We Are Not Done Yet (2018) - full transcript

Profiles a group of veterans and active-duty service members as they come together to combat past and current traumas through the written word, sharing their experiences in a United Service Organizations (USO) writing workshop.

Subtitles by explosiveskull

I'm from American Samoa.

American Samoa is, like, the breeding
ground for military soldiers.

Joining the military almost carries
the same principles as my culture:

duty, respect, honor.

I wanted to follow in the
footsteps of my family.

They actually didn't want us to join,
but here we are, joining.

And, uh, we can actually see
why they didn't want us to join.

It actually, uh, sucks.

I was deployed to Afghanistan
several times,

so all over Afghanistan.


It was in, uh, '08, '09,

and an IED that was meant
for us... blew.

And we raced over to help out.

The, uh, vehicles that were involved

ended up to be
my battle buddy's vehicle.

My battle buddy was stuck
inside the vehicle,

and there was no way to get him out.

There were flames all around it,

and we were able
to put it out the first time,

and then the second time,
we couldn't.

And the second time
is when he woke up.

And we had to listen to him scream.

The worst sound that you ever had
to have your soldiers listen to.

I need a break.

People have told me, "Sergeant
A.V., you need some help."

But it wasn't until I
handcuffed my first sergeant...

I don't remember doing this,
but I patted him down

and threw him into a corner.

And it wasn't until I came to
and asked him,

"What are you doing there?"
And he said, uh...

"You did this to me, you asshole."
And I was, like, "Oh."

That was when I realized, "Well,
shoot. Yeah, okay, I got a problem."


That's actually why
I shy away from places,

'Cause I don't want
people to view me as,

"Oh, there's that crazy vet."
You know?

I'm not crazy, it's just...

certain things happen to my bo...
I have zero control over.

I feel a little... used.

And I understand that the
military has to keep rolling.

But I also feel that they should
take care of the people...

that... that they break.

There was a promise...

that if we gave our all,

that they would make sure that
we were well taken care of.

And I don't feel that.

We Are Not Done Yet
is collaborative poems

from different branches
of the military:

Army, Air Force,



Veterans, active.

And we were speaking
about different traumas,

letting everybody know that these
things may have happened to us,

but we are not done yet.

We still have a lot to say,

and we still have a lot to do.

A.V. had this idea to find
a way to talk about

PTSD in the military.

And We're Not Done Yet was his way
of bringing his community together.

All of us were going through

different phases
of dealing with trauma.

We all met through Seema,

like, doing those writing workshops.

So, three options to think about...

We have a group of veterans,
and active duty service members

that gather regularly to write
and share their stories,

and, through that process,
came to see overlap

between their individual
experiences of trauma,

and decided to write
a collaborative poem

and turn it into a performance.

"Remove the aggression,
insert pen..."

We wanted to explain that
there's so much more to

the military story
than shooting people.

And there's all these
things that people deal with

in between, like,
bullets and Band-Aids.

Our lines are going to be
"Everyday I..."

"I used to believe..."

"On the horizon..."

"And maybe there
will never be enough...

This poem is not..."

The collaborative poem
was a bunch of initial

prompts that we were
to fill in the blank with.

And it allowed us to...

really reach across the spectrum
of trauma as a whole.

"I used to believe..."
A.V., you wanna start?

"I used to believe that there was
honor in things that I have done."

"These hands have...

"saved and given life,
held a newborn child,

"taken chemo pills,
delivered a hot plate of love

on a cold day."

"On the horizon
is the vanishing point.

"And maybe if I can reach it,
all these old voices can go quiet.

"Maybe I can just stop existing,

taking up space in this
treacherous, ill-fitting body.

On the horizon, I want to find
something hopeful."

- That was really good.
- It was amazing.

I thought it was pretty good.

"On the horizon,

the future looks bleak."


Everyone put in their piece of
what their struggle was, and...

all those lines in there
mean something different

to the person who was saying
it and to the rest of us.

"These hands are not."

"These hands have loved
and killed, have caused pain."

"I'm just me, a woman, a daughter,

a writer, a survivor."

"Her once strong son,
now half-hidden and ashamed.

She sees me
and is helpless."

"This land made of eggshells...
fragile but good fertilizer...

"bones, and dying dreams
of free men,

the decay it all grows from
is my land."

- That was really cool.
- It's pretty good.

