get back to me.
ROBERT: Did she?
JOSH: Well, I was thinking about it while I was getting dressed, y’know, trying to imagine what she might have been felt about what I put in that letter. Then I heard the knock on my door.
ROBERT: I’m guessing that was the police.
JOSH: Yeah, there were two of them, and one handed me a TRO that was saying like I wasn’t to go within five hundred feet of her, or try to contact her in any way, or y’know, stuff like that.
JOSH: Temporary restraining order.
ROBERT: Was that a shock for you?
JOSH: I was really hot, man, I mean, I went and tried to be nice to her, got her that necklace, and then she turned around and put the police on me. I just thought that was a low blow, like, why didn’t she just call me and tell me she wasn’t interested or something like that? Why did she have to go and make a legal issue out of it? And then I thought, y’know, I forgot about this part, ’cause this is how she really is, just ready to make a fool of me any way she can.
ROBERT: So once again you were angry at her.
JOSH: Well, yeah, but I think anybody in my situation would be mad. It’s like how many times have you been nice to someone and they call the cops on you? I don’t think there’s many that can say that, y’know, and it was just like… I knew I was on my own then.
ROBERT: Did you consider trying to get back at her?
JOSH: Yeah, I mean, wouldn’t you?
ROBERT: What did you think you might do?
JOSH: I don’t know, I mean, maybe I would… well, I couldn’t go around her mom’s house at night anymore, so there wasn’t much I could do, really.
ROBERT: Did you still want to contact her after that?
JOSH: I thought about it, ’cause I’d been having trouble sleeping. I mean, it was bugging me, y’know, that she went and did this to me. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I felt kinda powerless.
ROBERT: As if something had been taken away from you.
JOSH: Exactly. I felt like I’d already been put in prison or something. I wasn’t free to keep an eye on her, at least I couldn’t go by her mom’s place anymore.
ROBERT: Did these feelings get worse over time?
JOSH: Yeah. I was losing track of time, getting to work late, I mean, I was really getting restless.
ROBERT: Couldn’t you distract yourself, to keep from thinking about her?
JOSH: That was just the problem. She wouldn’t go away. It was like, the more they took her away from me, the more I wanted to talk to her.
ROBERT: So what happened next?
JOSH: There was, like, a whole week where I didn’t sleep much, so my mind began to get kinda screwy, and I started thinking the only way this was going to go away was if I talked to her.
ROBERT: Even though you knew that because of the restraining order, you couldn’t.
JOSH: But it was driving me crazy by then, and I knew I had to do something… so, I thought about it for a while, and just decided that I’d call her, and tell her I was sorry about the way I’d been acting, and that I would leave her alone if she wanted me to.
ROBERT: But isn’t that what she was trying to tell you by getting a restraining order taken out on you?
JOSH: [Pauses.] That could be, but I also figured maybe one of her friends told her to do that, like maybe one of her co-workers told her to put the screws to me, and call the cops.
ROBERT: And with that in mind, you were going to call her and talk to her.
JOSH: Well, I thought it might make things better, y’know. I started to get all my thoughts together, everything I wanted to say, I ran it through my head a few times. Like, I wanted to be gentle, and not come off like I was some aggressive guy, but that… I wanted to show my best side to her.
ROBERT: You thought she would respond to that.
JOSH: I didn’t know, but I figured there was only one way I was gonna find out.
ROBERT: So then you called her. What was that like?
JOSH: I got up a little nerve, y’know, I was kind of scared, but uh… I called her mom’s house, and Cathy actually answered.
ROBERT: Do you think she knew it was you calling?
JOSH: Probably, I think they had caller ID there, so maybe she saw my number flashing.
ROBERT: Once she picked up the phone, what did she say?
JOSH: She just said hello, and she was kind of pleasant, so I told her I was really sorry about the things I’d been doing, y’know, putting the stuff on her car, and that I didn’t want to drive her away, that maybe I was wrong, but I didn’t want it to get in the way of our relationship.
ROBERT: What was her response to that?
JOSH: She didn’t say that much, but she seemed cool with it.
ROBERT: How long did you talk?
JOSH: I’d say maybe, ten, fifteen minutes.
ROBERT: Did she seem angry or express any negative feelings toward you?
JOSH: No, and I thought that was really good. When I got off the phone with her, I felt like… y’know, like I’d just scored a touchdown. Like I had finally broke through, and things were gonna be okay.
ROBERT: So right then, you were happy.
JOSH: Damn right I was happy. I’d finally spoken to the woman I loved, and she wasn’t pissed or angry with me… it was all just a misunderstanding, and maybe we could even go out sometime and talk about how we were doing.
