Before I Go
What was it he so enjoyed about getting mail? Maybe it was the rush of anticipation associated with the communication of his youth. The post office had certainly played a large part in the many stages of his life. There were fond memories of care packages in med school and residency and the tantalizing smell of perfumed love letters scattered across the years. Perhaps his love was cultivated during the war, when letters were the only contact with loved ones back home. It really was ironic how much he loved mail, considering his draft notice had arrived in that way.
Whatever had instigated his love for the institution, it was an enduring affair lingering well into his advanced years. Sitting comfortably at his Maine address, Hawkeye Pierce could keep up with the world by mail. Though he was as grateful as any for the innovations of the years, he'd still tip his cap to the United States Post Office and select their medium for some of his most valued correspondence.
Telephone calls and the vast new world of the internet allowed for more immediate connection, but they couldn't replace the feel of pen and pad, stamp and letter. With good friends scattered across the country, he preferred to keep his conversations going in the old fashioned way. Friends from the war, they would understand the draw of the old mail call.
He and B.J. kept up the most consistent of dialogues. Though on opposite coasts, the two old friends made their friendship a priority. Weekly phone calls followed by regular mail kept them central in each other's lives. A few annual trips to see one another was a reflection of the depth and meaning of their friendship. They were kindred spirits, a duo of troublemakers, and the best of friends, just as much today as forty years ago during the war.
There were less frequent letters to Klinger and Father Mulcahy, to Radar and Kellye. Each of the former MASH residents retained a place in Hawkeye's mind and heart. He enjoyed hearing the news from their respective lives and filling them in on his own exploits. Even decades after the end of the Korean War, the friends he'd made there were still the best of his life.
A few of their number had been lost to them over the years. Colonel Potter had passed on quite some time ago. Colonel Blake had gone long before that. Hawkeye had even heard that Frank Burns was no longer on this earth. Good friends had come and gone, but the memories they had left stayed with those who loved them.
And those who remained had stayed surprisingly close. The letters from Charles had come as a surprise at first. Hawkeye was initially astonished that he'd been on the Bostonian doctor's mailing list. He'd then been surprised and mildly disappointed that they hadn't arrived on record. After their rocky beginnings in Korea, the two men had eventually forged a strong and enduring friendship, strengthened by their return home. He met often with Charles, too. In neighborhoods where once he would have been snubbed, Hawkeye was now welcomed as a dear friend, closer than family. While Charles would have never had exactly the same reception in Crabapple Cove, he, too, had gained a second home.
Letters were a messaging channel Hawkeye was fond of even when they didn't come from across great distance. He still exchanged the occasional letter with the other member of his household. Margaret Houlihan was, after all, an old army friend in addition to having become his wife.
A lot could be said for mail, and even more could be said by it. Relaxing in a comfortable chair, Hawkeye sorted through the morning's arrivals, hoping for a personal note among the bills and magazines. Plucking out a sealed envelope, he cheerily set about opening it.
The Boston address would have thrown his aged eyes if he hadn't glanced above it to the sender's name. What could have been easily mistaken as a letter from Charles bore a different moniker. Louise McIntyre. Hawkeye murmured the name aloud, searching his brain for the connection. His eyes widened as it came to him.
He ripped the letter open, wondering what the wife of old Trapper John could have to say to him.
It had been years since he'd spoken to his onetime bunkmate, decades. After Korea, they'd lost touch. Hawkeye could recall seeing Trapper at only one of the MASH reunions following the war. That first year, 3,000 miles from home, Trapper had been his lifeline. Since his early exit from Korea, life had pulled them apart. It was unexpected to have this letter arrive now after the passage of so much silent time.
Hawkeye adjusted his glasses so that his weak eyes could scan the message before him. Trapper was not one to whom he wrote letters. Trapper's wife was definitely not on the list.
December 20th the letter was dated, nearly three weeks prior. Either the post office was slipping or it had been mailed quite some time after.
Dear Hawkeye, it began, and even without years of letter writing, the scrawl was familiar. It had become shakier with age, something Hawkeye had noticed about his own script. This wasn't Louise's writing, but her husband's. This letter was from his old pal, Trapper John.
What was Trapper doing writing to him after all these years? Even sorting through dim memories, Hawkeye could recollect their last meeting. It was the fifth year anniversary of the war's end, the same day as the annual reunion. For the first time, Trapper had attended. They'd made the necessary introductions, they'd relived old memories, and they'd laughed just as they once had. Little had been said about the last time they parted, but when the reunion ended, Trap had bestowed his parting kiss himself.
Keeping in touch just hadn't happened. Their close friendship had been one of the losses along the way. Now he was holding a letter nearly forty years overdue.
If you're reading this letter, it means I've died.
The letter nearly tumbled out of Hawkeye's grip. He reread the line, willing it to be different, praying for the cruel letters to be a trick of his eyes. The words stayed the same, and somehow Hawkeye doubted that the letter would later on retract them as a joke. Trapper John, his friend, was dead.
I don't suppose you figured you'd ever hear from me again. It's certainly been a long time since our Korean layover all those years ago. I should have written sooner. I thought that a million times, but I didn't do it. But I'm going to stick with this letter, Hawk. Because if you're reading it, that means this is my last chance to say anything to you.
