Steven, Arthur, me and some others by thadeusz
My name is Peter W. and this is the third and last part of a story that started with "Marine against his will” and continued with "The long haired officer”. It is thus a last chapter, with much less haircuts but …
In the first part I described how a Marine recruiter tricked me into signing a piece of paper which eventually forced me to enlist … and to become Marine officer in a Marine research lab, where I made friend with another young officer: Arthur. The second part describes how Arthur and his brother Steven were treated by their father, a Marine Colonel, after the death of their mother. They were then separated from their beloved aunt and sent to a Junior Marine military school. Steven, the eldest of the two brothers, disappeared immediately after the end of his 12th grade and stopped having contacts with Arthur and with his father. On the contrary, Arthur remained but was forced by his father to go to a Military College and then become a Marine officer. He nevertheless succeeded to escape in one way : he became a researcher. He also used all the possibilities that position gave him to get a revenge against his father by letting his hair grow more than would be normal and by wearing uncleaned and rumpled clothes.
Arthur told me all that, during a very long drinking night, after he received a first letter from his brother, his first letter since a very long time. The story ends with the scene where I finally convinced Arthur to live for himself and not for his father, and thus to decide by himself how short and neat his haircut should be, how well ironed his clothes should be.
We were both 2nd Lt, so after a long night of talking and drinking, I took Arthur to the camp barber who gave him a short buzz cut like mine, nearly an induction cut and I also lent him one of my well pressed uniforms. This day Arthur made a great impression on all the people working in the lab, and this included the Major who was our CO. So I made my friend promise that he would keep his hair short, according to regulations, and his clothes well pressed.
Arthur kept the second promise : from then on his clothes were always neat and well pressed. He did not keep his other promise and he let his hair grow longer than was advisable for a Marine 2nd Lt. Nevertheless we went on with our work, and I must say that I was a more creative researcher than my friend, and thus more useful for the Marine Corps into which I finally found my place.
One morning, Arthur arrived in the lab, very excited ! He told me he had to speak with me immediately in private. So we went to the cafeteria. It was empty, which was normal at 08:15.
Arthur told me that he had received more letters from his brother Steven and that he had answered these letters, speaking of his life in the lab and describing me and my adventures, the way I was forced to enlist. He told me :
"This way, Steven does not consider you as a rough soldier, a hardened Marine like the ones we had at school”
"OK, I don't mind. But you know, I have changed my mind about Marine life and I got to like it, provided I can keep doing research.”
"Well, the point is that Steven is now an English teacher and he has arranged something with our aunt and uncle: we could meet there, for the first time in years, for Christmas”
"That's an excellent idea, but why do you need to tell me ?”
"Steven wants to come with his companion and her cousin, and he suggests that I come with you, so there will be four of us for the party.”
"And your cousins, the two daughters of your aunt and uncle you described to me”
"Well, they were kids when Steven and I were taken away by our father, I don't really remember them.”
I thought that the reasons for bringing along this other girl was rather mysterious, or that Steven had specific plans for his brother. But anyway I had nothing planned for Christmas. Usually, I spent this period working alone and peacefully on the research project I had in mind before being forced to join the Corps. I did not make much progress since I had very little time to do it, but it was my own research and I liked it. This time I accepted the idea to socialize and join Arthur in this trip. And it was a trip: the lab was rather in the South of the country and Arthur's relatives lived in Massachusetts, in the North.
So we both applied for a Christmas leave which was immediately granted and when the time came, we both went. We were of course in civvies. I had my jeans and I had bought an elegant and very formal suit to be at least well dressed for the Christmas eve dinner: Arthur was so nervous at the idea of being reunited with his brother and his aunt and uncle that he had not told me what the dress code was. Anyway, as a good Marine, I also went to the barber and got a decent buzz cut, as usual, fairly but not excessively short. I noticed that Arthur had let his hair grow as much as possible, and even more: our CO was frowning each time he passed our desk and saw my friend !
