Mary E. Rogers
THEY FORGOT HOW TO REBUILD THE BRIDGE
I’ve spent a lot of time around Vietnam Veterans. It started with my husband who was there three times. Then after he died, I started a search to find men that he served with. I only ever found a couple that thought they had served with my husband, but I found many who did not. Those ones who did not serve with my husband have taught me a lot.
I have been treated well and with respect by the majority of them, the respect that is given to the wife of one of their brothers who is no longer here.
People like me, who didn’t serve with these men, feel honored to be allowed to be a part of them. We sometimes feel as though we are treading on holy ground when we are allowed to walk among them. We are also reminded, sometimes, that we are not really on the inside with them but only on the edge looking in.
We have been told that we were not there and we don’t understand. We may not have been in country, but we were as close to it as you can get without stepping a foot on that land. We were the ones that sit at home and prayed. We were the ones that kept the home fires burning and the children happy. We were the ones that kept a family together in this country when you had to walk in the other. Then when you came home we walked in the aftermath of that horrible hellish war that you will forever carry in your memory. It seemed as though you went there and there was a bridge blown out. A bridge that connected you back to this world – this world that you called home – a bridge that you could never rebuild. On one side of the bridge you would forever stand, with your brothers. Your love could reach across that divide and you could somehow be a part of our lives, from a distance. But you never really crossed again, because you forgot how to build a bridge.
I have seen Vietnam Veterans viciously attack each other with words. I also learned very quickly that you do not take up for one of them. No matter how much you think they are being treated unfairly. In the end they will still be brothers and you will be a meddlesome woman who wasn’t there and doesn’t understand. Nobody will remember that you walked that road for many years. That you were used to keeping peace and walking on egg shells. Nobody will remember because they are still standing on the other side, they all forgot how to build that bridge. When your heart is breaking because you have loved so much and tried so hard and it wasn’t enough. When you couldn’t fix their brother they will stand with him and you will not matter.
I have seen one relationship after another fail with Vietnam Vets. I wonder sometimes if they look for a woman who can cure all their ills, fix everything, and wipe away the horror that lives inside their mind. Then when they realize they can’t they move onto another, always hoping that she is the one that can fix it all. Maybe she will build the bridge. We didn’t cause it and we can’t fix it. We can love you and understand. We can realize that most times you are doing the best you can. We also know that only you can rebuild that bridge, if you want to. Even if we tried to rebuild the bridge alone, I’m afraid you would not let the last few feet be finished. Maybe you are safe there on the other side with your brothers. Maybe you feel you could never fit in on this side with us. Maybe you are afraid to rebuild that bridge and come the whole way home. Across that span is total unconditional love – a love that you will never find anywhere else. Maybe you are afraid to love that much again because you loved and lost so much in Nam. You will never know unless you are willing to rebuild the bridge.
Your brothers are always there to pat you on the back, to remember your great accomplishments on the battlefield. It is nice to be recognized and remembered but sometimes it keeps you from moving on. Sometimes it keeps you literally eating and breathing and sleeping Vietnam. You feel good when they do it. They love you and they want you to know that they will never forget. They don’t know it, but what they are really doing is keeping you from building that bridge. That bridge that will bring you completely home to the one you love – to the one that loves you – the bridge that will allow you to live completely, to do other things in life instead of just remember Vietnam. Maybe they haven’t built their bridge either and so they don’t want to be alone. No soldier should ever be alone again. One bridge would be enough for you all to walk on. No man left behind, isn’t that the motto? So until you all are ready to come home, nobody will build that bridge.
I met another Vietnam Vet, the nicest man that I have ever met in my life. I fought loving anyone again. He promised me that my love was safe with him, that he would never hurt me. The problem is that I didn’t notice that he had forgotten how to build that bridge too.
