A GLASS OF WATER
Monday, November 24, 1952
I arrived at the M*A*S*H 4077th yesterday evening after a long, nauseating ride along bad roads in cold, atrocious weather, just at dinner time. When the C.O., Col. Potter, announced that I was here to set up a small library for them, cheers all around (typical), but when he asked for a volunteer librarian to run the thing when I was gone, a Maj. Winchester quite enthusiastically volunteered (untypical - usually I get stuck training a very unwilling private who doesn’t even know what a decimal is, much less a Dewey Decimal).
The tone, or feeling, here is much different than at the sixteen other hospitals and MASH units I’ve brought books for - after only a day and a half I’m already getting a feel for the people here. Usually, when everyone knows I’m only going to be around for a week or so, no one even bothers to be friendly. Not so here. It’s already starting to feel like a weird kind of family - not everyone likes everyone here, but there does seem to be a strong feeling of respect and, well, trust.
I spent most of the day with Sgt. Klinger, the company clerk, helping me plan out where to put the bookshelves. He’s absolutely hopeless at carpentry, but after sixteen of these, I’m pretty expert, and all I really need is someone to hold the big pieces while I nail them. Maj. Winchester can’t help here, because he’s a surgeon, and a blister on a surgeon’s hand here could cost lives. He’ll be of more use when the books actually arrive in a few days.
I spent the evening at the Officer’s Club (I don’t know why they call it that - everyone goes there). Like everywhere else I’ve been in Korea, drinking is the number two form of recreation (sex being number one). Unlike the other places I’ve been, no one seemed to mind that I only drank Coca-Cola (most places, if you don’t drink or sleep with whomever asks, you’re considered stuck-up. Nice to finally find a place where that isn’t so. Wonder why?).
I find myself mostly with officers this time, also unusual. I guess Maj. Winchester taking the Librarian job gives me more status (it’s hard being a civilian - and a volunteer at that - doing a job in and for the Army. Classification is a big deal here and no one ever quite seems to know where to place me. At this MASH, it’s the VIP(!) tent. How nice).
I’m also getting a feeling for the personalities here, so, journal, I’ll give you a little rundown, briefly broken down into “Like”, “Don’t Like”, and “Not Sure”. I probably won’t have a chance to get more in depth, since I’ll be leaving in a week.
Col. Sherman Potter: The “dad” of this impromptu family. Someone everyone respects and likes. Been in the Army since W.W.I and still sane, which is quite an accomplishment. Has a natural authority - gets results not by being a tyrant but by being absolutely trustworthy.
Sgt. Max Klinger, Company Clerk: What a fun guy! From Toledo, Ohio (and really proud of it). Very resourceful, the kind of guy who “can get you anything” but is just as likely to give it away as not. Knows (and tells) some of the stupidest jokes known to man. Bright, cheerful, like a little Lebanese sunrise. We’re great pals already.
Father Francis Mulcahy (I think he’s a Captain): Lots of people are religious, but not many really love God - Fr. Mulcahy does. We recognized each other right away. He’s already gotten me to promise to sing in Chapel next Sunday. Doesn’t mind that I’m not Catholic - “We’re all God’s children,” he said, “even the ones who don’t know it yet.” Someone I know I’m going to miss when I leave.
Capt. B.J. Hunnicutt: One of the surgeons here. Very married, very sane, probably the sanest one here - just clear-eyed and levelheaded and really nice. Not many like him in Korea - makes me very much want to meet his wife (Peg) and baby daughter (Erin) back in the States.
Capt. Benjamin Pierce (Hawkeye to his friends): Tall, dark, handsome, charming - except he doesn’t know how to talk to a woman unless he’s seducing her. He’s made drinking an art form.
Maj. Margaret Houlihan, Head Nurse: Gorgeous, blonde - thin! (as opposed to me who am definiitely Not Thin). Like Col. Potter, has that natural authority which is really quite rare. Margaret’s an Army brat - very hard to get to know, I think, because she’s developed that shell that they all get from too many partings. Has flashes of warmth, though; too bad I won’t be here long enough to see if we could be friends.
Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester III: One of those Boston bluebloods who makes sure you’re aware of it every cotton pickin’ moment. Arrogant, pompous, rude - he’d be on the “Don’t Like” list for sure if it weren’t for one thing; he’s just so darned enthusiastic about these books. He keeps hanging around while we’re working on the shelves even though he can’t do anything - it’s like he’s starving or something, and maybe he is. He’s obviously well-read, although I’ve been standing toe to toe with him there (he keeps showing off his erudition; it’s great fun to match him head-to-head, even if I didn’t go to Haavaad) and it is hard to get books here - that’s why I’m doing this after all. I’m trying to let him down easy; all the books are donated and they tend to be mostly thrillers and romances - not what he’s wanting, I’m sure. So please, God, if you can, slip in a Milton or a Shakespeare or a Dante for Maj. Winchester (Chaaales). He’s like a kid waiting for Christmas and I would hate to disappoint him.
