"Jon," I said when he answered the phone. "Guess what?"
It was 3 a.m. in Washington, midnight in Los Angeles, where I was calling. Everyone here would be asleep. No one to talk to. Everyone in L.A. would be awake.
"What? Who?" He was asleep.
"I'm going to be drafted!" I shouted, awake, a wreck. "They're going to take me!"
"Hey, they're not going to take women," he said, waking up. "besides you'll look great in khaki. It becomes you." Evil laughter.
"No, seriously," I whined. "This time they're going to take women. They're going to get me."
"I hope so," he answered. "I'm certainly not going unless you do. It's Co-ed War.
"Actually, I think we might be on the brink," he said, thoughtfully assessing the situation.
"No. Of hysteria. If I have to go to war I want to go to a warm climate. I have no warm clothes, living in L.A. Really."
If Jon, 26, a lifelong friend, was on the brink, I was over the edge, for the first time.
I was in grade school when the draft for Vietnam was first cranked up, and it ended before boys my age were taken. It was a tremendous relief, after feeling that my friends could be swept away, to see the end. And the end seemed permanent. Lasting peace in our time.
I felt safe, insulated from the intrusion of death, from the worry of seeing friends go off to war. My only brother is two years younger, and we were both part of a generation that cruised into adulthood relatively unthreatened.
Getting an education and a good job was what worried us most. The good life seemed certainly attainable.
I was a sophomore, being driven to high school in my grandfather's big car, when I heard the first reports of Kent State on the radio. I knew they had been protesting the war, one that I watched on television, but it seemed so far away. The uncertainty didn't really seem to affect my life.
But the uncertainty hit home for the first time two days ago, hit home with the lesson that peace is precarious and often not long lasting. A lesson of history, not particularly well learned.
It hit home because, perhaps for the first time, it could affect my life. It could drastically change the course of my plans, shake me out of the security that has -- all along -- been a given.
After the State of the Union message I began to worry about my brother, now a medical student, 23. Highly draftable. This time, they were saying, no loopholes, no outs. This time everyone would go.
I didn't think about myself until I found my boss digging through my personnel files Thursday -- a disconcerting sight under the best circumstances -- to find out if I was of draftable age. Age 25. Suddenly feeling older. But not old enough.
"Yeah, they can draft you," she announced matter-of-factly. "You have to be 27 to be past the draftable age."
"My boss just spoiled my dinner and maybe the rest of my life," I told a friend at dinner, putting the blame for my fear on the most accessible target.
"She figured out I'm potentially draftable, and I don't want to go."
"It builds character. And muscle," he said, himself a veteran of Vietnam.
"You'll be in fine shape at the end of two years. I hear they're putting women from West Point in combat duty positions. Hey, this is great. Who else could they take from around here?"
"You have a telephone message," said a co-worker when I got back from dinner.
"Call your draft board."
"So you think they might draft you?" asked Joyce, mid 30s. "They can't take me.I did my time in the Peace Corps in Africa. I count that whether or not they do." It was a decision she had made when such decisions were optional.
"But did you bear arms?" asked a friend, 24, a 1-A draft card in his wallet, a souvenir with which he won't part.
"I had bare arms the whole time I was there. In the middle of a civil war. But for a draft, I'll tell you, my kids aren't going. I won't let them."
"I'm getting married," I told a friend. "It's either that or be drafted. I'm taking names." The list of eligible men was outrageously short.
"What do you think of ERA now?" he asked, not waiting for an answer. "You'd look fine in combat boots, and you're going to have to do something other than just get married to get out. Better have a couple of kids -- just to play it safe.
"I suppose they're going to need people like you to sweep the floors and make the beds."
"I've thought about it, and they won't take us," said Jan, 26, an attorney and one of my closest friends. We'll be 30 before it happens. You know how the government works. Besides, I think women should be drafted if anyone is."
"Socks," said another veteran. "Clean socks are the most important things to have in the trenches. Remember that."
"Look," said another friend. "Girls have trouble throwing a baseball. Can you see them throwing a grenade? Women are going to make us lose the war. I could maybe kill another guy. I don't think I could kill a woman."
"I hear Toronto is lovely this time of year," I announced to one of the few people still willing to listen.
"Saskatchewan," he said. "That's the best."
"You think we're going to be drafted?" asked Joan, 25, another attorney. "Is that what they're doing this week? Aren't we too old. We could burn our draft cards. I'm in such bad condition, I can't be drafted. You, on the other hand, will be out on the front lines."
"You wanted equality," said another man, laying out the alternatives."Well, now you're going with me. You have an equal right to die alongside me. Or you can quit your job and go home and make babies."
There are, no doubt, shades of gray between those alternatives. Middle paths. I do not know precisely what they are, and I do not know what decisions I will have to make. But for the first time I am faced with the possibility of choices I never thought would exist for me. Traveler, says the Spanish proverb, there is no way. The way is made by going.