Monday, June 15, 2020

Time Has Come Today

Watching the trailer for "Da 5 Bloods" was startling for many reasons, one of which is that in one of the documentary film clips that Spike Lee used, the white soldier wearing dark glasses and sitting shoulder to shoulder with a black soldier looked so much like my R that it took my breath away.

R was in training to be a helicopter mechanic at the Army school in Newport News, Virginia, in 1969 when Jimi Hendrix was singing at Woodstock in the context of the war in Vietnam.  R and his Army friends thought about going to Woodstock to see Jimi Hendrix. 

After watching the trailer and becoming aware of what I was feeling, I decided that it was probably not a good idea for me to watch "Da 5 Bloods" now that I am conscious of what I need to do to take care of myself, having learned how to do that as a result of years of counseling.  I've come a long way since 1970, but it doesn't take much to bring back that troubled time in my life and to re-traumatize myself. 

Although I watched the first night of the Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War, I was unable to continue watching.  It is occurring to me that it is because Ken Burns wasn't a soldier in Vietnam that his vision didn't match the vision I have as a result of the letters R wrote to me every day that he was in Vietnam.  Ken Burns' vision didn't ring true for me.  A Vietnam veteran on a hotline I called in the early 1990s as a result of my acute distress in connection with the First Gulf War told me that I was a veteran, too, because I had lived with R during the traumatic months immediately after his return from Vietnam.  

Oliver Stone was a soldier in Vietnam.  When I watched "Platoon" twice in 1987 and once again years later, I came as close as I ever have to experiencing the nightmare that R and so many other men of my generation had experienced.  

Tim O'Brien was a soldier in Vietnam.  His book of short stories, The Things They Carried, brought me more understanding of the traumatic experience of war.

The Sorrow of War, a novel by Bao Ninh, gave me a much-needed Vietnamese perspective on living in a war-torn country for one's entire life.

Spike Lee wasn't a soldier in Vietnam but, as I write, it is occurring to me that although he was not a soldier in Vietnam, he is a black man who lives with the ongoing violence and threats of violence that have been directed at black people for generations in the United States.  For that reason, I am going to find a way to watch "Da 5 Bloods" and listen to his message.

Last night, with just a few minutes of searching on YouTube, I found the complete documentary footage of the soldiers using a gun as a marijuana pipe.  The documentary was filmed in 1970 which is the year R was in Vietnam, but the soldiers filmed were on a base 50 miles northeast of Saigon.  R was much farther north, about 50 miles from what was then called North Vietnam.  Although the soldier with the dark glasses looked just like R in the first few frames, the following frames made it clear to me that it was not R.  There is another soldier who also looked like R in a single frame but not at all like R otherwise.  

For years after 1971, I would be stunned and sometimes frightened when I would see a man in a public place who reminded me of R.  This happened frequently.  The bond I had with R goes deep.  It's been called a trauma bond.  R brought the violence of the war home with him on December 8, 1970, just a few months after Jimi Hendrix died.  R and I separated after he turned that violence on me five months later in May 1971 and yet, years later, I chose to be with him in the ICU of the Palo Alto VA Hospital in the week before he died in 2008.  

Oddly enough, the night after I looked closely at those YouTube images of the soldiers that Oliver Stone borrowed and reenacted in "Platoon" and which Spike Lee used in "Da 5 Bloods", R appeared in a brief vivid dream in which all that happened was that we gave each other a long warm affectionate hug.  

This blog was created in hopes that I would find, in sharing my art work and writing about it, the healing that had eluded me for so many years in connection with the war in Vietnam.  I never expected to become part of a blogging community with members in Canada and Europe as well as the United States and to see the world from so many illuminating perspectives.  I didn't know that there would be more wounds to heal.  May we all be healed from the wounds that are a part of life.  May we see the everlasting beauty.


Anonymous said...

I don't have that personal visceral connection to the war in Viet Nam, but I so understand your connection to a much loved partner who was there. I could never watch Spike Lee's movie. Too painful to witness such a thing.

Elizabeth said...

What a beautiful, intense and sorrowful post. I recently read "The Things They Carried" with a student and was blown away. Perhaps a wrong or maybe an apt expression for that magnificent piece of writing. I guess I'll watch Spike Lee's new movie because it's Spike Lee, but I'm not much in the mood for violence these days. There's a difference for me between seeing images and reading words.

Tara said...

Yes, there are scenes it that movie that are pretty hard to take. It's a very good film, I think, but I don't have that same relationship to Vietnam war that you do. I had a friend who served there, but he didn't talk much about it even though his helicopter was shot down and he suffered severe burns that sent him stateside to recover. He was one of the many brown men who were drafted along side their black brothers.

I didn't realize you and R had such a long break in your relationship when you went back to be with him for the last week of his life. Reminds me, in a way, of me going to be with Steve during his last week. It completes a circle, doesn't it?

Sabine said...

I was in primary school when the Vietnam war became news. At the time, the families of the US army stationed in Bavaria and especially in my home town used to live in German housing among locals and we played - wordlessly most of time - with the children and watched them being picked up and delivered by their orange brown school buses.
We were close to a particular set of kids, similar in age to my brother (pre-school) and me, who had an amazing range of plastic toys and comics and who would set up their bbq grill every evening for all the kids around. They disappeared within days eventually and we were told that the father was called to serve in Vietnam while the family returned to the US. My brother was too young to understand but he missed his friend badly for months. I remember asking my teacher in school to explain what it all meant and she told the class that it'll be over by xmas. It wasn't and I actually reminded her later the next year but she told me to cool it. My parents' generation would not comment, their war experience was barely a generation away and the city was still pockmarked with bomb damages and bunkers here and there.

I have been moved deeply every time I read of your experience and trauma. The closest I can come to imagine is when I remember my mother's trauma and her increasing inability to cope with her life burdens as she got older. I am so glad you have to opportunity to receive and the will to accept counseling.

Colette said...

I started watching it with my husband last night. At a certain point, we had to turn it off. There is so much violence and meanness in the world right now. There may be some different issues now than in the late 60's, but the chaotic horror remains the same. Be kind to yourself.

Beth said...

I'm moved by the story you tell here. Those years shaped so many of us, traumatized us in different ways, and I don't think we've ever really gotten over them, though - hopefully - we're more at peace with those experiences. I still have vivid dreams that I know come out of that time. I also appreciate all the music links. I've thought a lot about Dylan in the days since George Floyd was killed, and looked up the words to "Only a Pawn in Their Game" after reading an article about the Tulsa massacre.

Beth said...

p.s. I've never watched any of the Vietnam War movies.

37paddington said...

Your connection to R, and love for him, despite the trauma you shared, is such a powerful through line in your emotional and dreaming life. I have just been immersed in research for the Vietnam war, that whole era, because my book subject was an antiwar activist then and marched, but reading your beautiful, aching post, it occurs to me that there is no way for us to do justice to what soliders like R and their loved ones experienced first hand, no matter how well intentioned we are. Thank you for writing your heart, here. I will hold it gently in mine. Love.

My life so far said...

Thank you for sharing this with us. I can't imagine what those young men went through, over and over and over again. War destroys people's souls. It did the same to my own father. I'm thankful you were able to be there for him at the end of his life, thankful for both of you.