Only a couple of weeks after Shannon was shipped out of Korea in a tearful farewell on my part, so was Henry, who promised me so much and could only do so little. He had gained enough points to leave Korea (taking him a year to achieve such), having his discharge announced as we stood in the O.R., waiting for the mail to come and for another day to pass to keep us all whole. So, with much ado (and jealous on my side as well as everyone else’s in the camp), I said goodbye to the father I never had: the only person in my life who truly looked after my life’s interests, yet had to stand back and watch me grow up on my own and to find my own way to everything.
It took three days for Henry to pack up his things and head out of camp, giving a beautiful farewell to all of us on the way to the chopper in a brand new suit ordered just for his departure: a kiss to Margaret, zippering up Klinger’s dress, trying to give Hawkeye a handshake (it’ll never do) and even embracing everybody. Then, our troops in the camp were gallantly following him to the batch of wounded coming up with the chopper that flew in to pick him up.
Saying that he’ll help, Hawkeye pushed Henry to leave, saying that he was fired from his job and that he had to go home to his wife and children and live in the civilian world once more. Lorraine was waiting for him patiently enough, quietly enough, eager to change the furniture and to go back to a normal life with her husband once more.
Radar felt worse than I did at this point. At the chopper landing, before Radar could even bid him farewell and salute him, I swung my no-longer petite body into his arms, much as I did as a child, and whispered my goodbyes and gave him messages to say to Lorraine and the children (with him staggering under my new weight, laughing at me). I never knew, at that moment, that it was the last time I was to see him alive. It was the last time that anyone here – or anyone else, save for his chopper pilot – saw him look into the eyes of the living.
Later that evening, in the O.R. at about nineteen hundred hours, news came in the worst form. I will never forget the words, the tears, for as long as I can live. And may anyone from above strike me dead if I ever do, but oh, please, let me remember Henry Blake as he was and never how he went, a drowned and lost body of the war probably never to be recovered. Please, if my prayers of a liberal spirit be heard, then let me know that he can rest in peace and that his family will be well-provided for. Oh, God, please, let me die with him…
“I have a message. Lieutenant Colonel…Henry Blake's plane…was shot down…over the Sea of Japan. It spun in. There were no survivors.”
The tears were never-ending. For days, there was nothing but that.
Afterward, I couldn’t feel anymore, couldn’t comprehend as I walked the camp with Hawkeye and Trapper trying to chatter and idle their hours in the best way possible, forgetting that Henry was gone forever. To me, everything I had ever known meant nothing more to me anymore, even those who loved me and those things I loved. All feelings I had were gone.
My structured wall was shattered into pieces. Whatever composure I had was gone.
I had lost one of my links of home: the person who took care of me and knew me the longest, the person who loved me for who I was and guided me when he could. Oh, God, only my older brother, Dean, remained close to me and was alive around my arms, spending nights with me, if he could come to me, to cry with me over the loss. He and his unit spent their days patrolling around the camp, ridding us of our enemies and keeping us safe: a family curse over both of our heads, never knowing which of us would be next.
* * * *
A few days later, while Hawkeye was in Tokyo for his weeks’ worth of R&R (Frank and Margaret letting him go because he seemed a little nuts), Trapper left the 4077th as well (running through the Mess Tent naked, but it was a premature celebration). He was finally discharged partially because it was, as the Army decreed, his duty to father a child that was shipped out a few weeks previous and was not even his. His next duty, despite everything, was with a small girl in Bloomington, Illinois, who was going to be shipped to Boston with him so that his wife could feed and clothe her, as her own children. The Army did not think Simmons or Hawkeye as the father (choosing not to do anything yet), so chose Trapper, who never even touched me.
Trapper, before he left us permanently, came to me the night before he left for home. I was in the Officers’ Club (Rosie’s being closed for a while), where I usually spent my time with Klinger and Father Mulcahy, and trying to get drunk enough to forget my deepening troubles and doubts. Kissing me deeply and dancing to a song from the jukebox with me after much prodding and pleading on his part, Trapper told me to take care of myself (he will make sure Shannon will be ok) and then he left me, without looking back at me, without even telling me how much I meant to him: as a co-worker, a friend and a sister.
I knew what Trapper was talking about. Shannon was as unwanted as my mother made her out to be, as unwanted as Trapper’s wife wanted her to be and as unwanted as I made her to be when I found out I was pregnant with her. And, to think, it hurts me now that I had feelings that way. I miss her dearly and hope she grows up nicely as I work in this war, always wondering about her welfare and how I would miss her first steps, words and such.
I never realized it until then, but I love Shannon as I would love my family. I only felt it deeper, more buried within my heart, but harder to hide from other people. And they all knew it.
Oh, God, help me, please, I beseech you. I ask of you to help me, at long last…
No, my silent prayers will never be answered, even drinking very heavily in the social whirl called the Officers’ Club. After Henry’s death, I lost my faith in the concept of life, death and its continuing cycles. My lips are frozen in fear. The cold can never leave me. And all I had to do was to continue working, and pretend that it all never happened. But I cannot.
* * * *
Hawkeye came back from Tokyo the next day and, finding that Trapper was leaving (as Radar told him in the showers, running there after fooling around with the Majors), ran off to the airport with Radar to bid Trapper a farewell and to meet with our new surgeon, Captain B.J. Hunnicutt (Hawkeye missed Trapper by ten minutes, come to find out). Shortly afterward, with the new surgeon in place at the Swamp and things a little more normal than it was before, events started to move quickly and changes were soon made, good and bad.
