U.S. Army Issue Brown T-Shirt

Submitted into Contest #64 in response to: Write about someone who’s been sent to boarding school.... view prompt

61 comments

American Coming of Age

“You can’t keep me here.”

“Please, Mr. Van de Kamp. Take your seat,” ordered the imperturbable headmaster, black eyes narrowing over his hawkish nose. The boy stood in his office. Out of uniform. Insolent. 

“You can’t keep me here—” the boy repeated.

“I assure you, we can,” the headmaster flatly stated. “Your father—”

“My father can eat shit and die.”

“Mr. Van de Kamp, such language will not be tolerated here. You are well aware of our Code of Conduct.”

“You are well aware of my Code of Condick,” said the boy, lewdly grabbing his crotch.

“Mr. Van de Kamp! Govern yourself accordingly. Please sit down,” the headmaster said in as controlled and as firm of voice as the situation required.

“Have you checked into your dormitory?” 

“Have you checked into your wife—because I hear she’s pretty hot,” the boy whispered conspiratorially. He winked in a knowing way at the headmaster.

“Young man, I never—”

“Maybe that’s the problem. The sexual revolution is going on—free love! You are just missing it. Maybe your wife is secretly on the pill, and she is having the time of her life. You’ve got to get with the times,” the boy said, snapping his fingers to make his point. Seeing the headmaster’s nonplussed reaction, the boy leaned over the headmaster’s large walnut desk and patronizingly patted the headmaster’s hand.

“Mr. Van de Kamp, I know you and your generation think you know everything. But as of today, September 5, 1967, you are still enrolled at this institution, and your father has signed our in loco parentis agreement, which means that this school—that I—act in the place of your father. This school—and I— are legally responsible for you.”

“Then this school—and you—can both eat shit and die.”

“Mr. Van de Kamp!”

“Sir?” said the boy, wide eyed, respectfully. 

“You are being intolerable,” the headmaster firmly stated. He’d had his share of incorrigible young men in his life, but this one went beyond the pale. 

“Sir, yes sir,” the boy gave him a mocking salute. “There's nothing you can do that can't be done,” he sang loudly, swinging his feet over the side of the armchair.

“Please sit up straight in your chair like a man.” The headmaster’s tone barely contained his growing aggravation. 

Nothing you can sing that can't be sung,” the boy sang quietly.

“Mr. Van de Kamp, this is what is going to transpire . . .” the headmaster paused to enumerate a series of commands.

Transpire.” The boy looked at him oddly. “Transpire?”

“Transpire. Occur. To come about—”

“Excuse-me-you-are-going-to-what?” the boy asked.

“I’m going to come about—”

“You pervert. All you boarding school types are perverts. I’m going to come about.  Gross. No wonder your wife hates you.”

“Mr. Van de Kamp, you are putting words in my mouth.”

“What did you want me to put in your mouth?” The boy leered. He sat back, annoyed at it all. He continued to sing to himself, causally inspecting the books on the headmaster’s bookshelf. Pulling one out. Flipping through it. Dropping it on the floor. “Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game. It’s easy.”

“You are going to go back to your dormitory and dress appropriately for class,” the headmaster said calmly, attempting to control a situation that was quickly spiraling out of control. “You must wear your school jacket and polo shirt when on school premises.” 

“I’m wearing this,” yelled the boy, standing up, tearing off his crisp white polo shirt that had been neatly embroidered with the school’s insignia. Underneath, the boy wore a U.S. Army issue brown t-shirt.

“Mr. Van de Kamp, you are not wearing school approved clothing.”

“Look,” the boy said languidly. “This is how it’s going to go down. I’m dropping out of school next Wednesday when I turn 17.”

“Your father—”

“My mother—my MOTHER—who is divorcing my father,” continued the boy, “will sign the necessary consent forms. I will head to Fort Dix for eight weeks of basic training. If there are no major SNAFUs, then I will fly to Fort Lewis in Washington state before shipping out to Vietnam. Maybe I’ll visit a prostitute near the base and lose my virginity. Or not. It doesn’t matter.”

