Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Love, grief, war, love

Barbara sent me a letter that began, "You will make it." I printed a copy to carry in my billfold.
David Kemp and Charles Binkley, married, September 2015

I see couples together, a man and woman, a man and a man, a woman and a woman, sometimes with a child, sometimes just a parent and child, and like a prayer, I think something like, “Cherish what you have, love her (or him) with all your heart, give it all you have.” This happens almost every day.
I went today to the first meeting of a grief recovery group. The walking wounded. One man will mark one year tomorrow. “Clara,” he spoke her name softly. Another man just passed two months and I thought, “How can he do it?” Everyone else in the group has been in it longer, so I guess that’s how he’ll do it. It’s so hard. Until this, Vietnam was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. This is much harder.
These things are written over time, so when I say something about “the past few days” I may be writing about days a week or two ago.
Hard times much of the past few days. The thing of writing down three good things each day fell by the wayside as I’ve cycled downward.
Phorn, David, CK. At Grace Cathedral,
David and Charles' wedding
Sometimes patients would tell me their chief complaint was “desperation.” I didn’t really understand that, except that it seemed to occur in the context of depression and I always took it as a serious CC. Now I get it. Desperation. What to do? Where to turn?
Monday I went to the grief center at Wilshire Baptist Church. Had a draining 1.5 hour conversation with Laurie, the director. The next day I talked with Lillie, the woman who facilitates the group I will start in next Tuesday.
(Encourage, it’s a word I want to keep in mind.)
While we were in San Francisco the last time, Jeff talked some about Vietnam. I started thinking about how much combat I was in. Really a lot. Definitions:
Battle = a sustained fight with a lot of people involved, lasting anywhere from hours to days.
Firefight or gunfight = a brief fight involving a few people, that may last a few minutes up to an hour.
1/26 = 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment; likewise 1/9 is 1st Bn, 9th Marine Reg. and so on. A letter in front of these, e.g., C/1/26, designates C Company, 1st Bn...
With Elisabeth and Jim, on the trail, NM
Except for Marine nomenclature, these are my definitions (battle vs. firefight). In each of the following battles and gunfights I was actively shooting and being shot at.
Deckhouse/Prairie, a big one near the DMZ – battalions of NVA regulars, trenches, mortars, rockets, many firefights. On the last day I saw a tanker get his head blown off. He was wearing a commo helmet, and it was like seeing a radio explode. When the fighting was over, I got his .45. I remember when we got back to a firebase the tanks laagered up and we (the infantry) all just kind of fell down asleep in the center of the circle. In the morning I saw the entire 1st weapons squad asleep together – three men, spooned together under a poncho – a week before there had been 12-14 men in 1st squad. For the operation, 36 Marines were killed and 167 wounded (from several units). Deckhouse/Prairie lasted a week or two for my unit, C/1/26.
Sea and sky and land
Dodge City near Hill 55 when that corporal had his ass blown off – he sat up and looked down at what was left of his legs, groaned and died. Battle lasted about an hour.
Dodge City a few months later – 16 KIA, several helicopters shot down, bad action, Zamora killed. His friend went crazy, started screaming, and charged the enemy trench line, so everybody else did too. Lasted about a day.
The Hill Fights/the “First Battle of Khe Sanh” – this was the worst. At the DMZ. I was mostly with 1/9, “The Walking Dead” and also some with 3/3 or 2/3. 168 men killed over about a month. I was in this one at several different points, with some rest time back at the rear near Dong Ha, where the only problem was rockets. I think I can rightfully say this was at least two battles for me. Intense. Lasted weeks.
John and CK, in the Castro
My best guess is at least one every 4-5 days for about seven months and then in the last six months, maybe one or even less/week. But the Hill Fights were in the last months, so I don’t know how to count in those times. All told, I was in at least 50 firefights.
Sniper fire/mines
When we were near Dodge City (Thuy Bo) every bleeding day at least one person was hit by sniper fire or blown away by a bouncing betty or other mine. Every fucking day.

I've been shot at with hand-held automatic weapons, crew-served automatic weapons, mortars, RPGs, big rockets, artillery, and I don't know what else. I've even been strafed by a gunship.
THAT’S A LOT OF ACTION! I don’t seem to be haunted by it, though. It comes up now and then, but not so bad. I don’t remember my dreams. Things might be different if I did. Haha, Jeff’s dreams are enough for me.
Phana and Jeff - we all love a pretty girl, don't we.
Look at how he's looking at her - just as if he was
looking at David.
I’ve been somewhat slouchish for a long time. Toward the last of the time when Leslie was sick, I realized I was becoming actually bent over. I worked to stand up straighter. At some point a few weeks ago I thought to myself, fuck it, bent over is what I am and I quit trying to stand straight. Now I’m working on straighter again.
David and Charles got married a few weeks ago. It was a huge celebration. I realized a few days before the ceremony that it was a transition for me, too – and not the easiest one of my life. Of course, these are days upon days of transitions for me… More on this later. Will post video when it comes out.

