Title: My raison d'être
Summary: Sometimes, there is only one thing that keeps you alive and going. See what this one thing is for Frank Plum.
Warnings: Not sure actually. A few harsh things implied, but nothing graphic.
Disclaimer: The characters I borrowed belong to JE.
Copyright: Sarah Diaz 2005
Note: Be warned: This may not be what you expect. I hope you'll like it anyway. I think this is probably the most life-celebrating story I wrote so far.
My Raison d'Être
I'll have a surprise for you, when you'll come home.
These were the words she had written in the last letter that had managed to get through to me. Perhaps there had been more. Or perhaps not. The way I knew my wife I think there had been more. Probably they got lost. Or were still on the way because they couldn't find me.
It's hard to get mail when you're a POW.
About one and a half months after that letter, my team had gotten captures. We were on the way out of an LZ, my team beaten up pretty much. The helicopter was almost out of reach for the launch vessels when he took the hit that forced us down. We crashed. Actually, we had been lucky to survive that crash and we only had Walters to thank for that. If he hadn't been such a good pilot…But he brought us down – and gave his life for us. He managed to land in a spot way too small for a chopper by deliberately setting up his cockpit and the tail to be crashed so we in the back would have a chance to get out. His plan worked and all the seven men in the back had made it out before the bird went up in flames. A small miracle.
The shit was that we were still in unfriendly territory. We hadn't come far and we could still hear the enemy's fire sounding through the jungle. Four of us were wounded, two of them unable to walk. Still, we tried to escape them. We never had a chance. Charlie was everywhere. We heard them closing in on us and we finally accepted that there was no way out.
There is a rule out here in hell: Don't get captured.
In basic it meant, if you can, then do anything to avoid becoming a POW – even if it meant death. Having heard the horror stories from others I could understand it. Still, I wasn't ready to give up so easily. Others had survived. Some of them even had come back sane. There was a chance. I had a woman I loved at home and a little babygirl that needed her daddy. And that surprise my wife had
promised me. For them, I had to hold on. For them, I had to fight. So there never really was a choice for me.
The other men of my team and the two crew members though had a choice, and I let them make their choice. But apart of one of the seriously wounded everyone decided to try it with Charlie. And there was the second injured man, the gunnery. He was unconscious. Fate had wanted it that I ended up us the highest ranking among us after both the CO and the SIC had been killed. I was only a little second lieutenant – and here I was, having to make a decision that was probably the hardest in my life in the few minutes we had left until Charlie reached us. In the end, I did what I thought was the only merciful thing to do.
Perhaps, God will one day forgive me for it.
So five of us were left when Charlie arrived, five of us to be transported into the nearest camp. Only three of us got there, only to be thrown into the shitholes they called cells. And I learned why exactly you shouldn't get captured. I had thought before that this war in this humid jungle was hell on earth.
I've been wrong. So very wrong.
Three of us were thrown into the cells in the camp – helpless, at the mercy of an enemy that hated us with a vengeance. I was the only one who left that camp alive, after almost 22 long, long weeks. I don't know why I survived and the others not. Some of it was simply luck I guess. Some of it the fact that I was young and handsome enough for Charlie to want to enjoy themselves with me month after month. Some of it was that I was able to endure torture long enough to be a satisfying session, but breakable enough to not just be declared a lost case and simply killed. And some of it was that no matter how insufferable it got, I kept holding on, stubborn.
There were times when I didn't remember my own name, let alone the sweet name of my love. But through the haze of pain I always remembered that surprise. I clung to those few words like mad, always remembering that something was waiting for me out there. I had a reason to survive: to see what my wife's surprise for me was. For that, I had to get home. For that, I had to survive.
Our boys found the location of the camp and fought hard to gain as much ground to be able to free the prisoners alive and destroy the camp so no other American soldier would lose his life in there. I'd have liked to see the camp go up in flames, but I had already been on the way back to base to the next hospital. I may have held on, but there were a myriad of injuries to get fixed, not to mention that I was halfway starved to death. It had been close. I wouldn't have been able to hold on for much longer. As it was, I had to stay a month in the hospital until I was well enough to be sent home.
And here I was now, standing in front of my parents in law's house in which my family awaited my return, back from war, alive and more or less healthy. There was nothing else that counted. And finally, I would see what surprise my wife had in store for me. What it was that had helped me survive hell and come back home.
Slowly, I walked up to the house. It was late, almost midnight, and I knew that my wife and her parents were most likely asleep by now. But I couldn't wait longer - not a single second longer. I had just raised my arm to ring the bell when the door flew open and I was met with the beautiful wide brown eyes of my wife and everything but her lovely face, pale with shock at my sight, faded. We stared at each other for an eternity or a second, I have no idea, and then she launched herself into my arms with a sob.