“Mr. Van de Kamp—”

“I’m thinking they’ll assign me to some infantry division, but I’m definitely ground troop material. Chum for the sharks. The Vietnamese call sharks cá mập. I’ve been studying their language, you lỗ đít.”

“This is highly irregular. Certainly you cannot mean to—”

 “Oh, I mean to. And who knows? By Thanksgiving, I may be in the Tây Ninh Province on Nui Ba Den. They call it the Black Virgin Mountain. Exotic, no?” The boy gave the headmaster a comical grin. 

“Please, Mr. Van de Kamp,” the headmaster begged. 

Nothing you can make that can't be made. No one you can save that can't be saved,” the boy continued to sing but his voice cracked on the last word of the lyrics. 

“It’s all right, son,” said the headmaster quietly.

“I’ve been practicing, you know. All summer. I can carry 60 pounds of gear. I know the military alphabet: alpha, beta, charlie. Huh. Charlie.”

“Mr. Van de Kamp. Son,” he said again.

“Maybe I’ll be a radio operator like—” The boy stopped and looked at the headmaster, terrified. “I—I could be a machine gunner. Or maybe a tunnel rat.”

“You could be, Mr. Van de Kamp. You could be whatever you wish.” 

There was silence. 

The headmaster watched the boy fiddle with something on his wrist: a stainless steel, half inch wide bracelet. On the bracelet, the headmaster could just make out the name of another Van de Kamp, followed by a rank, service branch, country, and date of loss. 

“I’m not afraid of going over there,” the boy said, wiping his eyes with the back of his hands like a child. “I know the language—I know some of it. I know enough to ask people questions. My mother thinks I could find—it’s just that—” He looked down at his wrist. A few tears made dark droplets on his U.S. Army issue brown t-shirt. 

“Let’s take the morning off, Mr. Van de Kamp. Start your school day after lunch, what do you say?”

“I think I ripped my polo shirt,” he mumbled. Almost an apology.

“I’ll inform your teachers that the shirt you’re wearing will be acceptable for today.”


October 20, 2020 00:44

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61 comments

Rayhan Hidayat
04:10 Oct 21, 2020

You lured me in with the dick jokes as usual, and then punched me in the gut with a depressing turn of events. Somehow, it worked. Kudos 😉

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07:47 Oct 21, 2020

Your comment makes it seem like I should be arrested — public indecency followed by assault and battery??

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Rayhan Hidayat
08:25 Oct 21, 2020

oh LOL xD

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Nandan Prasad
13:23 Nov 02, 2020

Take my upvote!

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14:17 Nov 02, 2020

Sure, why not?

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Nandan Prasad
15:50 Nov 02, 2020

I just meant that your reply was the funniest thing I'd read all day. Brilliant! So I just had to upvote.

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16:00 Nov 02, 2020

Ok, Zoomer.

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Zilla Babbitt
01:02 Oct 20, 2020

When I started reading I though "Oh boy, Deidra's at it again" with all the lewd comments, but then it transformed to something much more meaningful. Vandykamp's incorrigibleness actually has a reason, deep grief. I'm mentally reviewing my comment to see how many *other* meanings it could have, but whatever. Well done. Keep it up!

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01:07 Oct 20, 2020

As the Ancient Greeks reminded us: usually the larger the comedy mask, the larger the tragedy mask.

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Elle Clark
07:03 Oct 23, 2020

Very excited to be catching up on your new story! Absolutely loved the dick entendre – as I’m sure you knew I would. I think that it’s so clear that you have spent time with teenagers, specifically boys because it is so accurate. Your voice you have him talking in is so accurate. The progression from massive joker to tearful boy is really well done and flows naturally. I also loved the teacher’s reaction. I can definitely relate to that moment of thinking “oh no. I’m losing control of the situation.” Love the historical setting and the...

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Princemark Okibe
14:43 Oct 21, 2020

You love em dash for some reason but you use it so well, I cannot complain. Something is wrong. I have read your story twice but can't find anything to edit including punctuation. Is your story so interesting that I can't find one thing. I am going to go over a third time with a more critical eye. If I still cannot find anything, I will call my boss - CHARLES STRUCKER. You edit well. Keep on writing.

