While we were overseas, there was very little to do in life during the evenings. We had our old black & white TV which offered up two channels – in German. There was nothing like watching Hoss from Ponderosa ride up on his horse exclaiming: “Vas is los!”.  And I like how they packed all their commercials at the end, and like sweets, sprinkled a little cartoon between them.

But what really saved us was Armed Forces Radio – and a reel-to-reel tape player that my dad had gotten in Thailand to record missionary spiels on.  In that collection of endlessly boring and droning voices was a tape of Bill Cosby’s earlier shows, the ones he’d done while he was young, and, I guess, touring for the G.I.’s on duty over there.

By this time – the time we’d found the tape – I was suffering from some pretty bad depression.  Shifting from base to base, living on American military bases in a foreign nation; no friends I could count, nobody to know me – or I them, and no time to do it anyway before we’d be separated, yanked apart . . .

I read books, I counted time till “the end” when we would return to Stateside (and I wasn’t the only kid doing this!) – usually bored nearly out of my mind, especially during the winter months when night started earlier – we’d sit and listen to those tapes, their contents unwinding from one reel to another, laughing at Bill Cosby’s outrageous stories of Fat Albert, Suicide Hill, and the Chicken Heart.  How I loved that tape!  It was double sided, and long.  We’d get lost inside those stories, watching the cop’s cuff’s slide off those kids signs, imagining rubber baby wheels gone, and home-built carts with those wheels.

He saved me.

There were times when, despite being 13, I had developed a cynical mind. I’d seen too much already: I knew about sex and gunfire, I had squatted and eaten with the  G.I.’s.  I’d ridden tanks and learned to fire machine guns; I’d learned survival.  I was reading ten to twenty novels a week, and could march 20 kilometers at a time.

I was hurt inside by the loss of my friends, and being stuck in a foreign land.  I had withstood school bomb threats (new to my experience), grown tired of the racism (something I couldn’t understand, but which had recently occurred to me).  My family – a shattered one at best, each individual plodding along as best they could, nobody for someone else.  You were expected to make it on your best bet, your best decision.  Your emotions were up to you, and it was up to you to control them – or at the very least, not express them to anyone . . .

In three years I had gone from an open, happy-go-lucky kind of child (“Gregorius”, my mom had called it) to a silent kid.  I’m sure I appeared sullen some of the time, but it was merely watching, mixed with a growing depression.  I kept on having nightmares all the time – not just the ‘normal’ ones (I had nightmares for 48 years) – but nightmares about what I feared was coming. A returning to something new with everything I had known gone.  The ‘end’ was approaching, our tour was fast running down.  And I knew it.

And I wanted to kill myself before the end.

And I can kinda blame Bill Cosby for reversing that when I’d get desperate,  feeling so bad . . . I’d kinda want to go bury myself in a road and let some tank run over me, take one of those .30 caliber rounds and set it off pointed at my head – do something stupid, something to get rid . . . of me.  End a deepening misery I could not understand nor articulate.  I guess I didn’t know anything was wrong – but felt it.  Hell, I was just a kid.    I suppose Debbie kinda helped me with that, in the end.

But nothing helped like putting that old Bill Cosby tape on and listening, doubling up with laughter again.  Interspersing it with some Armed Forces radio shows (“Suspense”, “The Shadow”, etc) we’d find ourselves coming back to that long reel-to-reel in the end.  It helped settle some of the violence in me that was struggling to come out, easing my on-coming rage issues (both inside and out), helped keep the depression and that tearing sense of loneliness – one that was growing every day – ever since I’d lost my best friend over there even worse . . .

and I had forgotten how to cry anymore.

I had done that when I was 13 – once.

After that it was all kept bottled inside.  For over forty-five years plus.

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