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31-Love Letters from Vietnam: Sex in the 60s. Not What You Think
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It's taken me a week to post this letter, not because I've been busy, but because this letter is a bit difficult to explain given the social mores of our times. Again, reading this letter forty years after the growth and change that life forces upon a person, makes the content of the letter almost embarrassing for me to reveal. To realize what Tim and I were putting ourselves through during his second leave from the army makes me understand how susceptible young people are to the beliefs which have been ingrained in them. This letter would be almost laughable if it hadn't been all so serious to us.
I remember only one day of Tim's week long leave from Ft. Gordon that October; that was the night before Tim left to go back to Fort Gordon. We had parked at South Shore Beach in Milwaukee in ear shot of the crashing waves of Lake Michigan. Both of us knew where parking there would lead, and both of us wanted to go to that emotional place. Had it not been for years of Catholic upbringing, had it not been for my inexperience and Tim's as well, had it not been for what might have been my lingering insecurity of the relationship, or my own lack of security within myself, we might have gone to that blissful point of no return. But it was I who stopped us at that point that lovers have done in the past - the point of aching that only serves to intensify the longing, and I might add, prompts a letter like the one Tim wrote on the day after his leave was over.
Values Colliding Inside of Us
The Picture Above
You know how you look at a picture of yourself with a hairdo that you wore years ago or in some crazy fashion that was all the rage? "How could I have thought that looked good?" you probably have wondered.
Re-reading these letters brings to me that same feeling of incredulity. "How could we have felt so conflicted about sex before marriage in this circumstance of war?" How could Tim and I have been so indoctrinated to have made our relationship at this point into such drama?"
A psychologist might figure it out, but I can't. That's not to say that I disregard values of chastity or wholesomeness. It's simply to say that given the circumstances of Tim's facing the almost certain possibility of being sent to Vietnam and given the fact that we each had stated our commitment to each other, the conflict might not needed to have existed. It's not as if this was before the 1950's when the birth control pill was not disseminated. The dangers of pregnancy could have been avoided, so that was not the reticence. It's not that our parents or even our priest would have advised us to abstain from sex before marriage. As the months of letters go on, a conversation with our parish priest will reveal a different philosophy. But sometimes the conflict that rages inside of idealistic and impressionable young people is more intense than even society would impose on them. For me personally, there was the struggle between the values of my upbringing as represented by the girl on the left in the picture above and the values of a freer, more honest expression of oneself as the young woman on the right displays. These were conflicts that faced all baby boomers of the 60's. Old ideas came crashing head long with new ways of viewing the world. Certain periods of history are like that. After all, this was the "dawning of the "Age of Aquarius:
Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind's true liberation
8 October, 1969
Well, I'm back at Fort Gordon again. I can't tell you how the trip was because after I left you there on Packard Avenue until I reached the Augusta airport, I lost all contact with my environment. Only the harsh reality of Ft. Gordon made me aware of my surroundings.
I turned what was to be a happy time into a time of anguish. You know what, Kate? I thought something like that might happen, and I prayed to God to give me the strength to not bring us to the point of so much temptation. Did He forsake me, or did I forsake myself?
I tried Kate, O God, I tried, but I can't do it. I love you, Kate, more than life. No, if that were true would I have done what I had done? I need you, Kate, more than I need my heart. No if that were true would I try to turn your heart against me? Indeed, if I did love you I would leave your life. If I did love you, I would give you back your peach with God. My shame and self-disqust has left me hollow. But I know, Kate, that I can't leave you. I will never be able to leave. If not love, what is it that lightens my heart whenever I think of you? If not love, what is it that makes me love God more for having created you? If not love, what makes me swell with pride when you walk by my side? If not love, what is it that makes me want to walk hand in hand through this veil of tears with you? Am I such a neurotic hypocrite that I've even convinced myself? It's love, but it can't be love.
I know what you're thinking, Kate. You think that it's just as much your fault as it is mine. That's not true. If not for your wisdom and strength "we" would have made a terrible mistake. Because you love me, you're willing to give up your beliefs and inner peace. Because you love me, you put my needs before yours. I searched my heart and soul for something that warrants such a love, but I could find nothing. And what do I give up? What sacrifice do I make? I know how you feel about pre-marital sex, but I try anyway. I know it grieves your gentle heart. Then why do I do it? Why? Because I love you? Kate, do you know what keeps me awake at night and make me cry when on one can see? It's the thought that if the situation arose again, I would behave the same. I can't in conscience ask for your love and respect, nor do I deserved them. But if you take them from me, you take my whole life. I can't leave you, Kate. If you want me to go you're going to have to tell me. I pray to God you don't, but what right have I?
PS. My love, forgive me, forgive me.