I figure it's only fair to also share something with you that I haven't written about before. I also had memories and feelings that haunted me.
My loss of innocence came when I was notified about the death of my husband in Vietnam when I was twenty. Doug ("Doc") was KIA in September of 1969.
Emotionally, I was not able, (or maybe didn't know how), to talk about what that was like, even to those closest to me.
For a while, I continued to wear my wedding ring, which often brought questions and comments from those I met. Some people could be so cruel:
"He shouldn't have been in Vietnam -- none of them should be there!"
"What a stupid way to die."
"Thank God you didn't have any children."
"Vietnam isn't even a war."
"Oh, did he kill children?"
"Why didn't he just refuse to go?"
I soon took off my ring. I locked it [and my memories] in a safe place, but where I could get to them, when I needed to. But I had learned not to talk about him at all, or about how I felt.
As you know and have shared, back then, anyone connected to the Vietnam War learned to hide their experiences, their emotions, as well as their anguish. I know many stopped all contact with other people, preferring only the company of those they knew would understand.
It was not a time when people wanted to listen -- they wanted only to take action.
One night when was feeling really bad, I decided that I didn't want to feel anything, ever again. I was going to be with Doug. I drove to a beach, parked my car, and calmly walked out into the ocean.
A couple walking on the moonlit sand saw me and, against my will, they dragged me back to the beach. They refused to leave, until I had stopped sobbing, and made me promise to get help in the morning. Then they watched as I got in my car and drove away. I knew I wouldn't be able to talk about it, so I ignored my promise, nor would I speak of this again to anyone.
While we dated, I encouraged him to talk. Somehow, I knew that was important and I listened as it all poured out of him. I could easily relate to much of what he shared: the anti-war atmosphere that permeated the news and the streets, the memories, emotions, the loss of Brothers in Nam, and the whole negativity of the public towards Vietnam veterans in general.
Ten months later we were married, but I knew early on that this had been a mistake. I also needed to talk about the worst experience that I had ever been through in my life.
He saw my need to talk very differently. He told me he would not compete with a ghost. Even though I assured him that was not what I was asking him to do, he would not allow it. I needed him to be there for me, to listen to what I had also been through and how it had affected me. But he would not.
Though I knew in my heart that it would never work out, I was not raised to be a quitter. Indeed, some in my family even said, "If it isn't working, then you aren't working hard enough." So, I set my jaw, determined I would make the marriage work. I stopped bringing up my issues and did my best to ignore, and hide, them.
Emotionally, I knew I was distancing myself -- I could feel it. And although I hid everything, it was still there -- I could feel that, too. Every time it came to the surface, I shoved it back inside, and each time it came back, it was worse than before.
By year seven, I was busy raising three daughters, ages 1, 3, and 5. They were the light and the focal point of my life and I poured my love into them.
Then suddenly one night, I started having the same dream over and over. In it, the doorbell would ring. I would open the door to find Doug standing there wearing faded jeans, a T-shirt, his tan jacket over his right shoulder, and the teasing smile he always wore, the one I loved so much to see. He would happily say, "Hey, Babe. C'mon, you ready? Grab your jacket, let's go."
I remember feeling no hesitation in the excitement of seeing him. I threw my arms around him and hugged his chest. Then, as I turned to get my jacket, there stood my three little girls, side-by-side, looking up at me in wide-eyed innocence.
Like a knife in the chest, I felt a cloying pain, confusion, and an overwhelming sadness. As I looked from their beautiful trusting faces to Doug standing casually in the doorway, then back at them, and again at Doug, I always woke up. I was drenched in sweat and shivering with terror.
The dream haunted my days and plagued my nights for months, until I finally told my husband about the dream. He informed me that I was crazy, or worse, that I was obviously contemplating suicide.
To be honest, I wasn't sure myself what the dream meant. I only knew I would never, ever choose to leave my daughters -- him maybe, but them, never. Maybe I was going crazy. Was I considering suicide again?
During the next nine years, I distanced myself even further. I had stopped talking about the dream to anyone. It was still an active part of my nights, but it was ignored, hidden the best that I could manage, along with everything else I wasn't supposed feel, or talk about.
I remember being on the couch curled in a fetal position, when my husband came home from work. I tried to speak, but I was unable to. I couldn't do anything, but shake uncontrollably. He was shouting at me and I was having a nervous breakdown.
The next morning, I found a therapist in the yellow pages and called. Over the next eight months, two sessions each week, I learned that I wasn't crazy, nor had I been contemplating suicide -- I loved my little girls more than anything in the world and I loved my life with them.
Through therapy, I slowly began to break down the walls I had built for self-protection. I also learned that you can't run away from hurt. You bring everything with you no matter how far you go, or how deep you bury it down inside. To begin to heal, I first had to face my fear of feeling, as well as everything else I had hidden away for so long. In the therapist's office, I found I could safely talk with no repercussions.
I was also encouraged to vent the deep anger I had hidden and felt so guilty about; anger towards God for allowing this to happen and towards Doug for leaving me. Most importantly, I was learning that it was okay to have all of those feelings. They were all a part of the grieving process and all were normal stages that I had just not gone through when I should have.
I also learned that it takes two people to make a marriage work. I could set my jaw all I wanted, with all the determination in the world, but unless both people are willing to do that together, the marriage cannot survive. We were like oil and water. Each is unique and good, separately, but the two together will never mix.
I still had a long, long way to go, but that had been a beginning ...
“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale