Jerry - Chapter Five
Hawkeye took Father Mulcahy's advice and dawdled over a late breakfast in the mess tent, using the time to do a fair bit of soul searching over some strong coffee. After a while he realised that people were noting his frown and distant expression, and finding somewhere else to sit. The camp grapevine had clearly done its job and everyone had got the message that Hawkeye was in one of his black moods. I've been giving off misery signals like gasoline fumes, he thought, just waiting for someone to provide a spark. Father Mulcahy's right – I need to get my act together.
It was a thoughtful but revitalised Hawkeye Pierce who approached post-op a couple of hours later. 'Smart' would have been an exaggeration, but at least he had showered, dressed and donned the white coat which always added a touch of competent authority to his lean frame. As he walked across the compound, he came across Sam Clark who was still dressed in his pyjamas, robe and slippers and accompanied by a nurse. Sam waved and hailed him.
"Morning, Doc! Losing that limp, I see."
"Morning, Sam. I'll be lindying like a lunatic again by the end of the week. Did they let you out for good behaviour?"
"Just taking the air," smiled Sam. "Doctor Hunnicutt said it would be okay for a little while, and I wanted to give Jerry and your padre a little privacy."
Hawkeye frowned. "Father Mulcahy's in there? I thought you said Jerry wouldn't want to see a priest?"
"No, I said he didn't have his faith any more. I think they're talking about other things."
A little confused and, he had to admit to himself, more than a little nervous, Hawkeye pushed open the door. Father Mulcahy was sitting on the edge of Sam's empty bed, chatting to Jerry. They both looked up as Hawkeye approached.
"Ah, Hawkeye, good morning!" said Mulcahy. "I was just telling Private Hoffman here about the local orphanage."
"Yes," said Jerry. "I told one of the nurses that when I leave the army, I was thinking of going to work in the orphanage where I lived in New York. She suggested I should talk to Father Mulcahy about the work he does with the children here." His accent was barely noticeable, but he chose his words carefully, occasionally hesitating while he searched for the right one.
Mulcahy smiled at him. "And I think you'd be very good at it too, Jerry. You certainly seem to have a gift when it comes to getting along with people – everyone here has commented on it."
"Not everyone," said Jerry warily, as Hawkeye came over to sit beside the padre.
"Oh, you mustn't mind Hawkeye," said Mulcahy. "He's just, er, very shy with strangers at first." Hawkeye raised his eyebrows and blinked at this blatant lie, and Jerry looked taken aback. From what he had seen, this doctor was anything but shy with most people. Mulcahy ploughed on gamely. "Jerry was telling me he enjoys chess, Hawkeye."
Jerry jumped at the opening. "Yes, that's right. Perhaps you and I could play, Doctor Pierce. Unless you, Father….."
"Oh no, not me." Mulchay shook his head. "I barely know one end of a bishop from the other."
Hawkeye knew what Mulcahy was trying to do. He looked him straight in the eye and said, "You know, anyone but a priest could get into trouble coming out with something like that."
Mulchay threw back his head and laughed, and a second later all three of them were laughing. Jerry clutched at his stomach. "Ow! Please don't make me laugh – my stitches will burst!"
"Hey, those are my stitches, and I can guarantee they won't come out until they have my permission," said Hawkeye. "My needlework is famous throughout Korea. Anyway, if I come across a tricky case, I just use those really big, chunky knots they taught us back in the scouts." He grinned, twiddling his fingers to demonstrate. "They hold everything together like a dream."
"It's true what they say," said Mulcahy, standing up. "Laughter really is the best medicine. Now, if you two will excuse me, I have a few other visits to make."
"Thank you, Father," said Jerry.
"Yes, thank you, Father" said Hawkeye sincerely, and both priest and doctor knew what he meant.
The silence after Mulcahy had gone was a comfortable one, with both men much more at ease in each other's presence. After a moment, it was Jerry who spoke first.
"Doctor Pierce," he began. "I have been doing some thinking……"
Hawkeye interrupted gently. "No, let me go first. There's something I want to tell you about."
Jerry nodded, and Hawkeye took a deep breath before continuing. "My mom died when I was ten, Jerry. On my first day back at school afterwards, I walked up to the other kids standing outside the classroom and nobody said a word to me, not even my closest friends. Suddenly I was different from them, and they just didn't know what to do. We all stood there looking at each other, as if we were stuck on opposite sides of a canyon with no bridge, and I just wanted to run away and hide. And then one guy – his name was Kenny Hutton – he just came over and said 'Hiya, Ben'. I hardly knew him; we were just classmates for a while, but I've never forgotten how grateful I was to him that day. He was the first to reach out across this huge, awkward distance that had suddenly appeared between me and everyone else." He frowned. "I realised this morning that, when it came down to it, I acted towards you like my friends acted towards me. I was faced with tragedy on a scale I'd never had to deal with, and I couldn't reach out across that gap. I guess I'm no Kenny Hutton, and I know I'm no Sam Clark. And I'm sorry."
