Friday, June 08, 2007


Riding the TriMet bus is always a lesson in humanity. I remember so clearly the first time I rode the bus after I moved to this city, and the problem with eye contact and the mentally ill, and the fact that no one but the mentally ill makes eye contact. So generally speaking, it is an isolating experience.

But not if you're riding the bus with Frank.

Stepping onto the bus, the air was full of whiskey, and one glance told me it was coming from the two men sitting near the front. We took the seat opposite them, then, the bus came to a halt. Turns out the Hawthorne drawbridge had to let the pirate ships go by. It is Rose Festival, after all. It took a long time for the tall ships to pass.

During the wait, one of the men stepped off the bus to smoke while waiting on the ships. This made Frank nervous. When he said, "Don't worry. We're not in-country," I knew his trouble. When the other man got back on the bus, Frank laid his head on the other's shoulder. "Don't worry, Frankie," he said. "I'll get you home."

When my brother Marc returned from Vietnam, he was alot like Frank. Well, that isn't entirely accurate, but he became like Frank after he poured years and years of whiskey over unextinguishable memories. Without whiskey, he thought people around him were speaking Vietnamese, and that made it tough to relax. A loud noise would drop him. He was permanently surrounded. He said it wouldn't have been so bad if he hadn't been spit on when he got off the plane and bent to kiss the soil (tarmac). He was stereotypical of so many Vietnam vets, blaming Jane Fonda for his pain rather than the war.

He never came home, the boy who turned me onto Donovan and Cream, who told me he would never apologize for his vocabulary, who had a heart far too tender to endure war. Unlike many, he would not speak of the atrocities. He swallowed them whole and they festered. To the end of his life, dead-end job after dead-end job, he said that killing was the only thing he was ever really good at.

I remember one time toward the end, maybe 2003, he had fallen against the woodstove and hurt himself pretty bad. He was home alone because he'd been a bad Grandpa and let one of the grandbabies get into the razor blades. Just before anyone's wrists were slit, the family came home and chastised him for his lapse. Why they left the baby with Grandpa, a bottle of whiskey and a full script of morphine was curious to me, but who am I to criticize my family? I just moved 300 miles away from them so I wouldn't have to. So there he was, all busted up, drunk as he usually was, and I drove him to the ER. As we awaited medical attention--doled out to drunks in small, well considered doses --we began to reminisce, that maudlin type of back-looking that I am known for. Sue me... it's genetic.

At one point he asked me, "If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?"

"Ireland, I guess."

I always say that, although I don't know as I'd prefer Ireland to life on just about any inland river between the Oregon coast and the Willamette. But anyway, finding myself in a conversation, I said, "How 'bout you?"

He answered, "I've always wanted to go back to Vietnam. It is the most beautiful place I've ever seen. I'd go right now if there wasn't a war going on."

Responding a little faster than I should have, I said, "Marc, that war's been over for thirty years."

He said nothing --just drew in a sharp breath as tears began rolling down his face. He just couldn't make sense of my words. He had been home for thirty years and for him, no time had passed.

Just like Frank.

Between Frank's expressions of concern over his buddy being off the bus and the Marine ethic to never leave a soldier behind, Frank kept saying, "You call it the Airforce. I call it the Chairforce."

Anyway... Thanks Frank. Thanks Marc. Thanks for the donation of your minds to a cause that is not yet satisfied.


msb said...

This so reminds me of my father who spent 31/2 years in a POW camp during WWII. He says pow's felt so much shame for getting caught and not being able to escape. His shame got him enlisting in the Korean War for another stint at fighting. PTSD wasn't even diagnosed until Vietnam. My dad was a wild man and when he drank even worse. We left when I was 8 in 1959. He never received treatment until 1988 when I suggested he seek help for his anger issues because I put my foot down about the way he talked to me. My family usually would accept his awful rages as hopeless. My dad has changed. He quit drinking and has received so much help from the VA. Old dogs can learn new tricks.

asha said...

Thanks, bluesky. That was really touching. There's no way to avoid sounding really shallow, given the subject so just, thanks.

Anonymous said...

viet nam really is so beautiful. I was so surprised, having had only seen the debri it sent back to us.

Anonymous said...

ok. horrible way to say -- the debri it sent back with those who made it back. sorry. shall i win shallow of the year award, now? it was morning, I was home for 4 minutes, rushing from one place to give two rides on my way late to work. i knew at the time i was going too fast. sorry to all the great vets and their loved ones who could of read this.

someone said...

not to worry, l. I know you know. Knew him.

Anonymous said...

once again it is so good to be known...yes, and glad to have known him. and to help remember, he went with some peace, in the final frame. and left some behind, for us to claim.