Chapter 19 - Putting out Fires

Hawkeye returned to the Swamp for the first time since he'd returned. Charles was in the compound directing his captive Chinese 'orchestra' so he had the tent to himself. There was still some gin left in the still. He'd have to get another batch going, he thought.

He looked around the swamp. He stared at BJ's empty bunk. Everything was gone, the pictures of Peg and Erin, the argyle socks that BJ used to wash periodically to remind him of better times, his extra large sneakers that he wore in protest...all of it was gone.

Hawkeye sat down on his bunk and put his head in his hands. He couldn't remember a time that he'd felt so alone. He felt like crying. It seemed to him that he'd cried an ocean of tears over the past two months. First there was Corporal Owens and then the baby on the bus. Life was just becoming one big 'adventure' after another, he mused.

He was so lost in his own thoughts that he never heard her enter. Even with his eyes closed he knew it was Margaret. He could smell her perfume. She put her arm around his shoulder. He looked into her eyes and smiled, "Hi."

"Pretty tough, huh?" she said.

"Yeah. That was some welcome home bash. Most of the guests were pretty 'bashed.'"

She smiled at his humor. It was good to just bask in the sound of his voice. She'd missed him so much. "It's hard to believe that the war is almost over. It doesn't look like peace to me," she said. "Colonel Potter thinks you may still need help after the way you ran through artillery fire and moved the jeep."

"Like I said, someone needed to take out the garbage. Have you decided what you're going to do when this ends, Margaret?"

"Dad has been looking for positions for me. One in Belgium looks promising."

"Is that what you want?"

She sighed, "I don't know. It sounds exciting, but I don't know what I really want right now. It's all so confusing lately."

Hawkeye pulled her to him. "This has been a rough time for you, hasn't it? I'm sorry to have put you through this."

"It's not just that. There's just so much going on...the end of the war...leaving the people I've come to know as family..."

He held her close and after a few minutes he said, "He didn't say goodbye...he didn't leave a note. This...tent...it's so empty...I..."

Hawkeye was cut off by shouts all around the camp, "Fire! Fire!"

"Attention! This is your colonel speaking. There's a wild fire moving this way. It's time to pack up our old kit bags and get our keesters out of here!"

Dear Dad,

I'm writing to you from somewhere in Korea. We had a fire the other night and had to evacuate. We've set up a new camp site.

Shortly after we got here, our 'new' replacement surgeon arrived. It was Beej. I wasn't too friendly to him when he got here. I was pretty ticked that he left, like Trapper, without a note while I was gone. I guess it's pretty selfish of me to think that he should think of me first.

I know that Beej was really disappointed when they called him back here. He was a third of the way home and was on course to be home in time for Erin's 2nd birthday. I know that was very important to him. Frankly, the site of children makes me very uncomfortable.

I still see that baby in my dreams...my nightmares. I can't shake the feeling that if I'd kept my big mouth shut on the bus that he'd still be alive. Sidney says I need to let that go. I'm trying, Dad, I really am.

My first day back in surgery was a nightmare to end all nightmares. Dad, surgery used to be so easy. I never thought twice about it...but I gotta tell you that my confidence is severely shaken. I live in the constant dread that I'll blank out and do something that I'll regret for the rest of my life.

It was comforting to have Margaret there. She assists me often and I appreciate the way she anticipates what I need...both from a medical standpoint and a personal one. Leaving her is going to be tough...as tough as saying goodbye to Beej. Maybe harder. But I don't really think there's a future for us. She's married to the army, I don't think I can compete with it.

Today the nurses and Father Mulcahy organized a birthday party for a little Korean orphan. Her name was Kim. Margaret announced that she had the same birthday as Erin Hunnicuttt. It was a very sweet thing to do and I know that Beej appreciated it. I really hoped it helped ease his pain even a little.

I had to walk away from it...as I said before I'm very uncomfortable around children. That's another reason I might not be good husband material for Margaret. Can you imagine a father who breaks out in cold sweats around his own kids.

I'd like to think that I could be the kind of father you've been, Dad. I just don't know if that's possible for me now.

Sidney came to the party. We talked about my anxiety in surgery and around children. He suggested that my anxiety might make me a better doctor. I think he's crazier than I am.

The casualties keep rolling in. It's hard to believe that we're close to the end.

For some reason Beej refuses to say goodbye. He insists we'll keep in touch. I really hope so, but we're getting ready to leave this place for good. Is it too much for him to just say, 'goodbye?'"

Sorry to start ranting, Dad."

I have to end this letter here. We have incoming wounded.

I guess if all goes according to plan, I should be seeing you very soon.

Your, soon to be a civilian, son,

"Oh God!" exclaimed Hawkeye as he looked at the face of his next patient. It was a small Korean child. She couldn't have been more that eight or nine.

"You going to be able to make it, Hawk," asked BJ. "I can take her if you need me to."

"No, I'll be okay."

Margaret watched Hawkeye as he struggled with this one. In fact everyone in the OR had their eyes of him.

Sidney had come into the OR with him to see how he was doing. Re-entry was usually a time of great anxiety for those who had suffered a breakdown such as Hawkeye's.

Sidney had to admit to himself that Hawkeye's breakdown was a bit of a shock to him. He'd always considered the surgeon to be one of the sanest people he'd ever met. Even in the worst of it Hawkeye could find ways to blow off steam and thumb his nose at the war. But every man has his breaking point, he observed, even Hawkeye Pierce.

Hawkeye was a man of great compassion and caring. He was passionate about everything that meant anything to him. Losing Corporal Owens the way he had and seeing a mother kill her own child was more than his mind could bear. Sidney hoped that Hawkeye would be okay. The greatest tragedy would be for the surgeon to cave in and rob the world of one of the finest doctor's he'd ever known.

Sidney held his breath as he saw Hawkeye's hands tremble a bit as he prepared to operate on the little girl. "You going to be okay, Hawk?"

"Yeah, I got it under control. Kellye, put her under." Hawkeye breathed deeply as the mask went over the little girl's face. Sidney gave his shoulder a squeeze. "Scalpel, Margaret..."

Sidney smiled and said, " I can see that I'm not needed here. I'll say my goodbyes to all of you now and...I've said it before:

Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice, pull down your pants and slide on the ice."

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