She sits quietly all alone. Slowly, mindfully, she reaches into the drawers of her desk and removes numerable items. Each represents a part of her past that only she knows about and understands. After removing and reflecting over each object, she places it in a box. There exists official papers of the past few years, letters from old friends and loved ones, pictures from long ago, and other personal effects. Everything from here fills her mind with memories of long ago as soon as she lays her eyes upon them.
She really expected nothing special this evening, even though this was her last at this hospital. Tomorrow she would be moving from the suburbs into an apartment in downtown Boston to begin her new position. She could secure better hours and higher pay at Boston Mercy. A couple of long-time family friends mentioned the job to her a while back and then, made the arrangements for her application to be submitted. She had been chosen and needed to start as soon as possible.
Tonight, she completed her shift and had in mind to grab a bite to eat before coming back to pack up her office. So much needed to be done with so little time to accomplish it. Her immediate plan for the evening consisted of fetching her coat and purse and head off to one of the fast food restaurants in town. After eating, she would return and start the enormous task of taking her possessions out of the office.
As she was walking out her office door with her coat on and bag in hand, a couple of the doctors walked by and snatched her by the arm. "It's an emergency!" they lied and headed toward the nurse's lounge. She felt confused immediately because if an emergency occurred they would not be heading this way. As she entered the room, a crashing wave of words fell upon her.
Startled, she flew into the air and landed in one of the doctor's outstretched arms. It was extremely flustering and shocking that all this would be done for her.
In the five minutes it took her to leave the lounge, walk to her office, and get her things to go out, they had redone the entire lounge. Hors d'oeuvres of all kinds laid in an attractive spread on a table. All prepared very formally on silver trays. White-laced tablecloths cloaked the table. Elegant bottles of wine set on another the table: some fine bottles of Bordeaux, a few of Zinfandel, and of course, champagne. Last on the tables a lovely cake displayed "We'll Miss You" written in rosy-red frosting. Helium-filled balloons floated everywhere, and across one of the walls hung a banner that said "Au revoir!" The floor had been cleared, and off to one side sat a phonograph playing. Along side of the phonograph, records stood in stacks. The entire nursing staff was there along with most of the doctors and surgeons.
They spent the entire evening laughing, dancing, and telling stories. Everyone received their fill of companionship, food, and fun. She couldn't remember when she laughed or danced so much in one evening. As soon as one dance ended, another began with someone else asking for just one more dance from her. It proved a marvelous evening.
People started filtering out around nine. Most had families to get home to before it became too late. The few single staff members stayed the longest. When she slipped out, only a dozen or so people still stood around the tables enjoying the last of the food. She tiptoed silently down the hall to her office. She did not want her departure to be noticed. Quietly, she opened the door to her office. She heard the doorknob click as it opened. She opened it only a crack, big enough to allow herself to slip into her office. Then, slowly she closed the door behind her until she heard it latch. It was almost midnight. Still she needed to pack her items left in her office. In order to make everything ready to take out right away in the morning, it would be a long night.
It was a cold and dark evening. The shades on the windows in her office were up, and she could see the streetlights outside. The pale crescent of the moon lit up the winter snow and made it glisten like thousands of tiny crystals. The stars shone brightly against the ebony-black sky. It was simply breathtaking. She stood and stared out the window enjoying the harsh, cold beauty of the winter night.
While gazing, she reminisced. She thought about growing up as an army-brat and never attending the same school two years in a row. Then her thoughts continued on about nursing school and all the friends she made there. Next, her years with the military and then her four years here drifted slowly through her thoughts. Last, she dared to think about the 4077th. Those people had meant so much to her: the nurses, the corpsmen, the enlisted, and especially, the doctors. Charles, BJ, and Colonel Potter would forever be dear to her. Even thoughts of Trapper, Frank, and Colonel Blake, who had come before the others, held fond memories for her. Then, there was Hawkeye whom she valued like no other. All of them had been a family only a few years earlier. Now, she didn't even know where any of them were. She knew nothing about them, their homes, their families, their lives. She didn't know . . .
She snapped herself out of her thoughts. What good came of thinking about all those experiences. It pained to think about them and the War. Anyway, a job in front of her needed to be done. The party had devoured so much of her time already. Things needed to be done, and she was the one to do them. At last, she started to work.
First, she took her belongings off the shelves and placed them into the boxes brought up to her office that morning. Mostly medical books came off the shelves. Unread volumes on different diseases, numerous books on drugs and treatment options, pamphlets on new techniques and medical discoveries had all been on those shelves. It now appeared as if a million pages on medical topics rested in those boxes. Besides books, she owned a couple of other items on the shelves. There was the portrait of herself in her military dress uniform framed with her oak-leaves and her dog tags. She possessed a pride of her military career but was glad that part of her life ended. She had moved on and happily lived as a civilian. Most of her possessions off the shelves she stacked and placed in the boxes without lingering on them. She already knew that it was mostly just dry, unexciting reading.
Next she took down the framed works that once hung from her wall. Here used to hang her framed nursing licence, her diploma from high school, her degree from nursing school, and a few pictures she had loved and therefore bought. Clearing her shelves and walls completed the majority of the work. It was time to tackle her desk.