ROBERT: Which meant that you intended to stay in contact with her.
JOSH: At first, yeah.
ROBERT: Did something make you change your mind?
JOSH: When I was talking to her on the phone, man, I felt high as a kite. Even when I hung up, I was still feeling it, but maybe a half-hour later, I started feeling a little sick. My head was spinning, and I felt like I was gonna throw up or something.
ROBERT: What was the cause of that?
JOSH: I started getting paranoid, and I was thinking like maybe that phone call had been taped, and it was gonna be used as evidence against me.
ROBERT: You were worried that the police would be involved again.
JOSH: Definitely. It was beginning to dawn on me that maybe the whole phone call thing had just been an act on her part, and that I might be in serious trouble now.
ROBERT: What happened next?
JOSH: I was agitated, like, for hours. I had this gut feeling that the police would come. I was trying to think of ways I could get around it, y’know, like driving to another state, or maybe staying with a friend.
ROBERT: Did you make plans to flee, or did the police arrive before you could?
JOSH: Yeah, they came by my apartment and arrested me for violating the provisions of the TRO.
ROBERT: What was your response?
JOSH: I remember that it was almost like the moment they cuffed me, like I had x-ray vision or something, everything became crystal clear, and I saw through everything. It hit me then, y’know, that I was in a lot of trouble, and might do time for this.
ROBERT: After the police booked you, were you able to post bail?
JOSH: Yeah, I had an uncle who came and got me.
ROBERT: What did they charge you with?
JOSH: Aggravated stalking, if you can believe that.
ROBERT: I want to move forward to the hearing.
ROBERT: What happened when you appeared in court?
JOSH: It was the usual thing, raise your right hand, and all that. When she came into the hearing room, she looked all worn out, like she hadn’t gotten enough sleep or something. No makeup, y’know, clothes all wrinkled…
ROBERT: What was your impression of her appearance? Did you think she was exhausted from of all of the events that had occurred?
JOSH: Nah, I thought it was all an act, like her lawyer had told her to look as bad as she could for court so the judge would increase my sentence.
ROBERT: But you don’t think that she was actually distressed because of your attempts to contact her.
JOSH: Maybe that might have been a little part of it, but y’know, you gotta realize that this girl was a real game-player. She would’ve done anything to make me look bad. I think that was her goal in life.
ROBERT: What kinds of things did she say during her testimony?
JOSH: Aw man, you should’ve heard it, it was all kinds of crazy stuff, like she had been having trouble sleeping at night because she was afraid that I was gonna, y’know… kill her or something.
ROBERT: Do you think she may have been afraid after you left the items on her car and then called her?
JOSH: [Pauses.] It’s like, I mean she might have been a little freaked out by it, but she knows me, and she knows I wasn’t trying to get revenge or anything.
ROBERT: Her counsel brought evidence to use against you, correct?
JOSH: They had all the stuff I’d left on her car. It was like, each thing was in its own plastic bag, like the kind you’d put a sandwich in.
ROBERT: They had every item you had left on her car.
JOSH: Yeah, and it kinda burned me because she had never even opened the necklace I got her. It was still wrapped up.
ROBERT: Did the police record the phone call you made?
JOSH: They did and they were gonna play it, but really, I mean, anybody that listens to it would see that I’m not a violent person, and that I meant no harm trying to get in touch with her.
ROBERT: They didn’t play the tape?
JOSH: No, I think they figured they already had enough stuff to get me convicted.
ROBERT: They had all they needed to prove you were her stalker.
JOSH: [Long pause.] Y’know, I don’t like that term too much. I mean, I’m not a stalker. A stalker is someone who hunts women down to kill them, and I was just trying to let her know that I still loved her. I mean, it’s crazy that we live in a world where someone can get arrested and sent to jail just because they love someone and want them to know that they’ve got their back. That doesn’t make sense to me. It’s just another thing to give those lawyers and judges something to do, y’know, to help make another payment on their Mercedes or whatever.
– James Stephens, 2nd Place in Script
Understanding Student Veterans
Chances are you have one in a class you’re taking. They are a little older, but not too much older; you wouldn’t confuse them with a retiree auditing a class. They are in good shape; not as lean as they used to be, but they’re still pretty fit. They might have tattoos; some wear metal bracelets with small font that you can never quite read, and others have wedding bands. About half of them have a beard and long hair, and the other half have close cropped hair and fresh shaves. They are never late for class and are usually the first one in the door for class, sometimes ridiculously early. When they address their professors, they use terms like “Yes, sir,” “No, sir,” “Yes, ma’am,” and “No, ma’am.” You might have even seen some of them get visibly angry when they feel like their professors are not getting the respect they deserve because students are talking, texting, or facebooking in class, and most likely they let the offenders know it. Some of their backpacks are green, brown, or camouflage. If you see one of these tell-tale signs, odds are you have a veteran in your class.
