The Simple Things
B.J.'s strolling through the department store, almost aimlessly, racking his brain, hoping for inspiration. Hawkeye's birthday is coming up and he wants to get a gift in the mail soon, to ensure it gets to Maine on time. Although, come to think of it, it is a comfort to know he no longer has to deal with the infuriatingly slow mail delivery of the U.S. Army during wartime.
He wishes he had some ideas in his head, but truth be told, he's pretty much at a loss. The only thing Hawkeye ever wanted, for as long as B.J. knew him, was an end to the war… and they all got that, about seven months ago.
What to get the man who has everything, then? B.J. smirks. He can just imagine what Hawkeye would say to that. A harem, he might say. And that would probably be one of his more rational suggestions.
B.J.'s in men's clothing now, and for a second he looks at bathrobes, and he smiles. But he quickly dismisses that idea... it seems almost blasphemous to imply that Hawkeye should wear anything other than his prized, curiously durable red bathrobe that lasted three long years in Korea, just as Hawkeye himself had.
He reaches out and touches some gray sweatshirts… since he lives so close to San Francisco, there are a bunch of touristy shirts here, pictures of cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge on them, or simply SAN FRANCISCO in big, bold letters… souvenir items that B.J. can't picture Hawkeye wearing, not that he'd ever have the nerve to send him something so chintzy in the first place.
He smiles again. He can't help it, when he thinks of Hawkeye, he always smiles. One of a kind, that guy… no, no… finest kind.
"Hey, Hawkeye? When's your birthday?"
It's B.J.'s first week in Korea… everything's so new to him, everything's downright overwhelming, in fact, but one thing is already evident: Hawkeye is going to be very important to him here. Probably essential. He needs to stick by Hawkeye. He's going to need this man's help.
And incidentally, he likes the guy a whole hell of a lot, too.
Hawkeye sips his gin, looking at him. He's not answering.
"It's not a trick question," B.J. says, feeling a little self-conscious and not sure why.
"My birthday?" Hawkeye sounds like he's never heard of the concept in his life.
"Yes, birthday. The date on the calendar that signifies when your mother brought you into this world. You must have some idea."
"I just… I'm not sure anyone here knows when my birthday is. I'm just wondering if I want to say… even if it's just between us."
B.J. spreads his hands, "Hey, we don't have to celebrate it, if you don't want. But I'd like to know anyway. So I can acknowledge it when the time comes."
Hawkeye hesitates another couple of seconds, then finally confesses, "February 20th." Even as he says it, he sounds reluctant, almost embarrassed.
B.J. nods, says, "OK. Thanks," and makes a mental note.
He's found his way to housewares now, and he's picking up things and putting them down again… martini glasses (they'd break en route) and salt-and-pepper shakers (ditto) and a set of steak knives (surely Hawk already has steak knives). For no reason, he flashes back to a crude, homemade still and laughs out loud at the thought of Hawkeye building one at his home in Maine. Sounds crazy, but B.J. wouldn't put it past him.
B.J. looks around, convinced that people are watching this lunatic who's laughing and smiling his way around the department store as if he's having some kind of conversation with an invisible companion. Luckily, he's apparently not as conspicuous as he imagines; nobody's paying him any attention. He sighs. He's still as baffled as ever, but he can tell that the housewares department isn't going to be the solution to his dilemma, and he moves on.
In sporting goods, there are fishing poles (but how to mail something like that?) and golf clubs (he's got a great set of those already) and footballs (but he doesn't play). He tries to remember if Hawkeye ever talked of playing tennis, but he can't picture the man doing anything that physical… golf was about as physical as he got.
A few steps away, he sees a dartboard and he grins again. They'd had one in the Swamp; they'd used hypodermic needles about as often as darts. Hawkeye'd taken it home with him, and even though B.J.'s sure it's seen better days, he can't imagine why Hawk would need a new one.
He considers a deck of playing cards, but he figures they'd all played enough poker over there to last them a lifetime. Poker and booze… they'd all gotten their fill of those two things. And blood, too. Don't forget the blood.
The smile is gone now, his expression wistful, as he remembers the reason they were all over there… the seemingly endless parade of wounded, the soldiers they saved, the ones they couldn't.
Without a doubt, the hardest two years of his life… but at least he hadn't gone through it alone. They'd had each other to lean on, rely on, complain to, dream with.
B.J. puts down the playing cards and, as if a lightning bolt has struck, all of a sudden he knows exactly what to get. It's the right idea, the epiphany he'd been hoping for. It's perfect.
"I wonder if there will ever be a time when I feel like a normal human being again," Hawkeye remarks one night as they're sitting in the Swamp, looking at each other from their respective cots. "When I'll have a bathroom all to myself… when I'll wake up in the morning after a good night's sleep on a real bed and actually have a staircase to walk down, to a kitchen where a perfectly healthy breakfast awaits. Can you imagine, Beej? Do you remember what life was like outside this camp? Taking a walk to the local library… going to a movie in a real theater… having a root-beer float at the five-and-dime. The simple things."
"We'll probably never take them for granted again."
"Maybe the simplest thing of all: I just want to feel my keys in my hand again. The car key, the house key, the key to my dad's practice. I want to hold my key ring, Beej… hear the jingling, feel the weight of them in my hand. It's silly, but I'm really looking forward to that."
Hawkeye's sitting at the kitchen table, looking over at his dad on the other side in an almost stuporous state (post-sugar-rush meltdown, perhaps), the last of the chocolate cake on the table between them. There's so little left (a couple pieces at most) that there's no longer any trace of the Happy Birthday message.
"Thanks for the great dinner, Dad… and for the delicious cake."
"You're welcome, son. I'm just thankful we can spend this birthday together, for the first time in quite a while."
"Amen to that!"
There are greeting cards on the table, one from Aunt Peggy, another from Rebecca, the gal down the street who has a not-so-secret crush on him, some from his patients. There's also a card from his dad (Birthdays are nature's way of telling us to eat more cake) that has a check tucked inside, as if he's still 15 and not earning a physician's salary.
And on top of everything is a small opened package that has a Mill Valley, California, postmark on it.
His dad gestures to it and says, "So what did B.J. send you?"
"Keys," Hawkeye replies, holding up a keychain with three keys attached, jingling them.
"Keys?" Daniel sounds perplexed and a little incredulous. "Keys to what?"
Hawkeye shrugs, but he's grinning ear to ear. "Just keys."