Behind Closed Doors
When they began to refer to him in the past tense, it had finally become too much.
Those first few days, no one even breathed his name. It was like some unmentionable forbidden obscenity, which was appropriate. What had happened to him was an obscenity; it was symbolic of the whole bloody war. And they were all aware of the contagious feeling. "He was the joker; he was the one who carried the rest of us through this dailyweeklymonthlyyearly grind. If it could happen to him..." they each whispered in their solitary prayers..."can I be safe?"
Then his name transformed into a talisman, a magic charm to rub and hold onto for good luck and future blessing. "When Hawkeye gets back..." the hopeful sentence would begin. Or, "Wait til Hawk hears about this..." and then they would bring up some old antic, or speculate on how he would react to some new army lunacy.
But by the third week, with no reunion in sight, somehow their grammar began to reflect the decay of hope. Dark sentences filled with despair and longing attached to his name: "What Pierce would've done..." or "Hawkeye always used to..."
Margaret slipped into the CO's office, pale and silent as a ghost. "Colonel, requesting two days' leave, Sir." Potter strained to hear her; she spoke in the hushed, flat voice that she had recently adopted..
"Major, there's big trouble in Kee Sam, and it'll be spilling over here soon. Need you back here by Thursday, latest," he warned as he scribbled his approval on a pass.
"Of course, Sir. Uh, Colonel, has there be any news from--"
"Sidney's latest report is...disappointing. He hasn't seen any progress yet, but as long as he doesn't give up, neither will we." He reached across the desk to pat her hand. "You'll give him all our best wishes, right?"
She blushed. "I should've known you could guess where I'm headed."
"Take BJ with you, he can drive. And his time away from camp will do us all some good." The mild-mannered Californian had become morose and edgy, missing the patter and rhythm of his partner.
"Thank you, Sir. I appreciate that, I'm sure BJ will, too." The first time BJ had made the trip to Ward 8 in Seoul, Hawkeye had not been permitted any visitors. "He needs to know we--care about him, Sir. That he's not alone or forgotten. He needs--well, that's what I think," she finished lamely.
"Godspeed, Margaret," the old man blessed her. He felt older every time he thought of his chief surgeon, imprisoned by his own stubborn mind . "And swipe on a little lipstick and some rouge. Y'know he'll expect it," he added. .
"Margaret, BJ," Sidney Freedman greeted them at the front desk. "I'm sorry to see the phone lines are down at the 4077."
Margaret was puzzled. "What do you--?"
BJ cut in, exasperated. "He means, Margaret, that he wants us to phone in our concern and stay the hell out of his way."
The harsh words elicited no more than a raised eyebrow from the psychiatrist, who was accustomed to swallowing abuse. "I really do wish you'd learn to call before coming all this way, in case--"
"So can we see him, or why not?" BJ bullied.
"Please, Sidney," Margaret -turned-good cop placed a hand on his arm "We won't stay long. We won't upset him. You can stay in with us. We can go in separately…I just--we just need to see him. Please. Surely it would be encouraging for him to know --"
"Well, we're at an impasse in therapy. Maybe some friendly faces will shake something loose." He turned down the drab hallway and they followed, a short, joyless parade of people in pain. Sidney gave a brisk knock and was received with a short snappy "Come"
A short little gasp escaped from Margaret when she saw Sidney take out a key and unlock his door from the outside. Pierce, who reveled in his freedom, caged. From her professional training, she knew to expect it; but to actually see the unlocking process was shocking and a reminder of the seriousness of his situation. For the first time, she trembled and let BJ enter before her.
"Company, Hawkeye," Sidney announced
"Yeah...?" he replied suspiciously. He was sitting...no, more like huddled against the wall, arms wrapped around his knees defensively. "Finally bring me a roommate? I specifically requested a single," he tried to joke. But he remained balled up in a protective posture, while his eyes adjusted to the light from the hallway. "Beej?" Cautiously, he began to uncurl the length of his body. "And you brought Margaret..." he sounded delighted at seeing her peek from behind BJ. "Oh, baby, you're cold," he stepped toward her and traced the goose bumps on her bare arms. "I tell ya, Sidney, if you don't provide a nice fireplace in these suites, you'll never attract the ski crowd..." she flinched and he jerked his hands back. "Sorry," he muttered
"Well, I've got rounds, and you've got company." Sidney excused himself.
