Margaret glanced around the 8063rd MASH. She was sent there after leaving the 4077 for the last time. It looked much the same as the 4077, except that she didn’t recognize anybody there. She sighed and trudged off to her temporary quarters to await orders on how to help in the dismantling of the camp. She had a flight from Kimpo to Honolulu scheduled for the next morning. She was tired, dirty, and already missed the 4077th crew. What was she going to do without them?
The chopper landed on a helipad resembling the one at the 4077. Hawkeye sighed and got out. He’d thought that he’d done his last round in the OR in Korea, but his pilot had gotten a radio message that there was a bad chest case at the 8055, and the only thoracic man left in the Korean theater was riding in his chopper. Hawkeye was quickly diverted from his destination of Japan, to the 8055 MASH to do the surgery. A sniper had gotten a routine patrol, and the young soldier needed immediate surgery to survive. Hawkeye ducked his head and jogged toward the jeep sent to pick him up.
The post-op unit was still full, and held many patients that the 4077 had evacuated earlier. They were glad to see Margaret’s familiar face. She was busy taking vital signs and other non-acute tasks that had to be done before they were deemed stable to be transferred to Tokyo General. As soon as they were all on an evac bus, she was free to help take the rest of the unit down. They were scheduled to be done by that night, and the last remaining tents dismantled early the next morning. She just wanted to go home.
Hawkeye slumped down on the bench in the changing room. Whomever had said that the kid was savable had his head up his butt. Hawkeye had come into the OR, after having been told that the kid was ready to be operated on, and found that not only had another surgeon already started the procedure, but the kid had come in 2 hours before that and had been given only one pint of blood. The kid had needed three or four hours, and at least three pints. Even given that, Hawkeye doubted that the eighteen year old private would have survived his wounds. He had holes everywhere, including the aorta and vena cava, two major vessels in the heart. Hawkeye had tried his damnedest to save him, but he’d gone into cardiac arrest moments after Hawk’d closed the chest, and they’d lost him. He shook his head. The kid’s family had probably heard that the war was over, and had celebrated that their son had come through alive, only to have him dead one day after the cease-fire. "Crazy goddamn war," he muttered.
Margaret sat in pensive silence as she was driven to the airport. She was finally on her way home. The 8063 was packed up, and she was finally done in Korea. She’d called her mom and sisters before she left, to give them an idea of when to expect her. Now, all she had to do was make it to the airport and on to the plane. So, why wasn’t she excited?
Hawkeye sat in the officers club at Kimpo air base, waiting for his flight number to be announced. He absently swirled the scotch and soda he was not drinking, and stared at his reflection in the counter. In it he saw a man who looked fifteen years older than he had when he arrived three years ago. His jet black hair was now half gray. The dark blue eyes that never failed to intrigue members of the opposite sex now had a guarded, callused look in them that had not existed three years ago. There were three years of hell stamped on the stubble covered face, and they hadn’t been kind to the face’s owner. Where once he had been a man with a ready laugh and a joke for all occasions, he was now a man who still joked and laughed, but who had seen too much to ever do so with the abandon he once had. Where once the man looking out from the shiny counter-top would have been horrified by murder done purely for hate’s sake, he was now accustomed to it; he was almost inured to it. And, where he once would have cried for the senseless loss of the life he’d seen slip away on the OR table the day before, he now grieved for it, but could not feel much for it aside from the usual platitudes. "A shame," he thought self-deprecatingly, "so young, and the fighting was already over." It was what acquaintances of the boy’s back home would say, but then move on. That was exactly what Hawkeye did, and it scared him. Would he ever again feel that insane drive to save a life, that empty feeling when he lost one? He knew he’d always want to save them, but he doubted that he’d ever again experience that personal feeling of loss when somebody died. When one has seen it over and over again, it becomes almost commonplace, as if the sadness of losing one is less because of the throngs of others who’ve gone before.
Margaret fastened her seat belt and settled into her plane seat, prepared for the long flight home. She saw a woman about her age board the plane. Judging from the insignia on her collar, she too was a nurse, though she was a captain rather than a major. In the other woman’s face, Margaret saw what her own must look like. There were wrinkles forming around her mouth, despite the fact that she was probably only in her late thirties or early forties. The blue eyes, much like Margaret’s own, held a wariness that betrayed years of watching people die around her. Her back was straight, and her chin high, but even with her proud posture, there was a resignedness about her that said that not much would shock this woman, nor would there be anything that the world had to offer that would be more gruesome than the things the Korean Conflict had shown her. Somehow, they’d both survived, but a part of their hearts had died in Korea, and Margaret was starting to realize that this was not necessarily a bad thing. Rather, losing that part of her spirit had helped her to deal with what she saw, and, at times, helped her to not deal with it. The plane lifted off, with Margaret Houlihan staring out the window at the scenery she’d looked out at three years ago, coming into the madness that would later be called the "forgotten war." Forgotten by some, burned indelibly into the memories of others.
