Chapter 21 - Homecoming
He was finally home! He walked around the town, enjoying the sites. He felt the gentle ocean breeze blowing across the town and through his hair. He was free! The cross town bus stopped and he got on to enjoy some site seeing. The bus was full of school children who were playing and laughing. He leaned his head out the window. Maine in the summer was the most beautiful place in the world. He looked around. One by one the trees exploded. The ground caught fire and the bus stopped moving. He pulled his head back into the bus. The school children had disappeared. The bus seats were now filled with wounded soldiers. They cried out to him to heal them. A voice cried out from the back of the bus, "Captain Pierce...I-I c-can't b-breathe!" He looked directly into the eyes of a young red headed man. In his arms he held a lifeless Korean baby.
Hawkeye fought to wake up. "It's only dream," he whispered into his pillow. He felt cold sweat from every pore.
He turned over and looked into the worried eyes of his father. Relief flooded Hawkeye. He was home. There would be no call for incoming wounded.
He sat up and embraced his dad. "Boy am I glad to see you, Dad! What a dream! Oy! What time is it? Did I wake you?" He looked at the clock by the bed in his room. It was four o'clock in the morning.
"It's okay, son. I have to get up to go to work. Are you going to be okay here today. I can stay home with you. I would have planned a few days off but I didn't know exactly when to expect you."
Hawkeye was still breathing hard from his nightmare. "I thought the nightmares would stop once I got home." Of course this was only his first day home. Sidney had urged him to give himself time to re-adjust to civilian life.
"I'll be fine here. I'm a big boy. You don't need to worry about me."
Daniel patted his son, "I'll go start some coffee."
Hawkeye got up and took a shower. He wanted to go down to the beach to see the sunrise. He'd been dreaming about the sunrise for so long he didn't want to miss it his first day back.
He opened his closet. Aah, civilian clothes, he thought, nothing green. He put on a blue shirt and slacks. They were a little bit loose. Army food, he thought, the ultimate starvation diet.
Hawkeye grabbed a cup of coffee and made his way to the beach. It was a fairly long walk from the house and he relished the morning air. Finally he was standing on a large flat rock on the beach in Crabapple Cove! He laughed out loud. He'd longed for this day for three years.
The sun rose over the water. He thought, this is the most magnificent sight on earth.
"So Hawkeye, how does it feel to be home?" Asked Dickie Barber, slapping him on the back.
"It feels good. Of course I haven't really settled in. It still feels kind of strange."
Daniel had invited a few of Hawkeye's old friends, thinking a welcome home picnic might help him feel more at ease. He'd seemed pretty melancholy since he'd been home. Daniel tried to be as supportive as he could but he was never sure what to say to his son. Hawkeye had shared things in great detail in his letters but now that he was home he didn't seem to want to talk at all. He spent a lot of time watching television, sleeping and taking long walks on the beach.
"You look like you've lost some weight," observed Toby Wilder as he picked up one of his identical twin sons who had been running through the living room. "Hey slow down, Donny. Why don't you go outside and play with Danny."
"How do you know which one is which?" asked Hawkeye. "I can't tell them apart. They're like a couple of little red headed rockets."
"Yeah, they keep us pretty busy. It's never dull around the Wilder house and that's a fact", said Toby.
Hawkeye, Toby and Dickie spent the afternoon reminiscing about some of the crazy things they used to do when they were kids.
"Remember the time we spread glue on Mr. Vanderhaven's chair?" laughed Dickie. "Boy was he ever hot under the collar."
"Yeah and we were all pretty hot under the britches when our dads found out," said Hawkeye laughing until tears rolled down his cheeks.
"Hey Hawk," said Toby thoughtfully. "What was that all about a couple of years ago when you called us to see if we were doing okay? You said something about dreaming that we were getting zapped. That was really strange."
"I'd started walking in my sleep and having nightmares during that time. Sidney Freedman, the army psychiatrist said that I was dreaming myself back home to a happier time and the war kept entering my dreams. Those kids we operated on over there...they were so young."
"You saw a shrink?" asked Dickie.
"Yeah, I did...is there something wrong with that?" asked Hawkeye, growing defensive.
"Well...no...it's just that...usually when someone has to see a shrink..."
"Go ahead say it!" Hawkeye took a step toward Dickie with both fists clenched.