In the plane, Arthur explained to me that he had let his hair grow and that he had specially chosen his clothes "for Steven” because he was sure that his brother was now a very antimilitarist guy ; Arthur also asked me not to tell Steven that after all I liked my Marine officer life !
We were the first to arrive at his relative's house, the house where Arthur and Steven had been raised as kids ! It was moving to observe the reunion of Arthur with his aunt, Anna, and his uncle, Jeffrey. There were also two big and beautiful girls : Barbara and Jennifer. Jennifer was especially wonderful, at least in my eyes. I think that it was love at first sight, but i did not dare say so immediately. Anna led us to our room: we were to share Arthur's old room during our stay there.
Steven, Arthur's eldest brother, arrived later. From the very first moment, I liked him: he looked like a man who had decided all by himself what his fate should be. Arthur had a double shock. First his brother arrived with a nice woman, Francesca, he presented as "my companion” and who was very pregnant, but clearly they were not married. But most important, Steven had a very short buzz cut, just like me. There was also Francesca's cousin, Maria, who was another beautiful girl, but more in the Italian style while Jennifer looked more Nordic, with her blond hair and her blue eyes. The reunion of the two brothers who had not seen one another during years was another moving moment. Until Arthur seriously looked at his brother and asked him:
"Remember the curls we had when we were happy kids in this house ? What did you do with your long hair ?”
And Steven replied: "But what did you do with short hair, Lieutenant Arthur ?”
Steven immediately explained that Francesca and himself were expecting a baby for February and had decided not to get married for the time being. Obviously his aunt and uncle knew all about this: they had clearly often met the couple before this reunion. Apparently Steven knew a lot about his brother and me through the letters Arthur had written, so he introduced us to Francesca and Maria. He also explained that he was now teaching English in a high school in Boston and also trying to write poetry. Francesca was teaching Maths in the same school and her cousin Maria was working in a big sportshop as saleswoman.
Steven and Francesca were going to stay in Steve's old room "as usual” said aunt Anna, and Maria was going to stay in the boys' mother former room "all alone” stated emphatically aunt Anna.
We all went to our respective rooms, got ready for dinner and came down for an excellent meal prepared by aunt Anna, "with the help of Jennifer, my best cook” added aunt Anna who had probably something else in mind.
After dinner, when they all went to bed, Steven, Arthur and me stayed for a last drink (in fact a serie of last drinks). On Arthur's request, Steven explained what had happened when and after he "disappeared”.
In fact, Steven discovered English literature and more specifically poetry, during the English courses given in the Junior Military Academy where their father, the Colonel, had placed his two sons. He asked his teacher, a kind lady, if she thought he would ever be able to write poetry and she said that with a lot of work he would be able to do it. She told him that he should go to college, major in English and become a teacher. Steven wrote to his father to that effect, but the Colonel replied that both his sons would go to a Military College and then serve a minimum of four years active duty as Marine officer. Steven looked at Arthur and said:
"You accepted this and complied, I refused and chose to go as far away as possible”
Steven tried to get a scholarship to study English in a good college, but considering his father's job and the fact that he was a minor (he was 17) all possible scholarships were refused. He did not despair and, with the help of his English teacher, Steven organized a perfect escape scheme.
In fact, Steven had remained in contact with his aunt and uncle. This was not the case of Arthur because he was ashamed of his own situation. Steven knew his mail was controlled at the Academy, so he asked his aunt to sent some money in an envelope to his teacher with a special letter, to be described later, signed by his uncle and aunt and certified by a notary public. The day before he was supposed to graduate, but after all the exams were over and passed, Steven left at night the Junior Military Academy, with the money sent by his aunt and with the letter. He was still 17. With the money, he got civilian clothes instead of his cadet uniform. He also got a bus ticket to the nearest town. There he looked for a recruiter: he knew that his father would look for him everywhere except in the military. He also knew that if he served during 4 years, he would have GI money to go to college. As he told us, while drinking one more beer:
"Putting on another uniform and obeying stupid orders during four more years was still better than going to a Military Academy and serving the stupid Marines, no offense for you two, during 4 years. It was a small sacrifice.”
