That night was something for me to remember. September twentieth was the night that I could never forget for the rest of my life. It began in reality – something I could touch, feel and see for once – and ended in a dream, leaving me to wake up with a child in my arms and my hopes so cruelly dashed. It began in hope and ended in love, feelings I had to give up so readily as the days wore on and the night became colder and colder.
It all began in the Swamp, as it always did…or did it? Yes, that was it. I was in the Swamp, as I always was. Hawkeye and Trapper wanted some gin from their still and were teasing me with it, saying how I could not drink yet and oh, what a mother I am going to be when I had the baby (drunk and happy at the same time). I knew that words were words, and that they could not hurt me, but I almost swatted them both. I could not get up so easily, of course, and it would have been in vain, hence how funny it seemed.
However, their words reminded me of my fate: how I am staying here in Korea, where my child was going and how I am going to survive without being a proper mother. And with that thought, a small sting of pain went through my back. I shuddered, ignoring it.
Oh, Dear God…
Hawkeye, Trapper and I finally relaxed after a pillow fight ensued suddenly (my fault, of course!), feeling the quiet of the night as the feathers flew to and fro. Crickets even sang us their song once more, telling us, in sorrow, how we spent this year here in Korea. And look where we are now!
Sing us a song of war, won’t you? All we see are human destruction, pain and death. Where is the quiet and peace of this night going to? We’re all going to die anytime now.
I heard the words well enough, knowing all about it. I missed the quiet of something called a home, whatever it was, and could only sit as the two friends drank deeply and cursed the war.
Soon enough, though, talk moved onto other things. Hawkeye asked me about the orphanage and I would supply him with stories, faces and pictures immediately, describing one and all that I knew. I remembered every child that was there – dead or alive, at this point – and sighed. I cried a few tears, not wanting to continue after telling him about the bombing in the fields a few months previously, in which some of the children were, hunting for some food in the farming fields. It hurt me too much, and Hawkeye knew it, so he stopped and sighed, cursing the war once more and drinking deeply.
In turn, Hawkeye told me about the latest news (and gossip, town, family or otherwise) from Crabapple Cove and tried to cheer me up with pictures of the beaches and lobsters, forests and woods, from his father. I saw them, as well as beauty in the black and white pictures sent to cheer him up, and smiled. I would have liked to see there someday…with Hawkeye right next to me.
And there went another cramp, creeping up my back like a black widow spider, crawling up to purposely poison me.
Next was Trapper. After Hawkeye joked about the news from home and how his father seemed to have another woman to hang out with (which was so much like Hawkeye, before we began our relationship), Trapper took me to his side of the tent and showed me pictures of his daughters. Becky’s birthday party was in one of the piles, the one he missed the month before. His wife took pictures of that day for him, to help him feel at home in Korea. Mrs. McIntyre even wrote on the back of one picture of the three of them in one, saying, I’ll be waiting for you, Darling. We love and miss you very much!
I saw a tear come down Trapper’s face slowly – an accident of war, an accident showing his own weakness – but he wiped it away quickly so that I couldn’t see it again…or the countless others he had probably cried when nobody was watching him.
“I miss them more than you know,” Trapper informed me almost indifferently (as if to hide the pain he felt in missing them) as Hawkeye took another glass from the still. “I can’t wait to get out of here. I’ll just pack up my latrine supplies and leave the rest behind. This tent can be a gift to the rats and roaches.”
“Hear, hear!” Hawkeye announced from his side of the tent, when he got back there from the still. “Let’s cheer them, the dirty socks and magazines!”
I waddled back slowly…carefully…to Hawkeye’s side of the tent, not wanting Trapper to see my own tears at my upcoming loss. Sitting down at the chair next to Hawkeye’s cot (as he laid there, an empty glass on the floor next to me), I wiped away my own drying waterfall and then put my fingers through his jet-black hair, ignoring the nasty magazines the two read and laughed at. I vowed to burn every one of Hawkeye’s, but I never did get the chance to…yet.
“I’m glad to be back,” I randomly said slowly, rubbing Hawkeye’s forehead…just like I used to do.