Tuesday, November 25, 1952
What an evening: Had a major run-in with Maj. Winchester (no pun intended) in the Officer’s Club. I was dancing with Max (he was teaching me the Toledo Two-Step) and laughing at one of his really stupid jokes when I hear that accent (is it real or put-on or what?), “For such a high-minded woman you have a very low sense of humor.”
“Are you this rude to everyone or just civilians?” I asked him (OK, it wasn’t witty, I wasn’t trying to be).
“Oh, he’s this rude to everyone,” Max piped up. “We don’t even notice it anymore.”
“Thank you, Sergeant,” Chaaales said dryly. “Perhaps the lady would care to dance with someone more up to her cultural standards, not to mention her intelligence level.”
“I’m outta here,” Max said and started to leave (Eek!). I grabbed his elbow and said, “The lady would rather dance with someone with better manners,” and turned my back on Maj. Winchester. He left shortly afterward, in a huff, I guess, although he always seems to be in a huff.
“I’m telling ya,” Max said, “you shoulda danced with him.”
“Why?” I asked, repulsed.
“Because he’s sweet on ya,” Max said. “Why do you think he keeps buzzing around while we’re working?”
“It’s the books, Max. He’s an addict. I should know, since I am one myself.”
“The books aren’t here yet. I tell you - it’s you. He really likes you.”
I left soon after that - not that I believe it for a minute. I do think that Chaaales is probably the loneliest person I’ve ever met, but it’s self-imposed loneliness. He uses words to push people away (even when he’s trying to bring them close, apparently. So does he really like me? I can’t tell; and what does it matter if I don’t like him anyway?).
So, I was walking past the Swamp (the tent the surgeons all share) on the way to my quarters when I was brought up short by the most exquisite sounds - Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto Number One or I’m an ostrich. God! I haven’t heard classical music since I came to Korea (sixteen weeks and counting) and I could only stand transfixed there with my toes going numb from the cold and drink it in. I jumped when B.J. came up behind me and said, “It’s way too cold to stand out here; you’ll catch pneumonia. I should know, I’m a doctor.”
“Please oh please, tell me that’s your phonograph I hear,” I begged him.
“Nope, it’s Charles’s, and he inflicts it on us at every opportunity.”
“Oh, dear, I was afraid of that.”
“You really like it, don’t you?”
“Oh, only like a man in the desert likes water,” I said.
“So come inside where it’s warm,” he said. “It’ll be going on for several more hours, I promise you.”
I was tempted. BOY, was I tempted, but, “I can’t. Maj. Winchester and I just had a fight in the OC. I told him he was rude; he’s not going to want to see me.”
“Did you tell him he was arrogant and pompous, too?”
I grinned in spite of myself. “No, I left those out.”
“We tell Charles he’s rude all the time. He won’t think anything of it.”
“No, I can’t, really. I’d be kissing up just because he has something I want, and I can’t do that.”
“All right,” B.J. said, “but just ten more minutes out here, then indoors with you. We don’t need any more patients here than we already have.”
He headed off for the OC; I hid in the shadows for ten more minutes, as I promised, then left. When the wind blows in my direction, just briefly, I can still hear the music.
And as I re-read what I just wrote, I realized that I was so miffed with how Charles approached me, that I completely overlooked what he actually said. Mr. Haavaad thinks I’m cultured and intelligent? Little farm-fresh me? Boy, is HE in for a shock.
Wednesday, November 26, 1952
The most outrageous thing happened this morning. Max and I were in his office trying to figure out where we could squeeze in one more bookshelf, when in walks Maj. Winchester and, without a single word, puts his phonograph and a stack of albums on Max’s desk, pours a glass of water from Max’s pitcher, hands it to me with a little bow and flourish (and a Big Gleam in his eye) and walks out.
I nearly died laughing, I really did.
“What was that all about?” Max asked.
“That,” I said, drinking the water down in one gulp, “was about one doctor who talks too much, and one being so generous it takes my breath away.”
The albums were all six Brandenburgs (dying and going to heaven wouldn’t have been any sweeter). I would have worried about “inflicting” them on Max, but he said he enjoyed me enjoying the music so much that he didn’t mind. He said a lot of other unedifying things I won’t go into. Col. Potter did stick his head in once to see what was going on, but he didn’t say anything.
I didn’t see Charles again (I’m quitting the “Chaaales” stuff after this) until that afternoon when he came to reclaim his phonograph. I couldn’t help myself, I was so grateful to him that I greeted him with a big hug. It was like hugging a brick; I never felt anyone so stiff. Anyway, I thanked him egregiously (I’m afraid I rather piled it on. Well, I was GRATEFUL).
