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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Canada (01/29/09)

TITLE: Canadian Escape
By Karen Heslink


I met Bob the very first day of college in the late 1960’s. We were standing together in line at the President’s Reception for the Freshman Class. Since we were all new to campus, my roommate and I began to talk with Bob and his roommate. We talked about hometowns, majors, and life goals. For Bob and me, it was the beginning of a 4-year friendship. We always seemed to find one another when life got to be a little too stressful or one of us had been dumped by the latest love in our life. He became someone I could count on, someone who understood me and knew how to comfort me. As juniors, I spent a semester abroad. When I came back, my current boyfriend said I had changed too much and promptly dumped me. Not Bob. He said I was cooler, smarter and worldlier. At that point in our friendship we tried very hard to make it more than it was. Alas, the kisses held no spark. We moved beyond that and remained friends. Our senior year came faster than expected, and it was bludgeoned by the war in Viet Nam. Classes became sit-ins and protests on the lawns surrounding campus that spring. Young twenty-something men wandered the campus that spring with looks of despair, while I and my friends cried about the ones we had already lost and the ones that would be shipped out as soon as graduation was over.

It was early in May that Bob told me he had to go. I was devastated. The sense of foreboding that filled me left me desperate for a solution. I suggested he apply as a conscientious objector. He said he had. and it was denied. In the next moment, the world stopped spinning for me. I vividly remember the early tulips in the garden outside the dining hall. I remember how intensely blue the sky was that day, and I especially remember Bob saying, “I will not be attending our graduation on Saturday.”

“Not attending graduation…but why? You’ve worked so hard to put yourself through school. How can you miss this final moment?”

“I have to, Kate. I am leaving tomorrow for Canada. It is the only way I can escape the service. Do you think I’m a coward?”

No, I knew Bob was not a coward, but I didn’t know if he was doing the right thing. In spite of my foreboding, somehow I just didn’t know. My brain would not wrap around any part of the idea. Out of respect for Bob, I skipped graduation, too, as did many members of my class. It was one last way to say to the establishment, “We don’t like what you are doing to our generation.”

Over the years, I received an occasional letter from my friend across the border. He has done well in his adopted country, teaching biology as he had planned to do here in the states, marrying a lovely French Canadian girl and fathering several children. The friendship, weak from time and distance, is still one of my fondest memories from those four years in my life. Once in awhile, I just stop and wonder how it might have been if Bob, and so many young men, had not had to take refuge in another country in order to stand up for what they believed. How terribly hard for everyone who knew and loved each one of them. But then I think…what about all the ones who can never come home because they gave their lives for that war. Now almost forty years later, I still can’t figure it all out and probably never will, but my memories of Bob remain sweet.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Jan Ackerson 02/05/09
You did a very good job of portraying the ambivalence of that time period.
Sara Harricharan 02/05/09
This story strikes me as being very bittersweet. I liked this memory/tribute of Bob and how he was portrayed not as a coward, but a human being during a conflicted time. You did pretty good, I only wish there was more of a "story-feel" to it to keep me in this atmosphere you've created instead of just standing on the outside. Thanks for sharing! ^_^
Karlene Jacobsen02/06/09
Perhaps more show, instead of tell would really push this over the top.

This is a good narrative of a memory, but leaves me feeling a bit detached from the situation.

I don't know if this makes any sense at all; it's almost like a third person feel in first person.

Melanie Kerr 02/11/09
I enjoyed reading about the friendship between you and Bob. I like that you leave it up to the reader to decide whether Bob was right or not.
Deborah Porter 02/20/09
Hi Karen. I'm running a week late, but just wanted to leave a quick note to let you know your entry "Canadian Escape," actually did very well in the Canada Challenge. Although you didn't receive an award, you made it into the Highest Rankings placing 14th in Level 1.

Competition in Level 1 is always very intense, so you did extremely well.

If you'd like to check the highest rankings for yourself, you can find them here:

The highest rankings are posted every Thursday evening on the Message Boards.

You definitely deserve a pat on the back. Well done. With love, Deb (Challenge Coordinator)