There's a whole lot there, um...

- a lot on the canvas, you know?
- Mm-hmm.

At the Superbowl we'll fly the F16s
over, and everybody gets a rush.

A service member will be acknowledged,
will stand up, we'll applaud.

And then the game goes on.
That's one side of it.

The other side that needs to be...

placed on a stage

as large, as bright

are the stories of the effect of war

on human beings
who take up the call.

I met some folks from the Pentagon,
asking if there was a way

that I could get
more closely involved.

They introduced me to Seema,

who told me that they had
this idea to put on

a staged reading of works
that they had written.

Seema came in and said
Jeffrey Wright was coming.

And I was, like, "Okay, he know a lot
more stuff than we do in this area."

So, just go from "These hands are
not..." to "First, you should know..."

Everyone together, please okay?

One, two.

- "These hands are not..."
- Great, next.

"First, you should know, there's
no easy way through this."

The ones that are inside the
stanza, just say those once.

"My mother, too, has suffered."

Whatever ideas you have,

whatever thoughts, concerns you have,
please share them,

because you're really the, you know,
the guiding force behind all of this.

In my head, I picture
we're all out there,

and then, a light shines on
whoever is speaking at the time.

We go all over the place,
which was the point, you know?

From cancer, to combat to...
domestic violence, to rape.

Something that has, like, a general
thread of what we kind of want

to encapsulate everything together,
I think would be helpful.

There could be an order

to you guys, um,
entering the stage as soldiers.

- Then that kind of falls away...
- Someone calling cadence?

- We... it could... Uh...
- Let's not push it.

Even if it were
something that were, um...

you know, slightly stylized.

One, two, three.

Slow down.

And then just break out. Okay,
close, that's close, it's close.

- How's that feel to everyone?
- I hate it.

- You hate the lack of structure?
- Yes.

The lack of structure...?

The breaking of formality, and...

Tearing drill apart
into something that informal,

I, uh, it just doesn't...
my brain can't wrap around it.

- Okay.
- But that doesn't mean

it's a bad thing, it just means I...

- My Marine Corps brain, it can't...
- I understand.

Is it when you were marching
in, you just didn't like...

So, you want us to turn left
and you want us to come forward,

and there are
specific commands for that.

Forward march. Ready halt.
Left face.

Forward march. One step, one step.
There are...

But doing it, just kind of like...

We're appropriating it,
but we're not even doing it right.

Or do it color guard style,
then there would just be two people.

Like, for example,
you on our side, and then...

- Yeah. That are quietly calling it.
- ...quietly saying it. Right.

Is there a way you, together, can figure
out how to make that idea work for you?

The freeze step?
Or the one step, and then just...

What what are
you thinking, A.V.?

I like the one step
and then just walking.

Let's try it. Line up over here,
I'll stay right here.

All right, the first thing I want you
guys to do is, uh, take that full step.

Left... left. All right?

Ready, halt.

Left... face.

Oh, sorry, I apologize.
Center face.

One step forward, march.

- All right, then you guys...
- Boom. Yes, thank you.

That's all the structure I need.

- Better?
- That's great, guys.

"I have swallowed so many."

"I have swallowed
so many parts of myself."

"So many glasses of you
that you know my name."

"I have swallowed so many fucking pills,
my blood type is benzo."

"I've touched love, tasted faith
then washed it away with duty.

"I've lost sight of heaven,
found solace in hell.

"In the mirror,
I've murdered the angel

to make room for the devil."

When I was younger,
I always wanted to be

a part of a group of some sort.

Whether it was a bad group
of friends or whatever,

I wanted to be attached
to something,

and the military really
could provide that for me.

I've got eight rotations:

three to Iraq and four to Afghanistan
and one somewhere else.


I can't really remember
thinking about my family

while I was gone.

But there was a point when
my ex-wife left, taking my daughter.

And once that happened,
my daughter became my main focus.

I noticed differences in myself.

Up until that point,
I bought into the stigma

of any kind of mental illness
is a weakness.

PTSD was a term that...

I never liked hearing it.
I don't like reading it.

And I see it all over these
medical records and documents

that I've been having
to go through recently,

as, you know, I'm getting close
to transitioning out.

I've gotten myself
into a situation that is...

unbecoming of a soldier.

I was driving back from New York,
dropping my daughter off,

and my ex-fiance had gotten
this prescription for Adderall.

