Thursday, December 4, 2008


Today is the 2nd birthday of my blog.

Two months after I adopted Oboe from an animal shelter (an auspicious turning point because I had lived alone, without even a cat, for more than 22 years), I was inspired by the blog of Rebecca MacKinnon to start a blog of my own. I had been reading blogs since sometime in 2004, the year I bought my first computer, an iBookG4. Rebecca's blog was the first one I read. Her blogroll led to many of the blogs I still read. Rebecca's parents had visited my family in 1970 when Rebecca was a baby, and R was in Vietnam. I took a picture of them in the sunshine in our family's backyard, using the Minolta camera that R had sent me from Vietnam.

Today is also the anniversary of the day that R returned from Vietnam in 1970. He had told me not to tell his mother which day he was coming home, asking me to come alone when I picked him up at the airport. He called me from the San Francisco Airport at 3 o'clock in the morning. About a half hour later when I arrived in the luggage area, no one was there.

In my memory, the airport is dark and silent and empty. I walk to the right, toward the escalators. As I approach them, I see him riding down. When I look at this memory of seeing him for the first time that day, I can't see him clearly because it is dark. Something is wrong, although this is the moment for which we have been waiting for nearly 12 months. We embrace at the foot of the escalator. He tells me that he took amphetamines for the flight home. He is wide awake. He is exhausted. He looks around for a trash can. Finding one, he stuffs his Army uniform into it. We are together again and absolutely alone. Something is terribly wrong. The day is a blur of jarring moments. There is no memory of the next day or the next week. I don't know how long I am without memory.

My next memory is of waking up in the dark in our bed, hearing him yelling to another soldier. In his sleep, he turns to me and punches me in the face, giving me a black eye. He wakes up to find me crying, and he is bereft of any relief he may have had at being home again.

Bereave (bi rev'), v.t., -reaved or -reft, -reaving. 1. to deprive ruthlessly or by force (usually fol. by "of"): The war bereaved them of their home. 2. to deprive or make desolate, esp. by death (usually fol. by "of"): Illness bereaved them of their mother. 3. to take away by violence.

We lived together from December 8 until sometime during the following May. It was night again. We were talking about a possible separation. Living together was not working. He wasn't ready to be living with me. I cried easily. He couldn't deal with that. I couldn't deal with his anger and daily drug use. Especially problematic for me was his amphetamine use, which made him paranoid and prone to rage. As we talked, something in him snapped. He hit me hard in the arm and pushed me to the floor. He yelled, "I don't want you to have any happy memories of me!!" As he continued to hit me, I found my voice in midst of my shock and yelled as loud as I could, "NOOOOOOOOOO!!!! YOU CAN'T HIT ME!!!!!!! He stopped immediately, bereft of any peace he may have found until that moment of hitting me. He said he was sorry. He was. On the next day, we made the decision to stop living together.

There was little support for soldiers coming home or for those who loved them. "The war bereaved them of their home." I am not convinced that our outcome would have been different, even with support. War is ruthless.

On December 8, 2006, I had been out of touch with R since 2003. PTSD, along with drug and alcohol abuse, had left him close to homeless, but he rented space with friends and family for various periods of time between 2003 and 2008. In the last six months of his life, his home was a VA hospital where he received supportive care from a team of compassionate men and women until the moment of his death on April 20, 2008. He did write a letter to me in late September of 2005. The letter was disturbing, appearing to have been written by a drunk person or a person with brain damage. I showed the letter to several mental health professionals who, feeling concerned about my well-being as well as his well-being, strongly recommended that I not respond to the letter. I contacted his sister, who confirmed that he was not doing well, moving from place to place in and around the San Francisco Bay Area.

On December 8 in 2006, a thoughtful person suggested that I do something new on the anniversary of his return from Vietnam, so that in 2007 I would have a first anniversary of something new in my life. I took the suggestion to heart and created this blog which I named "Old Girl of the North Country."

In September of 2001, when R was given a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer and was living with his parents while undergoing chemotherapy, his mother told me that she had found a piece of paper with my name on it and the lyrics for Bob Dylan's song titled "Girl of the North Country." My intention was to post a 40-year retrospective of my art work, from 1966 to 2006, and to sort out my experiences as R's "Girl of the North Country" and "Old Girl of the North Country."

This morning before dawn, these lyrics come to mind again:

"And I recall the promise they made
With a faith I can but admire
That she’d be the one he adored
and he’d be her hearts desire
It didn’t come true in the end
they went their separate ways
He couldn’t change what he was
she wasn’t ready to wait
They couldn’t live in the daylight
they let the night close in
and the holy ground took care of everything
I remember the loving time
and nothing else really counts."
(from "The Loving Time," lyrics by Noel Brazil, sung by Mary Black)

Talking about what happened and what we are like now is part of the grieving and healing process. R painted during his last days. In writing this down and posting on this blog, I am healing. Many of us are engaged in healing during these winter days and nights.

May all soldiers and veterans and those who love them find the love and support they need today and always.

May all beings find the love and support they need today and always.

Thanks so much to all who have stopped by to read and/or comment since I began this blog in December of 2006!

(The above photo of Oboe in the winter sun was taken a few days ago. "Talking About What is Not Broken" was painted by am in the late 1980's)


gleaner said...

I hadn't read this before Am.
Tears are rolling down my face and I am lost for words that would do justice.

am said...

Thanks so much, gleaner, for leaving a comment here.

Hard to believe that a year and a half has passed since Richard's death. That it's almost a year since I wrote that that post. After reading your empathetic comment and re-reading what I wrote, tears are rolling down my cheeks, too.

It's not just about Richard and me.

May all soldiers and veterans and those who love them find the love and support they need today and always.

May all beings find the love and support they need today and always.

gleaner said...

am - the story within the story was very palpable - whilst reading it I thought it was such a powerful anti-war piece with its brutal honesty. But it was powerful in many ways.