Steven had chosen the Army, because he knew that his father despised the Army compared to the "glorious Marine Corps” and also because that seemed the easiest to survive. He enlisted on the condition he would be shipped to the MEPS on that same day and then that he would be assigned to a basis in Europe after Basic Instruction. For all that, since he was a minor, he needed parental consent: that's where he used the letter specially written to that effect by his uncle and aunt. They stated that they had raised Steven until he went to the Junior Military Academy and that they agreed to his enlistment since it was his wish. None of these facts was false, they were simply incomplete.
Steven described the different steps he went through after signing his enlistment contract. Arthur had never done that: for him becoming an officer was automatic, but I had been forced to go through the same steps (but on the Marine Corps side) and I knew how Steven would have felt. He described us what he considered as the most important moment in his life since their mother died and I feel it's better to use here his own words:
"I knew that I would have to undergo a haircut which would leave my head completely shorn, but I had already undergone such a haircut: in the summer youth camp and at the entrance of the Junior Military Academy. But my memories were not too bad: in both cases the barber was kind, he took enough time to reassure every new cadet and he kept talking with us.” Steven then asked me:
"Did you have a girlfriend before you were captured and forced to join the Marine Corps?” And this proved that Arthur had told him a lot about my adventures. So I answered:
"Many, already in high school. And I mean, serious girlfriends”
"Well', Steven went on with his memories, "Take in account the fact that thanks to our good and very puritan father, the Colonel, I had never had a girlfriend before enlisting. I will always remember the way I had my first Army haircut. We, the recruits, had been told to form a line and to go to the barber. There were four chairs and when it was my turn to go, I was told to sit on a chair for which the barber was a beautiful young brunette. Her expert hands got hold of my head. She more or less caressed it to evaluate the situation of my hair. She then pushed it, pulled it, shoved it to one side then the other. I followed these moves with my whole body. She was brutal and rapid simultaneously, she was strong and her hands were real experienced hands. They were the first female hands that touched my head that much. I could feel these hands movements down to my crotch. And during all that time, she was pushing and pulling the clippers through my hair. I could see my hair falling down: my hair was as long as permitted by the Junior Academy regulations, it was not much, but bit by bit, it was falling down. And the brunette kept manipulating my head and my whole body was following. I felt my penis growing, become harder and suddenly explode. The brunette either did not see it or refused to notice it. In any case, she did not say a word. After a minute or two, it was done and my head was shorn according to regulations. But I will never forget that instant.
I was told to stand up and join the file of other recruits, but suddenly a Corporal noticed the state of my trousers and guesses what had happened. He simply said:
‘You filthy bastard, I will remember you. Now, give me 50.'
I knew what that meant because of our Academy training. I obeyed without saying a word: I had come to do all that in order to have money to study. And that was the end of this incident. I have never again met neither the brunette nor the Corporal.”
The rest of Steven's story was very ordinary. After Basic training he was sent, as promised, to a base in Germany. There he started to study "at a distance” courses sent by a University. He was promoted to Corporal after the normal time: he was considered to be an excellent and very obedient soldier. Later his CO told him that he could become Sergeant, but Steven did not want that because he was afraid he would have to stay longer in the Army. Finally his CO promoted him anyway to Sergeant and sent him to another base: the SHAPE in Belgium. There, Steven had only office work to do and after hours he kept studying and taking exams "at a distance”. Just before it was time for him to be demobilized, it was suggested that he could be nominated for the Green-to-Gold program, which meant that he would get enough money to get his BA in college and then serve as officer. As could be expected, Steven refused.
As soon as he was demobilized, he claimed for his GI Montgommery money in order to study at a good college. He was accepted in Boston University. They took in account his advanced courses at the Junior Academy and the courses he had followed "at a distance”: Steven could start as a Sophomore, in second year. At the end of his studies he became a teacher and fell in love with Francesca, one of his colleagues.
When his story was finished, Steven could not resist asking me:
"So they forced you to join the Marines, my brother told me. But why did you accept to become an officer ?”
