Friday, November 16, 2012

False Start Fridays: Week Two

Thought for the day:  I'm all for keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let's start with typewriters.  [Solomon Short]
Okay, so some of the stuff we've written may be a little cringe-worthy when we look back at it, and maybe some of us are fools who should be denied access to typewriters and computers.

Tough. I say, we've gotta keep on keeping on.

I survived last week's posting, so let's (gulp) do it again. This week's piece was written circa 1990, or so... maybe a little sooner. (Why didn't I think to write a date on these things?)




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    Welcome home, honey. I know... technically, it's been more than twenty years since you got back from Vietnam, but I think we both know the man I sent away has only recently gotten here. I'm not sure who that stranger was who's been walking around in your skin all these years, but it wasn't you.
    Lord, we were young back then, weren't we? So terribly idealistic and full of dreams. A part of me raged at the unfairness of it all when you were snatched away from me so soon after we got married. But there was no question in our minds. Not really. We knew that once chosen, you would go. You would fulfill your patriotic duty, just as your father and so many others in your family had done before you.
    But ideals and patriotism and notions of what war would be like did nothing to prepare you for its reality. What twenty-one year old can face what you had to face and emerge unscathed? You were only in country for two days when you inherited the machine gun. You joked in a letter home about that's what you got for being the biggest of the survivors from that awful firefight. Well, you never said it was awful. But from that moment on, your letters home were different. You were different.
    It broke my heart when you wrote home that you didn't know what you were doing there and didn't think your being there made any difference. It frightened me. I was so afraid that loss of conviction would cost you your life. But thank God, it was a fleeting feeling, and by the next letter, your sense of purpose was strong again.
    When your Purple Heart was delivered to me without any kind of explanation from the Army about the extent of your injuries, or even if you were dead or alive, I thought my world was coming to an end. But exactly one year after you left, you returned to me. I'll never forget the way your father drove to the airport to pick you up. He had your '61 Chevy just a-flying! Remember the little American flag he'd attached to the antenna? That thing was laid flat back! Oh, God, how good it was to see you--- to touch you--- to hold you. I couldn't get enough of you. I even watched you while you slept.
    Oh, but honey, you were so different than when you'd left. There was a far-away look of emptiness in your eyes, and it seemed like you looked right through people. Like you looked right through me. I can tell you now that there were times I was afraid of you. It was like you had ice in your soul, and could freeze the blood of anyone who got in your way, all with a single look. And the anger, the rage. Gone was the idealistic class clown with a heart of gold, and in his place was an angry cynic lashing out at the world.
    I can't tell you how happy I am that we've finally put the past to rest. So again, I say, from the bottom of my heart--- welcome home, honey. Welcome home.

*****

Ready to post one of your oldie but goodies next week? Pop over to Suze's blog and let her know. Subliminal Coffee (the thinking person's cafe)

                           Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

63 comments:

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    1. It was a sad time, and the saddest part is, I don't think any of the men (and nowadays, women) who go to war ever fully escape its reach. No matter how many years go by, the feelings and memories are always still there, raging just under the radar.

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  2. Hi Susan .. what a powerful post ... as SP above says - very touching - returning from war to normality is something those of us who have never been think about .. such a necessary read - thanks for putting your writing up for us ... it has added poignancy to it so many years later and just after Remembrance /Armistice Day ... with thoughts - Hilary

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    1. To a large extent, I don't think warriors ever return to the same "normality" they knew before war. The best they can do is adjust to the new normal.

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  3. This story really resounds Susan. My brother-in-law went to Nam a shy young boy and came back a killer. He too has only recently been able to put it all behind him. Young boys die while politicians prance and preen.

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    1. I could say a lot about why our soldiers who went to Nam had an even harder time readjusting to society than soldiers of other wars, but you probably know all those things already. If your BIL is like most Nam vets, he probably hasn't truly put it all behind him; he just copes by hiding it from you.

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    2. True, but at least he now no longer gets drunk and beats people up in bars. Of course, age has a lot to do with that. I think the biggest difference between now and then is the appreciation shown the soldiers now.

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    3. I'm guessing age has a lot to do with it. And maybe good ol' Agent Orange? Thanks to the diabetes my husband got from exposure to that stuff, he can't do much drinking these days, either. And you're absolutely right about the appreciation and "welcome home" ceremonies given to today's returning vets. Big difference.

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  5. This post made me quite nostalgic. Very touching indeed. Great blog by the way! I hope you don't mind a new follower :)

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    1. Thank you. I'm always thrilled to have a new follower. Welcome aboard!

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  6. Wow. What a powerful story. Thanks for sharing it!

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    1. Thank you. It's so personal, I came real close to deleting it and finding something else to post in its place.

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  7. You got me right in the heart with this one, Susan. Good work.

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  8. Very powerful. I could see this as part of an epistolary type novel, with soul-bearing letters going back and forth. Good stuff.

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    1. Thank you. I have a box filled with every letter my husband wrote me while he was in the Army, and I've actually considered using them as the basis for a book. Don't know if I ever will, though. It was tough enough posting this False Start piece.

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  9. Susan- you've captured what many of us went through with returning vets perfectly. There was an ice, and a distance. And yes, they were different people than the people we knew before the war. I'm glad many of them eventually found themselves again, your husband and my brother among those. I know several who never really came back, and some who never will.

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    1. I'm glad your brother found himself again. In a lot of ways, my husband is still very different than what he used to be. Then again, I suppose I am, too.

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  10. I don't think I've ever seen the inseparability of courage and patience better expressed. My compliments, Susan.

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    1. Wow, that's high praise, mister. Thank you so much.

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  11. Susan, sometimes I wish I could find better words...but all I can say right now is this touched my soul. Awesome.

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  12. This brought me back to a time long ago when men came back with their souls, if not destroyed, at least on hold. This is a powerful story, it touches the heart and you definitely should go on and just write and post what your wrote earlier. Twenty years is a long time to wait......

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    1. I fear today's soldiers are still enduring the same soul-destroying experiences today. Such is the face of war, any war.

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  13. Susan, the very first couple of sentences gripped my heart and never let go. My father is a Vietnam Veteran and, at the moment, psychiatrists are evaluating a whole group of vets in his area to determine what 'percent' of compensation they are eligible for according to the emotional trauma they have sustained.

    My father has gone through a lot and locked away a lot. He called me, uncharacteristically angry last week, saying that if 'they' couldn't acknowledge how they had messed him up without making him open up all these locked doors inside of him that they could keep their money.

    Vietnam is a shadow over our hearts because our dad is a tower over our lives. I can't decide who has a better father, me or my daughter. Excellent men.

    My heart, in all sincerity, goes out to the soldier who inspired this beautiful piece, Susan.

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    1. There is no amount of money the government can ever pay that will make up for the destructive effects of war, especially for our Nam vets, because they didn't just face hell over there. They were treated like crap by their own country when they returned. I'm impressed your father has been willing to work with psychiatrists. My husband didn't want any part of the VA's help programs. What we did was a round-about method. We bought a ton of books about Vietnam, and he would make a notation in the margins of a book if something resonated with him. Then, when I read the same book later, I'd gain a slightly better understanding. He couldn't bring himself to talk about it, but this was the next best thing for us. But the single most helpful thing was a special show that was on PBS in 1985, titled "By Vietnam Vets For Vietnam Vets". He was away on a business trip when it aired, and for whatever reason, I stayed up late and watched it instead of going to bed with a book, like I usually did when he was away. What's more, I recorded it, which is something I NEVER did. Anyhow, we've watched that program more times than I can count. There's one grunt on there in particular whose description of himself and his behavior could have been my husband's. For the first time, my husband realized he wasn't alone, and he wasn't the only vet consumed with rage. Anyway, didn't mean to write a book here. I appreciate your comments, and wish your father well. You, too. I know it isn't always easy being the child of a vet, either. Peace, kiddo.

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    2. 'He couldn't bring himself to talk about it'

      Still the case with my dad. All he ever says is, 'I just did what I they asked me to do.'

      Your round-about method sounds filled with both wisdom and love. I have great admiration for you both.

      Sus, I'm looking up and down for your email and can't find it. Is it on here?

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    3. You'll find an "email me" button on the sidebar, right under the "about me" stuff.

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  14. Wow.

    Awesome, touching, moving, and ...

    Well, damn -- I'm practically speechless. You KNOW that's not an easy thing to make happen!

