Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day tears~


Last night my husband Bruce and I sat on the patio at dusk, rehashing the day.

It had been beautiful. The weather cooperated for our son's high school graduation, which was a milestone for me, as well as David. He's the youngest. I'll have an empty nest, temporarily at least, when he's away at college. I think this will be fine. I've looked forward to it, but still . . .

"Are we going to the parade tomorrow?" I'd asked Bruce. Tomorrow was Memorial Day.

"I suppose," he said.

I mentioned that there would be a ceremony at each of the cemeteries in town. Taps would be played in honor of the dead who'd served our country in war.

"That would be tough for me," he said.

"It would be too emotional?" I asked, tentatively.

He'd been a Captain in the Marines. He was going to get drafted, so he signed on to become an officer. He was sent to Vienam after OCS at Quantico, in Virginia. Then, Camp Le Jeune after Nam. I really don't know much more than that.

He came home in 1968. I was in still in high school. We didn't know each other then. We met twenty-four years later. He would never talk about Vietnam. But he teared up watching war movies.

I tried to get him to talk. I felt shut out. What had happened? What was it like? How could he not share with me? I loved him. I would never hurt him. I could share his pain.

He wouldn't talk.

He couldn't.

I let him be. For years.

But this night he seemed open. So I asked what it was that made it so difficult after all these years, not just for him, but for so many other veterans to speak of the past.

This is when the grenade split the air between us. My husband accused me of tossing it, but I didn't even know I'd held it, let alone pulled the pin.

This is a subject that stays buried. I need to understand. I can't ask questions. He won't answer. It isn't that he doesn't trust me to be gentle. Yes, it might help if he talked, but he won't. He stormed into the house.

I sat alone. He had every right to keep his experience to himself, but I felt hurt. Shut out. His hurt was bigger though; I'd swallow mine. What choice did I have, anyway?

In a while, he returned and spoke haltingly of learning that survival meant making decisions, quick ones, life or death ones. He said sometimes those decisions were made "for the greater good." Those who couldn't make decisions got their men killed. He said he was in charge of his men, it was his responsibility to bring them through alive. But some didn't make it.

We sat silently watching the goldfinch at the feeder. I changed the subject.

Today we went to the town common for a simple Memorial Day ceremony. We stood with others in front of the memorial with names of local men who'd died in war from WWI to Vietnam. It was one of many ceremonies being held across the nation. Dignitaries spoke. Veterans spoke. There was a gun salute, and a bugler.

I stood beside Bruce. He'd begun wiping silent tears long before the bugle blew taps. I put my arm around him, grateful that his name was not on the monument. I hoped some of his pain drained with each tear. That was all I could do.

5 comments:

Bob Sanchez said...

Ruth,
My admiration and gratitude go out to your husband for serving our country. As I understand it, a great many veterans of WWII never chose to speak of their wartime experiences either.

Jody said...

Ruth,

What a heartfelt and beautifully written story, and so appropriate for Memorial Day. I wonder if you'll ever really know just how many will be touched by it and the simple yet ineffable beauty of your words.

I almost feel guilty for not having commented here before, because I do read your blog regularly whenever I feel the need to sit back, relax, and surround myself with the kind of comfort only certain words -- and the ways in which a writer uses them -- can bring.

Your writing does that to me...sort of wraps around my shoulders like a soft down comforter while someone reads a story and the eyelids get heavier and finally close in sleep.

Perhaps I felt compelled to respond to this particular post because I have a brother-in-law (who happens to be one of my very best friends) whose responses to questions about Vietnam have nearly mirrored your husband's. It wasn't very long ago he finally spoke about it, and, just as your husband did, he said few words, but within them lay a lifetime.

Additionally, my youngest son also just graduated from high school and has already begun getting his feet wet in college.

Tonight, reading your words, I felt like I had another sister out there. Thanks so much for sharing them with us.

Heather said...

what a beautiful piece

Ruth D~ said...

Jody~

I felt like you'd just wrapped that comforter around my shoulders, with your kind comments. It's nice to know there are so many others that share similar experiences and can relate to mine. I've never had a sister. I'd be honored to be yours in some small shared way.

Bob~

I passed your words on to my husband. He was pleased.

leslie said...

This brought me to tears. My father never talked about WWII until recently. Actually, I don't think he realizes it's what he's referring to. He had several massive strokes recently and now suffers from vascular dementia. It's hard to understand him when he speaks, but sometimes I think he's back in the war when he mentions things like "someone threw him over the side" or "he was killed" or "I have to go away tomorrow so if I don't make it back, make sure you tell them how much I appreciated all they did for me." It's heartbreaking. Although we're Canadian, we still think of those poor soldiers who suffered in VietNam...many thanks to your husband for serving not only his own country but also, in a way, ours too.