A woman was telling me how Leslie helped her years ago and how thankful she was for it. Somewhere in the conversation, I said, “Yes, she helped hundreds of people. The woman said, “No. Thousands.”

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A screw-up, getting it right, lost, good things, a knight and a girl, song across the river...

Last night I was thinking about how my parents always said I was undependable – couldn’t be trusted – and they were right, where they and their deals were concerned, like school and family things. I was a screw-up.
Angel at La Boulange October 2014
And I thought about how for the rest of my life I’ve been completely dependable – a go-to, get-it-right person – in the Marine Corps/in combat, in rock-climbing, in hippie culture, in my marriage, with my son, in hospice, in the barrio/with refugees, in taking care of patients as a nurse practitioner, in the community...
This was actually a huge revelation for me.
A month or so ago I had a conversation with a woman working at Trader Joe’s. It turned out that she had spent a year traveling in Asia, studying Buddhism – on a pilgrimage. Today I was in Trader Joe’s and chose her line. She said she remembered me and I told her I remember her – and in fact, have a small gift for her, but didn’t bring it. She said I would remember it when the time was right. I said, I dunno. She said to have faith in myself; and then told me that yesterday she felt lost and so wrote down some positives in her life (that’s one of her practices).
Street of Dreams, Hue 2005

The day before the above conversation I said to Phana, “Sometimes I feel lost… not in geography, but emotionally.” Yesterday I posted this in my blog: “(a few weeks ago) I was some sad the past few days. It began to lift as we drove on I30 today. I realize now that part of the problem was likely that for several days I had abandoned the practice of each evening writing down three good things that happened that day – because so much good is happening. Ha! So much good, so much sad.”
So that was one good thing!
Goldy, David, Judo about 2005
Breakfast with Ron Cowart was good. He has been a significant source of support –
I read a good book.
Had a very nice dinner with Shirin yesterday evening – good time, good food.

Contact with David every day...
The first time I understood about sexual abuse was at the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Transitions workshop in 1978. A young woman talked about having been repeatedly molested by her mother’s boyfriend with her mother present… The woman was talking about this for the first time. She was filled with pain and shame and loathing. I was staggered. I had no idea. It’s not like I really understood, but I did get a clue.
I was thinking this might be a difficult day. But it wasn’t all that hard. I kept thinking about why aren’t all the beautiful times Leslie and I had together enough. I don’t know. But I do know how infinitely grateful I am that I never held back telling Leslie how I feel – how I adored her, how much fun she was, how pretty she was, how I respect her, how I love her – all those kinds of things. Other good things that happened today:
Went to the gym for what I call a sedate workout.
David and Leslie, Hue, 2010
Did a complete clean of the kitchen, breakfast room, and back bathroom.
I asked my next-door neighbor for a recommendation for a place to tune a bike that’s been sitting in a shed for 2+ years. He said he’d do it – as a gesture of thanks for all the cookies I’ve given him.
I received a surprise package from Amazon. It was a CD (Shaina Noll, Songs for the Inner Child) from Elisabeth in New Mexico! 
I’m rereading Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman. The author sent it to me after he read something I wrote about the book – I posted the following on September 2, 2013:
A book about a knight and a girl
CK at DMZ, 1966
When I got to the end of the book, Between Two Fires, by Christopher Buehlman, I actually cried – not a common response from me. The book is about a knight and a girl during the plague years. Though there are many differences between us, I identified more strongly with the knight than any (literary or living) character I’ve encountered in many years. He had been stripped of his knighthood, excommunicated, and had lost his home and family. He joined a band of brigands and was wandering the countryside, stealing and killing. The bandits came upon a girl at a farm where everyone else was dead. Some of the bandits were getting ready to rape her, but the fallen knight killed them. He and the girl then set out on a quest, for what they didn’t know.
They journeyed through the plague-decimated countryside and towns guided by the girl’s visions. Along the way people helped them and hindered them and gradually, they encountered greater and greater evil. There were temptations and fear and pain and love and joy. In the end, there was a terrible battle, then peace; there was redemption.
It blew my mind the extent to which I identified with the knight, though I haven’t lost anything close to what he lost, nor done what he did. But I have been on noble quests; I have faced death squarely in battle and elsewhere; I’ve defended the defenseless, been face to face with evil, tried hard to do the right thing, had visions/followed visions. I have been redeemed.
Stung Sankae - Battambang
Over the past few years I’ve gotten into the habit of making coffee in the evening and putting it into the refrigerator and then in the morning, having coffee as I awaken. This morning I was playing Songs for the Inner Child (CD sent by Jim and Elisabeth) as I had my coffee. I was reminded of one evening in Battambang, looking over the Stung Sangkae  (a river running through the edge of town) and hearing a woman somewhere across the river singing in a beautiful voice into the mystery of the Cambodian night…
Gym, 30 minute workout.
Elisabeth in Santa Fe, 2015
Thinking back on Jim and Elisabeth’s visit to San Francisco. You can tell a lot about people when things don’t go exactly as planned, e.g., a long bus trip to a long walk to an underwhelming destination, followed by a long wait for the next bus. Fine, no prob. Alright! The three of us connected during those days – the connections were/are deep.