"Hawkeye, we've been thinking of you..." she tried to draw him back. "We, uh, were wondering how you'd like it if we planned regular visits--well, regular as the war permits, of course--everybody's been asking about you, and we could take turns--"
"Good God, how much longer am I going to be cooped up in this booby hatch?" his voice raised." You're gonna have to schedule regular visits? Doesn't sound too promising for a quick release...what has he told you?" he demanded, and grabbed her arm til she winced and BJ cut in between them. "What? " he snapped. "I'm the im-patient here; I have a right to know!"
"Hawk, we're really missing your money at poker night. How about a hand or two? Help us pay for the gas we spent getting here."
"Yeah, sure. I've been beating Sidney day after day, I could use the challenge of fresh blood. Fresh blood…plenty of that where you come from, eh? I follow the news, even here. The peace talks are heating up, so the war is heating up. How many casualties last week? How many died because I 'm sitting in this dungeon? How many? Do I have to carry them on my conscience, too?" he raved.
"We'll make it interesting--strip poker--"
"Only if Margaret and Nurse Halloran sit in; then I could be persuaded to lose-- or inspired to win. How 'bout it, Margaret? Your dream come true...?"
She whispered to BJ; he frowned and so did Hawkeye.
"That's very rude, you know. I am in this room. I will not be ignored!"
Margaret scowled back at BJ and he capitulated. "I'm going for coffee, Hawk. Can I bring you anything back?"
"Sure. A fruitcake with a file in it." He sat glumly, chin balanced on his fist "See ya later." And he shut down, closing his eyes, all the animation draining from him. Then he felt a presence in the room and opened his eyes to see Margaret sitting quietly beside him. "I thought you left with--"
"No. I wanted to stay."
"No," he shook his head. "No, no. No one wants to stay here. Not with me." He snapped his fingers in sudden inspiration. "I got it--you stay and I'll leave..."
She shook her head. "Not yet. Maybe we'll just stay here together awhile." She reached for his hand, and he did not pull away. They sat quietly, and it was not the tense empty silence that surrounded him daily; it was a soft, scented peace. He was drinking in the sight of her, daring to believe she was not a dream, hoping she was not a hallucination. Her golden head was lowered, concentrating on his hand that she held in her lap, when something warm dripped into his palm. "I miss you," she whispered.
"I know," he sighed. "I miss me, too," and he cocked his head to the side to see her face and she did not even attempt to wipe at the tears. "You wore lipstick."
She snuffled and smiled. "The Colonel said you'd notice."
His eyes never left her face, but she felt they were gazing through and far beyond her. "Margaret, what if...what if I can't...don't..."
She squeezed his hand to reassure him. "You will," she insisted, answering his unasked fear. " I'm here, and Houlihans never surrender," she declared stoutly. " And they don't let anyone else give up, either."
"Hmf. Must be nice to be a Houlihan."
"Sometimes I think it would be nice to be a Pierce." She tossed that last little comment into the pot, almost off-handedly, trying to startle him, to snap him back into a connection.
"That could be arranged." He saw her comment, and raised the stakes. If she wanted to play emotional strip poker, now it was her turn to be startled. "Hey, you're in a loony bin," he reminded her easily. "You can't be legally held responsible to any promises made here .In fact, you probably can't even be legally held." His eyes challenged her.
"Well…" she cleared her throat, " actually, I've heard there are isolated, undocumented instances of Houlihans…surrendering…under certain conditions." She leaned back into his chest and he tentatively looped an arm around her shoulder.
At first it was dead weight, but as she nestled against him, she could feel him coming alive, his arm tightening around her, his breath quickening. Then he went slack again. "Did I ever feed you the line about 'making beautiful music together'?" he mused without energy, as if he could never imagine conducting another sensual symphony again. "Sometimes, I'm afraid," he confided.
"I'm afraid I'm not gonna get out of here. Ever. And sometimes I'm afraid I'll get out of here tomorrow and there won't be anything left out there for me."
"When you get out," she stressed, "when you are feeling better and stronger and healthy again, everything will be out there waiting for you."