In my short college career, I have noticed many veterans in my classes. I find it interesting how veterans interact with other students and I wonder how other students see them. I don’t know what a traditional student thinks of veterans, but I can give some insight to how veterans see other students and how they come across to them. I base this on my experiences as a veteran and my talks with other veterans; whether in formal interviews or informal conversations with other veterans. I did these interviews in person and via email. The veterans I talked to are from the current and late wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, and one professor who is a veteran of Vietnam.*
Based on my interviews and experiences there are two kinds of veterans in school. There are the ones who look like all the other students with the only visible difference being their age, and the others are ones even a person with no knowledge about the military would know were service members. They may look different, but one thing they have in common is they come to class prepared and are serious about their studies. They treat school like a job and are not there to experience college like a traditional college student; they get very frustrated when they see other students come to class late and unprepared, doze off in class, and show generally poor attitudes. To them, this is like someone slacking off at work and it drives them up the wall. Veterans want to get done with school as fast as they can and move on with their lives.
You might have a friend who is a veteran but if you hang out with them outside of class, consider yourself an exception to the rule. There are two main reasons for this: age and motivation. The veterans are usually older than the traditional students, so there is a generational difference between them and they don’t have much in common with each other. While a traditional student was living it up over summer vacation, a veteran was facing the summer fighting season in Afghanistan where people were trying to kill him every day, and he was looking to do the same to them. There is not much in common between them, and what they do have in common is so little that there isn’t much to start a friendship over.
Another reason there isn’t much commonality between the traditional students and veterans is they have different motivations to get them through school. Many of their goals are the same; they want to get a degree and move on to whatever job or career they hope to pursue. What motivates them is what really makes them different. I’d imagine traditional students are looking to get good grades – among other reasons – because their parents are paying for school and they don’t want to let them down; that is great motivation, and there is nothing wrong with that. Veterans’ motivations are usually a little more personal. Veterans will usually have families, with a spouse and children to support; they are in school to better their quality of life. Another common motivation I found among veterans was the desire to honor the memory of friends that they lost in the service; veterans don’t want their friends’ sacrifice to be in vain, so they do their best to live a life that would make their friends proud. The friends they lost will never have the opportunity they have now to live the life of a college student. They know the fragility of life and realize we are not immortal.
I asked many veterans if they shared their experiences from their time in the service with other students or in class time discussions. Most said they don’t volunteer too much; they will contribute to conversations in class if it is pertinent to the subject or the professor asks them specifically, but they don’t go out of the way to tell other students about what they saw, did, and experienced in the service. You can hardly blame a veteran for this; many veterans don’t want to dredge up painful memories especially if they think that people will not give it the respect it deserves.
So now that you have gotten a small look into how veterans think and act and what motivates them, I’m going to aim this essay at veterans. I don’t think veterans and traditional students are ever going to be best of friends. That’s not to say there is any animosity between them; in fact that’s the opposite. All the veterans I talked to said they never experienced any animosity from other students or professors for their service. I’ve read how veterans returning from Vietnam were not treated well by people who disagreed with that war. None of the veterans I talked to had an experience like this and the Vietnam veteran only had it happen to him once. Interestingly, his experience in college sounded a lot like veterans of today. Veterans throughout time really aren’t all that different. The student veterans I talked to reported they received more thank yous from traditional students and professors for their service than anything. Even with the disagreement over the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan in our country, it is encouraging to say that overwhelmingly people support veterans.
Still, we veterans should make more of an effort to engage with and talk to traditional students. I understand if veterans would like to leave behind their time in the service, and not talk about it – that was another life in many ways, and they have moved on, but for one reason, I urge you to have more interaction with traditional students. Let them know about the sacrifices that were made by our brothers and how war is an awful and ugly thing. I had a student ask me once if being in the Marines was like the video game Call of Duty, and he was serious. Veterans know it isn’t like a video game at all and we need to let other students know what it is really like lest they think war is a video game. Don’t be the weird, loner veteran in your class; when asked about your service be proud of what you did, but don’t hold back when you tell them how it really is.
Like it or not, students are not in the cafeteria reading the New York Times or Washington Post and looking at the latest casualty reports to come back from overseas; were you when you were their age? No, you weren’t. Even if they are aware of the sacrifices that were made, having someone who was there and experienced what veterans experience is invaluable. You don’t have to go out and start telling war stories to college kids, but make yourself available and approachable to questions about your service, and be prepared to answer their questions. Make sure our brother’s sacrifices are not forgotten.