How could anyone ever tell you
You were anything less than beautiful
How could anyone ever tell you
You were less than whole
How could anyone fail to notice
That your loving is a miracle
How deeply you’re connected to my soul…

David, my beloved Son. What peace and love you've given to me. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Chemo, happiness, travel...

This is totally not in chronological order and I don’t what happened when – and also, the photos are not necessarily linked to the text. Just another example of writing to remember (These days, how I treasure what I’ve written about travel in Asia with Leslie!).
David with Jake, CK, Phana - Ocean Beach, 2015
Last week I went with Phana and Kayleen to visit David and Charles. It was a great visit, full to the brim with activities – Golden Gate Park, Neiman’s, Castro, Four Seasons, Ocean Beach – all over the place. I backed out of some parts of the trip as I felt the focus should be on David, Phana, and Kayleen’s relationship.
We came back to Dallas on Monday, back to chemo on Tuesday, massage for Phana on Wednesday, chemo/pump out Thursday, dinner with Debora Thursday evening, rehab on Friday morning, and fly back to San Francisco on Friday. Yikes! In some ways it’s been a hard week for me – lots of sadness and longing. Yet good in many ways.
Some of the parts that were good were spending time with Phana and Kayleen (see below), spending time with Phana, seeing my brother John, finishing early with chemo on Tuesday (I was in kind of a dream-like state and then about 3:30 Phana said it’s done), the whole massage scene (see below), dinner with Debora, a rare dream, and heading back to San Francisco.
Kayleen, Ocean Beach, 2015
Massage – I had a dream about Jessica A. in which I was trying to ask her something, but couldn’t. I contacted her a few days later about who might give Phana a loving massage and she suggested our mutual friend, Kristina. I was so happy that I know someone I can ask about a loving massage AND who would understand what I meant by that term AND that Kristina’s name would come up. Kristina’s apartment was a lovely, high space – even a sacred space, so I was super-happy to be there – so grateful for the whole scene. By the “whole scene” I mean the connections within Atrium Obscurum and the good people who make it beautiful, and more immediately, what was happening that day.
Spending time with Phana was basically the same as always – good. Spending time with Kayleen was an opportunity to discover a rare mix of child and adult. At first, she manifests child, as in totally 17. Then over time, she reveals depth and maturity. She’s dealing with a lot and dealing with it gracefully.
Phana and I went to a government office to pick up an important document. It was a very busy office with easily a hundred employees and countless clients and in all that, the person who ended up helping, said that she knows who Phana is! And I was thinking that all of us (Phana, from Cambodia; the employee, from Vietnam; and me, a combat veteran of Vietnam) are all children of war, ending up together, momentarily, in that huge office.
Phana, Kayleen, David
This was after 7 phone calls to that office with hold times probably averaging about 5 minutes (so not bad in that respect) and 4 phone calls to other entities such as a Congressman, Phana got a call from the office: yes, they have her passport and she can come in Thursday to pick it up. And, "Do you know a Charles Kemp?" LOL. So they got some little pieces of my ass and a bigger piece of hers, which is profoundly dragging after this 2nd course of max chemo, but still a better choice to go in now vs. them mailing it. 
Onward Through the Fog!
Today, she's in one of the big chairs in the chemotherapy infusion room and this man comes over, rolling his IV along, and among other things happening, looks at me and asks, "Do you love her?" I really did LOL and said, "I can't believe you're asking me that question." And with clarity said, "Yes." Pinned to the wall by an old man named George, with tears running down his cheeks. We talked about what kind of love - agape and filial I think. He also talked about how we're all one. I thought at first maybe he was an angel - really. Now I think he was a man having a vision. 
I was at the corner of Duboce and Steiner in San Francisco when one of those long fire trucks with a driver in front and someone else steering the back of the truck. The person steering the rear was waving at children and when I waved, too, he waved at me. Good times in San Francisco! 
David at Golden Gate
I was some sad the past few days. It began to lift as Phana and I drove on I30 today. I realize now that part of the problem was likely that for several days I had abandoned the practice of each evening writing down three good things that happened that day – because so much good is happening. Ha! So much good, so much sad. Playing a little catch-up now. Good…
I know people who say, “Yes,” when I ask, “Do you know anyone who can give a good, loving massage?”