“Really, really, it’s quite all right,” Charles said. “Glad to do it.” I could see I was embarrassing him - Winchesters apparently aren’t used to unbridled gratitude.
“Why?” I asked.
“Why were you happy to do it? You don’t even like me.” There. I said it.
“The truth is,” he said, picking up the phonograph, “that I like you far too much for someone who is leaving in a few days.” So there.
I just stared at him for a moment. “Well. And I don’t really know whether I like you or not. You haven’t given me much to go on. Until now.”
Now it was his turn to hesitate. Finally, “Would you like to find out?”
This time I took much longer to think. I had a feeling that I was dealing with someone too complicated to know in a year, much less a week. Was it worth it? And much to my own surprise, I found myself saying, “Yes, I would.”
Charles heaved a sigh and set the phonograph back down. “Why do I get the feeling we may be starting something we can’t finish?”
“I was just thinking the same thing. Stupid. Dumb. And we’re going to do it anyway, aren’t we?”
He smiled then, both warmly and sadly at the same time, if that were possible (I don’t think he’s aware of how expressive that face of his is). “Dinner then? I’ll bring a picnic and music?”
“Yes,” I said, simply, and went to talk with Father Mulcahy.
“Tell me about Maj. Winchester,” I asked him.
“What do you want to know, and why?” he asked, pulling up a chair for me.
I sat down. “He’s coming over for dinner tonight, and frankly, I’m starting to panic.”
Father smiled, that sweet, warm smile of his. “I was wondering if you two would get together.”
“Why?” I asked, completely nonplused.
“Because it was obvious to me that he was attracted to you right from the start.”
“I’ve only been here two days. No, three. And it wasn’t obvious to me until today when he practically hit me over the head with it.”
“Yes, I heard he lent you his phonograph. Most unprecedented. That’s his most prized possession and no one else ever touches it.”
“Were there strings attached, do you think?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, is my virtue safe?”
Father beamed. “How nice to finally meet someone here who has a virtue to protect.”
I laughed. “Yeah, sex and drinking are the primary recreation around here.”
“And you don’t do either one, I gather.”
“Not until I’m married, I hope.”
“Well, you could drink before then.”
I slapped him on the shoulder. “Will you please answer the question?”
He blinked. “Ah, Maj. Winchester. Well, I’m pretty sure he’s not a virgin. . .”
“I wasn’t expecting him to be.”
“. . .but I’ve never heard of him being other than a gentleman. I don’t think he would pressure you, he certainly wouldn’t force you, and I don’t even think he would suggest it unless he had genuine feelings for you. I don’t think you need to worry.”
“And how do you assess his character?”
“I think you’re capable of doing that yourself. What do you think?”
I thought hard. “Well, I think that all that arrogance covers up something very hurtful.”
“What do you mean?”
“Like how he talks about his family. ‘Winchesters do this’ and ‘Winchesters do that’ when all the while I get the feeling that Winchesters are basically miserable.”
“He is close to his sister.”
“Honoria, yes. There’s genuine affection there, but every time he mentions her, I get this image of two small children holding hands in a dark, cold mansion. I don’t know how accurate that is, but that’s the feeling I get.”
“Well, bursts of generosity are rare with Charles,” Father said, “but they have happened before. It’s as though there’s a better man in there struggling to get out.”
“And how much can I do about that in four days?”
Father smiled again. “Do you want my advice?” I nodded. “Then do what seems right to you and leave the rest to God.”
I nodded. That’s all I can do anywhere, anytime, anyway.
Thursday, November 27, 1952
Last night’s date was, well, complicated. Naturally, with such a complicated man.
It started out well, better than I expected. He brought the phonograph and a recording of Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (one of my all time favorites. Sometimes it’s like the man can read my mind) and a basket of goodies his sister sent him. There was pate de foie gras (sp.?), which was terrible, and some canned pineapple, which was divine, among other things. He couldn’t find the can-opener for the pineapple at first, so I suggested he use the boathook, which made him laugh, and that’s how we found out that we both loved Three Men in a Boat. We spent a good fifteen minutes comparing favorite scenes - Uncle Podger hanging a picture, the cheeses, and of course, Hampton Court Maze. This broke the ice and after that we were both much more comfortable, especially me (I haven’t eaten this well in weeks. Army food). The Army doesn’t seem to believe in furniture, so I had piled my mattress and a bunch of pillows on the floor to make a sort of sofa (How do Army people entertain? Oh, yeah, I forgot. Sex.), but it was still pretty, how shall I put it, cozy. Have I mentioned that Charles is really BIG? He’s very tall, about 6’3” or 4” and Not Thin. If I didn’t have a pretty hefty ‘physical presence’ myself, I might find him pretty scary. As it was, he had to put his arm around me for us both to fit, although by this time I don’t think he minded. We sat listening to Pictures and were just - comfortable. When he got up to turn the record, he asked, “I’m having trouble placing your accent. Just where are you from?”