With the information in this essay, I hope that student veterans and traditional students will interact more with each other. The traditional students will learn more about the sacrifices of our service members and our veterans will use school as a way to reintegrate into civilian life while honoring the sacrifices of the service members who will never go to school. College is used to broaden and challenge people’s minds and to become more well-rounded people. Student veterans and traditional students, let’s both take advantage of this great opportunity we have in college and get to work together.
– J. D. Hodges, 2nd Place in Essay
 As of 13 March 2013 6,630 service members have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of those, 146 were females. None of the veterans I talked to were females or served with females in combat.
A Light Found in Darkness
For three years of my Coast Guard career, I was stationed as a cook on one of the services most untypical cutters, a construction tender. This was no technologically advanced, drug interdicting, life-saving, high seas ship. She was over thirty years old, dented, and black with rust protruding from her crevices. A seventy-five-foot tugboat with an eighty-four-foot crane barge strung to the front with two-inch steel cables. It was slow; only capable of moving ten nautical miles an hour. She was a work boat but reliable and steadfast. Her crew was small for a Coast Guard ship; fourteen men including our Captain. We were as close to brothers as shipmates could be.
Our Captain was a twenty-eight-year veteran ship operator. He was a thin, old, and weathered Senior Chief Boatswain’s Mate who seemed more like a crewmember than our leader, but knew when to draw the line. Our normal mission was to maintain and construct aids to navigation pylon markers and buoys along the inter-coastal shipping channels between Port O’Connor and South Padre Island, Texas. For three years, things were as normal and mundane as could be until my last patrol where things got a little more interesting – even a little extraordinary.
Moored for the evening at the Coast Guard station in South Padre Island, our intentions were to rest and head back to our homeport in Corpus Christi the following morning. We had spent two weeks reconstructing the channel markers along the narrow Laguna Madre channel. We were exhausted and ready to reunite with our families. It was 3 O’clock in the morning when we got the call. The midnight watch stander broke into the berthing area, out of breath and with a trembling southern draw yells “Get your coveralls on! The bridge fell down and there are cars and people in the water!” I awoke suddenly in disbelief, thinking this was some sort of joke. I saw the watch stander’s face and immediately knew this would be no ordinary day.
The date was September 15th, 2001, four days after the attacks on the World Trade Center. On a ship where the days are redundantly routine, structured, and slow paced, I had never seen movement with such urgency. There were coffin racks being thrown open and the sound of 13 men frantically trying to dress and get their boots on without beating each other senseless with their arms outstretching through their uniform sleeves. Our Captain had us muster up on the bow of the tug but didn’t have a lot of information. All we could do is speculate that this was another terrorist attack. Surely our Captain would have more information as the situation continued to unfold.
The Captain was bewildered and nervous as this was probably one of the most intense things he had experienced within the last two decades of his career. He had no real answers for the crew, only advice, and he said “Prepare for the worst, work together, and safety is everyone’s responsibility so keep an eye out for each other; let’s go see what we can do.” We made quick work of clearing the barge deck by shifting the 60-foot pylons to one side and bringing the smaller construction supplies below decks, anticipating that we would need a place for bodies or wreckage.
It seemed like forever between the time we unmoored and made it through the winding inlet between South Padre Island and the Queen Isabella Causeway but it was only about fifteen minutes and still very dark. As we made our approach, there were already three small Coast Guard boats on scene taking turns shining their high-powered spotlights through what used to be a 500-foot span of the causeway into the dark sky and then alternating toward the churning, murky brown water below in search of survivors. The small boats were shining lights through the opening to warn drivers of the perils that lay ahead. We could clearly see the streams of light as it reflected off of the dense humidity in the air, but to the unsuspecting drivers, it was not so obvious.
Through the distance, you could hear the sound of screeching tires, but only for a brief second. The drivers only had a second to react but it wasn’t enough time. Next we heard the twisting metal and splashing as each car made impact with the exposed support pillar and then the water. I had never felt so helpless in all my life. It was like a dream where you’re running but not going anywhere, your muscles unable to work and unable to even belt out a scream. Seconds felt like hours as we just stood there, not knowing how many more cars would come before the police could block the causeway from both directions.
An hour later, the sky grew lighter and revealed an eerie scene of two dozen rescue boats, helicopters, and the wreckage of one vehicle crushed like a tin can against a support beam just above the water line. Department of Transportation workers were surveying the damage, standing at the edge of the 85-foot drop. A water pipe that traveled under the causeway continued to flow. The water cascaded down and became more of a spray as it got further away and contended with the whipping gulf wind. About 500 yards away was a tugboat with a long string of barges attached to it. It seemed like an odd place for a barge to be hanging out, but we thought it might be waiting to pass under the bridge so we paid it no mind. South Padre Island had no other bridge and also no ferry service. Electricity and fresh water were now cut off and no one could get on or off the island. The small city was isolated from the mainland. The warm sun began to shine and it was reported that no one survived. A feeling of hopelessness filled the air and silently we all stared at each other knowing this rescue effort had turned into a recovery effort.
