“You missed out on a heck of a breakfast. What they did to the oatmeal broke at least three rules of the Geneva convention.” B.J. said as he tied his shoe.
“How were the nurses last night after the movie? Were they all teary-eyed and in dire need of a little comfort? My shoulders were unusually free last night.” Hawkeye commented.
“Rhett Butler has nothing on you. Here, have one of Peg’s cookies.” B.J. handed one to his friend. “Chocolate chip. Won’t find anything like it around here on base.”
“With good reason. I think I’d rather have taken my chances with a second bowl of oatmeal.” Hawkeye said after taking a bite of the hardened cookie.
“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?”
“If Igor needs a recipe we know who to ask.” Hawkeye laughed, as he put his hand over his face as if to ward off a punch in the face.
For a minute B.J. was about to get steamed. But then he realized that Hawk was doing something he hadn’t done in awhile-he was joking. Perhaps the session with Sidney had helped. Maybe he had gotten a good night’s sleep. Either way, B.J. wasn’t about to tempt fate and argue with his friend.
“So...how did it go last night? I hope you don’t mind me asking...You don’t have to answer...” B.J. packed up the cookies and set them back in his locker, avoiding eye contact with Hawkeye.
“Fine...it went fine. He’s not ready to ship me off to the funny farm. You might have something to say about that.” The dark-haired surgeon sat on the edge of his bed.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you. I think you’re just tired, that’s all. Tired of all the fighting and of all the..”
“Of all the death. You can say it. I’m sick to death of all the sickness and the death. My blood boils just thinking of all the Radars who’ve lost their lives in this war I’m not so sure will ever end. But that’s not what we talked about, oddly enough.”
B.J watched his friend struggle to find his next words.
“What are you looking at? I’m not some kind of circus show am I?”
“No, I’m sorry...I didn’t mean to stare...” The blond surgeon looked away, sighing. Maybe there was nothing he could do.
“Look, Hawk..” He stood up.” Maybe I should just give you some space. I think I’ve said too much. I’m gonna shoot some hoops.”
“No.” Hawkeye stood up. “Don’t go. I’m sorry. Please.”
They both sat down.
“I’m sorry I’ve been kind of a jerk these past few days. Radar’s death has just hit me hard. It’s like I’m losing Tommy and Henry all over again. It’s hard to explain what I’m feeling. And then I worry about you. I don’t know what I would do if I lost you. You might think I’m crazy for feeling that way. But I’ve been thinking a lot about us and everything we’ve been through. I’ve made it through the worst times of my life with you. And now this...I know I’ve been taking it out on you.”
“I’m tough. I can take it.” B.J. smiled warmly.
“No, you don’t get it. I’m taking it on you because I’m scared. I don’t know what would happen if something...well I’m just going to come right out and say it. I don’t know what I’d do if something were to happen to you. Trapper left but at least I know he’s safe with his family where he belongs. He left and then you came along...well...maybe you think I sound stupid...guys aren’t supposed to think like this. But I do. You’re here and I’m glad you’re here. There, I said it. You’ve became part of me and I’m not ready to get rid of you.”
B.J. took a minute to process everything his best friend told him. “Well...I’m here....They’re not getting rid of me...Lord knows I’ve tried..”
“See, you think I’m weak. Call Sidney. I’m ready for a week at the funny farm.” Hawkeye sighed, as he stood up to pour himself a drink.
“Hawk, I don’t think that. I don’t think that at all. I’m glad you said what you did. I’m here. You’re like the brother I never wanted.” He teased, only to see that he didn’t get a smile in return.
“ And when this is all said and done and I’m back with Peg and Erin I’ll write. We’ll visit.”
Hawk turned to face him. “Don’t you tell me that! Don’t you dare tell me that! You and I both know you’ll go on with your life and I’ll go on with mine..”
“That’s just it. You’ll go on with your life. We’re all just getting on with our lives, the best ways we know how. I don’t know what tomorrow brings. No one does. But all I know is that I don’t know what this place would have been like if I hadn’t have found you.”
Hawkeye put down his glass and looked at his friend. “Yeah. I know what you mean.” He said after a few minutes.
Finally picked up his glass and sat back down on his bed.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get...you know...”
“It’s okay. We all got stuff to get our backs. You know, I might just join you in that drink. Hey, Peg sent me a new deck of cards the other day. Care to try ‘em out?”
“Sure.” Hawkeye cleared his throat. “Here’s to friendship.” He lifted his glass.
As the men played cards, Hawkeye got to thinking about eulogy gave at Radar’s funeral. B.J. was right; there was nothing in the world worth losing a friend over. Nothing.
“Sidney..can I come in?” Hawkeye knocked on the door to the tent.
“Of course. How are you feeling?”
“I don’t know.” Hawk sighed as he sat down. “I just had a talk with B.J. I mean, I just finished telling him that I was afraid something bad might happen to him. I told him how I felt about him- that I was lucky to have a friend like him.”
“And you’re afraid that you might sound weak?”