She said the first thing that popped into her head, the only thing she knew she could guarantee. "Me."
He looked askance at her offer. "Yeah, right. You'll be waiting for me."
" Why not?" she bristled.
"Margaret—" an honest-to-God genuine guffaw bubbled up from him, "you have no patience. You can't wait for a bus. You can't wait for water to boil."
"You promise to get better, I'll promise to wait."
He grinned grimly. "You're forgetting what I said about promises made in the cuckoo's nest.'
BJ waited by the desk to catch the psychiatrist after rounds. "Sidney, I'm sorry--" he began.
"It's been difficult for all of us," he shrugged. "He's on his good behavior today, because of your company"
"Maybe more regular visits would be a good catalyst," he suggested hopefully.
"Or a distraction. That's why he's here, to concentrate on the hard work of memory and repression. It's not pleasant, but it's necessary."
"And how is that going?" Sidney cocked an eyebrow at the obvious pump for information. "Alright, I tried. He's my best friend, and I'm afraid of him, afraid for him. I hesitated to leave Margaret in there, alone with him--" he confessed.
"BJ, you know about confidentiality. It's especially vital, now, that he trust me."
"No details, I understand that. But can you give me anything, a crumb of hope even, to take back with us?"
The doctor hesitated, editing the available information in his head. "He's classic."
Then BJ knew the drill, a see-saw of contradictory symptoms : withdrawal and ranting. Insomnia and nightmares. "Any progress at all?"
"Well, the detox of his prodigious alcohol consumption has removed one refuge of denial. He's unhappy about that. He's resistant to most attempts to recall details of the bus ride. But he does drop clues, almost as if he wants me to discover the answers, he just doesn't want to remember them himself."
"I'm gonna interpret that as a positive sign."
Sidney smiled. "You can live through all this and still be an optimist. Maybe there's hope for all of us yet."
"Well, I'm sposed to be out for coffee, guess I'd better find some and get back. Up for a round of poker, Sid? And is there a Nurse Halloran who would--"
"Eh...she's tangled with our boy before. Let's find a tray and I'll spring for the juice--it's better than more caffeine. You can trust me on that, I'm a doctor..."
"Hey, Kiddo, I rounded up another pair of hands for the card game..." BJ said, re-introducing Sidney to the room. Margaret scooted from Hawkeye's side and fussed over her hair. BJ and Sidney sat down as though invited and BJ began to deal the cards. "Dealers choice," he grinned. "Five card stud, nothing wild but the dealer."
They were all noticeably more relaxed concentrating on the card game. The conversation stayed casual. BJ's sharp observations determined that Sid's instincts about his friend were probably correct: their visit, while having a calming influence, also served as a distraction from the reality Hawk refused to face.
At first, BJ had been anxious to vacate Ward 8. Now that the visit was drawing to a close, he dreaded leaving his best friend behind.
"So, Hawk, anything I can get for you, anything you need?"
" About that cake with the file-filling...probably too much iron to digest properly, anyway. .Uh.., Beej. I know Sidney's written to my father, and I'm sure the colonel or Father Mulcahey has dropped him a note. I wonder if you could write him, just let him know you've seen me and I'm not bouncing off rubber walls. That I love him and... you know. I mean, I know you don't possess the powerful prose of the Pierce pen, but ...it would mean a lot, to both of us."
"Sorry I'm not a better host."
BJ shrugged. "So, next time we meet at my place. You bring the pretzels."
"That's an RSVP I'll try to keep."
"I'll leave a candle in the tent flap." No longer feeling awkward, Hunnicut embraced his friend heartily. "Come home soon, Hawk" He turned to the major "Ready, Margaret?"
She was fidgeting beside the door.
"Ah, can we …uh…have a moment?" Pierce directed his request to Sidney, the keeper of the keys, who escorted BJ outside.
"They lock me in, Margaret," he observed sadly, like a little boy lost in the dark.
"You have the key, Ben. Use it," she urged. She touched his shoulders lightly, moving in for a kiss on his pale cheek. She lingered for a moment longer than necessary, rubbing her face against his, committing his skin to memory.
"You'll wait?" he asked, her hand already on the doorknob.
"You'll heal," she replied with confidence.