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Monday, August 2, 2010

Farewell My Friend—Break on thru to the otherside

A friend and classmate killed himself last week. I just heard about it today. His name was Robert Butler. He was a Viet Nam Vet. He died alone homeless, his life in shambles as he faced criminal charges, alcoholism and as he fought the demons that haunted him from his services nearly 44 years ago.

The last time I saw Bob was on the occasion of another classmates death, Jim Keneko. Jim was a medic who also suffered from PTSD, Jim and I were roommates after he got back from Nam. Bob and Jim were searching for answers to quiet the ghosts of their common past—Jim in alcohol—Bob in an odd mix of manic eastern spiritualism, booze and drugs. Both had been deeply effected by their participation in the war. Jim recounted his first experience in battle—rushing to aid a fallen buddy, he and another solider tried to pick up the mortally wounded soldier and their hands met somewhere in the middle of the man's sticky hot guts—he'd been severed in half. Bob didn't fair any better mentally in Nam and got a discharge when the insanity of war became too much for him to bear. Bob hung around with us until he moved to California where he got heavily involved in the counter culture, transcendental meditation, music and drugs. During that fall of 1965 and winter of 1966 together, we formed a deep friendship.

When Jim passed—Bob and I reunited at Jim's funeral and later at Jim's favorite bar—after closing the bar we spent the entire night at Jim's grave drinking beer and telling stories and celebrating Jim's life. Bob's life was troubled and chaotic to say the least, in some respects I guess Bob—and Jim—really died in Viet Nam 44 years ago, finally—maybe—Bob's found the peace that eluded him on this earth. I love you, you crazy wild eyed bastard. The world is a poorer place since you left.

Bob and I had a favorite song by the Doors—which we'd sang staggering down the streets of Minneapolis one night. He referred to it the last time he wrote on my Wall—Here's to you Bobby.

You know the day destroys the night
Night divides the day
Tried to run
Tried to hide
Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side, yeah

We chased our pleasures here
Dug our treasures there
But can you still recall
The time we cried
Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side

C'mon, yeah

Everybody loves my baby
Everybody loves my baby
She get(s high)
She get(s high)
She get(s high)
She get(s high)

I found an island in your arms
Country in your eyes
Arms that chain
Eyes that lie
Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side
Break on through, oww!
Oh, yeah!

Made the scene
Week to week
Day to day
Hour to hour
The gate is straight
Deep and wide
Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side
Break on through
Break on through
Break on through
Break on through
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah


Michelle @ Following Your Joy said...

Dear Uncle Mike,

Oh, I'm so sad to hear about your friend's death. The part that particularly got me was when you said in some ways he "died in Viet Nam" all those years ago. Wow, I'm speechless.

I appreciate you sharing Bob's story here, and I am touched by the friendship you two had together. Like you, I'd like to think that he has now found that peace which eluded him here.

Love and blessings during this sadness to you and to Bob's family. I'm so, so sorry.

Love you.

Bill said...

Mike, I think you hit the nail on the head there...Bob is finally at peace, at last.

I had several relatives that also fought in 'Nam. None of them were ever the same again after returning home, and they ALL died at a relatively young age -- after years of drugs, alcohol and random stretches of employment.

So sorry for your loss...but thank you for sharing the story.


PS - that is an AWESOME Doors song!