Your dad had a box of stuff he wanted to give to you. Just old junk he kept. I think his wedding band is in there, along with his captain's bars, a stethoscope nicked from the 4077, a couple of trinkets inherited from your grandparents, and the watch I gave him one Christmas. I can remember when he took the damn thing off and told me to 'put it with Erin's stuff'. 'Don't be stupid,' I said. 'You won't be able to tell the time'. And I pointed out that there was no clock on the wall of our room. 'Doesn't matter,' he said. 'I'm a doctor. I know how long I've got left.'
I'm not sending you that box because if you want it you can damn well come out here and get it. I'm not sending things like that through the post. It'd kill me if it got lost.
There's some other stuff too. He had a will, of course. There's money, if you want it, because I certainly don't. Clothes I couldn't get rid of, stacks of books, a million cruddy things Beej bought on the spur of the moment – records, picture frames, ornaments, the sort of things I wouldn't glance twice at in a shop but can't take my eyes off because they belonged to him – and there's all his correspondence. I'll glean out any letters between me and him, if you don't mind, but you can have all the letters he kept from Peg while in Korea, his letters from colleagues and friends, and there's even his draft notice. He kept it because, he said, 'Without it, I would never have found you, Hawk', which is just about the least romantic thing anyone has ever said to me.
I'm not sure what else there is left to say between us, Erin. How many times can I say I loved BJ before you will forgive me for talking him from you? How many times do you want me to apologise? And why should I, when it was I who stayed with him and you who ran away?
I almost forgot. We need to discuss one last thing, and for the life of me I can't figure it out for myself. Why didn't you come to the funeral?
It was a simple thing. By the time your father died we were running low on friends and relatives, because they'd died too, or heard about our unorthodox relationship, or moved too far away. A few people from Korea came. Radar, the dear sweet kid, and his wife stayed with me for a week. Margaret made it this time, and Mulcahy held the service. Having decided, after twenty years, that I could forgive the guy, I spent a long time hunting for Trapper, but I don't know what became of him. There's no record of his death in Boston, which I assume means he's still around someplace, but I could find no record of him leaving either. Watch out for guys like Trapper. They sail into your life, fuck it up, and saunter out again leaving no trace for you to follow or clue when they'll be back, and the worst bit is you miss them like hell.
It was … how to describe a funeral? Satisfactory, I suppose. When the priest is one of the mourners you're always going to be in for some stalling, but the old guy did his best. Besides Radar, BJ was the youngest of us. It was unfair, Erin. So painfully, wrongly, agonisingly unfair. It's that feeling you get when you know life has duped you, taken from out of your grasping fingertips the one thing you've strived for, cried for, bled for all your life. I'm a doctor. It shouldn't get to me like this, the … unfairness of it all. Not after all I've seen. And when I've seen kids with bits blown off they didn't know they had, and blood-soaked corpses lying in ditches in South Korean villages, and the insides of – I don't know – a hundred thousand million kids who didn't make it …why is it that the sight that drove the wind from me, doubled me over and made me choke on my own grief was the sight of BJ so peaceful in our own bed?
His heart stopped while he was asleep. That's how some people dream of going. Quietly, painlessly, and with dignity. But the peace, the painlessness, and the dignity were all his; I lost all of mine in that instant. To hear some other doctor's voice pronounce the death of your loved on is a humbling thing. It's also devastating. Completely life-wreaking. Mind-numbing. No amount of ink stretched across endless sheets of paper can describe it. You should have been there when he died, and you should have been at the funeral.
Maybe what I'm trying to say is, I shouldn't have been alone in that house with BJ ebbing away and that young doctor making an ass of himself with his optimism and his stubbornness.
"Sir, your friend's going to be just fine. I'm only here to keep an eye on him and make sure he's got everything he needs."
"What kind of moron do you take me for, kiddo? I was a doctor when you were still a glint in the milkman's eye, so don't come in here patronising me with your stories. You think I reckon you fellows still make house calls, and you wouldn't be out here if it wasn't the end of the line? I've looked into the eyes of a thousand dying men, and you're treating me like a child. Bugger me if the ink isn't still wet on your diploma…"
I think I hazed that kid to the brink, because when he left he had tears in his eyes. The little gimp. There's a bizarre, nameless emotion you get mostly at funerals, when you realise that feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach – grief – is shared by a dozen or a hundred other people. It isn't your grief. It's Our grief with a capital O, and you begin to think that lessens the importance of your feeling it, and that – that – is where the worst pain comes from. I wanted to hit that doctor for daring to feel the things I felt, but mostly I wanted to curl up and sob my heart out.
I'd have shared that feeling with you, Erin. You're the only one left who knew him before me. I'd count Radar too, but he's got his own family. The last of my family, and the last of your family, died with BJ. I guess that sort of makes you all I've got left. That's why I'm writing to you, really. Ah, who am I kidding? There are a dozen reasons, each as genuine as the last. You should visit the grave. You should collect this box of things. We should clear the air before I snuff it too. I should make you … no … I should invite you to understand.
Then there were your father's last words. He kept asking when you were coming out. You see, I told him you weren't ignoring me, you were just busy. "When's Erin coming, Hawk?" he'd ask every evening. And every evening I replied, "I'll tell you in the morning."
But I think the biggest reason is simply this: I'm alone. I'm alone and old and ill in a town that shuns me and drives me insane. And I've never been this honest with anyone, even BJ.
Be it on your head now, Erin …