I’m looking so forward to being with David. Prodigiously forward to that!
I’m happy to be bringing Phana and Kayleen to see David. I’m glad to be with Phana and Kayleen.
It makes me happy that Nora is buying Leslie’s car – and sad, too.
It was a good thing to have dinner with John. He’s a good guy.
It is a good thing to think of Leslie – of how she was so many things (wife, mother, lover, get it done genius, beautiful woman, decent person, and more).
Bible study was good.
Kayleen and Phana - SF,  2015
Looking forward to seeing Kristina.
Glad to be returning to San Francisco.
Grateful for the Grateful Dead.
Grateful for sativa.
Go Cali!
For walking with David, Phana, and Kayleen and for having coffee with them.
For San Francisco.
For dinner at Italian place on 19th Street upstairs in the Castro.
For sitting here while Phana and Kayleen rest.
Good times at tastings at four Seasons and cake place in the Mission.
Beginning to get to know Kayleen.
Being on Haight Street.
Talking with Charles B.
Being in SF.
Going to beach with David, Phana, Kayleen, and Jake.
Lunch with everyone at the Slanted Door.
Haight Street, 2015
Walk with Kayleen, talking with her.
My apartment in San Francisco.
There was some sourdough starter (levain) dated 2/2014 in the refrigerator. I started the reactivation process and within 4 days, had a fully active levain (doubles in size, forms many bubbles, and has a good sourdough fragrance in ~8 hours).
I then spread the active material on a tray in the dehydrator and dehydrated it at a low temp for about 10 hours yielding crispy, light pieces of levain.
Then I dissolved 5 gm of the dehydrated levain in warm water and started the reactivation process again. Within three days I had a fully active levain! Then I replicated the process to be sure it would work. It did.
Sourdough, Arizmendi Bakery
I ran into someone I knew today. She was telling me about her son working in psychiatry with veterans and how the smaller women working in that setting were glad of this woman’s son – they feel protected because of his size. I didn’t have a good reaction to what she was saying, but didn’t understand why. I didn’t realize until just a few minutes ago that what this well-credentialed and uber-progressive person was saying about veterans with PTSD was that we’re dangerous, not to be trusted – haha (she was saying it with humor – it was amusing), they like having some muscle with them around the veterans. Hard to know what to say. I didn’t grasp it at the time, so went off on alternatives to the ineffective way PTSD is treated at the VA. But I get it now. I wonder how many shitty, racist or whatever things I’ve said and never even noticed…
To Phana: You asked if I felt tired after spending the day with you getting chemotherapy. I said something like “a little” – but later I began to understand. I wrote,
What I really feel after here is not tired, but… something. I’m not sure what. Except that I’ve been somewhere of import with someone of great import. I don’t feel at all glad in any way, but I would rather be here, right here, right now – than anywhere else I can think of: The Wind Rivers, San Francisco, anywhere (except, of course, with Leslie).
Our hotel was on this alley in Saigon, 2013
In the hall outside of the Chemotherapy Infusion Area I heard a man say, “I have a tough situation.” 
The last time I played golf was about a month after I returned from the war in 1967. It had been several years, so I wasn’t playing well until I reached a hard par 4 hole going back toward the clubhouse. I hit a perfect tee shot – long and right up the middle. I tossed my driver over by my other clubs and walked off the course. It was a good set of clubs, but I just left them there. That was it for me.
Now, several days later, sitting with Phana in an office in outpatient oncology, going over Advance Directives and Medical Power of Attorney, talking about how she is likely to pass, serious things.
Things that help with happiness (from Greater Good in Action Center at UC Berkeley - http://ggia.berkeley.edu/ )
Three good things practice (every night) or gratitude journal
Mental subtraction of positive events
Savoring walk once a week vs. giving something up
Thank yous in word and deed; gratitude letter
New Mexico, July 2015
BP close to normal.
John calls to say, when I’m having a late day, let him know and he’ll fix dinner.
Went to dermatologist who took such good care of Leslie. She was extra sweet and used the word, “adore.”
Messaged with friend I haven’t seen in about 20 years.
Ran into friend who is police officer. He called about 30 minutes later to say, “You’re one of my heroes.”
Flying to Albuquerque from DFW. Lucked into right terminal and close to right gate.
Parked free with Purple Heart license plates.
Read a good article about Robert Frank (photographer of The Americans)
I wrote this: I’m hopeful! I don’t know what for. It just seems like there is some future out there for me, some potential. I’m fearful. I fear further disconnection.

And there was the whole amazing scene with Jim and Elisabeth in New Mexico!