"So did you ever tell your classmates how you felt about losing your mother, or how you felt on that first day back?" asked Jerry.
Hawkeye shook his head. "I couldn't. I just couldn't share it. Pretty soon things were back to the way they'd always been with my friends, but none of them ever asked how I was doing, and I never brought it up. And there were some days when I really needed to talk, you know? I was angry and confused about what had happened to my mom, but I couldn't talk to my friends about it because I was….."
"Yeah," said Hawkeye slowly. "Yeah, I guess that's it. I was embarrassed, for them and for me. It was easier just not to mention it. Isn't that crazy?"
"No, it's not crazy," said Jerry. "It's a feeling I recognise very well, and it's why I don't like to talk about my past."
Hawkeye couldn't believe what he was hearing. "But there's no comparison between my mom dying and what happened to you! I said I was angry and confused, but you – Jerry, I just don't understand how you can carry something that huge around inside you and not wake up every morning screaming at the injustice of it."
"Let me tell you something of my childhood, Doctor," Jerry said calmly. "My father was a very strict, very traditional man. I loved him very much. Before I went out, he always used to bend down and tidy the collar of my coat and straighten my cap." He smiled fondly, remembering. "His jacket always smelled of pipe tobacco. 'Jerzy,' he would say to me, very seriously 'remember you are representing this family in the world. Always be a good boy and don't let your mama and me down.' I could easily be a bitter man, Doctor Pierce. I could spend my life looking for pity and being angry at people who complain about small things – sometimes I could very easily do that. But have always told myself that I am the last representative of my family in the world, and I cannot let my mama and papa down."
Hawkeye looked down at the floor. Not for the first time in the last few hours, he didn't know what to say.
"You are a good man, Doctor," Jerry went on, "and I have made you uncomfortable, and for that I am sorry. But you have also made me think, and I think maybe it's time that other good men were made uncomfortable. There are always two roads to choose from, and perhaps I have been taking the easy road, hiding from things for too long. When I get back to the States I plan to contact others who have lost people as I have. We can help each other, and perhaps we can educate people, especially children, I think. And if people are made uncomfortable or embarrassed, then so be it. What happened in Europe cannot be forgotten or denied, Doctor Pierce, because if the memory is allowed to fade then we are halfway to allowing it to happen again. Father Mulcahy says I am good with people. Maybe I can help in a small way just by making people listen."
"That's a huge mission to set yourself," said Hawkeye after a long moment. "And it won't always be easy. There will be people who criticise what you're doing and say let bygones be bygones." He grinned suddenly. "But I have a feeling you won't let that stop you, and I can't think of a better ambassador, or a better educator."
They talked about other things for a while after that, and later that evening Hawkeye brought the chessboard over from the Swamp. Jerry won every game.
Two days later, the medical team was supervising the movement of some of the wounded to the 121st Evac Hospital, on the first stage of their journey home. Hawkeye shook hands with Sam Clark and helped him up into the ambulance, then he walked beside Jerry's stretcher as it was carried out of post-op.
"I always thought I'd remember the face of everyone who comes through here," he said. "But the sad truth is most of them just become another wounded kid in the endless procession of wounded kids. But now and then I come across a patient I know I'll never forget." He held out his hand. "Good luck, Jerry. It's been an honour and an education."
"For me too, Doctor Pierce." Jerry gripped his hand and shook it.
"Do you have a girl back in the States, Jerry?" Hawkeye asked suddenly.
Jerry smiled, surprised and a little self-conscious. "No. I am a bit shy about my accent, I think."
"Well, I bet there are girls just lining up to meet a great guy like you," said Hawkeye, "You hurry up and find one so you can keep that family line going. Make your mama and papa proud."
The ambulance pulled out of the compound, and BJ caught up with Hawkeye as he walked away.
"You want to grab some coffee, Hawk?" he said. "We don't seem to have talked much in the last few days."
"Yeah, sure." He put his arm around BJ's shoulders as they walked together towards the mess tent, and Hawkeye said, "I've been thinking about the tale of the Ancient Mariner."
BJ was used to his friend's unpredictable train of thought, but this one looked like a doozy. "The guy with the albatross around his neck?" he said. "Water, water everywhere and all that? What's put that into your head?"
"Well," said Hawkeye. "He had a tale to tell. He was compelled to tell it to as many people as possible, in fact, so others could learn from it. And everyone who heard him went away 'a sadder and a wiser man'. I think Jerry Hoffman reminds me of him."