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18:00 Oct 21, 2020

I am the Queen of all Em Dashes. You know I love you, Okibe, but you cannot threaten me with the terrorist of Reedsy. He makes young writers CRY. Not like you, always kind, always helpful, always generous and polite. Your mother should be proud of you. :)

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Princemark Okibe
18:33 Oct 21, 2020

😊 You are making me blush.

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Kevin Leonard
02:32 Oct 21, 2020

This was really great. I appreciate how difficult it is to write a tragicomedy like this, and you've really nailed it. The only criticism I could imagine is when the boy, who at this point had not yet cracked, said a sentence that contained both "consent forms" and "Fort Dix" but somehow made a joke about neither. I actually had to google "Fort Dix" because I assumed I was missing an obvious joke, only to find out it's a real place. There's no way he lets that slide. I know that at a certain point you need to switch tones from comic to tr...

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07:57 Oct 21, 2020

Finally — a kindred spirit! Great metaphor at the end, the crashing into a wall at full speed. Self sabotaging souls, our angry young men. I thought about the consent/Dix possibilities, but decided against it: the boy holds serving in the armed forces sacred. His brother/uncle/relative(?) is a POW/MIA... too raw to jest. I’m getting the reputation for phallic humor — not completely undeserved as I was challenged to write as many “willie” allusions in “Love in the Time of Apocalypse” by a Reedsy judge (who will go unnamed, or not: Laur...

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Elle Clark
07:05 Oct 23, 2020

I stand by my challenge. I consider that piece your greatest.

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13:15 Oct 20, 2020

Neat ready, I confess I almost stopped at the beginning, thinking the same as Zilla. However you successfully turned comedy into tragedy and pulled it around to build a great story. Well done. Keep on writing!

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13:32 Oct 20, 2020

Let's not downplay the elegant nuances of prurient writing. It's harder than it looks.

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13:54 Oct 20, 2020

True.

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13:54 Oct 20, 2020

I did like the wordplay with "code of condick" :P

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14:09 Oct 20, 2020

I did like how I worked in a double entrendre in the comment above.

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14:09 Oct 20, 2020

But that was low hanging fruit. (I know. I'll stop.)

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❀Leo Fall❀
14:52 Mar 15, 2022

The jokes and then the punch in the feels. I love this.

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14:53 Mar 15, 2022

I am amazed and charmed you are working through my stories. Man, high school MUST be boring. (And as a high school teacher, I apologize for all of the idiocy and drills and homework -- which I never assign because it's pointless.)

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❀Leo Fall❀
15:05 Mar 15, 2022

It's pretty easy if you're a quick reader. It is. Your stories are a wonderful escape. (No worries, the drills I understand and some of the homework makes sense. The amount though, doesn't. Your students are lucky.)

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Viktoria Love
08:40 Nov 22, 2020

The very first thing that's on my mind when I started reading was: has the boy been abused? does the headmaster not realize that this kind of behaviour may be coming about from trauma. why does the boy hate his dad so much? maybe he should look in the family files and have it investigated??? turns out there's grief involved for a lost family member. This story is gut punching and almost made me cry. I like it.

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11:12 Nov 22, 2020

All good points. But in the 1970s, no adult would wonder about those things. Kids were generally told to “push through” and “walk it off”. Today I believe we are more enlightened and aware of childhood trauma. Thanks for reading 😀

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Rachel Macmorran
15:17 Oct 31, 2020

Nicely done. I love a well-written smart-ass. If anything, I’d like to see a bit more development of the moment the boy cracks, and the headmaster coming to the realization of what’s going on. A brief pause in dialogue to allow the headmaster to connect the dots and allow the tone of the conversation to shift more organically.

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16:02 Oct 31, 2020

Good point. Totally rushed it at the end. Hated to see my smartass fall apart and made it happen too quickly. The headmaster, though, has probably seen/heard it all.

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Rachel Macmorran
16:05 Oct 31, 2020

I run in to the same problem. Word count can be a harsh mistress. I’d love your eyes on my new story if you have time. Thanks!