I made my way to the galley to make breakfast for the crew. I was the only cook on board and I instinctively knew that keeping morale high and providing some normalcy was extremely important in a situation like this. The Captain informed me that our ship was going to become a command and control platform used to carry out the recovery mission. He asked if I could keep everyone fed until the Red Cross could establish a way to send meals out. I knew my food inventory was limited since we were supposed to be heading back to homeport that very same day. I told him that I would feed as many people for as long as I could, given what supplies I had.
Before I knew it, we had over 80 people onboard. State and Federal agency small boats tied off to the side of our ship. We had Sherriff’s Officers, Fire and Rescue personnel, and even Texas Rangers. I only had enough food for our crew to last two or three days. For the next six hours, I cooked everything I had in my pantry. I prepared and served an odd assortment of food and I did my best to carefully match the items so they weren’t too outrageously paired. It was quite the smorgasbord. Looking back, it was nice to be away from the scene for a little while, tucked away in my tiny sanctuary toward the stern doing what I loved to do but soon that would change.
Later that day, law enforcement officials informed us that a tugboat pushing a long string of barges had struck one of the center bridge support pillars causing the collapse. I thought back to the tugboat we saw on the side of the channel, and it immediately became clear that it was responsible for the horrific accident. An important part of this recovery effort and the investigation process was documenting the operation on film. The footage would be reviewed later by law enforcement agencies during the investigation process, for training, and for Coast Guard ‘lessons learned’ purposes.
Although our ship seemed to be well-suited and well-equipped for this type of operation, the Coast Guard has never been a part of anything similar to this in the past. Normally, salvaging cars and bodies from the water would be left to some type of salvage barge but we were already on scene and capable of performing the task. While awaiting the arrival of the U.S. Navy Divers, I continued to provide meals until I had barely a crumb left. The Red Cross responded just in time and began sending meals out to the ship; I no longer needed to cook. With no real purpose after my food was expended, I was asked to film the recovery operation once it began, so I hung up my apron and took to the camera. The divers were ready to go and the camera was rolling.
One by one, we plucked three cars from the bottom with ease. Each car was placed and held vertically on the bow and transported to another nearby barge so the bodies could be extracted, identified, and transported to shore. It was a gruesome scene with the cars and bodies badly mangled. As the vehicles were pulled up vertically by their chassis, water gushed out from their torn open windshields, carrying miscellaneous debris and a heavy smell of gasoline and rotting flesh. Airbags were hanging from the front of each car like collapsed grocery bags half-filled with water; the people inside looked translucent and waterlogged as if they were not even real. The warm water of the Gulf and the blue crabs had viciously taken their toll on the victims in just a short time. Their faces and arms were chewed up and gouged; their skin was loose and pruned with pieces dangling as they were suspended in their seats. The smell of decomposition was inconceivable, like the smell of a million dead and rotting barnacles at low tide times ten. Most of the crew had never seen a dead body before, let alone anything gruesome like this.
The bodies were laid out and their pockets were cut open to retrieve any form of identification. I will never forget one man that we pulled from a car. His arms and wrists were locked in front of him; elbows bent the opposite way as if tried to brace for impact and they buckled backwards. His eyes were wide open and a translucent blue. The look of complete terror on his face will haunt me forever. I remember wondering what it must have been like for them in their last moments. One female was pulled from the backseat of her blue Ford Mustang. A rescue worker explained that she probably crawled to the back to get air when she couldn’t escape. Her hands were badly bruised and a greasy vomit film covered the inside back windshield. He said she was probably trying to punch out the window but eventually the car completely filled with water and she ingested and vomited water back and forth until she died.
I remember feeling a tremendous amount of angst and sadness and a fear of death that I had never felt before. It must have been a terrifying way to die; to be driving along one minute listening to your favorite tunes and the next minute fighting for your life while you sink into darkness. Just as the fourth car was about to be rigged up, the divers described the scene underwater as they examined the best way to attach the crane cable. My heart sank when they reported a male and female couple and a child seat in the car. My son was only a year old at the time and I couldn’t help but personalize the situation. I was not prepared to see a child in the same condition as the rest of the people we had retrieved. I’m not normally a religious person, but I prayed with all my conviction for a miracle.
