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Secrets of Great Marriages
Real Truth from Real Couples about Lasting Love
By Charlie Bloom, Linda Bloom
New World Library Copyright © 2010 Charlie and Linda Bloom
All rights reserved.
IT'S NEVER TOO LATE TO HEAL OLD WOUNDS
Pete and Deanna Smith
Pete Smith is as down-to-earth as his name suggests. As regular a guy as you'll ever meet, Pete is a genuine Down-Easterner who has lived and worked on the sea nearly all his life. A lobsterman by trade, he knows the waters off the shore of Maine like his own backyard. He is as comfortable in his small lobster boat, even when storms whip up the Atlantic, as most people are on dry land. It takes a lot to rattle him. But back in 1968, when he served as a soldier in Vietnam, Pete got rattled, big time. And although he managed to survive an ordeal that many soldiers didn't, the ghosts of Vietnam never stopped haunting him. Some things are just too big to permanently put away. At least that's what Pete told himself when his nightmares and flashbacks periodically returned to upset his sleep and shatter his peace of mind.
Never did Pete imagine it would be a woman who would help redeem him from the demons that were granting him no rest. He also never imagined that he would return to the place that he had spent years trying to erase from his memory. Pete and Deanna's story is a testament to the transformative power of love. It is a lesson in the healing potential of true compassion and a reminder that miracles occur when there is a union of two hearts.
In being an integral part of Pete's healing, Deanna discovered an aspect of herself that she hadn't previously known existed. She came to see that her life purpose was much greater than simply supporting herself and fulfilling the obligations that go along with being a responsible adult. In committing herself to supporting her husband, Deanna experienced a spiritual awakening that altered not only her personal identity but also the way she related to the world. She discovered, as so many others have, that in supporting the healing of another, we ourselves are also healed. And to heal is to become more whole.
It wasn't what Deanna said to Pete or what she did for him when his demons raged the loudest. It was the steady, openhearted presence that she invited him into that reassured him he was no longer alone in facing them. The steadfast presence of someone who loves us makes what we cannot tolerate bearable. Toward the end of our conversation, Deanna said, "Pete wasn't the only one healed by our relationship; I was too." Pete reached over to take Deanna's hand. His smile said it all.
PETE: I make my living as a lobsterman living in a small fishing village in Maine. I'm self-employed, and I've been running my own boat for more than twenty years. It's a small operation with three hundred traps, which requires a crew of at least two to man the boat. Several years ago, I lost my stern-man and was searching for a replacement. I put the word out that I needed a crewman, and within a few days, I got a response from this woman named Deanna.
When she applied for the job, I thought she was kidding. I'd never had a woman on my crew, never even heard of such a thing. Nowadays there are a lot of women working all kinds of jobs in the business, some even running their own boats, but back then it was pretty much unheard of.
DEANNA: I had been working as a children's librarian and wanted a change. I wasn't daunted by Pete's insistence that lobstering was hard work and that I may not be up to it. I didn't see any reason why I couldn't work on a lobster boat, but I had some reservations of my own. I didn't want to work for some irresponsible cowboy — God knows there were plenty of them out there. I checked into his references too.
PETE: She was young, attractive, and slim, but I could tell she had strong arms. That's important on a lobster boat. She also had a strong character. It was clear from the way she answered my questions that Deanna wasn't afraid of a challenge. After we spoke, I made the decision to take her on. A stern-person works the back of the boat behind the skipper. It's a tough job, but Deanna could haul traps with the best of 'em. She picked it up really quick. Deanna proved to be an excellent crewmember. She mastered the job quickly and was one of the most competent and reliable employees I had ever had. She was also, hands down, the most beautiful, inside and out.
DEANNA: The very first day I worked on the boat, we spent nine hours together. Pete was so easy to talk to. He's a great listener, and he has a terrific sense of humor. I thought to myself, "What a nice guy." He was open, honest, sociable, and full of compassion. Our relationship soon went from being that of coworkers to that of friends, then best friends, and eventually lovers. Within six months we were living together, and a few months later we got married. I've never had a moment's doubt or a dull moment.
