Monday, July 14, 2008

The Boys of Winter

Whenever I take on a major role in a play, there almost always is one line that resonates within me, one that calls to me.

Sometimes it's someone else's line, as with, "He's my heart," Irma's line in Looking for Normal when she's speaking of her husband, Roy, who she loves so much she'd do anything for. If you've ever loved someone with your heart and soul, that line needs no explaining. And Kate delivered it to me with so much heartfelt meaning that it just about broke my heart each night.

Most of the time, though, I'm drawn to one of my own character's lines, as in, "I don't do well in town," so said Tilden in Buried Child. That pretty much sums up me in society in general, and it was one of the easiest lines I've ever delivered on the stage.

And in The Boys of Winter, the line jumps out early and hard for me. The Narrator (me) says, "And when the school year's up they'll either go to college (long beat) or to fucking 'Nam. That's the choice we had in 1966, 'cause we weren't rich and we didn't know shit about the world and there was a fucking draft."

Okay, that's more than one line, but you get the picture.

And the reason that line grabs me by the throat and won't let go is because that pretty much describes me in 1973, when I turned 18 and there was a war on and we still had a draft. That long beat the playwright inserts in there is, I think, to give the slower members of the audience time to realize there really wasn't a choice at all. These kids weren't going to go to college, and neither was I. (I didn't go to college full-time until I was 21. I worked and traveled and got my head screwed on straight first.)

So if I had been drafted I would have gone, because I wasn't rich and didn't know anyone, especially anyone in Canada. That was the kind of family I was raised in: you did what you were told, whether it was the nuns giving the orders or the federal government.

And because I never served in Vietnam or even in the military, I don't know anything about this story except what I've heard and read. But from reading the script I can see that it's a story that needs telling. And I'm honored (and scared out of my mind) that the director and producers chose me to help tell it.

I've gone through things in my life that other people just don't understand. There are a lot of things in life that we go through, and unless you actually go through them yourself, other people just don't get it. And there are a lot of people who just don't even try to understand how something affected someone. Or don't believe the other person.

Vietnam was a long time ago, and there are plenty of people who say, just like they say about the Holocaust or other terrible things that have happened to people, "That was a long time ago. For God's sake, get over it. Grow up. Shake it off. Time heals all wounds."

Guess what? Time does not heal all wounds. There are some wounds that never completely heal. Don't you think that they could "shake it off" they would? Do you honestly think people like suffering?

So they go through life, quietly, not talking about it because all they want is a little understanding. But they don't get it so they just shut up about it, but it all still comes out. They put away the fatigues and don't talk about what happened. The ones who really saw what happened, don't still wear their uniform or still talk army talk (0400 this and 1730 hours that) or show off or try to recapture the fun times they had in the military, because they didn't have a fun time. They served and they gave it up for their country. I met a guy out in the Utah desert who was in the 1st Army (the Big Red One) who went into Baghdad this second time around and, as they say, went over there a boy but came back a man. He didn't cut and run, he did what he signed up to do. He didn't want to talk about his time over there (not that I wanted to talk about but he didn't say--almost whispered--a few things) he just wanted to forget it--though he couldn't--and make a new life.

And that's what my character is trying to do. Trying, because I get the feeling not too many people can do it. Mainly because, as I said, one thing I've learned in this life is that time doesn't heal all.

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