As we anxiously waited for the divers to prepare the fourth car for retrieval, I noticed a second section of the bridge inching its way off its support pillars. Earlier in the day, there seemed to be about eight inches of overlap atop of the pillars. It must have been the heat of the hot summer day that was causing the bridge to expand, and several hours later there only seemed to be about two inches overlapping. This was not a good sign, since our ship and the divers were right under the bridge performing the recovery and transportation officials were standing directly on top of the unstable structure.
I immediately ran to the bridge to alert the Captain and frantically exclaimed, “Senior Chief, we need to get the divers out of the water and back up, that bridge is coming down!” With no hesitation, he ordered the divers out of the water using the loud speaker. He was also yelling to alert the transportation workers on top of the bridge to get off. We were waving our hands and screaming for them to run. As soon as the last diver was aboard, the Captain started backing down with all the ships might. The transportation workers were running for their lives.
We couldn’t have been more than twenty-five feet away when a second 500,000-pound section of the bridge came crashing down with a deep thunderous crack and then a brief silence just before it made impact with the water. Everyone just froze with fear and astonishment. The fallen section generated a massive splash and a wave that rocked the ship to the likes she had never seen before because she was an inland cutter. When the sea settled down, I could see the unmistakable look of relief on everyone’s faces. We all knew just how close we were to death and further tragedy.
From that point forward, we proceeded more cautiously. We headed for shore and waited two days for the remaining support pillars to be reinforced with cables. The last few days had taken their toll on us emotionally, and seeing the family members eager for closure was making the situation even tougher to cope with. I remember feeling relieved that we avoided a second tragedy, but the scene on shore overshadowed that. The police lights that were barely visible an hour earlier were now much brighter against the evening sky. Family members of the victims were standing at the edge of the water waiting for answers and for closure. I could tell how dispirited they were to see us coming in and their loved ones were still not found. I wanted so badly to help them, but there was obviously nothing I could do to erase their grief and torment.
As I made my way off the ship to head into town for food supplies, an older woman was standing near the pier holding a baby boy, maybe only a year old, and wearing only a diaper. The woman looked as though she had not slept for days and the cheeks below her eyes were swollen and red, revealing her distress as if she had been weeping for equally as long. The baby was crying hysterically as if he was somehow able to know that something was very wrong. The reflections of red and blue strobe lights were glistening off the tears running down his face. With a motherly instinct, she was trying to be strong and comfort the child, as any nurturing caregiver would do but it was evident that she needed comfort herself. As we disembarked the cutter, she somberly approached us and asked if we had found her daughter or son in-law. She said the two of them had been out celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary and never came home.
I froze—crippled with anguish and unable to fathom her loss. I didn’t quite know how to react or what to say. The only words I could muster up were that I didn’t know anything. My conscience felt heavy and I wanted nothing more than to tell her what she needed to hear but I could not. I directed her to seek answers from the other law enforcement officials standing nearby. My heart wrenched and my stomach nauseatingly turned because I knew exactly where her loved ones were but I was in no official position to inform her of what we discovered that day. Suddenly, it occurred to me that she was holding the baby and we would not find the body of a child in the fourth car. I was emotionally overwhelmed with sadness but relieved at the same time. The baby was safe, but his parents were sitting at the bottom of Laguna Madre with a 250-ton section of bridge crushing them deeper into the muddy bottom and this child would grow up without them.
Two days later, we set out to what remained of the Queen Isabella Causeway and urgently began recovering the remaining vehicles. Throughout that week, we were able to recover all of the cars by dragging them out from under the rubble. The families, although stricken with immense grief, were grateful for our efforts and were at least able to find closure and some peace. I remember getting back home after the mission and hugging my family harder and with more sentiment than ever before. I have never been the same after that week; nor have my shipmates who shared this experience.
I felt like a piece of me was gone but replaced with something more profound; a light that I had never taken the time to see. It was replaced with a greater sense of purpose for my life and a deeper appreciation for the ones I love. The blind piece of indestructibility within me had vanished allowing the light to touch my soul deeply. The incident taught me that life is frail and indefinite and to cherish each day and every moment in it because you never know just how extraordinary the next turn might be.
Jeffrey Lester, 2nd Place in Short Story
EXT: HOUSE. MIDDAY.
Caution tape is wrapped around a car, with the driver’s door still open. A woman sits on the curb, wrapped in a shock blanket. DETECTIVE #1 asks the first question, DETECTIVE#2 hands her a coffee mug.
DETECTIVE #1: Tell me what you remember.
MELISSA: It all happened so fast. I- I can’t remember how it happened. But I know who did it! It was Rachel Williams! She’s a WITCH!
