Robin Amy Bass

MY STORY

Thank you so much for accepting and printing my poem, “Prisoner of War”; I believe it has found the proper home! And I believe I too have found a home on your web site. I have been reading some of your own poems – I like your style.

You requested a little background about me and my boyfriend. Well – here is my story: It is much more than 200 words but I thought you would understand. It’s probably not all that unique – but it is news to me! Or should I say new to me? Here is OUR story.

I have known Tim for over 20 years. We met in a recording studio in New York City the early 1980’s. He was a recording engineer and I was the Studio Manager. We were both in our early 30’s. Music was very important to both of us. We both had significant others, although neither one of us were married. We fell in love and actually ended up getting stranded in the Blizzard of February 11 1983 in a hotel room. Eventually we detached from our respective boy/girl friends and became a couple. Tim was a very big Beatles and Billy Joel Fan. One of my favorite memories is going to the Billy Joel Concert in 1983 (I believe it was the Innocent Man Tour). During several songs the lights were dimmed and Tim held my hand in what I thought was a romantic gesture. He squeezed my hand very tightly and I squeezed back.

Tim and I had a pretty strong relationship – but it was fraught with problems. We both had our demons, after all this was the music biz. I had a drinking/drug problem – and Tim was also a substance abuser. I am happy to say that as I write this I have been clean and sober for about 17 years. Tim is also clean and sober. He was the reason I stopped drinking (well not the only one, but a big one). And I took him to his first AA meeting! I thought we would live happily ever after clean and sober – but we eventually went our separate ways. We both had a lot of growing up to do.

I always knew that Tim and I were from different backgrounds. I was an Upper middle class girl from Queens. My father was and is a Doctor. I am Jewish. I never knew anyone who served in Vietnam. All my friends got notes from their Doctors or joined rabbinical schools. We used to cut school to go to the moratoriums they had in Central Park. My friends were mostly hippie wannabes – who ended up going to college and grad school and became Yuppies.

Tim grew up in New Jersey and had led an entirely different life. He was adopted when he was very young and grew up in a household filled with abuse and anger and regret. He was raised a Catholic. There was not a whole lot of money. He used to call me his UPTOWN GIRL – another Billy Joel reference – one that I always have liked! He was my Downtown guy. He taught me all about Baseball, the Beatles and Rock and Roll.

We had a lot of fun. He has a great sense of humor – and is extremely creative. And being a recording engineer, he has a great pair of ears. He hears and remembers everything. Now years later, I understand why he always slept with one eye open. I could never sneak anything from his refrigerator or bar! He was always standing right in back of me; (Years of training – Marines!)

Here is the part that still astounds me! I never knew that Tim had been in Vietnam or in the military. HE NEVER TOLD ANYONE.

And I can understand why. Vietnam was not a popular war and the Veterans were given a raw deal; they were spit on when they came home. As a Jewish woman I was brought up in a culture where we were taught to honor their military. Israeli soldiers are considered heroes – this goes all the way back to the Maccabees.

I must confess that while I was against the war, I never understood the treatment of our Veterans. I think it was horrendous. That being said – I can certainly understand Tim’s silence. So I spent many years under the assumption that Tim was just a Rock and Roller! To me he was a guitar playing musician who had learned to become a recording engineer and had worked himself up to a pretty prestigious position, a position that he would eventually lose due to the drugs and alcohol.

I do remember Tim looking at me and saying, “If you had seen some of the horrible things I have seen you would understand what I’m talking about”.

Of course, I had no idea what he was talking about. I thought he was being melodramatic. I thought maybe it had something to do with his having been adopted. Well – in the summer of 1988, Tim and I parted company for what I thought would be for good. We stayed in touch – but our days as a couple came to an end – until NOW!

OK – cut to 2002:

I have an on-line diary and I was still in touch with Tim – we were friends and He had been sick but never went into details and he had this habit of disappearing. He has had the same address and phone number for years – so have I. I might add that he is almost to the day one month younger than me. His birthday is on Veterans Day, November 11, 1952; mine is October 12, 1952 – yeah, the “real” Columbus Day. So I inherited a Scorpio and Marine (geez – quite the combo). I might also add, I had recently married – (My divorce has recently been finalized.),

At my urging (we were friends but I hadn’t seen him in years) Tim also started an on-line diary. I thought it would help him start writing again; he was always a prolific song writer but suddenly stopped. I, on the other hand, only started to write recently.

Well – one thing led to another and Tim began to describe THE BILLY JOEL CONCERT! But he talked about it from an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE. He described grabbing my hand (his nick name for me is Raven) and squeezing it when Billy Joel played Goodnight Saigon. Then he went on to talk about having been in Vietnam.

I had to reread his entry several times – for a minute or two I thought I had been mistaken all along. This must be someone else’s diary. Then I thought could I have been that drunk – that I never heard when he told me about Vietnam – Was I that insensitive? I could not believe what I was reading. BUT then everything began to make sense, It was like a missing piece of the puzzle came into the picture. It explained years of anger, sadness and silence. Still, I was hesitant to question Tim directly. I e-mailed him and he went into detail. He talked about PTSD and he talked about his battle with depression. I also started another on-line diary called StarkRavenMad and an epic (20 chapters) poem called The Snow Raven’s Tale. It was all about Tim.

The thing is – I never planned to fall back in love with Tim – but our re-communication (well if you can use REVET) only showed me that I never stopped loving him – I just walked away – because I thought he didn’t love me. All the things that could not be explained had answers. And let me tell you, some of the answers are really mortifying.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am so proud of Tim, it’s hard to describe. He was always a hero to me and on a pedestal. But now I know he was a Marine; that he defended his country and was there for his Brothers. He has become a Super-Hero to me. What I was not prepared for and am still learning about is this PTSD and the other side effects that Vietnam seems to carry with it!

Tim has also survived cancer and though no one has made it official – you will never convince me that his stint in Vietnam did not have something to do with his illness. As if PTSD wasn’t enough.

So Tim and I have slowly begun to rediscover each other. Some of it has not changed. We still love The Yankees and Billy Joel and The Beatles. But I drove over to Tim’s house several months ago and was not prepared to see his car with POW/MIA sticker; I was not prepared to see the bottles of medication prescribed for his PTSD; I was not prepared to see the Marine T shirt he wears; I was not prepared for the stories he began to tell me, or for the long silences or for the nights when he cannot sleep. I was not prepared for the Nam Nights or for his need to be alone and have such a regimented schedule – one which includes all sorts of Doctors.

Tim was a man who ran a pretty big syndicated radio show operation. He is 6’2” and in pretty good shape. He is a natural leader – when he wants to be. The Tim I knew had no problem giving orders or taking charge. I know those qualities are still there but…

But this Tim is also tentative, suspect and sad. And ANGRY – I haven’t seen it – he would never let me – I think he would rather swallow a whole vial of pills before he would let his anger unleash in my presence. Usually he just sends me home – or does not call. He goes underground. This is a Tim who has finally decided to own all of his past – but at what cost? Does the past own him? And what does that say about our future? At 51 years old, I am smart enough to recognize that all we have is now, yet it saddens me to see that Tim is fighting another enemy. The booze is gone – the illegal drugs are gone. But PTSD is here, and at first glimpse, it looks just as insidious and pervasive as alcohol. Maybe worse?

So that’s my story about Tim, Me, and Vietnam.

I will write a more appropriate “biography” after I get some sleep. Again, I thank you for your response, and for your website. I hope to contribute some more songs and poems in the future… perhaps a short story about an Uptown Girl, and a Downtown Vet?