Hawkeye eyed me doing such and smiled. “Shouldn’t I be doing that to you?” he asked nervously, smiling at me, remembering all of our few goods times. We have, as a couple, had so few moments together in the year of 1951 (the year before being a distant memory to me), so this closeness made me complete again.
But I disagreed with him. I had my own reasons why.
“Who’s the Chief Surgeon here?” I asked, smiling back at him and continuing my massage. “Who stresses out more?”
“Hey, can you two teenagers get a room? Some of us here are trying to be miserable.” Trapper threw a roll of toilet paper at Hawkeye and me, the white flag covering me as if I were an oversized, fat tree on Mischief Night.
“If there was one, I’d go,” I replied, throwing back some of the ripped toilet paper at Trapper and laughing with glee.
“I think Henry has the Supply Room tonight with –” Hawkeye began before an explosion erupted.
Immediately, the three of us were on the floor, scared out of our wits. Hawkeye was on top of me, to protect me from the debris coming from the landmine field, pieces of Earth and metal that ripped up one side of the Swamp. Already, Frank’s side of the tent was in shreds.
Somebody or something was getting us bombed and using the mine field to do it!
Airplanes were heard overheard, shooting in one direction and then the other. Explosions continued without end, it seemed, and the debris from this destruction – this annihilation called war – began once more. Only, this time, it was worse than anything we’ve ever had before.
Somehow, the peace of quiet of my homecoming to the 4077th was going to be cut short.
“When are they going to stop?!” Trapper yelled as another bomb was heard in the distance, exploding just outside of the camp and shaking the ground like an earthquake.
However, that was not all I could feel all of a sudden, the creeping black widow spider already releasing its poison and quickly crawling away. A sticky, wet liquid was making me cold from the legs down. It dribbled from my pants to the floor, but caused me no pain.
It made my heart skip a beat, panic rising. I knew what it meant.
“I don’t know, but whenever that is, I hope it’s soon!” Hawkeye got up from on top of me and took his helmet off of a shelf quickly. He was concerned about the wounded in Post-Op, for sure, and was about to leave when Trapper got up and took his own helmet from his shelf.
Putting the helmet on my head as he bent down to see me, Trapper went to Hawkeye, nervous and scared. “Let me go. Your responsibility is here, with Jeanie. I don’t know what will happen next, but I think you should be there for her. I can’t do anything for her.”
I knew, then and there, that he saw the wet mess on the Swamp’s floor. In the deepest, darkest part of my mind, I realized that I was in deeper trouble than I thought.
Hawkeye looked to me and then to Post-Op multiple times, wondering, worried and in a deep hole: between a rock and a hard place. A decision had to be made, and made soon. We were being attacked and he had to make a decision whether to take care of the two patients in Post-Op or to take care of me, his Love.
Another explosion shook the Swamp again, the flaps of fabric letting in dirt and some fragments of war.
“Hawkeye, you’re Chief Surgeon, but it doesn’t mean you have to be there every time for every patient!” Trapper yelled as the two tried to keep their balance. “You have one right there who needs you. I’ll get Henry to help you. Frank and I can handle two patients and the camp getting the hell out of here. She can’t be moved!”
“Air raid! There’s an air raid! We have to move!” We heard Frank yell from the distance, telling everyone the most obvious thing.
“I’m fine!” I tried to say back to Trapper, but I knew that my voice was lost to the mine field exploding and Frank’s yelling. Fireworks lit up the skies quickly, causing Hawkeye and Trapper to hit the ground again, before the assault put them there again.
Hawkeye put his own helmet on Trapper’s head, ignoring his own safety, knowing what he was to do now. His decision had been made.
“Be careful, Trap,” he said after a minute of listening to the enemy fighting our forces, creating craters closer and closer to where we were, the landmine exploding again. “We can’t move Jeanie right now. I agree, get Henry quickly. He’ll gonna have to help me. He’s done this before.”
Another small back spasm crept up my body, making me want to scream as it grew a little stronger. My face registered pain and fear, but I could not voice them, knowing again the priorities of this camp and how to proceed. There were more important things to think about…like getting the hell out of the enemies’ way, or even trying to get up from the floor of the Swamp. I could do neither though. I was stuck, sticky and in pain.