PETE: Although I didn't understand why, the subject that I kept coming back to in our conversations was my experience as a helicopter crew chief in Vietnam in the late sixties. Although the war had ended decades earlier, I still would wake up in the middle of the night trembling from my flashbacks and nightmares. Deanna held and comforted me with such tenderness. No one had ever done that for me before. Sometimes she sang gentle songs in that sweet voice of hers and would lull me back to sleep.
I had never talked to anyone about my experience in Vietnam. After my tour of duty, I'd had trouble holding down jobs and had a hard time with friendships. There was so much lingering anger and fear that I was exhausted a lot of the time. Finally I decided to see a psychologist at the Veteran's Administration Hospital. I'd had a good childhood, and my ex-wife and I were getting along well with each other. I knew that the trouble I was having was about Vietnam. All the VA offered me was medication, but I knew that wasn't what I needed. Twenty-five minutes into the interview with the psychologist, I told him, "Look, I don't know any guys who have done such a thing, but I know that when I get bucked off a horse I need to get back on it. Give me a plane ticket back to Vietnam, and I'll find some healing for myself." He didn't buy it, and neither did anyone else at the hospital. They just wanted to drug me. I knew what I needed, and it wasn't drugs.
DEANNA: When Pete told me what had happened at the hospital, I asked him if he really wanted to go to Vietnam, and he simply said, "Yes." So at the end of the lobstering season, we took the boat out of the water, and I purchased plane tickets for us. Everyone thought we were nuts.
PETE: I came home one day to find two packed suitcases, and all of a sudden it all started to get very real. Right about then my stomach started doing flip-flops.
DEANNA: We headed out without much of an idea about what we would do or even exactly where we would go. We just knew we had to go. When we got to Hanoi, Pete started to get really scared. I told him that anytime he felt he had to leave Vietnam, we would just get on a plane and go.
PETE: When we landed, I began to get the shakes. Old memories that I had been blocking out for years started pouring back. Although we had been prepared ahead of time for the fact that when we arrived our passports would be taken, when they actually reached over to take mine, I freaked out. "You're not going to take my passport!" I screamed. A very kindly, local guide came over to me, took me aside, and gently put his arm around my shoulders saying, "Pete, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. It's all right." His manner reassured me to the point where I could give them my passport.
DEANNA: The central highland was the place where Pete had flown every day for six months. During that time, dozens of people he knew were injured or killed. After we had been in Vietnam for about two weeks, we hired a driver to take us up north to the major battle sites, where the worst carnage took place. All day — during the day and into the night — as he anticipated going there, Pete was sweating profusely. He couldn't stop shaking. His stomach hurt so much he could barely stand up.
PETE: It was as if the old fear and tension I had felt during the fighting had been stashed in my tissues, and it was now back in full force. I told Deanna that I wasn't sure I could go through with the trip to the battle sites. She reassured me that we would do only what I was up to doing. I felt so naked and vulnerable. I was afraid to go, but something inside me kept saying that I had to see this thing through. We hired a guide who had taken other veterans back to the places of their nightmares. The night before we went up there, things got really bad. I was sweating and shaking out of control. I got down on my knees and prayed to my higher power to help me get through this ordeal. I said, "I'm ready for whatever you have in store for me."
To restore your soul, you may have to risk losing your mind
PETE: Driving through the jungle, up and down ravines, I was overwhelmed with emotion and found myself reliving some old events. It was as if the old memories and my present-moment experience were blurring together. The driver told me that his father had been part of the Viet Cong. Everywhere I looked there were only Asian people. My mind associated Asian people with danger. I knew that the young driver hadn't even been alive when I was in the war, but I was catapulted back to a time when I was fighting for my life. I was terrified and thought he wanted to kill me. I kept flip-flopping back and forth between having a few moments of sanity and then insanity.
My paranoia was so great that I feared the people around us were all enemy agents. It all seemed so real that I actually wondered whether Deanna herself was part of the conspiracy. Later that night, I got out of bed and got down on my knees. There was a gecko on the ceiling making its noise. I was so out of it that I imagined the gecko was answering my prayers, and that his voice was saying, "All right. All right. It's going to be all right."