Here it comes. “Kentucky.”
“How did you get so cultured in Kentucky? It’s not exactly a hot-bed of arts and literature.”
He put down the record. “You’re joking.”
“No, really. My mom used to take us into town every two weeks just to go to the library. I read everything I could get my hands on. They had records you could check out, too. I discovered Beethoven when I was twelve. The first time I heard the Fifth Symphony, I cried.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “It made me feel an emotion I have no name for.”
“My father started taking me to the Boston Symphony when I was three.”
“It’s strange how we got to the same place by such different roads, isn’t it?”
“Yes, isn’t it? So you’ve never heard a live orchestra?”
“Oh, yes, in college. I gobbled up every opportunity while I was there.”
“If we were in Boston, I could take you to the Symphony, and the Museum of. . .”
I touched his arm. “Charles, if we were in Boston, you wouldn’t have looked at me at all.”
“That is definitely not true.”
“Yes, it is true,” I insisted. “Or if you did, you’d think I was just a social-climbing hick and wouldn’t give me the time of day.”
He paused for a long, a very long moment. “I guess I should be glad we’re not in Boston, then.”
He put the record on the turntable then, and we listened to the rest of the piece, but that comfortable feeling was gone. He left soon afterward in a silent and thoughtful mood, and if I’m not sure I like him, why am I disappointed that he didn’t kiss me?
But he left the record player.
So much for last night. Today, early, about six a.m., wounded started pouring in. At least, I thought they were pouring, but the experienced hands said this was actually pretty light. The surgeons ‘only’ spent twelve hours in surgery. I helped carry stretchers and once applied pressure to a man’s wounded artery while Charles prepped him for surgery. He said I did a good job, and I don’t think he gives many compliments.
Everyone pretty much just dropped into bed after that, so it was a rather dull evening for me as I wasn’t tired, and I have nothing to read yet.
The books did come today, but I wanted to wait until Charles could be there to open them. Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Friday, November 28, 1952
I found Charles at breakfast in the mess tent and told him the books had come, and had to make him let me eat first before we went over and started unpacking.
There is a God, there really is. There were not only Milton (the complete poetry), Shakespeare (the complete works), Dante (the entire Divine Comedy, Longfellow translation), but also Chekhov’s plays and short stories and John Donne’s complete poetry and selected sermons. AND, best of all Three Men in a Boat. It was like Christmas and seeing Charles’s face beam with delight over these jewels was worth more than. . . well, than all the money he has. We spent the day cataloging them and training Charles as Librarian (a task that usually takes three days, but took Charles about fifteen minutes, but then I’m not usually training Harvard graduates). That means that for the next two days I have nothing to do except read. It’s ironic that I bring books but never get to read them except in the brief time between when they arrive and I leave.
Actually, everyone was pretty excited - this is the part I love about my job - and we can start lending books out tomorrow. Dinner in the mess tent was abuzz about reading material. Charles is going to have his hands full tomorrow.
I don’t remember either of us asking, but Charles came over after dinner and we spent the evening reading, which is not as dull as it sounds. Every once in a while he’d read a little Milton or Donne to me, and I’d read a little Ellery Queen to him (I think he considered this rather ‘low-brow’ at first, but I managed to convince him it’s worth his time) but mostly we just sat in silence and read. That comfortable feeling was back, and I tried very hard not to say anything that would spoil it. No hard truths this time.
He left about eleven o’clock, no fuss, but I feel we’ve made some progress.
Saturday, November 29, 1952
Charles certainly had his hands full today, but with wounded, not books. They started rolling in late last night and are still coming - it’s about ten p.m. now. I’ve done what I could, but there’s really nothing else I can do now. Except contemplate the insanity of shredding perfectly good human beings.
Sunday, November 30, 1952
Today was certainly the oddest of all the odd days I’ve spent at the 4077th, my last day here.
About an hour after I finished writing in my journal last night, I was sitting up reading (I need to finish this Ellery Queen before I leave) and I became aware of a stirring in the camp. Apparently, surgery was over at last and everyone was wending his or her way to bed. A few minutes later, there was a light rapping at my door. It was Charles. “May I come in?” he asked.
“I was about to go to bed,” I said.
He blinked. “Won’t take a minute,” he came in, sat down on the bed, said, “I just
wanted to tell you. . .” and fell asleep! I’ve never seen anyone fall asleep so fast (not that I’ve seen that many people fall asleep). Poor man, awake for almost forty hours, twenty-three of them in surgery, I certainly felt sorry for him, but did he have to fall asleep in my bed? And I have to admit that I gave no thought for my reputation, although in a few hours I was going to wonder why not?, but to the fact that it was cold and I was going to have to sleep on the floor. Fortunately, Charles still had his parka on, so I didn’t feel obligated to give him my blanket, although I did have a difficult time rescuing it from under his big, heavy body. I just took off his boots and bedded down on the floor (I did have extra pillows, thankfully).
I got up early this morning for Chapel - I’d promised Father I’d sing at the service. Charles was still sleeping and looked good for several more hours. I changed clothes in the showers and went to church. Father preaches good sermons, full of warmth and gentle wisdom. He reminded me of Jesus, actually, which I guess is his job, but he’s really good at it.
Afterwards, I went back to my quarters. Charles was gone, so I read a book until time for lunch. I noticed that when I went into the mess tent, conversation seemed to cease for a moment then picked up again. People were all abuzz about something, and looking at me, and whispering. I couldn’t figure out what was going on until a group of nurses sat down with me, nudging each other.
“Something on your mind?” I asked.
They exchanged glances somewhat guiltily, then Nurse Kellye said, “We just thought we should get the straight story from you.”
“About Maj. Winchester threatening to skewer Capt. Pierce over you.”
It’s amazing how many times I’ve been rendered speechless since I’ve been here.
“Um, perhaps you’d better begin at the beginning.”
“Well, I heard,” Kellye began, “that Maj. Winchester didn’t get back to the Swamp until after dawn and then Capt. Pierce started ribbing him about being with you, and Maj. Winchester said he’d skewer Capt. Pierce if he didn’t shut up.”
“He didn’t,” I spluttered, not knowing whether to laugh, cry or just hide.
“Not exactly,” B.J. appeared just then. “I was there.”
“So what did happen?”
“Charles said, ‘If you impugn the lady’s virtue, it will be an affair of honor.’ He didn’t say anything about skewering; I think it was just Charles’s way of offering to knock Hawkeye’s block off.” B.J.’s eyes were glittering; he was enjoying this.
“God,” I said. “It sounds like a three-penny dreadful. ‘Impugn.’ Tell me he didn’t really say ‘impugn’.”
“Well, I think it’s romantic,” Kellye said. “No one’s ever offered to defend my honor.”
I really, really wanted to crawl under the table by now. Seeing my embarrassment, Kellye said, “Don’t get us wrong; we don’t really care about your private affairs. It’s just the suggestion of crossed swords that intrigues us.”
“I suppose it would be vain to protest that nothing happened?”
“You could try,” B.J. offered.
“OK.” I took a big breath. “Nothing happened. Charles did stop by after surgery, said he wanted to tell me something, but fell asleep before he could. I slept on the floor. That’s the whole story, I promise.”
B.J. and the nurses exchanged glances. “OK, we believe you,” B.J. said. “No one could really believe that after twenty-three hours in surgery, anyone could do anything but fall asleep.”
I hadn’t thought of that, but it certainly made sense. Just then Charles came in, and the buzz renewed itself. He looked so smug - he knew they were talking about him and he liked it. He approached our table and everyone automatically shifted so he could sit next to me. It looked like we were now inextricably linked in everyone’s minds and I wasn’t sure I liked it. Actually, I was pretty sure I didn’t like it. I didn’t mince words.
“You didn’t have to get so theatrical, Charles. I just told the truth and everyone believed me.”
His face lost that pleased-cat look immediately. “So you’ve heard already. News travels quickly,” with a significant look at B.J.
It’s amazing how fast that table emptied. Within seconds we were alone. “What did you think you were doing?” I hissed. “Did you think you were D’Artagnan?”
“Shall we take a walk?” Charles suggested, and minutes later we were on the outskirts of camp, quite alone and quite cold.
Charles was confused, I could see it in his face, and I didn’t know what to do, since I didn’t know what expectations I’d failed to meet this time. Still, all the anger just drained out of me. I took his hand and said, more gently this time, “Charles, what were you thinking?”
“Would you tell me something first?”
“What is it?”
“What did happen last night?”
“You mean you don’t know?”
“I remember leaving surgery, and thinking there was something important I had to tell you, but I honestly don’t remember anything else after that. Until I woke up in your bed.”
“Still fully dressed.”
“Yes, there’s that, but would you still tell me?”
So I told him. He breathed a big sigh of relief.
“You mean,” I said, “you were willing to defend my honor when you weren’t sure I had one to defend?”
“What one knows in one’s heart and one’s head are two different things,” he said, and then he was walking away. Which was too bad because I suddenly realized that I loved him very much. And I’m very, very glad I’m leaving tomorrow.