"Well, it was a direct order !” In fact the order was to become at least the equal of Arthur because our CO considered that I was a better researcher, but I did not say that much.
"Come on, you could have refused such an order. You are blocked now in the Corps for a good many years.” Suddenly he started to think "But maybe you like that ?”
I remembered what Arthur had asked me NOT to tell Steven, but I really liked this guy and I am convinced he could understand.
"Well, in fact I have always wanted to do research. This way I know I can do good research in excellent conditions. So, in order to answer your next question, yes I like it and I will try to make a career of it if they let me work in the lab.” Then I continued:
"But tell me why you kept such a short buzz cut, in memory of the brunette ?”
"Partially for that reason, but also because I realized that it is more comfortable than the haircut I had at the end of my stay at the Junior Academy, with relatively long hair I had to comb every morning, like Arthur now ! May I ask you the same question ?”
"For the same reason as you: it is more comfortable. But certainly not in memory of the way I received my first Marine haircut, that was a real torture. But I don't regret it. I also think that as Marine officer, I must give a certain example.”
"And you Arthur ?” asked Steven.
Arthur replied: "Our father forced us to have a very short haircut. I hated that as I hate him. So I want to keep my long haircut, despite the promise I once made to Peter when I was drunk”.
Steven did not say another word. And suddenly I realized that Steven and me were the only ones who had gone through Boot camp, or Basic training; and that Steven was the only one of us who had been assigned to a real combat regiment, even if he did never see combat. It was very late and there was nothing else to drink, so we went to bed.
The next day at breakfast, Arthur's hair was really shaggy. Maria looked at him, and then at Steven and me. She then asked:
"Arthur, why don't you have a short buzz cut like Steven and Peter. This way, your hair looks very bad. You would be so lovable with a short buzz cut”.
Everybody laughed, except Arthur who blushed: obviously Maria did not leave him insensitive. I had a closer look at him during the rest of the day and he kept blushing every time he saw Maria. And Maria kept alluding to the nice men who had short buzz cuts. I must admit that Maria was a nice girl, but I prefered Jennifer and she seemed to like me too.
During the day, we prepared the Christmas dinner and Christmas feast. Maria invited Arthur to join her for a long walk, and he immediately went with her. Jennifer wanted to go for a walk too and she invited her sister Barbara and me to join her. Barbara suddenly said that she had to help her mother in the kitchen, so Jennifer and me went alone. Jennifer asked me to tell her my story, and all about my plans for the future, which I did. When I was done, I realized that I had talked a lot about many things which probably did not interest her. But she corrected my ideas by giving me suddenly a good and serious kiss.
Finally Christmas day arrived and was wonderful, at least for me: my first real Christmas in a real family since my parents died. Arthur's aunt noticed that and told me:
"Peter, I think I like you and you like being here. Consider this as your family since you have none. Come as often as you can and want. And please, call me ‘Aunt Anna', like Arthur.”
That was really a great Christmas present.
Maria was not that kind with Arthur. She smiled and kept mentioning his future haircut. Arthur denied that he would change but she said that she knew he would do it, especially for her; and my friend kept blushing.
Later, Steven, Arthur and me remained in the living to drink "a last one”. Suddenly, Steven told his brother:
"Arthur, you obviously want this girl, Maria, and she does not want you with long hair, so have it cut.”
"Never, I hate short haircuts: they remind me of our father.”
"Arthur, you don't live for our father, you live for yourself !”
I added that I already told all that earlier to my friend, but that it worked only once. Then Steven came with another argument:
"Little brother, you know I didn't like being in the military, but as long as I was in the Army, I respected my own signature and my own uniform. I had an even shorter haircut than now. You accepted father's order to become an officer. You will probably leave the Marine Corps as soon as you can, but as long as you are an officer, behave like a real one and respect your word of honor, your signature on your enlistment. Be a real man ! Have a short haircut !”
"I really don't want that” said Arthur.