DEANNA: I just held Pete's hand and lay down beside him in the bed. He was a human vibrator — it was as if an electric current were going through his body. I just wanted to support him, but I knew he had to work it out inside himself. I kept reassuring him that it was safe. I trusted that the guides were sincere and they only meant to help us. I kept reminding Pete that if things got too intense, all he had to do was give me the word and we would leave. At one point he said, "Why don't we just forget this?" I said: "Fine, let's forget the whole thing and go home." But as soon as I said that, Pete insisted that he had to go through with it.
PETE: We went to the place where my outfit lost a lot of men; a lot of my friends were killed there. To me, I was standing on sacred ground. I cried for the men in my platoon who didn't survive, and for the ones who were maimed, and for myself and all the others who have suffered such emotional distress for so many years. I cried and cried. Then finally the tears stopped. Something in me shifted, simply standing on that ground, I began to settle down. I felt like it was over, the mission was complete. It was successful. And it was one of the hardest things I'd ever done. I knew that it was over because everything looked different and felt different. I felt proud that I did complete the journey. I began to see our driver and guide in a whole new way. He was no longer a threat but a part of my healing. I felt great love for this man who had supported so many Vietnam veterans by taking them to the sites of their nightmares.
Even the worst transgressions can be redeemed by acts of kindness
DEANNA: I was moved beyond words by Pete's commitment and his courage. After we left the scene of the worst fighting, our driver offered to take us to an orphanage behind the old wooden church that Pete used to fly over every day. It now housed children ranging from infants up to those eighteen years of age. On the way over we stopped and bought 150 pens and 150 pencils to give the children who lived there. Once we arrived, we met with the head nun, Sister Juliana. She didn't speak English, but through an interpreter we asked how we could help. She was shy and afraid to ask us for too much.
PETE: All of sudden the trip was no longer about me. Now it was about the orphans. The orphanage had just experienced an outbreak of impetigo, and they needed ointment. They needed formula for the babies, and they were short of sleeping mats. Sister Juliana said that many of the children were small enough to sleep on half a mat, and that if we bought twenty, they could cut them in half and get more usage from them. Deanna took out five hundred dollars in cash and handed it to Sister Juliana. Deanna said, "Buy the children whatever you think they need."
Our time at the orphanage was the highlight of the trip for me. We have adopted that orphanage and sent money to them regularly. Helping the orphans is a way that I feel I can give back to a country that has been harmed so much by my own country. It is a way that I find some peace for the things I did when I was still just a kid. It is part of the way I heal. Going back to Vietnam was an essential step of my recovery. I can't find the words to express the gratitude I feel toward Deanna for creating the opportunity for me to come to terms with my greatest fears.
When we got back to the United States, I noticed a marked difference, and I could tell I was relieved of the pain I had carried all those years. Before the trip, when I would be driving down a mountain road shrouded in clouds, it would take me back to those feelings of dread I had when I flew the helicopter in Vietnam. I would have flashbacks that would affect my mood all day long. Even a loud bang like a door being slammed used to be enough to put me in a foul mood that could last all day. I became aware of the healing effects of going to Vietnam when I could drive down a mountain road shrouded in clouds and think, "Aren't those mountains beautiful."
Deanna has opened my life in a big way. She exposed me to things I had never known before. And she sings like an angel. We still work together on the boat, and she's also my best friend. I married my best friend!CHAPTER 2
GREAT MARRIAGES REQUIRE GREAT INTEGRITY
Sara Nelson and Danny Sheehan
Danny Sheehan was one of Washington's most eligible bachelors. As an accomplished civil liberties attorney, he had defended the New York Times in what became known as the Pentagon Papers case, as well as several well-known political activists, including Benjamin Spock, Dick Gregory, and the Berrigan brothers, during the Vietnam era. Danny had a long track record of winning tough cases. He also had a reputation as an attractive bachelor and, at thirty, was in no hurry to settle down. That is, until Sara Nelson walked in to his life. At the time, Sara was the national labor secretary for NOW (the National Organization for Women) and was called "Wonder Woman" by most of the people who knew her. "She just completely took over the room as soon as she walked in," Danny recalled. "She was brilliant, powerful, and incredibly dynamic. And she was, and is, absolutely gorgeous."
Excerpted from Secrets of Great Marriages by Charlie Bloom, Linda Bloom. Copyright © 2010 Charlie and Linda Bloom. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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