Later, same day
Dinner in the mess tent - Col. Potter comes in and makes an announcement that he’d just received word that a big “push” was coming on and we should expect heavy casualties anytime. Much dismay. Then he came to my table and said, “I’m sorry, but the Army is forbidding any civilian travel for the time being, so it looks like you’ll be staying with us for a while.”
“How long?” I asked, my voice very small.
“Who knows?” he said. “Could be a few days, could be weeks. I’m sorry for the uncertainty, but there is a war on. We’ll try to see that you’re not too uncomfortable.”
Fat chance, I thought, but I said, “That’s all right, sir. I’ll try not to be any trouble.”
He patted my shoulder and moved off. All I could do was stare at Charles. All he could do was stare at me.
Thursday, December 4, 1952
Carnage - blood, blood, and more blood. I feel like Lady MacBeth - I’ll never come clean. How do you stay sane in the midst of so much death?
Saturday, December 13, 1952
It’s been a completely agonizing two weeks, but at least I think I’ll stay sane, now.
The morning after Col. Potter made his announcement, I went to him and asked to be put to work. He assigned me to Maj. Houlihan as a nurses’ aide (I had worked in a nursing home to help pay for college), and she had only a couple of hours to show me the ropes before the wounded started pouring in, and I mean really pouring. That first day in surgery was forty-eight hours long, far beyond what I ever thought human beings could bear. And it still wasn’t enough; several boys died just because we couldn’t, COULD NOT, get them into surgery in time. There were just too many of them. The first few days (I mean forty-eight hour days), I wasn’t sure I was going to make it (I understand why Capt. Pierce drinks so much, now). There were wounded everywhere; everyone who had private quarters had to give them up to make room for them. Col. Potter and Fr. Mulcahy moved into the Swamp, Margaret and I moved into the nurses’ quarters, which would be fun, like one big slumber party, if not for all the agony.
I’m glad I took the job, anyway, because every hand is needed. I’ve only made it through with some long talks with Father and with Charles’s help. He’s been just amazing - I can’t help but be astonished that, with all he has to do, he still has the energy to help me with my extremely less important problems.
He really listens - everyone else says I need not to care so much (Well, Fr. Mulcahy doesn’t say that). Charles is the only other one who seems to understand that I have to care - I don’t want to become the kind of person who would not be sickened to the soul by what I see here. I think everyone should be sickened, then it would stop happening. That is sanity to me, even if it hurts like hell (Dante could have learned a few things in this place). It was Charles who talked Margaret into training me to help in surgery, which might have seemed strange as I was having such a hard time in post-op, but he was right; more involvement rather than less is the only way for me to gain control of the agony. That he understood that about me says a lot for him. He continually surprises me.
It’s not continuous (thank God), sometimes we have a whole twenty-four hour lull (once forty-eight hour, sheer heaven) when we get to work just a normal shift and then recreate - mostly drinking. I think alcohol consumption here has tripled, at least. If I ever were going to start, now would be the time, but I haven’t. Charles and I have our own vices (Books! Music!) and we can usually be found in the Swamp drinking Bach or Mahler while everyone else is in the OC drinking Scotch.
And what about Charles, you may ask? Has he kissed you yet? Answer: no. Do you still think you’re in love with him? A: oh, yes. I’ve had a glimpse of his heart and he’s a better man than I thought him. The way he looks at me sometimes just takes my breath away, as though he could gobble me up. And I find myself thinking that being devoured by Charles Emerson Winchester III might be a pleasure beyond imagining. So you can see that I’m pretty far gone.
It’s been the worst two weeks of my life, even worse than when Mom died, but I still can’t bring myself to wish I weren’t here.
Sunday, December 14, 1952
Charles, Charles, Charles. . .this journal was supposed to be about my Korean War experiences and it seems to have devolved. Ah, well, Charles is the most significant thing happening in my life right now, and it would be dishonest to pretend otherwise.
Today is the second day of a blessed lull - it’s snowing and that seems to cut down a great deal on the fighting. I’m praying really hard for a blizzard.
Charles and I were walking back from the OC (we usually go there on our downtime until the drinking passes my tolerance level) when, out of the clear blue (or dull gray) sky, he said, “Do you know that you and Father Mulcahy are the only people I’ve ever met who seem to have nothing between themselves and the outside world except their skins?”
We entered the Swamp and took off our coats. No one else was there. “How can you do that?” he continued.
“I thought we’d already discussed this.”
“No. You’ve made me understand why you do it - you believe it’s better to interact directly with the world and feel the pain than to shield yourself from it. I just don’t know how you do it.”
“Let me think about that a minute,” and he did! “I guess it’s more a reliance on building an inner strength than in setting up an outer defense.”
“Like a crab,” he offered.
“Yes, I guess so. Vertebrate and invertebrate might be a good metaphor for it.”
“And a vertebrate doesn’t have to shed its shell before it can grow; it grows from the inside.”
