I'm Still Here
(Author's Note: This—or at least the last part of this—likely won't make much sense to you if you've never seen "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.")
Hawkeye said, after a lengthy silence, "B.J.?"
"I'm still here."
"Not goin' anywhere, Hawk."
"No. I know."
"You don't sound quite like yourself tonight."
Plaintively: "I'm so tired."
"Then get off the phone and get to sleep," B.J. teased, careful to put a smile in his voice. He glanced at the clock on the wall. Nearly 11 p.m. here, so 2 a.m. in Maine.
"No, I'm tired but I'm not sleepy. I'm weary, I guess is the better word."
"I don't know that you have any reason to be weary now that you're home. Back there, sure. But now? Is there something you're not telling me?"
"I guess I'm still adjusting. It's only been a few weeks. Maybe the weariness doesn't wear off right away."
"You'd tell me, wouldn't you, if something was wrong? Something physical or emotional or…" He let the thought trail off.
"I'm doing all right, Beej. Honest. Today was just not a great day, that's all. I'll sound much better the next time we talk."
The next time was, of course, the following night.
"You doing all right?" B.J. asked cautiously.
"Yeah, I'm OK. I had a good day at work. There was this kid, only 9, but whip-smart. Measles. Not that a case of the measles would keep this kid down. He was somethin' else, Beej. Sort of like how our love-child would be—funny and smart, his brain always in the on position. You know?"
B.J. laughed. "Our love-child. Now there's an image that's going to stick with me for quite some time."
"So he told me this joke, right? You ready for this?"
"Lay it on me."
"What happens when ducks fly upside-down?"
"I don't know, what?"
"They quack up!" Hawkeye roared with laughter and B.J. couldn't help following suit. Sure, the joke was corny… but Hawkeye's infectious laughter always had that effect on him. "C'mon, Beej, pretty damn cute, wasn't it?"
Still chuckling, he admitted, "Yeah. It was cute." A pause, then, "I'm glad you seem to be in a better frame of mind tonight."
"Doing all right, Beej. It's an adjustment, but it's a good one. And it helps to talk to you."
"What's a little long-distance phone bill between friends?" Actually, the phone bills were rather monumental, and Peg had already grumbled about them, but B.J. had shrugged it off. He needed to talk to his best friend, he said. They were both trying to get used to not living together, and if that meant they needed to talk every night, at least for the first few weeks, then so be it. He could tell Peg was not happy, but he wasn't going to back down. Not about this.
"I dreamt about the Swamp last night. I mean, that I was back in the Swamp."
"Only natural, Hawk. You lived there for three years."
"Yeah, but it felt so real. I was convinced it was real. Both Charles and Frank were there, though, which was the part that threw me. That just didn't seem right."
B.J. laughed. "If only those two had met each other! Wouldn't that have been wild?"
"Weasel vs. snob. I wouldn't know which one to dislike more."
"At least Charles warmed up over time. Frank… I don't know, was that guy ever right in the head?"
"I don't think so. But I'm not gonna feel sorry for him. He got sent Stateside long before we did."
"True," B.J. said. "But he had that dour wife to go home to. I'm not sure, maybe the war was better."
"He was fun to pick on, I'll say that much."
"Passed the time."
"Had to have somebody to take our frustrations out on."
"Good ol' Ferret Face."
"You're actually making me miss him."
Then, both of them in unison: "Impossible!" And they fell into laughter.
"Dad asked me tonight what we talk about. I didn't even know how to answer him."
"We talk about everything and nothing."
"He doesn't understand it… us. He can't imagine how we can talk to each other every night for hours."
"Peg doesn't get it either, but she seems to be resigned to the fact that it's going to happen, whether she likes it or not."
"I'm sorry, Beej." Hawkeye sounded like he'd never realized before how much he was monopolizing B.J.'s time. "You should be spending all these hours with your family. I shouldn't be interfering—"
"Stop. You're not. You're also not twisting my arm. I'm on the phone with you every night because I want to be. I need this, too."
"Maybe it's not right. Normal."
"Who's to say what's normal? Neither one of us ever came home from a war before. This is uncharted territory for both of us."