The desk would be the hardest. On it laid gifts and smaller photos that she held so close to her heart. One photo displayed her father, Colonel "Howitzer Al" Houlihan. When he died two years ago, she had struggled to get through. She loved him and wanted so very badly for him to be proud of her. He never directly said, "I love you." Now, her chance to hear those words from him was lost forever. She also had put out his last gift to her on the desk. It was a glass paperweight engraved with a Red-Cross insignia.
"Oh you'll never get anything done at this rate," she scolded herself. For some reason she could not help but to ponder her life, her experiences, and those dear to her with all these reminders so near.
Silently she continues to go through the things on her desk. As she nears completion of her monumental task, she reaches into the bottom drawer of the desk. Only one thing remains inside the drawer. It is a plain, cream-colored box tied in a bow with a wide pale rose-colored ribbon. It must have been years since she placed that box in that drawer. In fact, it has been so long she doesn't even remember what is in it. Carefully, cautiously, almost reluctantly she pulls the ends of the ribbon. She watches the bows shrinking, shrinking, shrinking while the ends get longer and longer and longer. Finally the bows disappear to nothing and the ribbon unfurls and cascades down the sides of the box. She lifts the cover off the box but holds it just over the top. It's as if the lid hovers over the box, frozen in time.
"Do I want to know what is inside? Whatever it is may bring back too many memories? What if they're painful? What if they hurt? What if they are memories of something I don't want to remember?" Her mind races, but finally curiosity gets the better of her. She lays the box-lid on her cleared-off desk and looks inside.
Inside the box is all of her most treasured memories of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. All the memories are held in the letters and reports, the small gifts and photos the box contains. Letters from Frank filled with affectionate lies lay in the box. Her wedding ring from Klinger engraved with "Over hill, over dale, our love will ever fail" is in there, too. There's the last report to General Clayton about the incompetence of Henry Blake. Because of his death, she never sent it. To send it would have been wrong, so she had removed the report from the outgoing mail. There was the picture of the whole gang under the Fort Dix sign. Poor Klinger for trying to hide the truth from his mother who already knew. BJ had come up with such a great idea to have a reunion before the war ended for the families. How long ago all that seemed.
At the bottom of the box was a book, Sonnets of the Portuguese. It had been given to her as a farewell gift from Charles. Inside the cover was two folded sheets of paper. As she unfolds the aged sheets, a photo drops into her lap, but she does not notice it. Both sheets of paper are letters. One from Donald, her two-timing ex-husband, starts off, "Dear Darlene . . . " Immediately, she knows what the letter says. Knowing that he took her heart and thoughtlessly crushed it to pieces still hurts. Even though their marriage lasted only three months and that was more than five years ago, the memories still ache. Then, she glances at the other letter. This one in her handwriting begins, "Dear Hank . . . ". She realizes that this is a copy of the letter she sent in reply to Donald's "Dear Darlene."
"Thank you, Hawkeye," she whispers to herself as a tear rolls down her face. How kind and gracious he had been on that night in the abandoned hut when she needed him so long very ago . . .
Then, she glances at the photo lying in her lap where it fell. It shows her and Hawkeye. He is standing on her left with his arm across her shoulders. Her arm is around his waist. Both of them have smiles in the picture. She had loved this man so very much. He had been so dear to her. Why didn't they kept in touch after the war ended? She knew that he had cared for her, and in return, she had cared for him.
As she sits and ponders the photograph, she smiles at its memory while tears run down her face. So absorbed in thought and memories, she doesn't hear the clip of high-heeled shoes coming down the hall. There is a rapping at the door and a head pops in the doorway. She is startled and, for the second time in one night, flies into the air, but this time lands in her chair.
"Oh, Cathy! I didn't hear you coming." She quickly tries with a kleenex to dry her tears that she just noticed rolling off her cheeks.
"Margaret, you ok?" Cathy immediately notices the tears on her friend face. She has known Margaret for four years now and until this moment never saw her cry.
"Sure, I'm fine," lies Margaret as she desperately tries to build back up her tough rocklike facade.
"It looks like you were packing up." Cathy changes the subject to provide a little comfort for Margaret. Then she notices the photo still clenched in Margaret's hand. "What did you find?"
"I was, I mean I am. You wouldn't believe how much stuff one can accumulate in one room," Margaret answers, obviously not responding Cathy's question. She lays down the photo, gets up, and starts closing box after box. She is afraid that her true feelings will come blazing out like a fire.
"Well, you have been here for quite a few years now. But as I was saying before, what have you found?" Cathy asks again as she walks around the desk and picks up the photo.
"It is just an old photograph," answers Margaret as she glances to see what Cathy snatched off the desk.
"Ooh-ooh! Who is that man? Tall, handsome," Cathy wonders aloud.
"Just someone I used to know." I can't tell her how lost I am without you my dear Hawkeye. I can't . . .
"Was he a romance?" says Cathy as she interrupts Margaret's thoughts.
"Just a flame that has lost its glow," she answers. But I can't tell her about all the nights I cried without you, so I'll only say, "He is just someone I used to know."
Margaret takes the photo and places it inside the cover of Sonnets of the Portuguese along with the letters and then closes the book. She places it in the box and reties the bow around the box. She puts on her coat, picks up her purse, and places the box under her arm. With Cathy, she walks out of her office. Then she takes out her key, inserts it in the lock, and locks the door behind her. Cathy goes back to the lounge to clean up after the party. Margaret walks out the door to her car. Through the darkness she drives home. She'll return first thing in the morning to get the rest of her boxes, but tonight, she needs to call that someone she used to know.