"You're alive. Oh God, you're alive. They told me you were MIA, told me to not hope for a miracle," she sobbed, pressing herself into me, and I felt something in my heart coming alive I was sure had been killed in the camps forever. Joy. Happiness. Utter contentment. I held her, my face buried into her neck and I inhaled that sweet scent of her. I wasn't able to get words past my suddenly very tight throat, but she couldn't stop to talk. "I tried to hope, but the more time passed, the more I became convinced I wouldn't see you again. I'm sorry, so sorry. I love you, love and need you so much. I won't let them send you away again, I won't, and if it's the last thing I'll do. I…"
I did the only thing a man can do to shut a woman up. I kissed her, kissed her like I had wanted to kiss her for the past nine month since I had to leave her to return back to the front. I kissed her, like I've never kissed her before, desperate to feel her, to drink her very being in, desperate to make her feel me, eat me alive by all means - and it was true heaven on earth.
Until she broke away from our kiss with a moan. But not a moan of pleasure. A moan of pain. Scared, I searched her face that suddenly was crunched up in pain while she doubled over, her fingers clawing into my skin, and with that pain, the world rushed back into focus. With a panicked gasp I steadied her with my hand on her waist and only then I noticed it, understood. My heart pounding and my blood rushing in my ears, I held her while the contraction rode her.
The surprise was a baby. We were having another baby and we were having it now.
Finally, the contraction passed and she sagged against me, my arms supporting her, taking most of her weight upon me. She looked up at me, her face radiating with love and happiness. "Told you I have a surprise for you," she teased me lightly, gently.
I swallowed and I felt tears well up. Too overwhelmed, I simply nodded and drew her against my heart, reveling in the feel of her big belly pressed against me. At last I found my voice again. "Thank you," I whispered into her hair. Her arms slipped around me and held me back as tightly.
"It's far from me to interrupt this wonderful mixture of best soap opera material and a good old nice movie for adults, if you know what I mean, but I hate to tell you that you have to postpone that until we bring that girl here to the hospital or this babygirl of yours will be born right here on the threshold," my mother in law interrupted us, bluntly.
My father in law shook his head. "Edna, really…"
"What?" Edna asked.
Edna was very – direct in what she said. In fact, this had almost been harmless compared to the things she usually let out of her mouth. But she was right as my pour Ellen doubled over in pain again. I tried to help her as much as I could, little it was.
Once the contraction had passed, I looked at my parents in law. "Edna's right. Ellen needs to get to a hospital and fast, but I fear I'm not up for driving." Not just because the realization suddenly laid heavily on my shoulders and my breath was accelerating in that beginning panic each father to be experiences watching his beloved woman be in unimaginable pain, but my motoric wasn't quite 100 yet.
Henry, Ellen's father, just gave a short nod and we finally left in his old blue buick for the hospital, with me and Edna in the back, holding Ellen's hands.
I remembered something Edna said and asked it, a desperate try to help Ellen think about something else for at least a moment. "Edna said it's a girl?" I asked, puzzled. How could she know?
"That's what Mom continues to tell me. I think it's a boy," Ellen panted.
Edna snickered. "You may think what you want. In a few hours you'll see I've been right."
"No way. The way that baby kicked and made endless somersaults in there, it has to be a boy," Ellen hissed, crushing my hand under the pressure of her iron grip. Not that I cared.
"Ah, Ellen, girls are always the wild ones," Edna laughed, patting Ellen's belly. "You'll see. Just wait and see."
23 three hours later we did see that Edna had been right all along. I have no idea how my brave Ellen had been able to endure that. She had been fantastic. I've just survived five and a half months of torture, but I'm not sure I could have stomached the pain she had been in during this long labor. She accused me several times that this baby had its stubbornness from me. I hope she's right. Hadn't I been so stubborn to not let Charlie win and get back home, I wouldn't be standing here now, this small bundle of life laying in my arms for the very first time. I had been at the front when Valerie had been born. So far I hadn't known what an amazing miracle I had missed.
I look down at my little babygirl, my beautiful Stephanie Michelle, and I can't understand why my chest doesn't explode with the amount of love and pride I'm feeling. She's screaming at the top of her lungs, her little perfect face all crunched up and it's the sweetest music I've ever heard in my life – she's so perfect. I stare down at her with misty eyes and for a moment she stops screaming and gazes out of the most beautiful blue eyes I've ever seen, right into my own blue eyes and in that moment I know that she is the purpose of my life. I smile at her and gently start to rock her. Ellen is waiting to hold her, but I can't let go of my girl right now. Instead, I raise her so I can press my face against her tiny one, closing my eyes. When I open them again I'm not the same man anymore. Second Lieutenant Franklin Michael Plum is no more. From now on, for this little girl in my arms, I will just be Frank Plum.
Carefully, I press a tender kiss onto the top of my little girl's head. Sometime, I will tell her that with her procreation and with her birth I had been reborn myself as the man she will know as her daddy.
Sometime, I will tell her that she had saved my life. That she had been my reason to live.
My wonderful, amazing raison d'être.