Frank Burns (as well as Margaret) was kicked out of the commander’s post and a new Colonel, one Colonel Sherman Potter, came within our camp. Then, things slowly started to change and a routine was established with the new Commanding Officer (who we all thought was Regular Army, but turned out to be one of us). Relationships shifted, friendships deepened and the camp routine changed. With a little more structure to the 4077th, the night life dropped drastically. The fun and games seemed to be over for the time being, but the closeness and togetherness of the people within this community tightened.
And, of course, my love for Hawkeye started to hide itself once more, knowing that he was too upset to be dating me again. He still loved me with a passion that would never burn out and it was noticed by one and all, but to bring back the days – and nights – of love and games were almost impossible. He came back to camp with B.J. a changed man and he had to joke around to be sane again, ignoring the masses of stretch marks, pregnancy weight and grey hairs that is me.
Afterward, throughout all of these changes, Frank’s relationship with Margaret, from then on out, started to cool down and fade away (from one side anyhow). Rare was the time they were together again, never like it was when Henry was in control of the camp and the two would team up and call Generals to go over his head. Margaret was her own woman now, as we slowly started to see, and she would be no man’s mistress, not even a weasel such as Major Frank Burns, who would never divorce his wife to marry the one that he truly loved.
* * * *
And so, the cycle continues here for us, never missing a heartbeat, never underestimating the harshness of where we are and what we do. We do as it decrees us. We dance to the tune we are told to and only ask how far we much go to please it. We had no control over our lives anymore, but to watch ourselves grow older with each passing O.R. session, each child that passes through our community. War did that to us, after all, and we could no longer afford to go back to what we used to be.
To think, I reflect upon this now and especially about how I am still in this hellhole. It might be a matter of time before I can leave, but it feels like an eternity. However, I built a structure of pride here: it is my duty to see it through and to keep it high, knowing that all hate me more. With these deaths that come to us, these deeply-felt departures, I build myself up the pedestal, one that will hold me high and not allow me to crack and break, but to hold myself and others together.
Dammit, it is not the time to give grief, but to give ourselves strength for the future at hand.
Oh, time flew by, as it usually does. Emotional wounds started to heal and even laughter was heard again. To me, it was nothing, nothing like the old times when Henry was around. I walked around the camp still – that lone walker in the mine fields – wondering when I can feel joy in my heart again, when the darkness before my eyes will clear up and when ears will hear more than the cries of pain and death.
Will the war end? Will we all go home someday? When will I see Shannon again? Will Hawkeye and I have a life together, just like we both planned and dreamed about before Shannon was even born? These questions continued to plague me.
A piece of optimism even came as letters arrived from Bloomington. It was before Christmas of 1951, in the month of November, when I received a letter from Lorraine. Dated some weeks before, she discussed many things about home: her children, Shannon, her feelings upon hearing of Henry’s untimely death and even the future. Yes, she had hope for it and was stronger than I thought. She knew that she could live without Henry, although the hole in her heart, and her soul, will never heal until they are together again in another life, one that I could hardly believe in.
Throughout the hardships Lorraine had with Henry, she still loved him and forgave all that he had done here in Korea, even his relationship with Leslie Dish (which I could never fathom how she found out about, seeing as how I never send her the letter about it, although it was ready). Even that didn’t seem so cruel to her anymore because her love for him never diminished, never vanished. It was the same kind of love that I always wished to have for myself.
I was reading Lorraine’s words in my tent, thinking about the last words she wrote at the bottom of the page. She had said it was a poem she read when reading in the newspapers about the deaths of the boys over here. She thought it appropriate and sent it to me, wanting to share.
It is almost as if I cannot be there for Henry and weep at his final grave. He may be never be recovered and we may never grief for him properly. But it was not what he wanted, was it?
It was what Lorraine wrote, word for word. Grief had written it for her. But Lorraine had rung true with the words: who can weep for Henry when there was no grave to weep at, no place where we can see him for a final time? His memory lives in our hearts, weak and silly as his being was sometimes, always amazing someone when he had a little backbone. Oh, hell, his little smile and laugh…his decisions…and even his military double-talk…will be missed forever afterward.
Carefully putting Lorraine’s letter back in its envelope, I kicked back on my bunk and almost carelessly threw the letter onto the floor. Oh, it didn’t seem to matter to me that the nurses read the mail from the States anymore, fewer and fewer of them being from Henry’s time. It seems a thing of the past: this prying of my personal business. New times are rolling in. Perhaps they are changing us as well.
I didn’t care anymore. Just as long as I stay as invisible as most people continue to make me feel (unless I decided to come out with some sarcastic comment and be within the limelight once more), then I am fine. Just as long as they ignore me and continue to cry “Whore”, then I might as well get used to it. There is no escaping the past now.
Emotions rolled over me, but I cannot cry anymore. My tears are as dry as my prayers: frozen in place, as always. I thought again, bouncing off of my bunk and reopening the letter that I threw to the floor. I reread those last words, the poem in which Lorraine took some comfort from. Maybe I could too…?
not stand at my grave and forever
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush,
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and forever cry
I am not there, I did not die…
* * * *
The story continue with “Jeanie’s Letters Home”.