A while back a conversation simply started with a new friend. We’ll call him “Right There.” I knew little about him other than he was a teacher and was previously a master mechanic. Nice easy-going style about him. Large dragon tattoo on his forearm. Dry sense of humor. Just the right amount of crustiness. Oh, and he told me that he was working on a writing assignment about the next phase of his life.
There was no rush to the conversation. I just knew we were going to talk, to have conversations. A quote attributed to Isak Dineson came to mind: “To be a person is to have a story to tell.”
I was leaning against my car when he came over. We were both tired. I said: “Man, you look tired.”
He said, easily, “I don’t sleep.”
I knew there were health issues with his mother so I asked, “New developments with your mother?”
“I haven’t slept since my 20’s,” he replied, again without any fanfare, but I figured it was also an invitation.
“VietNam?” To which he nodded.
“Not really, just a lot of very real images. When I get up in the morning and my wife has put out a large breakfast, that’s her way of telling me that I had a real workout the night before.”
I don’t remember the next few parts of that conversation but I think it went towards my asking if he remembered them during the day. What I do remember, however, is that he told me a story of how he ran into a psychologist who was also a VietNam veteran. That man volunteered his time to talk with veterans if they wanted to talk. the Vets would say of him: “He can be trusted.” That is high accolade, indeed, and not lightly given.
He asked him “Why after all these years are these thoughts coming back to him now?”
He said: “Well, think of it, there you were at 18 or 20, smack in the middle of a situation where you are seeing things and doing things the reality of which you were never really prepared to see or do. So what do you do? You put it aside as well as you can and you get on with it. Then 20, 30, 40 years later the brick wall starts to crumble.”
That’s a nice explanation, isn’t it? It offers an answer to an honest question, it doesn’t get lost in detail, it validates horrific events without drawing attention to them and it perhaps gives a person time to consider that it’s “crumbling” and that he (or she) can figure out how to deal with the coming storm.
I’m reminded of a phrase from one of the movies about the VietNam war; it could have been from Platoon, or Full Metal Jacket. In the scene, one of the soldiers is starting to fall apart. One of his buddies starts saying: “Don’t mean nothin’.” Then after a few repititions, they both start chanting the somewhat healing words…”don’t mean nothin’.”
Well, maybe not quite healing. Maybe some rough masonry work to protect their core from something too raw. Temporarily put aside, but hardly forgotten.