"In that case” added Steven "I will tell Peter to hold you and I will give you myself a real induction cut with not a single hair left”
Arthur was weak in front of his big brother, and also impressed by him. Arthur always had been impressed by Steven, and he was tired. So after much more arguments by Steven, Arthur said that he agreed and that he will have a buzz cut next time he goes to the barber. But Steven knew what he was doing: he had clippers with him and concluded that since Arthur had agreed, he would give him immediately a good buzz cut in the same way as what he did for himself. In order to understand what follows, one must realize that we had all drunk a lot, and even more.
Arthur was trapped. Steven went to his room and got the dreaded instrument. We took Arthur to the kitchen and I made sure he was well seated and that he could not escape while Steven gave him a very decent buzz cut. He believed that it was short but not excessively so. The next morning Steven and I were ashamed when we realized that it was more a forced induction cut than a nice buzz cut.
Anyway, at the end of our drunken party, Steven made me promise that I would keep an eye on Arthur and make sure that he regularly went to the barber. Steven and I were happy, except that Steven instructed me, as youngest male present, to clean the kitchen floor full of Arthur's hair. We went back to the living room where we had more drinks. Arthur said that he was disgusted by my behavior and went to bed. Steven and I remained a long time, discussing and drinking. He explained me everything he had done, and also why he had done it. I did the same. We came to the conclusion that he, who hated the military but used it well, and me who had been forced to become a marine officer and who liked it now, that we were not really different: we had lots of things in common and we obviously liked and respected each other. It was really very late when we went to bed, Steven to Francesca and his future child and me … alone with dreams of a girl looking like Jennifer.
During the rest of our stay, everybody admired Arthur's new haircut. The days we had left were spent in family, but also in walks. Especially Jennifer and me, Maria and Arthur. When my friend and me left to go back to our camp, Maria finally told Arthur on the day we left: "Short haircut, I love you”.
The day after we came back to the camp, I was ordered to go to the CO's office. The Major told me that, considering the good quality of the research done in his lab, he had been promoted to LtCol. He added that since the product which was so helpful for Marines had been invented by me, I was meritoriously promoted to 1st Lt. So i became 1stLt ahead of Arthur who became officer before me ! The CO, now Lt Col, asked me :
"Now that you have a higher rank, can you tell me whether your friend Arthur is going to stay in the Corps at the end of his obligation?”
"No Sir, Arthur does not really like the Corps, but he will respect his own signature.”
"And you, Peter ? In fact you really did not want to join ?”
"Yes Sir, but now I like my life here, Corps activities included. If I can continue to do research, I will remain”
Then I dared to go further:
"Permission to speak Sir ?”
"Sir, I think that Arthur will be happier when he will be able to lead a civilian life. But when he leaves the Corps, he will have nothing except his BSc with a major in Chemistry. Arthur has worked a lot, not perfectly, but he did work. Wouldn't it be possible to let him leave the Corps with a PhD ?”
"Are you ready to guide him through the necessary research ?”
"In that case, 1st Lt, I let you organize it. I will explain to Arthur that as 2nd Lt he must from now on not only be your friend but also obey you.” He suddenly had a second thought and added: "But don't you wish to have also a PhD ? You were on a PhD program when you were forced to join, isn't it ?”
"Yes Sir, I was and I still have the good connections. But the research I am doing now cannot be published, and I don't want a PhD for a non interesting piece of research.”
"Go now, and put your 2nd Lt to work. By the way, congratulations for his haircut.”
The first time Arthur saluted me, I really felt strange, but as an automat I rendered the salute and that was it. We nevertheless remained good friends.
So I started to lead Arthur on the PhD path … without having one myself. Those are the mysteries associated to working in a Marine Corps lab ! We went for short trips to aunt Anna and uncle Jeffrey's home. We were usually joined by Steven, Francesca, Maria and of course Barbara and Jennifer. Each time, Arthur went carefully to the barber just before we took the plane. It became so usual that when Arthur's hair became too long, I used to tell him:
"Arthur, what would Maria say ?” This sentence always provoked some laughter among the young Marines attached to the lab.