    Simply beautiful, Susan.

    Thank you very much for sharing. I salute you, all the vets who've gone through SO much for this country, and the one particular vet who inspired this. I'm glad he came home, too.

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    1. Thank you. All the way around, thank you. I appreciate your kind words.

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  15. Very good. Those intervening years took hard work from both of you. An appropriate post for Veterans Day. Can you tell how late I am in getting to blogs this week :)

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    1. Better late than never! And yes, you're right; it took a helluva lot of work. Oh, I'm halfway through your first book now, and am enjoying it very much. And your most recent book is waiting in the wings for its chance to shine on my kindle.

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  16. wow, this is a touching piece. I love the style you've written it in too.

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  17. This brings back so many memories about so many people that I knew. An "oldie" well worth resurrecting!

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    1. I'll bet it does. I hope all of them are doing well.

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  18. The war museum in Ho Chi Min City is one of the most heart breaking things on earth. So much damage done, in war, and it can last for generations. No wonder this was a hard share, Susan.

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    1. We've been to the Wall in D.C. several times, and that was hard enough. I can only imagine what the museum must be like. We used to talk about maybe visiting Vietnam sometime, because in spite of it all, my husband found the country itself to be quite beautiful. But I don't know if we could handle that museum.

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  19. Indeed, very personal. I'm glad you posted it instead of deleting it.

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  20. This is very moving -- the content, of course, but the the second-person form is intriguing, too. Makes us wonder lots of things... Is this something written that he will pick up and read? What happened so recently to enact this change? You can tell the quality of a short piece like this in that it makes you ask these questions.

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    1. This was just a reflective piece I wrote about twenty years after my husband came home from Vietnam. To tell the truth, I'm not even sure if I ever showed it to him, but I think I did. The whole "coming home" and re-assimilation process was... and is... a long one. It continues to this day.

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  21. That cat photo should be banned; it makes my teeth ache.

    Nice writing Susan, and very poignant.

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    1. HA! That cat picture cracks me up. One of our cats strikes a very similar pose when she's trying to nap and I have the audacity to turn on the lamp. Thank you. Glad you liked the writing.

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  22. I too was quite moved by this. Once, while on assignment covering a river trip up the Mekong, I came across two American veterans. It was 11am and the sun had just started to break through the clouds. We were all visiting an island that, while dedicated to a certain monk, was decorated like a giant playground. Both of the gentleman wandered around with beers in their hands, silent, looking. I knew that I couldn't begin to understand what they were looking for.

    Again, thank you for sharing this.

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    1. Your words paint a vivid image. I can practically see those two aging veterans, and they tear at my heart. Thank you so much for visiting my blog today, and for leaving such an evocative comment. I'm looking forward to popping in on your blog, as well.

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  23. Such a touching piece. I really enjoyed it.

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  24. I got shivers reading this piece. The tone is real and heartfelt - I loved it, very powerful
    Laura x

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  25. So sad, and so beautifully written, my love. You have done the nearly impossible -- I have tears in my ears. It's because I'm leaning back in the recliner and they run from my eyes to my ears.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Better tears in your ears than tears in your beers, eh? Seriously, thank you. I'm glad you liked it.

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  26. Dear Susan,

    Such a powerful and emotive heartfelt posting. And from such times, you look into them, reflect upon those times. Through it all, love shines on and love is there in the eyes.

    The veterans of war need to respected and sadly, to many were neglected. Thankfully, your beloved came home in more ways than one.

    Touching and to echo others, poignant on so many levels.

    In peace and respect to you both, Gary

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    1. Thanks, Gary. Even today, I think it's difficult for civilians... those of us who are protected... to relate with any kind of true understanding to the soldiers who are doing the protecting. But it's a lot better than it was in the '60s.

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  27. Hi, Susan,
    Cute kitchen. I can only imagine that this has been the experience of so many women who saw one person off to war and had another - far different - person return home.

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    1. You're right. I can't imagine that any man (or woman) can face combat and the heightened sense of daily danger without changing at the core. It's up to those of us at home to support and accept them.

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  28. Breathingtakingly raw and beautiful. So much heart in this piece. I adore it.

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  29. Wow, this is such a powerful post, Susan. I loved it. I'm so glad you decided to share it!

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