As she collapses into tears, both detectives look shocked. Detective #2 blocks a bystander taking video on their phone.
CUT TO: Talking Head
DETECTIVE #1: What people don’t realize is that witchcraft is still a major threat to today’s society. We’re civilized people handling this in a civilized manner.
CUT TO: A person on an inversion table while the detectives spray water in their face shouting at them.
CUT TO: Talking Head
DETECTIVE #1: I just want people to be able to feel safe.
EXT: RACHEL’ S APARTMENT
Detective #1 pounds on the door while Detective #2 stands by, ready for the worst.
DETECTIVE #1: Open up! It’s the police!
RACHEL opens the door and steps outside
RACHEL: What’s wrong, officer?
DETECTIVE #2: (offended) That’s Detective to you!
DETECTIVE #1: Calm down, Bill. Miss, we have a warrant to search your apartment.
He holds out the warrant and drops it, thinking he’s handing it to her. She fumbles to catch it.
RACHEL: What? Why?
The detectives push past her and into her apartment splitting up to start the search immediately. DETECTIVE #1 finds a box of Twinkies and holds it up accusingly.
DETECTIVE #1: Well, well, well, what is this?
DETECTIVE #2: HOW DID YOU GET THOSE? THAT COMPANY HAS BEEN EXTINCT FOR OVER SIX MONTHS!
RACHEL: I bought them before-
DETECTIVE #2: NOBODY BUYS A BOX OF TWINKIES AND DOESN’T EAT THEM IMMEDIATELY!
RACHEL: (Stammering) I heard the company was going out of business and I-
DETECTIVE #1: You heard? Or you foresaw?
The detectives exchange a glance and then proceed to arrest her.
INT: INTERROGATION ROOM
The detectives think they are hot on the trail and about to get a confession.
DETECTIVE #1: Do you know Melissa Carter?
RACHEL: Yes, she’s my coworker. Why, has something happened to her?
DETECTIVE #2: I DON”T KNOW, DID YOU MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN TO HER?
DETECTIVE #1: Bill, calm down-
DETECTIVE #2: NO, BILL, YOU CALM DOWN! You never let me ask any questions! How is that supposed to make me feel?
DETECTIVE #1: (rubs his temple and sighs) Go on.
DETECTIVE #2: Thank you. (turns to RACHEL) Now, how many licks does it really take to get to the center of a oopsie pop?
DETECTIVE #1: BILL!
DETECTIVE #2: WHAT? I NEED TO KNOW. THE FALCON NEVER TOLD ME!
DETECTIVE #1: (points to the door) Get out.
CUT TO: Talking Head
DETECTIVE #2: (Standing against a wall, with a cigarette or a lollipop) No, I don’t regret it, there are some things that a man just needs to know.
CUT TO: INT:Interrogation room
DETECTIVE #1: So, can you describe to me what happened before Mrs. Carter got locked in her car?
RACHEL: She got locked in her car? Is that even possible?
DETECTIVE #1: Don’t play games with me Rachel. If you come clean now, it will all be easier on you.
RACHEL: Come clean about what?
DETECTIVE #1: You have been accused of witchcraft, and so far the evidence is pretty substantial.
RACHEL: Wait, Melissa Carter accused me of witchcraft?
DETECTIVE #1: I didn’t say that! How did you know?
RACHEL: You just brought her up, and then told me, just now. Why would she think I locked her…wait a minute. I know what happened.
DETECTIVE #1: So you admit it?
RACHEL: Admit what?
DETECTIVE #1: That you’re a witch!
RACHEL: What? No! But I think I know how Melissa got locked in her car.
DETECTIVE #1: There is no way that this could have happened without supernatural forces.
RACHEL: Yes there is.
CUT TO: Dramatization with RACHEL’S voice-over.
RACHEL: So, Melissa is an avid recreational user of marijuana, not that I care or endorse it. She was sitting in her car in the parking lot when I was leaving work. Now, I’m not saying she was doing it, but I saw a fair amount of smoke inside when I went by. I wanted to give her back the CD I borrowed, so I gestured for her to roll down the window. She freaked out, and peeled out of the parking lot. You can see the skid marks as proof.
CUT BACK TO: Interrogation room
DETECTIVE #1: (with disdain) You really expect me to believe that?
CUT TO: Talking Head
MELISSA: Yeah, that’s what happened. Sorry, Rachel, my bad.
CUT TO: Talking Head
OFF-CAMERA VOICE: And how do you feel about all of this?
CREW MEMBER: Well, it’s like watching a train wreck, except you’re following the train wreck around.
CUT TO: EXT: the Detectives blatantly ignore someone getting brutally beaten as they go to RACHEL’S house.