“Why do I get the feeling we’re talking about something else now?”
“Because. . .do you remember something you said when we first met, about how if we were in Boston, I wouldn’t even look at you?”
“Yes.” It was something that was always at the back of my mind.
“Well. I’ve been doing a lot of, shall we say, soul-searching, and I was dismayed to find you were right.”
I said nothing. There was nothing to say.
“I mean,” he continued, “I’m like the man in the Bible who found the pearl of great price, only I would pass it by because it didn’t come in a Tiffany’s box.”
“And - I’m wondering just how shallow am I?< And can I fix it? Will someone always have to throw a diamond in my eye before I can see it?”
“Well, change doesn’t come without a lot of pain and suffering.”
That obviously was not what he was expecting me to say. “I won’t kid you, Charles. Spiritual growth is a long, painful process. That’s why most people don’t do much of it.”
“Is it possible? And do I have enough time?”
“Are you working under a deadline, Charles?”
“Maybe. We don’t know how long you’re going to be here.”
“I didn’t think we were talking about me.”
“No. Yes. We’re talking about the fact, that even now, I can’t find it in me to resist what I’ve always been.”
“Yes. Exactly. A snob.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know how I can help you, since you also seem to be telling me that I have a stake in the outcome.”
“Who else can?” he asked, and he looked really desperate.
“Father Mulcahy. He can be a lot more objective and effective than I can, plus he does this professionally.”
“My parents would never abide counseling, especially from a Catholic priest.”
“Screw them,” I said.
Charles was shocked - I never use profanity. “What did you say?”
“You heard me,” I said, not daring to repeat it. “What’s more important, what you really are, or what people think of you?”
“I’ve been told all my life it was the latter.”
Pity for him welled up within me, nearly drowning me. Tears came to my eyes. “I guess that’s the problem,” I said, and started to leave. I had nothing else to contribute.
“Wait,” Charles grabbed my hand. “Let me finish. I have to tell you that if I haven’t been as affectionate with you as you, or I, would like, it’s not because I don’t feel anything for you. I do. But I don’t want to hurt you by making you expect more than I’m capable of giving you. Do you understand?”
And I did. I saw that he did need (I dare not say “love”) me, and the terrible pain lying at his heart, and prayed and prayed that the two could be reconciled. All I could do was nod, and leave. I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow.
Monday, December 15, 1952
Today was payday - money! I’m not usually so gleeful, but I haven’t actually had any cash, not a penny, since I came to Korea. The Book People pay for room and board and transportation (or rather, they arrange with the Army for it), but as a volunteer, I don’t actually get paid, and it didn’t occur to me when I took the nurses’ aide job that there’d be money involved.
But there’s no place to spend it. Then I remembered the guy who can get you anything.
“Max,” I grabbed him in the mess tent after surgery (of course, the lull didn’t last), “do you know where I can get yarn and some knitting needles or a crochet hook?” flashing my recently acquired cash at him.
“Hm,” he said, “don’t get a lot of requests for that. What’s up?”
I hummed a few bars of “Christmas is Coming. . .”
“Oh, I see. I’ll see what I can do, but keep in mind that there’s not exactly a knitting supply store in the area.”
“Anything, Max, anything will do. And thank you.”
He waved his hand. “Thank me later, when I get the stuff.”
Charles came in late, looking all done in, which was odd, because today was a relatively slow day (‘only’ seven hours in surgery). I guess the persistent pressure is getting to him. He was silent and distracted during dinner, eating rather hurriedly and muttering something about having an appointment. Not like his usual self.
I ended up going to the OC alone, which felt odd since I’ve only been there with Charles, at least for a while now. Oh well, I thought, I can always dance with Max or with Father (who can cut quite a rug), but Father wasn’t there either.
Then Charles came in about an hour later, looking rather haggard and my brain gave a little “click.”
Oh boy, I thought. Oh boy, oh boy.
I took him out to the dance floor, not even noticing what was playing and told him, “I am so proud of you.”
“I just figured out where you’ve been.”
He gave a pained little laugh. “You were right; this hurts like hell. Are you sure it’s worth it?”
“You’re the only one who can answer that for yourself. All I can say is that it was worth it for me.”
“You’ve done this?”
“I couldn’t have recommended it to you if I hadn’t. No one gets sane without help of some kind. I still get help when I need it; I think I always will.”
“Thank you for telling me that. It will give me something to hold on to.”
He walked me home later, but before I went in I said, “Charles, I don’t think you realize how you helped me through the first days of this push. I’d be an emotional basket-case by now if not for you.”
“I think you’re overestimating my importance.”
“No, I’m not. We all help each other in the hard times. You really gave of yourself to me, and I’m truly grateful.”