I'm writing this letter from the comfort of home. It's sickness and age that are bringing me down, not war or violence. It's been a while coming, and the diagnosis from at least one doctor (this one) says that this is the end. And that's okay. It's been a good ride.
I realize you don't know anything about my life these days, or really for the last four decades, but I've been happy, Hawk. My two pretty girls grew up to be two beautiful women who gave me all sorts of new boys and girls to spoil and love. Kathy lives nearby and Becky lives in Virginia. I've spent the last several years surrounded by grandchildren. They're the greatest; you can give them everything they want and then send them home for their parents to deal with. I hope you've been lucky enough to get some grandkids, Hawkeye. You really can't beat them.
Louise is still with me. I can scarcely believe that after some of the things I've done. Bet you can't either; you knew about some of those things. She's an angel, God bless her, and it's been her who's looked after me these past months. She'll be the one to get you this letter. I gave strict instructions for her to mail it only after she was sure I was gone. I didn't want to risk coming back and having to read an equally sentimental letter from you.
I lived well. I doctored up until they told me I couldn't, and I did a good job of it. I saved lives; you can't ask for more in one life than that. I had fun, too. You remember some of the fun we used to have. All in all, it was good. There was bad, sure. Korea, for one thing. But there was good, too.
At this point, you're probably wondering why I decided to bore you with details of a life you haven't been involved in for years. The answer's pretty simple. I figured I owed you a letter. There were things I needed to say, and I didn't want to take off again without leaving you a note.
I regret not leaving a letter when I left MASH all those years ago. You were my partner in crime, my fellow Swamp Rat, and my best friend. That's something I should have made sure you knew all this time.
Korea was horrific. Even now, I have the occasional nightmare about it. The sort of things we saw then stay with you. And the people you face them with don't leave you either. I know we didn't keep in touch. We never reconnected after getting home. I had it good, and I hope you did, too, but we didn't have it together. Still I never forgot you.
I never said thanks either. We were crazy then, but at least we weren't alone. You kept me from really losing it. You joked and teased and tortured Ferret Face and made me feel right at home. And that still we built! We were prisoners there, but we had the world convinced we were kings.
I couldn't have done it without you. Not just the drinking either. The nightmares, the fear, the meatball surgery. It would have killed me if I hadn't known you were facing it all, too. We made it out, and I hope nothing for you was ever like that again.
This is my thank-you, Hawkeye. I know I'm forty years too late, but I finally got it out. Thanks for being my friend in that garbage dump. You didn't give up, and you kept me going, too. That memory kept me going till the end. This wasn't the way I wanted to write you, but at least this time we got a goodbye.
Give Margaret a kiss for me. Then give her one for yourself, cause there's never as much time as you think. I missed you, Hawk. You didn't know it, but you stayed my best friend. So long, Hawkeye.
Trapper it was signed, simply, requiring nothing more.
Hawkeye sat for long minutes staring at the letter clutched tightly in his hand. These were Trapper's words - the last he'd ever receive. They were already more than he'd ever anticipated, but their circumstance and finality kept him from much joy at the surprise.
He peeled off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, still holding tightly to Trapper's letter. Years and distance may have tempered the blow, but sadness descended on him like a shroud. His friend was dead, and the last hope for something long missing disappeared entirely.
Margaret found him rereading the letter, and his face gave it all away. "Who is it?" she asked worriedly.
He reached out a hand, and she settled into the chair next to him to take it. "Trapper. He's gone."
She gasped softly, "Oh no."
Hawkeye nodded slowly, more in resignation than disbelief. The couple sat for a few moments in shared silence, each lost in memories from a lifetime ago. Neither commented on the long time it had been since they had spoken to Trapper. It was a profound loss all the same.
After a time, Hawkeye eased himself from his chair. "I think I'll call B.J."
Margaret's face showed her confusion at first. B.J. hadn't known Trapper. He should be calling Radar so that the former clerk could spread the word to the other 4077 members. The confusion melted visibly away after a moment, and Hawkeye smiled at how well she knew him. "Say hello for me."
The old man nodded and made his way to the phone on his desk. He dialed the number from memory and waited two rings until his friend picked up. He could practically hear the mustache B.J. still insisted on wearing. "Hey, Beej." Surprise on the other end. "Yes, I know it's not Tuesday, I just wanted to say hi."
It was comforting to hear his voice. They'd been through so much together, and after the war they'd never really left one another's lives. It wasn't just two years together in Korea, it was forty more on the home front. B.J. had in no way replaced Trapper. His first best friend was still a piece of his memories and his life. But Trapper's death was really losing him for the second time. They'd already said their goodbyes.
B.J. was curious about the unscheduled call. "No, no, you didn't forget a birthday or anything." He gazed out his window out onto the streets of the town that he loved and pictured his best friend doing the same a country away. "It's just… It's nice to know I can reach out and you'll be there."
I've always been fascinated by the parallels and differences between Hawkeye's relationship with both Trapper and B.J. Both friendships certainly shaped him and helped his survive his experience with war, but I see them exemplifying two different (and equally needed) kinds of friendship - one for a season and one for a lifetime.
Anyway, hope you enjoyed it! Please leave me a review and tell me what you think!