She said, "Hey,
this helps me stay awake."

I didn't know it was gonna cause me
to test positive on a drug test.

Today, I'll be attending
my separation board hearing,

where they're gonna decide whether
to retain me in the military,

so I can do my medical
retirement, or separate me.

I really want to be retained so
I can do the medical retirement.

Or, at least, honorable discharge so
that my daughter can get the G.I. Bill.

See? I told you, courthouse.

Let's get this shit over with.

I want to throw my fist through
this fucking window right now.

Boy, oh, boy.

Their decision was to separate me

for general, other than
honorable, conditions.

So now, I can't get
medical retirement.

What really upsets me is that
they couldn't have the decency

to, at least, give my daughter
the college money.

You know what I mean? Like, you didn't
have to give me the medical treatment.

But my daughter's college money...

So you're telling me that these 12 years
and the stuff that I've gone through

is not worth
my daughter's college fund?

This is not the way I imagined
to be going out of the military.

"This is my new reality,

"spawned from
my irrefutable history.

"I've touched the lives of hundreds.

"Not only those within arm's reach.

I've gone farther, beyond
my scope, with my scope."

I really felt it.

You touched lives with your scope,
and then you take lives with that scope.

- That's real, you know?
- Mm-hmm.

Once, once you commit
to pulling that trigger,

it's the hardest thing in the world.

On the other end of that scope,

there might have been
a good guy, a good kid.

She might have been a good woman.

Most Americans don't realize

that when we have
this theoretical thing

of you go to war, you go and fight

that they're asking people
to go do these things.

We're not gonna talk about
happy la-la-land,

the story of the happy soldier,

like, we're gonna talk to you
about some real shit.


A.V., did you want to do yours?

"I really love
the heruous... heroic..."


yet believable,

dirty, raunchy stories

"of my crew's very own
one-upper guy.

"I love the long, endless drives.

"I love seeing the goats,
the occasional camel.

I love seeing the kids
play in the dirt."

"I love the old bearded man,

"cell phone in the right hand,

"waving hi or good-bye

"with his left hand as he passed by.

"His fucking left hand.

I love this place."

"This poem is not who I am."

Your flow is so good, but when you kind
of struggle with that "heroic" word,

that's something that a lot
of veterans struggle with.

You know when they say,
"Oh, you're a hero," this or that.

So it was really poignant,
honest, and very real.

We have a whole generation of people

whose story
is their shame and guilt.

The whole thing that I see about
your story, or anybody else's,

is the fact that you're still
standing in front of me. That's hope.


There are four primary emotions
associated with trauma:

anger, grief, fear, and shame.

Anger, grief, and fear have physical
ways that they leave our bodies,

but shame requires this community

who you show your true self to
and who accepts you anyway.

The army released a news flash,
Military Sexual Trauma on the Rise.

Do they see me now?"

I was a clinical laboratory officer
in the United States Army.

We took care of soldiers and
their family members at the hospital.

That was the highlight of my career,
being able to take care of soldiers.

I honor that, still today.

I am a 100% disabled veteran.

I suffer from PTSD,
bipolar, traumatic brain injury.

My first trauma in the military
was early in my career,

I was inappropriately touched
as I was drawing this guy's blood.

And so, I go and tell one of the
supervisors. And the guy said,

"Do you know this gentleman
has served honorably?

And do you understand the
consequences of what you're saying?"

I saluted him and walked out.

He's telling me that
I'm not valued as a soldier,

and he told me
I wasn't valued as a woman.

I've been raped...

several times
since that initial event.

That's the only time I ever told.

Tell for what?

At that moment, I got really hard.

'Cause if I was gonna survive,
I needed to be hard.

My military duty took
precedence over motherhood.

My children had a drill sergeant.

I made sure that they ate,
made sure that they had shelter,

made sure that they were clothed.

There was no nurturer.

The woman you see today is

a lot different
than the person that I grew up with.

There's a lot of things that
happened that didn't allow my mom

to really be present
as much as she wanted to.

My son say, "You're fightin' for
something that's not fightin' for you.

He said,
"You're willing to die for the military,

and they won't even
help to keep you alive."

That was really the moment where
I started my healing journey.

I remember the first time
that I performed on a stage,

and my children
were in the audience.

I stood up on that stage,
and I put it out there.

