Robin Amy Bass


Now I understand it! What you meant that day.
Now I understand it! What you couldn’t say.
Now I understand that look – off into space.
Now I understand what you cannot erase.

Twenty years ago I was so naïve
Twenty years ago you could hardly grieve
Twenty years ago you always looked away.
All those years ago, you would never say
anything at all. Never spoke of war
so I never knew what you really saw.

Every now and then you would look at me,
turn around and say, “Don’t you really see?”
“What?” I used to ask, “Why are you depressed?”
And I thought, “Well, he must be different than the rest.
Well that’s not so bad. I feel different too.
He must be like me!” Yeah – he is just like you.

And I thought, “How nice – different but the same”.
Twenty years ago – my world was filled with games.
You and I – a pair – different parts of town;
I am from the UP – you hail from the DOWN.
You were from the street – smart and really quick;
Me – I liked to laugh – a classy kind of chic.

Now I understand it – why you looked around
silently surveying – you never made a sound.
Wake up in the night – from an awful dream;
Now I understand it – why you never scream.

I don’t understand – everything – it’s true…
I spent many years thinking that I knew
All the little things girlfriends ought to do.
For a downtown guy – never had a clue
what you hid inside – what you kept from me.
Sometimes I still ask, “Why did I not see?”

And I want to know – why you held it in;
why you couldn’t say just where you had been.
Don’t you understand I’d be there for you?
Well I am here now – that’s all that I can do.
I thought I knew everything when it came to you!
In the naked light of dawn – I see it isn’t true.
Slowly I surmise just what a War can do.

Now I understand – how War took its toll;
all your different parts – you’re not always whole.
All these different parts – greater than the whole;
all these mixed emotions – gee how hard they hit
Pieces of a puzzle – now they start to fit
Some days… bit by little bit.

You could never tell me that you’d been to war
but now I have these questions spinning in my core.
When I hear new information, I just love you more.

We were so much younger – insides lying low;
Laughter and denial – secrets always grow.
YOU can’t keep a secret – you would point and say.
I couldn’t keep from laughing – “Is this the CIA?”
“I can’t keep a secret – I am not that slick.
Secrets aren’t sexy – Secrets make you sick!”

All those winter evenings you barely gave a clue
except for the times you’d say to me, “If you only knew.”
Painful conversations – suffering – concealed.
If you do not tell it – how you can be healed?
You can be dramatic – maybe you are mad?
Shake my head and think – “His childhood was so sad…”

Conversations starting – ending so abrupt;
draw my own conclusions – did I interrupt?
I thought that I was listening – maybe I was blind.
I’m sorry – you were saying? Did you change your mind?
All this stuff your feeling? Does it have a name?
Tell me who the culprit is – tell me who to blame.

We were so much younger – I wish you had said
that you were a soldier – trusted me instead.
Keep it locked inside you – stick it in a vault.
When it comes to Vietnam – things come to a halt.

Now I understand it – what were you to do?
You were just so quiet. Never gave a clue;
just a guy from Jersey – Rock and Roll and drugs;
Such a quiet anger – one too many shrugs.
True, I was no angel – I could knock ‘em back;
when it came to drinking – I picked up the slack.

Some things are confusing – but I’ll wait it out.
You don’t have to tell me when you feel in doubt.
I can understand it – how you hesitate;
but when you love somebody – you can learn to wait.

Do you understand it… why I couldn’t stay?
Is that why you didn’t call me? Let me walk away.
So much left unspoken – we had seen our day.
When I think about it – it seems just like a play.
Years and years go passing – but we stay in touch.
All the love I bury – I don’t ask for much.

Numb myself from feeling… anything, you see.
Then one day you tell me – and you set me free.
All this stuff lay buried. YOU ARE JUST LIKE ME!

When you were much younger – you had been to war;
You use words like Brother – talk about The Corps.
You were trained in combat – you were trained to fight.
Now I understand it – Your restless sleep at night.

You begin to tell me – tear drops start to spill.
You use words like combat – I stay very still.
I don’t understand it – why you never said
that you were a soldier – what is in your head?

Don’t you know I love you – don’t you know I did?
Why did you not trust me? All you said was “kid!”
You say you went silent – even in your head
all these things forgotten. Filled it up instead
with Rock and Roll and Cocaine – it’s a god dam shame!
Now, we both are sober – look at what you claim.

You say that you’re a Veteran – you have been in Nam.
Did they teach you over there – how to drop this bomb?
Now I understand it – what you could not say;
silently you built this wall to keep me at bay.
I am not that foolish girl – the one from ‘85.
I thought I should give you up – somehow I survived.

Guess we all have secrets – mine I cannot keep;
all those years without you – how you make me weep.
I know I am still pretty – I know that I am smart
and when I hear your story – it just breaks my heart
Battlefields and bunkers – rescue missions too.
I don’t have the answer – How to rescue you?

Billy Joel and Beatles – songs I couldn’t play;
tunes that we called “Ours” – Turn that off – OK?
Now I understand it – what people lock away;
Now I understand it – what I have to do.
I will never sleep at night unless I’m next to you.
Now I understand it though I am surprised.
All the pain you sat upon – stories you revise.

I am not that silly girl – I will not play coy.
I will love the man in you – and the little boy.
I will hold your hand until you say “LET GO”
Then I’ll hold it tighter still – turn and tell you “NO”
I’m not going anywhere – Don’t you understand?
There is no replacing you – like some drummer in a band.

You have been my only one I will hold your hand
You can tell me anything – now I understand.

Author’s Note: I wrote this poem to describe how I feel about finding out about Ben having been in The Marines and in The Vietnam War. I am very proud of him – but I spent many years without knowing anything about his military history. And that was when we were a couple!

I have to remind myself – not to make it all about ME! After all, I’m not the one with PTSD. But… what Ben did and does, always affects me.

I had and have many questions. I know they will all be answered in the right time. I am grateful that Ben can now confide in me. There is still part of me that wants to say to him, YOU COULD HAVE TOLD ME!

He says he spent many years not even telling himself. As a recovering alcoholic, I understand about denial. I also know trust isn’t something that just happens – it is something that you earn. Still, a part of me thinks that things might have been easier for him, if he told me. Things might have been different for us. I guess it is futile to be a Monday-morning quarterback. I console myself with the fact that Ben is talking to me now! And I am sober – and able to give him the respect, love, and support he deserves. I might not have been able to do that, all those years ago.