Hawkeye felt the anger rise up inside like water coming to a boil. He wanted to hit someone. They were so unaware. While he'd been in Korea, patching up the bodies of mutilated children, his old school chums had been home in their cozy homes watching Burns and Allen and working at their safe jobs.
Suddenly the Wilder twins ran screaming across the yard. Hawkeye hissed at Toby, "Can't you keep those damn kids quiet?" He stormed out of the living room.
"What was that all about?" asked Dickie as he looked at Toby in shock. Toby answered by shaking his head in disbelief.
Daniel pounded on Hawkeye's door. "Ben, what's the matter? Talk to me, dammit!"
He heard slamming and banging in the room. When he heard a resounding crash he let himself in to find Hawkeye had torn his bed apart and had broken the mirror above his dresser. Broken glass was everywhere.
When Hawkeye saw his father he dropped to his knees, sobbing. "Dad...help me! I'm sorry."
"Ben, it's going to be okay." He cradled his son in his arms as he had when he was a small child. He held him that way until he was able to stop crying.
He noticed that Hawkeye's hands were bleeding from breaking the mirror. "Let me get rid of our company and then I'll take you to the clinic and take care of these," he said and grabbed a couple of hand towels and wrapped Hawkeye's hands.
"I'm not sure but I think you may need a stitch or two in some of these cuts. We'll take care of that and then you and I are going to have a long talk, understand?"
"Yes, Dad...thanks," smiled Hawkeye through his tears.
"Pass me another hamburger, Mother," said Sherman. "And could I have another glass of that lemonade, too?" He was the man of the hour and enjoying every minute of it.
"It sure is good to be home!"
"Grampa! Pick me up," said little Cory. He was a cute little guy...all of five years old. He'd certainly grown since Sherman had last seen him.
It was good to be back in Hannibal with all of the relatives and friends. Sherman was ready for retirement. He thought it was time to slow his pace to a slow trot. He wasn't ready to be put out to pasture, but he was ready to be a simple country doctor.
"Sherman, there's a phone call for you," called Mildred from the front door. "Somebody named Pierce from Maine."
Sherman picked up the phone excitedly, "Hawkeye?"
"No, sorry, colonel, this is Hawkeye's father, Dr. Daniel Pierce."
"Well how is my former chief surgeon?"
"I'm afraid not too well. We had a picnic today with some of Ben's old school chums and for some reason he got very upset and demolished his bedroom. He cut his hands to pieces. I don't know what's come over him, but frankly Colonel, I'm worried. In his letters Ben talked about a psychiatrist, name of Sidney something...do you know how to get a hold of the man?"
"Gee Dr. Pierce, I'm really sorry to hear that. I thought Hawkeye was doing so well. I know that re-entry into civilian life is harder for some than for others. I thought it might be easier for him since he was never a soldier in the first place. Sorry, I don't mean to make jokes at a time like this.
The name is Dr. Sidney Freedman. I think his destination was New York City, I believe. I don't know if he was going right home or not."
"Thank you, Colonel, you've been a big help."
"No problemo, tell that boy of yours we're thinking of him and, oh, that's Sherman to you. I'm a civilian now."
"Charles, dear, you've hardly touched your food. I had Cook make all of your favorites for your homecoming dinner. Are you ill?"
"No, Mother, I couldn't be better," said Charles, taking a sip of wine from the expensive crystal glass. He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.
He looked around the table. Everything was perfect, exactly the way he remembered things. The lace tablecloth was immaculate. Succulent prime rib and roasted potatoes were beautifully displayed on imported china. His mother, father and sister, Honoria were elegantly dressed for dinner. The servants in their starched uniforms stood nearby to attend to the family's every need or desire.
"So Charles," said his father, Charles Emerson Winchester the Second, "your mother and I are planning to have a ball in your honor, a little welcome home and congratulations on your new position."
"Oh yes!" exclaimed Mrs. Winchester. "It will be so lovely. I have already planned the menu and hired the florist. We are inviting the cream of Boston society. Nothing is too good for the Head of Thoracic Surgery of Boston Mercy! My dear boy, we are so proud of you!"
Charles flinched at the comments and thought, what's to be proud of? Margaret had an influential friend who pulled some strings. There was no merit in that. It had nothing to do with his talent and skill as a surgeon. It was no different from the way his father had been pulling strings for years.
Charles downed a glass of wine, poured himself another, and said nothing.
"Charles," his mother continued. "We've already invited the Hollingsworths, the Chronisters and Johnsons, can you think of anyone you'd like to invite? Charles? Are you listening to me? That's your fifth glass of wine..."