INT: BATHROOM. The detectives approach the JUDGE as he stands at a urinal.
DETECTIVE #1: Judge Hoffman, can we have a word?
JUDGE: How many times do I have to tell you? If you want to talk to me, see me in my office.
DETECTIVE #2: (thinking he’s funny) You mean this isn’t your office?
DETECTIVE #1: Shut up, Bill! Please, Judge Hoffman, this is important. We have a real case here.
JUDGE: (sighing) What is it this time?
DETECTIVE #1: We found a witch!
The JUDGE bangs his head against the wall.
CUT TO: Talking Head
JUDGE: I really hate those guys.
OFF-CAMERA VOICE: So why do you keep signing warrants?
JUDGE: (cracking) I just want them to leave me ALONE! It never works… (sobs)
CUT TO: Talking Head
DETECTIVE #1: I’m feeling really good about this case. Judge Hoffman loves us. Like a father, or a papa bear. This case is going to be a piece of cake.
CUT TO: Talking Head
RACHEL: I honestly have no idea how this has gotten to this point. This is ridiculous. The justice system has failed me. How in today’s modern age is this even an issue? These are the most incompetent people I have ever met.
CUT TO: The detectives trying to get something from a vending machine but putting the money in sideways or trying to put quarters in the dollar slot. They see the camera man and chase him.
CUT BACK TO: Talking Head
RACHEL: The only thing I really want out of this documentary is for them to get fired. Please, just fire them. Oh, and Melissa: Fuck you.
Fade to black for epilogue
Rachel was found guilty. . .of being innocent.
The detectives were fired and are now trying to run their own private agency. . .nobody will hire them.
The honorable Judge Hoffman was forced into early retirement . . . he’s taking it pretty well.
Melissa was arrested on drug charges a year later. . .what took so long?
The box of Twinkies was never recovered.
The number of licks it takes to get to the center of an oopsie pop? . . .The world may never know.
– Daniel Salzberg & Meghan Oney, 1st Place in Script)
It’s not even October
But I’m excited
I want to be Eric’s Secret Santa this Christmas
I need to be Eric’s Secret Santa this Christmas
I know I will
It’s only right
It’s my right
It’s my duty
We both have been plagued by that tormenting goblin of the psyche
The demon on our shoulder
But I know what I’m going to get him
In whites greys shells and tans
Like Mister Rodgers
Made of the finest Italian leathers
Or in the clan tartan
And perhaps a Burberry
Blazers and Jackets
Fit for a captain of a ship
Or an archduke of a small European nation
Beautiful enough for all occasions
Of Victorian tradition
To make him a gentleman fine
Of the most dreamy of Oriental silks
In the most grand jeweled colors
From Crown Chakra Amethyst Purple
To Life-Blood Ruby Red
In whimsical patterns
Dots and Spots
Stars and Suns
Smiley Faces, too
So he may smile again when he wears them
A pair or two of lavish palmless gloves
So he may be dapper
Like a marquis of a steam-powered Rococo France
Of masculine blues
And purples most royal
The 10th Doctor’s coat
For some extra dashing
And maybe the 11th Doctor’s coat
If I do not get the beautiful thing for myself
Caps and hats
All styles and fashions
That all handsome aristocrat boys of the technology era could ever want or need to keep in fashion
A waistcoat or two
For a touch of formality
And sweet regality
Not purely ornamental
And also not the cheap hipster kind
So he may be the master of his time
And drink in all moments
And not waste a drop of the day’s river
And a fragrance
A scent signature
So he may say
“The Duke Eric of Fairfax has arrived
You may grovel as you please”
Maybe leather and oakmoss
Maybe Dark chocolate and musk
Maybe mint and ginger
I have time
I can figure it out
But there are other things he needs too
Things that he needs to be a courtier
A modern noble
A true gentleman
The Works of Poe and Dickinson
And maybe a poem or two I wrote myself
A history of many countries
And a dangerous book
Filled with all sort of things for young men to do
A manual on how to stabilize his chakras
So he can feel inner peace
For those situations when someone is crying
So he may offer a shed of concern for them
An army knife
And a medic kit
So he’s prepared always
Whatever else I can find
To take him from angry boy
To ducal young man
Who is knowledgeable in all things important and beautiful
And still able to smile on things frivolous
And if I get him these objects
I know he will be at least a little happy
For even if the evening of Christmas Eve comes
And he opens the box and says
“Thanks for the crap”
I know he will take at least one of the hats
Likely a fez
He will try it on
And smile for at least a millionth of a second
And I know that my task is complete
That he will grow a bit more
And become an archduke
Of all fanciful and wonderful practices
– Kayla Gastony, 2nd Place in Poetry