I gave my love freely and unconditional to you. I felt that distance between us. That distance that is separated by that huge span – the empty pit where the bridge used to stand. We stand on opposite banks and feel each other’s love and affection, at a distance. We made all those plans to be together forever. To work at it no matter how long it took or how hard we had to work. We could do it together. Someday we would build that bridge and the distance would melt away, we would do it with our love. We could start at opposite ends and build that bridge together. You talked me into letting go, to let myself love again. All you needed was someone to help build a bridge – a bridge between your heart and mine – a bridge that would melt away the fear of loving someone again – a bridge that would finally bring you home.
Then it seemed nothing could happen fast enough for you. You needed someone to fix everything right away. From a distance it was hard to hang onto that love. It was hard to remember all that we had shared and all the promises that were made. You lost hope and you believed that I wasn’t capable of helping you to build that bridge. Maybe you were safer just staying on the other side with your brothers. Then you realized that they couldn’t fix it either, and nobody could fix it for them. You all forgot how to build that bridge between your world and ours.
I couldn’t fix it, your brothers can’t fix it, and so you moved on to someone else, still looking for that one person that can fix it all; the one that can wipe away the hell of war and bring you completely back home. It will be better with her, for a while. She doesn’t even ask you to build that bridge. She doesn’t even know that it is missing. She doesn’t know that you live between this world and the world of jungles and rice paddies. The world where you lost so much that you never wanted to love enough to hurt that way again. Once again the winds will change. You will realize that she too can’t fix what she didn’t cause. She will decide that she is tired of trying to fix everything. She is tired of doing everything and it really isn’t that important anyhow. She doesn’t understand because she has never had to deal with the aftermath of Vietnam. She can’t fix what she didn’t break either and there is no need to build that bridge. The love isn’t that deep anyhow. You never did stick around when you started feeling love for someone. Besides if she can’t fix it, there will be someone that can. Someone must be able to show you how to build that bridge.
There on the other side still stands the one who loves you – the one who waited on you. The one you promised forever to – the one who loves you more than life itself. But there is something between you. It is a half built bridge. There is still a gap. It is the half of the bridge that you need to build: a gap between two hearts, two souls that want to live as one – a gap that won’t allow you to share all the hopes and dreams that you promised to each other. The ones she believed would happen. She believed because you promised her.
Will you stand there on the other side with your brothers? It’s safe there. You all have your memories of being together, keeping each other alive. Nothing can ever take that away, not even a bridge that will bring you completely home. Maybe it is you that has to finish that bridge. Then you all can come home.
You promised me forever. You helped me to love again and promised me that you wouldn’t hurt me. Even if I finished the other half of the bridge it wouldn’t matter. If you wanted to come back to me completely you would have finished it yourself. If I built the bridge all by myself, you would only move further away, with your brothers, and construct another barrier. I am here waiting on you. You don’t need to find someone else to fix it. Vietnam will always be a part of you. Your brothers will be as close on this side as on the other. You don’t need to run from love any longer. I am here waiting but I can’t reach you. Not until you are ready to finish building that bridge?
There is only a few feet left to build. I have finished all the rest of it. I finished it with a love that hasn’t been returned. I finished it though, because my love for you is unconditional. It was hard work but you were worth it. You have to decide if you are ready to quit running from love. You have to decide if you are ready to come home. Just a few feet left to go. Will you finish building that bridge?
I could have finished it with my love, but you have to decide if this is where you want to be. You have to decide if you will live forever on the other side of that divide that won’t let you come home completely. You have to decide if our love is worth it. You have to decide if our love was real, or if I was just another one that failed to fix everything and so you had to move on…
You remember how to build that bridge, you do it with love. It’s up to you. I can’t get any closer than you want me to be.
I love you forever. Please close that divide, and come home to me.
©Copyright January 12, 2007 by Mary E. Rogers
Author’s Note: I wrote this a long time ago, almost a year ago, when Dennis and I almost lost each other. I sent it to Dennis and I sent it to Tony. Then I asked Tony not to add it to my index. But today, I got a letter from another Vietnam wife in similar circumstances.
Maybe it is just rambling. Maybe it will mean nothing to anybody else but after sharing it with this great lady who loves her VN Vet husband, I have decided I’m ready to share it and have it added to my index.
Dennis and I are building and headed in the right direction.
December 22, 2007