"Yes, mummy, 'tis and I plan to have a sixth."
The senior Winchester stood and thundered, "Charles, I'll not tolerate such rudeness in my house!"
Charles rose from his chair and prepared to leave, "If you'll excuse me,...Mother...Honoria. He gulped the last of the wine in the glass, then threw it against the wall. Shards of crystal scattered on the highly polished, hardwood floor. He stormed out of the room, slamming the large oak door behind him.
Charles never imagined that coming home would be so difficult. He closed his eyes and thought about the last party in the mess tent in Uijongbu. He had said that he 'expected that his life would pick up pretty much where he'd left off..." he was already finding out that that was far from the truth. A steady diet of carnage had changed him forever. The shallow society of Boston had lost its appeal for him.
On his first night home his parents had planned to take him to the symphony. He had begged off much to their surprise. He had always been an aficionado of classical music, Mozart in particular. They puzzled over what might prompt him to turn down the symphony to stay home and watch Arthur Godfrey.
Charles had not told his parents about the Chinese musicians. He didn't think he'd ever be able to listen to Mozart without seeing their faces.
Tonight's dinner had been too much for him. He was tired of his father ruling his life and the last thing he wanted was to be the 'puppet' of honor at a high society ball. Ha! Wouldn't Pierce and Hunnicuttt laugh if they learned that Charles Emerson Winchester the Third had turned down a chance to be the center of attention in the midst of the cream of Boston society.
"It's a good thing my dad's a doctor who makes house calls," said Hawkeye. Daniel had given him something to calm him and stitched the cuts in his hands. He'd prescribed bed rest for his son for a couple of days. He'd called in an associate to take over in the clinic so he could stay by Hawkeye.
Daniel smiled and said, "Yes, and the house that I'm calling on is my own, so I don't have to go very far." He sat on the side of Hawkeye's bed. "What happened the other day, Ben? What caused you to become so violent?"
"I don't really know exactly what happened. It's like my body is here in Crabapple Cove but my mind is still in Korea. I keep seeing those kids...the blood...the worst part was seeing those young faces...."
"I know you've been having nightmares," Daniel said, "can you tell me about those?"
"The last one...I was on a bus with a bunch of grade school kids. We were on a site seeing excursion bus....then the kids disappeared and there were bleeding soldiers...Howard Owens and the dead Korean baby... I've had that same dream twice since I've been home....Korea won't leave...it came back to Maine with me...."
"How does that make you feel?"
"Helpless and angry."
"So what happened at the picnic that set you off, son?"
"It was the way Dickie and Toby asked questions and acted like there was something wrong with me because I'd seen a psychiatrist. It was like suddenly I had leprosy or something. It made me so angry that they hadn't seen the horror that I have and then had the audacity to judge me for seeing a shrink," Hawkeye was becoming angrier with every word.
"While I was over there in that meat market trying to put broken bodies back together they were home watching Milton Berle! How dare they judge me! Then those two little fireballs of Toby's came darting across the yard yelling at the top of their lungs and I-I told him to 'keep those damn kids quiet!' That's when I flashed back to the bus in Korea...Dad it's what I said to that woman right before she smothered her baby...." Hawkeye couldn't go on any more. The tears rolled down his face.
When he could finally speak he said suspiciously, "Dad? Who have you been talking to?"
"No one in particular...but Sherman Potter and Sidney Freedman both said to tell you hello and they're pulling for you."
Margaret walked arm in arm with Lorraine Anderson, an old friend who was also an army nurse. Lorraine had been at the 8063rd when Margaret went to help close the camp. The two of them decided to take some time to see the sites in Japan before returning to the states.
"You're kidding Margaret. You were only married three months!"
"Yes, the engagement lasted longer than the marriage. He was such a jerk. I don't miss him at all. In fact I barely remember what he looks like."
"There's the cutest little restaurant on the next corner," said Lorraine. "Let's stop and have lunch and drink a toast to peace."
An hour later they were still sitting, talking and drinking.
"Wasn't that sushi delicious, Margaret?"
"I don't know, it tasted like raw fish to me," giggled Margaret.
"So, Major H-houlihan...han, tell me, is there someone waiting for you in the states?"
Margaret sobered a little. She fingered the slip of paper in her pocket that had the Pierce's address and phone number. "I don't really know. I mean there might be."