Hawkeye awoke to the sounds of squeaky carts being wheeled down an aisle, and to an uncomfortable feeling of needing to use the restroom rather badly. Hawk saw a man walking away from the rear restroom, and assumed it was empty. He removed his seat belt and maneuvered his way into the aisle, then down toward the back of the plane to the bathroom. He rapped on the locked door, and was surprised by the forthcoming screech. "Keep your pants on, buster! I’ll be out in a minute." Hawkeye quirked an eyebrow, thinking that the reaction was a bit more than the occasion warranted.
Margaret dabbed a bit more at her eyes, making sure no tell-tale signs of tears were left. She wished that confounded boor banging on the door would go away. She’s thought she heard him walk away, but soon, another knock came. Blasted men. She finally threw the door open, and promptly collided with a chest which was about on eye level with her. She frowned up at it’s owner.
The shrieker from the bathroom barreled out the door and right into Hawkeye’s chest. She grunted softly and glared up at him indignantly. He looked down at the short blonde who was standing on one of his feet, ready to make a sarcastic comment and walk into the small bathroom, but a look at her checked the impulse. "Margaret!"
She opened her mouth to chastise him for his impatience, but no words came out when she saw his face. "Hawkeye?"
She waited until he finished what he’d come to do, then gathered his bag with him and led him to the empty seat next to her. They talked almost the entire way to Hawaii, partly rehashing what had gone on since they’d last seen each other a mere 30 hours ago, and partly discussing their feelings and apprehensions about the future. Having been the only ones left in the group who’d seen the war from start to finish, they felt totally at ease baring their souls to each other, and admitting the fears they had about how different life would be. Hawkeye told her about the differences he saw in himself, and about the changes that had been made in his personality. She told him about the feeling she had that she would never be the same, and the part of herself that had been lost in the rubble of the war. She said that she felt as though she would never be the same.
"I just don’t know how life will ever go on the way it used to. I don’t think I’ll ever forget what this was like, or the horror of the things we saw." Hawkeye squeezed her shoulder as he said it.
She knew what he was saying, and suddenly remembered what a professor she’d had in nursing school had once told her. She’d had a woman come into the L&D unit she was working, in active labor. The baby had been born on the floor in front of the desk she was charting at, and she’d caught the baby barehanded. The newborn had come out blue and not breathing, and much as she and the neonatal team had tried, the baby had died in Margaret’s hands. She had cried in her professor’s arms, and while they were talking about it later, Margaret’s teacher had told her something that she knew she’d never forget. "Margaret," she’d said, "in nursing, like everything else, you have good days and you have bad days. It’s the memory of the bad days that makes you appreciate the good days more. And it’s the memory of the good days that gets you through the bad ones."
Margaret squeezed Hawkeye’s fingers and turned to face him. "Hawkeye, when you had a really lousy day, had lost a patient, or just couldn’t face one more bloody body or one more dying kid, what made you get up and do it anyway?"
He thought about it for a moment, then answered "I guess the memory of the ones I did save, and of the things I’ve done that made a difference to somebody. Why?"
She smiled softly. "Because in our line of work, you have good days and you have bad days. It’s the memory of the bad days that makes you appreciate the good days more. And it’s the memory of the good days that gets you through the bad ones."
He looked at her, his blue eyes boring holes in hers, and said "You know something, Margaret? You may just be right."
He held her in his arms in the airport in Honolulu, and rested his chin on her head. They’d agreed to go their separate ways to the mainland to see their families, but would call each other as soon as they got settled in. He’d taken from his bag a picture of the two of them together in the compound, him boosting her up to make a basket in a pick-up game of basketball they’d played, and written his phone number on it, along with a note that she was forbidden to read until her plane took off. She had done the same, with a picture of them covered in mud from head to toe, after having lost a game of tug-of-war. Her flight was announced, so he reluctantly set her away from him, and kissed her softly. She kissed him back and stepped away, touching his face lightly before she turned away from him, and walked toward the jetway.
She turned the photo over in her hands and read what he wrote:
Here’s my number. Please call it as soon as you’re ready. I miss you already, and can’t wait until I see you again. Have a safe trip home, and remember that I love you always.
He settled into his seat, prepared for the eight hour flight to Maine, and turned her photo over in his hands. It read:
Call this number anytime you need me. I’ll do the same with yours, and I want to see you as soon as possible. We’ll handle the traveling plans later, but for now know that I miss you and want you here with me.
PS. I love you