Hawkeye crawled to me as Trapper ran out to Post-Op, falling a few times as he ran, keeping his balance as he barked orders for the two wounded men to be evacuated and that the camp should be packing and out the door as soon as possible.
Where Henry and Frank were, I didn’t know. I would have thought that one of the two would be saying the same thing and not a mere Captain who, for the whole time he had been in Korea, had been mocking the Army and its maneuvers and lamenting the loss of life and the emptiness felt, his own family being so far away.
“Are you all right, Jeanie?” Hawkeye asked as he came over to me, concerned once more.
“I’ve never felt better in my life,” I replied sharply, being sarcastic. “Dammit, what a time to have a child, isn’t it? Damn, owww!”
Hawkeye only held me, covering my body with his. “It’ll be over soon, Jeanie,” he only said, doubtful himself (I heard it in his voice). “War is hell, I know. We’ll get through it together.”
* * * *
I was only aware of everything else in some way, as if it in a dream, all of its images surreal and in swirls and circles. It’s like you were sleeping almost: it’s all black and time has no meaning. Everything in your body and mind still works, but when you’re totally aware of everything once more – fully and in a clear picture – it’s all illusory. Nothing seemed to be real ever.
However, I knew even more than that. I was losing blood faster than it could be given to me (AB negative blood was scarce, I knew, and I was one of a kind), I seemed to be dying and there were bombs going off outside of the O.R. still. I even saw Henry and Hawkeye in this dream of mine, this imagery that wasn’t quite true. They looked worried, albeit nervous, in their surgical garb. And there were whispered words, words I could hardly hear, much less understand, and glances exchanged as hour after hour passed and nothing seemed to happen.
Radar was nowhere in sight. I think I heard Hawkeye say that the poor guy fainted and was in Post-Op, under a bed, safe and sound for the time being.
Life was like a tunnel afterward, with pain around me and no relief. There was some light at the end of it and yet, it was nowhere in sight. I could not see it just yet. There had to be some time before it would come to me. Oh, Henry and Hawkeye must have seen it, but I didn’t. But I knew that it was there, waiting for me. And then, there it was, pushing me forward and letting me see in the full, allowing me to see life once more.
It was some time before I saw myself in the O.R. fully, feeling drained and tired. Before me, beyond the sheet that separated me from reality, were Henry and Hawkeye, Henry cuddling a bloody bundle in his white arms, slowly dripping some blood and mucus. Hawkeye looked proud of me, but could not say anything. His eyes were wet, but I knew that he could not cry.
Hawkeye took it from Henry, saying cheerfully as he started to wipe the large bundle clean, “Congratulations, Henry, you’re now a grandfather. It’s a girl.”
Hawkeye was smiling, ready to crack a joke at me, but I didn’t hear it. However, I felt a smile on my face, holding out my arms for that little bundle that was mine, given to me wrapped up, to keep her warm. Of course, she was mine. She was my daughter, my little daughter, who was to stay with me for as long as we were allowed to be. I had few precious moments with her, but those would be few and far between in the future while I stayed here in Korea.
“I’m not ready to be a grandfather just yet. There are too many years ahead for me to earn that title from any one of my children,” I heard Henry say. Then: “Pierce, is that wise now?”
Henry was walking towards me, afraid that my little daughter would be dropped by my weak arms. However, I could not drop her. I was holding upon her too tightly after Hawkeye gave her to me, my bundle of joy that I almost killed shamefully and without thought.
“I think so, Henry,” Hawkeye replied, I think. “Leave her alone.”
An explosion went over outside, shaking the building in what seemed like the millionth time. We knew that it wasn’t going to sop anytime soon, so the best thing to do was enjoy whatever life was given to us in the moment and forget the war: forget its passions, deaths and heartbreaks. A miracle had been given to us and I, for one, could hardly contain myself.
I looked at them both, fighting the urge to sleep against the loud advice of my mewing daughter, crying at me, her red face telling me to help her. I didn’t know what to do for her just yet, but it would be soon enough before I figure out the ins and outs of being a mother…before everything in my body dried away and I start to forget the tiny infant in my arms.
“Shannon, my Shannon,” I whispered. “She’s my daughter now.”