"That sounds strange," said Lorraine. "Do you or don't you have someone?"
"He was our chief surgeon at the 4077th, remember him, Captain Pierce?"
"No, I can't say that I do."
"Oh that's right. Hawkeye went to the 8063rd the week that you and Roy Dupree came to the 4077th."
Margaret told her about the friendship that she and Hawkeye shared. She related a little about Hawkeye's breakdown and how hard he'd worked to overcome it.
"We'd keep coming close to getting serious and something would always happen to spoil it," said Margaret with a sigh. "Then he decided that I'm married to the army and that there's no room for him in my life."
"And is there any truth to that, Margaret?" asked Lorraine.
"Oh I think there was a time that was true. I had my life all neatly planned, but somehow things aren't so clear. He gave me his phone number and address."
"Sounds like an open invitation to me," said Lorraine. "Do you love him?"
"Do I love him? Loving Hawkeye Pierce is a scary proposition. He's funny, handsome, caring, compassionate. He's an amazing surgeon."
"He sounds perfect, what's scary?"
"He can be volatile..."
"If memory serves me correctly, Miss Major Houlihan, you're no slouch in that department yourself." This threw them into fits of giggles.
"Seriously, Margaret," said Lorraine. "Are you afraid of his temper, his passion or the fact that he's had a serious breakdown?"
"All of the above," Margaret replied.
"Do you love him...could you leave the army for him?"
"Yes," she whispered.
"Hello, Ben, this is Mary Jo, Crabapple Cove's goddess of the switchboard. You have a call from a B-J Hunnicuttt in..."
"Mill Valley, California!" He finished her sentence.
"I'll patch him right through."
"Thanks, Mary Jo."
"Beej! Is that really you? How are you? How's your homecoming been?"
"Great! How about yours?"
"No no no, I asked you first."
BJ sat in his living room with Erin on his lap. Peg was in the kitchen fixing supper. "It's great to be home," he said. "The first day I was home we didn't leave the house. We've been taking time to get to know each other.
"You'll appreciate this, Hawk. When I got off the plane, Erin came running up to me shouting, 'Daddy! Daddy!' I cried like a baby right there in front of God and everybody in the airport."
"Hey, Beej that's great! I know how much that meant to you."
"One of the hardest things about coming home is being with people who have no idea what it's like to practice medicine in a war zone. Sometimes I feel like I want to beat some sense into them, y'know what I mean?"
Hawkeye looked down at the bandages on his hands and grinned sheepishly, "Yeah, I think I know exactly what you mean."
"I've had a few nightmares and sometimes I wake up and think I'm back in the swamp. But then I realize that I'm home and Peg is there beside me. She's been a real comfort to me, Hawkeye. She does her best to understand and knows when I need to be alone."
"That's wonderful, Beej. Have you looked for a job yet?"
"I have an offer from a hospital in San Francisco. They're looking for a resident surgeon. I think eventually I'd like to open a private practice. But I want to get used to working in a nice clean, modern, sanitary hospital again first. The hospital is willing to keep the job open until October so I can acclimate to being home with my family."
Erin reached up and played with BJ's moustache. He kissed her little hand. She giggled.
"What's that I hear? It sounds like someone giggling," laughed Hawkeye.
"Erin's likes being tickled by Daddy's moustache."
Hawkeye smiled. He was happy that BJ was adjusting so well to being home. He was a good man and deserved to be happy.
"So, Hawk, how is your homecoming going?"
"I can't lie to you, Beej. It's been pretty rough. I think if I'd come home to anyone but my dad I'd be out on the street by now. I've been hard to get along with....lots of nightmares and some flashbacks. The worst was last Sunday when my dad invited some of my old school mates over for a picnic."
Hawkeye told BJ about tearing up the bedroom and his hands after he let the twins get to him.
"That's rough, Hawk. So your dad actually called Potter and then Sidney?"
"Yeah, Sidney gave him a lesson over the phone on how to do 'meatball psychiatry'," laughed Hawkeye. "I think my dad could have been a psychiatrist if he'd wanted. He's always been someone I could talk to."
"Are your hands going to be all right, Hawkeye? You didn't slice any nerves did you? You're too good of a surgeon to have that happen."
"I think they will make a full recovery. None of the cuts went that deep. I have that to be thankful for."
"So, have you heard from..."
"Have you tried to find her."
"It's been great talking to you, Beej. I'll call you next week."