The surgeon nodded. “It’s not that. It’s like I’m afraid if I say it out loud than it might come true. I just...I’d really lose my marbles. I already feel pretty squirrely. Am I crazy, Doc?” He asked, feeling unusually vulnerable.
“They say if you ask yourself that then it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re not. Does that make you feel any better?”
“Not really. I still feel like I’m about to lose my mind.”
“It will get better. I promise. Now, Hawkeye, I’d like to talk about Radar.” Sidney declared. “Is that alright with you?”
Hawkeye paused for a few minutes while he pondered the implications of the upcoming conversation. Talking would be difficult, but silence would be murder. His heart raced as if were a time bomb waiting to explode. He looked around the room, anxious that someone would walk in on his confession.
“I’m not..I’m not so sure I can talk about Radar. Can I talk about B.J.?”
“We can talk about anything you like. But at some point I’d like for you to talk about Radar. I know that something happened before he died that you’re not talking about.
“Radar, Radar, Radar! Why does everything have to be about Radar? He’s gone! Why can’t we just let him rest in peace? There’s nothing I can do to bring him back. There’s nothing I could have done to prevent him from going to Tokyo. That’s not true. There is something I could have done.” Hawkeye exclaimed, becoming clearly agitated.
“I could have kept him from going. I didn’t have to tell him to go. Sidney, it was all my idea. It was entirely my idea. It’s my fault he’s dead. He came to me looking for advice. I told him to go to Tokyo. I told him not to wait. And so he grabbed a jeep and left. He’d still be here if it weren’t for my misguided attempt to be the man everyone wants to be. I thought I had all the answers. No dire deed could ever come from any of my efforts or so I thought. I was the man of steel, a social director of the heart and a modern day Socrates all rolled into one. Now here I am with the butter off my biscuit, not sleeping, not eating, barely holding on to the basic human decency I used to call hope. Hope for what? That I’ll wake up each morning to see the cheesy mustache of my comrade-in-arms. That the new day will finally be the day that McArthur wises up and brings a halt to this blasted war and I’ll be back in Crabapple Cove? It’s getting to where I don’t know what to hope for anymore.
“Night after night it’s the same thing. I think about the people I’ve seen, legs I’ve sewn back together..and the blood....all the blood. There’s not enough alcohol in the world to make you forget all of the terror you see in those patient’s eyes as you place the anesthesia mask on their face. Every week it’s the same thing- scores of bodies of young men stretched out in the field. And it’s my call who to take back first. These men’s lives are in my hands.”
Sidney rubbed his hands together. “It sounds like you have to think fast. I know it can be overwhelming at times. But Hawkeye, you’re responsible for their lives. You’re not responsible for their deaths.”
Hawkeye thought about that for a moment. “I spend my days putting people back together. I sew stitches, I take things apart only to put them back together. Some days I’m covered from head to toe in blood and guts. These boys’ lives are being sucked out of them and some days the best I can do is tell them ‘I’m sorry’. Their lives’ blood is in my hands; that’s what I do. I fix things. But what do I do when I can’t fix things? What if I’ve run into something that I can’t patch up or can’t sew up, no matter how badly I want to?”
Sidney watched as the badly distressed man mentally tore himself up. But it was good that it was coming out. Healing was coming, slowly. When you had a man that was as in as much turmoil as Hawkeye was, sometimes you just had to sit back and listen.
“There are days where we just pull shrapnel from the body and pray for the morphine to kick in. Modern medicine works wonders but it doesn’t always work miracles. And some of the boys they bring us are beyond needing miracles. I patch one man up and there’s two more waiting to take his place. Meanwhile I haven’t the time to wipe the blood off my boots and my wrists and elbows are begging for mercy. And yet, my friend, the show must go on. The minutes have turned into hours and yet I keep working under the most inhumane conditions known to man. And I still go on. There’s always one I can’t help. I can hear them crying, even in my sleep. I always figure there was something more I could have said, could have done. If only I had more time. If only I hadn’t had to place another patient ahead of another...would it have made a difference? These are the questions that I ask myself every night. I don’t have time to ask myself these during the day. I just do my job and move on to the next one. And when the day is done I return to the rat-infested corner I’ve come to so affectionately call the Swamp. Sounds pleasant, doesn’t it. None of the luxuries of home, with none of the comforts. The place I hang my head every night.”
“Tough job.” Sidney commented. “What do you do for relaxation”
“Oh, you know. Drink. Chase a few nurses around. Drink. Chase a few more nurses around. Head to the officer’s club.”
“I see. That sounds like fun. You also play poker, and engage in some practical jokes if memory serves me right.”
Hawkeye nodded, not wanting to talk about that part of him.
“So you get along well with the ladies?”
“Yeah but I’d rather not talk about that.” Hawkeye turned away.
“I’d rather we did. When was the last time you got along with a lady friend?”
“It’s not important.” Hawkeye growled. “Now can we drop it? I said there’s nothing to talk about!”
