CLASSROOM crowded with clean-shaven young soldiers newly returned from a war.
Imagine these young men unable to slouch or sprawl, as
your writing students always have before, but sitting in straight, starchily
attentive ranks because military discipline has owned them for
so long, and is reluctant to let go. Moreover, they dont know who they will be
when it does let go. Imagine reading their eyes for proof of damage.
Your gaze is unreadably returned. My God, theyre polite, but its a complicated
courtesy, laced with great expectations. Of themselves. Of, of course, you. In
fact, you are barely 10 years older than they are, unlikely to impress them as an
authority, unsure where to begin, though you know they have seen things,
though you know each young man has stories to tell as surely as he has a
heartbeat. In spite of themselves, in spite of the rigors drilled into them, they
give some signs of impatience. Pens are picked up, throats are cleared. Your
private uncertainty will soon be a classroom-wide affliction. If, for a moments
relief, you look away, out the window, you have to confront another new fact of
your life: California. Youve come to Stanford fresh from Harvard. In a profound
sense, youre not sure what youve done. This is the fall of 1945.
Suddenly, I was surrounded by GI students just out of the armed services, much more mature than the ordinary
college student, with many more things to write, and with a sense of urgency
brought on by three or four years of lost time in the army or navy.