And they didn't look down with shame,

they held their heads up
and they were like,

"That's my mom."
And I'm telling you...

These are influenced
by feeling silenced

by the culture of the military,

and the way that stories of
sexual assaults are censored.

I go into the VA, and seven times out of
ten, the person behind the desk is like,

"Well, you know, you have to have
a service-connected disability

to be seen here."

I have a... service-connected
disability at a pretty high percentage.

The primary justification
for my disability is PTSD,

related to a sexual assault.

I am, then, having to, every time
I go to receive medical care,

put on my sexual assaults
as, like, a badge

that is why I belong here, and
how I deserve to get medical care.

I worked in the in-patient
psychiatric unit.

People come there if they are actively
suicidal, homicidal, or psychotic.

My school that I went to
was two and a half months.

You're putting 18-year-old kids with
two and a half months of training

into a situation
where they might have to be

responsible for
ensuring someone's safety.

It's not about, like, changing
people's lives, or healing anyone.

It's about keeping
government-owned commodities

producing until they can't
produce anymore.

And so you have to advocate for
yourself, and that's a really

difficult thing to do,
particularly with sexual assault

because it is something that
eats away at your belief

of your own worthiness.

And the military will absolutely tell
you to suck it up and soldier on.

"Certain kinds of quiet signify
death rather than peace.

"In your search for peace,

try to make sure
you are not sitting quietly in death."

Left, right on left,
right on left, right on left.

"It's been 25 years.

"I joined the Army, I took the oath

to protect and defend the constitution
of the United States of America."

Would it be appropriate if you guys
saluted her when she got there?

As she passes you, you like...

- ...or as she hits the podium.
- That's good.

Right. When she gets to the
podium, everybody's boom, right?

So just, like,
right in here at this paint.

That would be an appropriate spot.

Joe, wait till you hear
that music, right?

Then begin to move.

"This fist is a hammer.

"The fingers as claws trying
to unbend and pull out the nails

"of things you no longer
want to hold together.

"This fist is cumbersome.

"This fist, skin-wrapped bones
so tight, the knuckles flush.

But this fist can be unfolded."

"Remove the aggression,
insert the pen.

"Transplant the ball-peen
with a ballpoint

"until the vice grips of your palms

"transform into feathers.

"Know that this fist can wrap around

"flowers as easily as pistol grips,

"and that sometimes
left-hand flowers,

right-hand pistol grips."

I had a good friend of mine,
from high school,

who was killed in Ramadi.

I watched his mom cry

on the front lawn
for two and a half days.

And I joined the Marine Corps

to try to prevent moms
from layin' in the front yard.

I was in the Marine Corps for 10 years.

I went to Afghanistan.

Supported Iraq.

And was medically retired.

Now, I'm a visual artist.

It's hard to cope and do
normal human being stuff

if you're wearing your
trauma on your sleeve.

When I first got back home from
Afghanistan, my dad was like,

"Hey, if you ever wanna talk,
we're here for you."

But it never made sense to be, like,

"Hey, Dad, I watched
people burn to death.

Also, can you pass
the mashed potatoes?"

Or like, how do I start
this conversation?

When you're walking around,
and all of a sudden,

for reasons you can't explain
at the time,

you feel an emotional response
to something...

whether it's, like,
an alarm goes off,

or the rocks crunch the wrong way,

and it sets something off if your head.
And so...

So now, you're stuck with this
feeling that you can't explain.

What's wrong, buddy?
You okay?

Wanna go sit down, please?

Can you relax?

So, Aidan, what was it like
when you were in Iraq?



Aidan... Aidan.

Hot dogs!

Go around the other way,
so you don't...

After I got back from Afghanistan,

being a single dad,
and dealing with a kid with autism,

and trying to navigate all
these things at the same time,

the depression became so crippling,
that I couldn't get off the couch.

I parked my car in the garage...

and tried to kill myself.

There was a doctor, he was, like,

"You, of all people, deserve
better quality of life."

It was the first time
that somebody, um...

acknowledged the guilt,
is what was...

the biggest injury...
from Afghanistan.

After I'd get home from therapy,

I'd make myself
do something creative

to, like, process that stuff

that I couldn't talk
to anybody else about.

And it became this process
that saved my life.

Being a single parent for so long
is as much a part of this story.