“Why don’t you want to talk about it? Did you have a bad experience?”
“No. It’s just that...damn it...It’s Radar..he asked me advice about getting a lady. I told him to go to Toyko right away. He grabbed a jeep and, well, the rest is history. I don’t ever want to think about getting a little luck with the ladies. Look what I did to Radar! I didn’t have to leave home. If I did I could have been killed. It should have been me out there, not Radar. Don’t you see...they got the wrong man. “ Hawkeye looked up at Sidney. “They got the wrong one. This is all a big mistake.”
“Is this how you really feel? That it should be you six feet under?”
“Hawkeye, would you feel this way if Radar was out on some other run? Perhaps he was making some run for the Colonel? And be truthful.”
“It’s beside the point. He’s dead and it’s because of me.”
You’re one hardheaded young man. You’re not going to make this easy on me, are you?
“Hawkeye, just for a minute, imagine that Radar was making a run for company business. Would you feel any differently? Would you feel as if your place was six feet under?”
Hawk paused. “I might feel differently suppose. That’s a big might.”
“Well what if I told you that Radar was out on company business. He was out on Radar’s company business. He wasn’t doing anything he didn’t want to do. He made a bad decision. It was Radar’s decision to make. Hawkeye, you didn’t do this to him. Did you have a chance to talk to him about this before...”
“Yeah. It didn’t go over so well.. But he didn’t blame me for getting hurt. That surprised the daylights out of me. But then we got into a fight anyways when he realized that I was too sick to finish up his second operation. He told me how disappointed in me he was. He said he looked up to me. Well I just couldn’t handle that kind of pressure. I lost it. I told him the hell with his Iowa naiveté and to hell with him and his teddy bear. I heard myself speaking ...it was like a monster was in the room. I couldn’t believe I was yelling at the boy! I still don’t know what was wrong with me. And now I’ll have to live the rest of my life knowing that those were the last words I ever spoke to Radar.” Hawkeye’s hands began to tremble. “What’s wrong with me? My hands never shake! Not even when I’m cold!”
“Hawkeye, I think it’s really important that you don’t lose sight of the fact that he didn’t blame you for what had happened to him. You said so yourself that he told you that. Between that, and the stress of your job, the flashbacks to losing your friends...I think we’re beginning to see what’s eating you. But you’re going to be just fine. I guarantee that.”
“I’m glad you can see that. I sure can’t.” he mumbled.
“Hawkeye, Radar doesn’t blame you for what happened to him. So it’s okay to let go.”
Hawkeye’s eyes widened and the shake from his hand transferred to his arm. “Let go? How can you honestly expect me to let go of someone who hasn’t even been gone a week?”
“Don’t get angry. Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting. By letting go I mean detach...step back for a minute. Take care of Hawkeye. Radar is in a Higher Power’s hands now. Do you believe that?”
“Then let go...let go of your fears and your anger...just let go...Radar doesn’t need those. He needs to be loved and remembered for who he was. He needs to be honored and respected, not feared. The best way to honor Radar is to honor yourself by trusting in the friendship you two shared. He would not, did not, could not blame you....nor would he want you to blame yourself. Grieve, of course. But let go of the guilt. Radar didn’t give it to you and he wouldn’t want you to have it. Just like you didn’t want Radar’s hero worship, he wouldn’t want your guilt.” Sidney stood and put his hand on Hawkeye’s shoulder.
Hawkeye said nothing, but he bowed his head in revered silence. Inspiration struck and he sat up straight in his chair.
After a few minutes he stood up and shook Sidney’s hand.
“You know, Sidney, he was a heck of a good kid. He was like a little brother. He deserved a lot more than this army could ever offer him.”
“Hawkeye, the last time we talked about the fact that you wanted to be remembered. Perhaps you could do something to remember Radar.”
Hawkeye’s eyes widened as inspiration hit.
“Where are you going?”
“I have some business to attend to. It’s been real. It’s been fun. But it hasn’t been real fun.” Hawkeye called as he flew out the door.
Hawkeye ran over to Klinger, who was sitting at the clerk’s desk.
“Hey...Klinger? Remember when they screwed up and ordered 2000 tongue depressors?” Hawkeye grinned as he put his arm around his friend........
Four mornings later, sitting outside of the swamp, was a five foot high cross made entirely out of the wooden medical supplies. Of course, word got around fast and everyone came by to see it.
Colonel Potter stopped by to admirer Hawkeye’s handiwork. “Not bad, Pierce. What made you decide to do it?” B.J. ran inside to grab three drinks.
“Maybe I just felt like playing. Some times you just don’t want to grow up.” He smiled.
B.J. handed out the drinks as the colonel looked towards the makeshift cross.
“Well, son.. This place will never be the same without you. You’re a good boy, and I’m proud of you.” Colonel Potter lifted his glass, and the two men lifted their glasses to toast him.
As soon as they sipped down their drinks, they heard the dreaded words speak over the intercom:
“Incoming. All medical personal needed.”
And so life goes on at the 4077.