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Julie Ward
20:47 Oct 25, 2020

I love your writing, Deidra. I know this kid, the bravado, the deep hurt. I can see his face all the way through. I can picture the heavy walnut desk, book-lined walls, warm light streaming through tall windows. You have a way of conveying all of that without having to outright describe it. It's funny, it's emotional. The whole enchilada. Really good.

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20:58 Oct 25, 2020

Julie Ward, you are my new favorite person today. Thanks for joining me in the headmaster's office with this poor kid. Divorcing parents. New school. Lost relative in a war that should never have been. Adolescence is never easy, and sometimes (like now!), it is harder than any kid deserves.

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Julie Ward
01:43 Oct 26, 2020

Amen and amen. You totally nailed ALL of that. PS: Super proud to wear the favorite person mantle today!

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E.A. Brown
05:43 Oct 24, 2020

I love how this story starts with the boy being a cocky dick, and ends with him unintentionally revealing his fears and vulnerabilities. Probably because this sort of cocky dick is often my favorite. Great job!

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13:15 Oct 24, 2020

As I teach high school, I find this character more of an archetype than a stereotype. :)

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Kaylee Tinsley
13:37 Oct 22, 2020

Great work!

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17:17 Oct 22, 2020

Thanks for reading all my stuff. Gees. Are you getting paid for this? :)

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Kaylee Tinsley
19:22 Oct 22, 2020

Ha- I wish! No, I'm kidding, I read so much of your stuff because I absolutely ADORE your style! Keep up the good work!!!

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20:11 Oct 22, 2020

YAY - My first super fan

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Kaylee Tinsley
18:10 Oct 23, 2020

Absolutely! I'm proud to fit that title!

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Princemark Okibe
14:46 Oct 21, 2020

🙋🏾‍♂️Hurray. I have seen something. In the sentence below [a stainless steel, ½ inch wide bracelet.] It is preferable to use words instead of numbers to indicate measurements as number tend to draw attention from the flow of the reading. It wouldn't be bad if it is [a stainless steel, half inch wide bracelet.]

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17:47 Oct 21, 2020

I'll make the change, Prince. Good catch :)

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17:48 Oct 21, 2020

All better now - YAY Thanks for taking time to help another writer out.

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Princemark Okibe
18:32 Oct 21, 2020

You are welcome.

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Tom .
13:57 Oct 20, 2020

This was great. Before the clock runs out, I would balance the beginning, the middle and the end. I would reign in the abusive start just a smidge by about 5%. I would place something in the middle that begins a connection between the two characters, maybe something on the desk. I would increase the redemption in the end, strengthening their bond. It is very good. I have a piece for this same week called 'The Door Home', but it needs a better title. If you have the time I would love to hear your feedback. But you have just gained me as follo...

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14:07 Oct 20, 2020

All excellent suggestions. Thanks, Tom. I'm a huge fan of your father, Ray (haha?)

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Tom .
14:13 Oct 20, 2020

He is my grandfather...

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14:34 Oct 20, 2020

Totally believing you for some reason.

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Tom .
14:40 Oct 20, 2020

I am pulling your leg... No relation... I am also a big fan and have a reread of Fahrenheit 451... Planned between now and Christmas 😁

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14:41 Oct 20, 2020

Ray Bradbury would have never used "smidge" in a unironic sentence. (haha)

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Black Rose
13:22 Feb 13, 2021

Great story

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L.A. Nolan
07:15 Oct 26, 2020

Any story that has The Beatles as a soundtrack win's immediately. That is a literary rule! Love this Deirdra. The anger and insolence of the boy captures the mood and tensions of the nation at that time very well. The obvious trench between the generations is displayed wonderfully. I ache for this lad, he is so wanting to rebel, he would fling himself headlong into any situation that bucks his privileges. This tale eerily echo's pages of my youth. Fantastic submission.

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09:34 Oct 26, 2020

Lee — again with the high praise! So happy when you drop by. I know this kid. I feel his pain deeply... I’m glad the headmaster recognizes the little boy inside the little man.

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