It's not just this linear,
like, "I'm a combat veteran."

It's like, "Yeah, you're
also a human being."

And being a human being is hard.

The idea is, we've broken this for
a minute. We've told this story.

That underneath this...

we're all that we've shown you.

But at the same time, we're service
members, too. And the idea is to...

bring that back into the picture.

Center, face.

Really nice.

What can I not do as far as
whatever proper stage etiquette is?

If there's something
that I feel, um,

is diminishing the power of your
story, then I'll let you know, yeah?

That's the great thing
about the theater.

When you're telling your story,
you tell it the way you want to. Right?

First, you should know.

"First, you should know, there
is no easy way through this."

These hands are not.

- Reach up.
- Well, I'm gonna do the splits.

Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha...

The work is so powerful,
and beautiful,

and generous, and...

I'm really just proud to be
with you guys, okay? So...

thank you, see you tomorrow.

Yeah, that's good. Big hug.

Come in to the top, like this.
Go as far as you can.

"These hands were once small.

They are still able to pray."

"Internal bleeding that consumes me

until all I see is red."

"My heart stopped beating.

I no longer felt pain."

"I love this place."

On that stage,
everybody had their own fears

and uncertainties
about the situation.

But the build up for the performance

was not that much different than
how we build up for a mission.

- Hello. Welcome to the theater.
- Thank you.

All the people in the audience
were there because

they wanted to hear
what these stories were.

They wanted to know
what the bigger story was.

Everybody knew they were gonna
be a part of something great.

That we're gonna be heard,
probably for the first time.

'Cause I know that a lot
of us have not been heard.

Group, attention.

Forward, march.

Group, halt.

Center, face.

As you were.

"These hands are not."

"The hands are not clean."

"They are not innocent."

"They are not beholden."

"They are still able to pray."

"This isn't a warrior's song.
This is a sinner's confession...

"a need for forgiveness.

"I've carried emptiness.

"Loved ones lost,
and the loss of ones I've loved.

"Souls I've stolen.

"Their fathers, sons...


mothers and daughters."

Left, right on left,
right on left, right on left!

"60% of military women have
experienced military sexual trauma.

"Are they noticing me?
Do they see me now?

"One night, the phone rang.

"One of the soldiers was arrested
for allegedly raping three females.

"Dear God...

how do I, a rape victim,
keep a rapist safe?"

"I have swallowed so many."

"I have swallowed
so many fucking pills

that my blood type is benzo."

- "And they keep feeding me more.
- I can show you anger."

"Make a fist wrapped in barbed wire,

"but these hands
won't be able to love

"until the barbs are pulled out
to let the skin heal.

And then these palms
hold small fists."

"Resist the urge to lay silently.
Find a loud place.

Maybe one full of children.
Touch something cold, or alive."

"We were never taught."

"That trauma could, and would,

kill our bodies,
ravage our lives."

"They blew up our FOB.

"It was a vehicle-borne IED.
They mortared a small arms fire,

suicide bombers, our FOB was
supposed to be safe as houses."

"Underneath my boots."

"Fields designed
to destroy my body."

"And still, I miss the sand."

"Give me a mission."

"I love seeing that old bearded man.

"I love that he dressed up...

"just for us.

"Rocking his brand-new black,
creased Arabic attire.

And his plaid turban
really makes his outfit pop."

"I love how he smiled.

"Cell phone in his right hand,
waving hi or good-bye

"with his left hand,
as we passed by.

"His fucking left hand.

"In other unimportant news today:

"Two 800-pound IEDs
destroyed three vehicles,

"instantly killing 10 soldiers.

"10 sons, 10 brothers,

"10 family members,
10 battle buddies, 10 friends.


"four more will die.

"The day after,

"one more will die.

I love this place.

"This poem is not
who I am."

"This poem is not
a suicide note."

"This poem is not
a cry for help."

"This poem is not
my broken pieces."

"This poem is love
and all its meanings."

"We are not done yet."

Group, attention.

Rear, march.

If you had met any of these people

before their transition
from being shut in to open,

the transformation is so great now.

It's not about what I've been through,
it's about where I am today.

And I was standing on that stage,

and I was saying that
I've been through all this.

But I'm not done yet.

It might have been the most
beneficial thing that I've...

done out loud...

in my life.

These people...

they are...

they are... hope.

Subtitles by explosiveskull