There was silence then, and it stretched out. This happened fairly regularly, the lulls in conversation. B.J. would just hold onto the phone as if it were a lifeline, waiting out the pause, never feeling awkward or anxious. They might not have been speaking, but they were still, somehow, communicating.
Finally, faintly, "B.J.?"
"I'm still here."
"I don't want to stop. The phone calls, I mean. Is that OK?"
"Of course that's OK, Hawk. I don't want to stop either."
"Today a kid brought his teddy bear with him to his appointment. It looked exactly like Radar's. I just stared at it for a really long time. I couldn't move, I couldn't take my eyes off it. The kid's mom thought I'd gone catatonic or something."
"You all right, Hawk?"
"Yeah, sure. It just threw me. Sometimes I see something, or hear something, that just takes me right back there. Y'know?"
"Yeah, I know what you mean. A martini does it for me. The sound of a helicopter. That actually makes me stop in my tracks every time. My brain kicks into action: wounded, where should I go, how can I help? It's a very weird feeling. Takes a long time for it to pass."
Hawkeye murmured in sympathy. "Tell me this shit stops eventually."
"I'm sure it will, Hawk. It's still too soon. But we'll get past this, both of us. It'll fade until there's nothing left."
"Hopefully not the good stuff, though. The image of Klinger in his Scarlet O'Hara get-up, for example."
B.J. laughed. "That's always gonna be imprinted on my brain."
"Piece of work, that guy. I hope he and Soon-Lee are doing OK."
"Hawk, try to go one day without worrying about somebody from… back there. Everyone's fine." He struggled to find the right words, the ones that would make Hawkeye relax. "We're not in the middle of a war anymore. We made it out. You can start to let it go now."
He heard a sound that was somewhere between a sigh and a groan. "Would that I could."
"Beej, the weather was spectacular today. You gotta come out here and visit sometime. Maine is so beautiful in the summer. And in the fall, of course. Well, just about all the time, except maybe the dead of winter. Hell, I even love it in the dead of winter, even when the car won't start because it's too cold, and you feel like you're shoveling snow 'round the clock."
"I'll definitely come visit sometime. It sounds great." B.J. could actually picture Crabapple Cove in his mind's eye, despite never having been, just from having listened to so many of Hawkeye's stories about it. "So how did you spend your beautiful Saturday?"
"Dad and I played golf. He's terrible at it, but he's a trouper. He knows how much I love it, so he plays without complaint." B.J. flashed back to their golf-playing in Korea, remembering he was nowhere near as skilled a player as Hawkeye, and he felt a kinship with the elder Pierce. "Then we did some shopping, and then I mowed the lawn while Dad made chicken for supper." There was a slight pause before he added, mischief in his voice, "Reminded me of a joke. Why did the chicken cross the road?"
B.J. thought, what the hell, and decided to play along. "I don't know, why?"
"To avoid being fried." Hawkeye laughed raucously while B.J. only grumbled.
"That was pretty bad, Hawk."
"Oh come on, it was funny. You were expecting 'to get to the other side,' and I threw you a curve. A rhyming curve. You gotta appreciate that."
"Actually, as far as I know, chickens don't cross the road at all." Hawkeye hesitated then, and B.J. sensed the abrupt change in his mood, could almost hear the wheels turning, heading somewhere dangerous. "Actually, chickens…"
"Chickens take the bus."
B.J. shut his eyes and tightened his grip on the receiver. He felt a prickling at the back of his neck. Firmly, but with infinite compassion, he said, "No they don't, Hawk."
A silence blanketed them, long and, for a change, heavy and tense. Almost oppressive. B.J. waited it out. He wasn't sure what else to say, anyway.
Eventually, Hawk's soft voice came floating over 3000 miles of phone lines: "B.J.?" He sounded lucid and calm… he sounded like Hawkeye.
"Yeah," B.J. said as he let out a breath. And although tears stung his eyes, his mouth curved up into a small smile. "I'm still here."
"I'm all right."
"Of course you are. And I'm not going anywhere."
There was an audible sigh, maybe a tiny sniffle, and then Hawkeye said, "So anyway, enough about me. Tell me what you've been doing. What adorable thing did Erin do today?"
And B.J. leaned back in his chair, his shoulders relaxing, as he began to tell Hawkeye about his Saturday.