A/N: Edited version up 23 July 2009. Title based on "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" or Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf? -- take your pick. Companion piece to "Are You There, God? It's Me, Francis."
Who's Afraid of the GI Bogeyman?
Radar hates the dark. Actually, it isn't so much the dark he hates. It's the dark things that are hiding inside of the dark cocoon that the night makes around them. It's the idea that someone could set all his animals free in the night, and they could be eaten by wild dogs -- who couldn't help it if they were hungry. Most of all, it's the fear that radiates off of everyone else in the camp. If they're scared, what chance does he have?
If Charles swirls a glass of cognac beneath his nose and he closes his eyes and gives all of his concentration to the sound of his phonograph... And if he tries -- though it's difficult -- to imagine that the scratch of the needle against the record is truly the growl of horse hair against the taut catgut strings of a finely made 18th century violin... Yes, then he can almost imagine that he is not in Korea.
And sometimes, if no one is around, if the camp is still, and the wind silent, and the cretins with whom he lives are so far lost in their inebriation that they are not longer a bother... Then sometimes he can make it all the way back to Boston. He can see his sister, Honoria, her soft curling locks of hair rich against her pale skin, and he can even hear her whisper to him, her mind resolutely trying to offer him words of comfort, her lips not quiet grasping the words, but her voice conveying the sentiment fully.
Every time he turns on the phonograph it takes him a little longer to get to Boston and he spends a little less time with his sister before the war beckons, its voice the screech of ambulance breaks or the snap of air against chopper blades. And he dreads the day when he can't get to Boston before Korea calls him back.
It is night, and Hawkeye's cot is haunted by the ghost of a girl who isn't lying beside him. And beyond that, the knowledge that it's his fault she isn't there. Claustrophobia. He'd nearly fainted when his dad took him underneath their car to show him the engine. He'd known the chassis of the car was going to crumble and he'd be crushed under a thousand pounds of metal.
It wasn't until he was older that he realized there were many different kinds of claustrophobia. One kind in particular was far more prevalent in his life than the panic he felt under the family Ford. Every time he got close to a girl, every time she got close to him, he stopped being able to breathe. It wasn't a physical sensation, nor was it a conscious decision. Like passing out, it was a primal reaction. There are certain things that all children strive to do; chief among them is to never repeat the mistakes of their parents.
His father loved and lost. Hawkeye loves and leaves.
Klinger isn't crazy. He's the sanest person he knows because he's the only one making an effort to get out. Career Army men are crazy. Volunteers are crazy. Willing draftees are crazy. Not Klinger. He keeps telling himself that dresses are a tried and true method, and the Klinger clan does not give up so easily. But in the back of his mind, a thought festers like year-old salami in an army issue duffel bag. Sometimes he comes up with a great scheme, but more often than not it's Scarlett O'Hara, Clara Barton, or just plain Max in the family heirloom Section 8 wedding dress. He can tell himself that he isn't crazy -- he sure won't say it to anyone else -- but every morning he puts on the nylons and pumps and hopes maybe today is his lucky day. And every night he tells himself that tomorrow he'll admit the futility and never worry about runs or broken heels for the rest of his life.
Then morning comes again.
At home, BJ never had more than a couple beers in the evening. Now he downs hard liquor at seven in the morning, two in the afternoon, midnight if that's when he gets off his shift. He gets more drunk than he ever did in college. So bombed he forgets who he is and revels in the oblivion. He cheated on Peg. Just once. He didn't mean to. But so many things happen here that no one means. So many things happen before anyone has a chance to think them through.
People tell BJ that living in Hell does strange things to a man. When he goes home, they say, he won't drink or cheat or scream in furious desperation when there isn't anything left to numb the pain, because BJ Hunnicutt is a good person. But BJ Hunnicutt thinks -- BJ knows -- that vices born in hell die hard, and the man to whom these terrible vices belong can't slip into life in Mill Valley.
Age has claimed his hands. Sometimes when he looks down upon them he is surprised to see the blue veins rising out of the thin, liver-spotted tissue. These hands -- the very hands that once held the reins of an army horse, once caressed the soft smooth planes of a woman's skin, once wielded a scalpel more deftly even than the med. school teachers -- these hand are now the hands of an old man, unsteady and unsure.
Every day, Col. Sherman Potter, Regular Army, watches the surgeons he works with and sees himself the way he will always see himself -- full of promise with life ahead of him. Then he looks at his hands and remembers that there is something which separates him endlessly from these young doctors. True, he still has years yet to go. But they have decades.
Her mother is an Army wife. He sister is Army and a wife. Now all that's left for Margaret is the other extreme -- loneliness. There is a void to be filled, and she fills it, drifting through life at the Army's command, binding herself to men who can't legally or emotionally give her the commitment she craves. She is an excellent nurse, and for that the doctors admire her -- admiration well deserved. She is an excellent officer, and for that the military admires her -- also admiration well deserved. She has an excellent body, and for that all men admire her. But she can't find the man who can admire her every facet at night and respect her in the morning.
Maybe she never will.
Their fears, like the roaches that infest every tent, are drawn out by the darkness. And Radar, who is only a kid when the sun shines, only a clerk when white light illuminates OR tables laden with broken bodies -- that Radar is confronted with the knowledge that when the light fades, he is not quite so scared as anyone else in the camp.
Radar is brave.