Eventually, Arthur got his PhD. He did not get it from a glorious University like MIT, but it was a real PhD. We had both worked a lot on that ! And I had continued my researches for the Marine Corps, to the satisfaction of the LtCol.
Then Arthur and Maria decided to get married. Arthur, hoping to make peace with his father, invited the Colonel to the marriage, which was to take place in Boston. But Maria was catholic and the marriage would be celebrated in a catholic church, so at first the Colonel refused. Arthur wanted to attract him and decided that it would be a military marriage, but only if the Colonel came. So we had a serious military marriage. Arthur was radiant and so was Maria. I was his best man, in Dress Blue, with my rank pinned on me. Steven was still technically in the military because he still belonged for a few more months to the IRR, the Individual Reserve, so he decided to be also in uniform. But his uniform was "only” a sergeant's uniform. I was slightly jealous because he had more medals than I had, but the Colonel refused to speak to this guy who was only an NCO, "not even” a 2nd Lt. He was present, looked at his youngest son and left immediately after the end of the ceremony, congratulating Arthur but not Maria. That was the end of a great hope for Arthur, but also the starting point of a great life. It must be said that the rest of the day was happy for all the other participants, except me: I felt ridiculous in my hot Dress Blue until Jennifer came and told me:
"When we are going to get married, we are going to do it without any uniform, and without this nasty Colonel”
I kissed her and I announced to everybody that we were engaged.
Coming back to the lab, I was once again called in the CO's office. The LtCol told me that he would soon be promoted and have more responsibilities than one small lab:
"I want you to be my successor as head of this lab, and maybe more later. You are a good researcher, a good leader towards research as shown by Arthur's thesis. You are also a good leader of men, as shown by Arthur's haircut and by the way you lead the young Marines and the new officers coming here. I gave you responsibilities without telling you, and you did well. The authorities agree but there is only one problem: you don't have a PhD. So get a few of your notes which are not dangerous for the Corps or Top Secret, put them together anyway you want, and get a PhD for that.”
"Sir, it would not be as good as what I wanted to do before I joined the Corps”
"Peter, you must do it quickly, otherwise another officer will be your chief”
"Sir, how much time do I have?”
"Six months is a maximum”
"Sir, am I allowed to do my own research, non confidential research, during this period?”
"Yes, and you can instruct Arthur and others to help you for your experiments”
I worked very hard during these 6 months, telling many of the people in the lab what type of experiment they had to do for my project. It was not a completely new project, it was the project I had in mind before joining the Corps, the project on which usually I worked bit by bit during my free time. My MIT professor helped me. Arthur helped me too and Maria kept telling him regularly to go to the barber. I called Jennifer every evening and I worked on specific research for the Marine Corps at night. I don't know how I did it, but I succeeded. At the end of the six months period, I had a PhD given by MIT. I was also married with a beautiful young lady named Jennifer. Two weeks after that I was meritoriously promoted to Captain and selected as new head of the lab. Arthur remained a few more months and was very helpful to organize "my” working lab. Arthur had been promoted to 1st Lt and was thus in a position where he could transmit with authority my orders to the new 2nd Lts working as researchers in the lab.
Just before he left, my CO, now full Colonel, had told me:
"You have done it. I knew you would be able to succeed with your thesis, but you did more: you kept working for the Corps and you organized very well this lab. It is yours now. Don't forget that you must now give some seminars in the Naval Academy. After all, you have a PhD, which enables you to serve as professor now !” And so I finally had everything I had dreamed of: being the head of a big research lab and also being a University professor.
Arthur, Steven and me keep in touch. We meet every so often, and every Christmas, at Anna and Jeffrey's place. Arthur lives with his wife and his kids in the west: he works for a big company and is the head of their Chemistry department. His PhD helped him for that. Steven is still a teacher and lives with Francesca with their three kids. Steven has also published two books of poems which I like. One of them contains a very hot poem describing Steven's difficult moments. It is called: "The haircut”