“The pleasure was indeed all mine,” he said in that formal way of his, but he was smiling as he left, and I believe I lightened his load just a little.
Tuesday, December 16, 1952
Max came through. He called me into his office this afternoon and presented me with about eight ounces of the softest, silkiest homespun yarn you can imagine. Unfortunately, it was the most hideous shade of burnt orange I’ve ever seen. I didn’t know whether to love it or hate it (eyes open, hate it; eyes shut, love it), but I would definitely take it.
“I couldn’t get my hands on any knitting needles, though,” Max apologized.
“It’s OK. Could you get me a piece of wood, doweling perhaps, about six or seven inches long and a pocket knife? I can carve a crochet hook.”
“Done,” Max said, handing me his pocket knife. “I’ll get you the stick as soon as I get to the supply room. Now, let’s talk about price.”
“Whatever you want, Max,” I said, reaching for my money.
Max waved it aside. “Your money’s no good here.”
“Max, I have to pay you. I can’t let you give me Charles’s Christmas present.”
“No, I mean your money’s no good here. I’m talking about a trade.”
I nearly cried, I couldn’t believe it. “You want the shirt off my back? Because that’s all I have.”
“Wait, calm down. I was thinking of a service you could render me.”
Ah, that was better. “OK, what?” preparing to deal.
“I hear you’ve been packing them in for chapel on Sundays.”
“What do you mean, ‘you hear’? You’ve been there the last two weeks.”
“Scouting you out. You’ve got a good voice. So here’s the deal - on Christmas Eve we’re giving a party for the local orphanage and I’m in charge of the entertainment. You agree to sing in the show I’m putting together, and the yarn is yours.”
“But, Max, I’d do that for nothing.”
“And I’d give you the yarn for nothing. This way, we’re both happy.”
Of course I agreed. Who could turn down a deal like that? “Can I get an accompanist?”
“Ask Fr. Mulcahy. He plays the piano; I’m sure he’d be happy to do it.”
He handed me a pad of paper and a pen. “Write down what you need and I’ll have it for you tomorrow.”
I decided to push my luck. “And a dress?” I’d been in insignialess Army fatigues for months.
Max seemed to size me up. “OK, you can borrow one of mine. I’ve got a little emerald green number that would really bring out your eyes.”
Boy, you think you know people. “I can what?”
“Oh, no, it’s not what you think. You mean you haven’t heard that story?”
“I used to dress in women’s clothes trying to get out of the Army on a Section Eight.”
Army jargon. “What’s a Section Eight?”
“It’s where you’re crazy and they send you home. It didn’t work, but I do have a heck of a wardrobe.”
“And aren’t you popular with all the girls!”
Max laughed. “Come over this evening to try things on. I’ll turn you into a real knockout, I promise.”
I laughed, too. “Max, you’re a wonder.”
Father agreed, of course, so I guess most of my free time between now and Christmas (if I’m here that long - I have to keep reminding myself that I’m here on a day-to-day basis) will be spent crocheting and rehearsing. I hope Charles doesn’t think I’m cold-shouldering him.
Thursday, December 18, 1952
Two days in surgery. Don’t these people ever get tired of shredding each other?
Other than work, I’ve got almost nothing done. Only one week until Christmas. This yarn keeps staring at me; better get to work.
Friday, December 19, 1952
First rehearsal with Father today - no wounded coming in (it’s snowing! Never thought I would like snow so much), so we got in a good, long practice. Max got us a great assortment of sheet music, everything from children’s songs to Gilbert & Sullivan (standards and show tunes, too), so we’ve put together a little program with something for everyone.
Practicing the Gilbert & Sullivan gave me a wonderful, wickedly mischievous idea - unfortunately, no one but Charles will get the joke. That alone would make it worth doing, though. I’m having Father read Three Men in a Boat so he’ll know what I’m planning - this could be fun!
Sunday, December 21, 1952
A day and a half in surgery, dinner, rehearsing - I broke away for one hour in the OC - except for meals, I haven’t seen Charles for almost a week. Oh, he’s started coming to Chapel (Fr. Mulcahy says attendance is way up since I’ve been here - which bodes well for our little show).
Charles was rather cold and even more reserved than usual. I could see that he was, as I feared, taking my absence personally, so I just flat out told him, “Charles, I can’t tell you why I haven’t been here. I can only tell you it has something to do with Christmas.”
He visibly brightened. “Really? Although I must tell you that, whatever it is, I’d really rather have your company.” Nice words to hear.
“Well, the sooner I get finished, the more time we’ll have later.”
“If there is a later,” he pointed out, and I realized what was really bothering him.
“Just one more day, I promise,” I said, and went to ask Margaret if I could take the night shift tonight.
Monday, December 22, 1952
Truce! They signed a Christmas truce - no more wounded. Everyone’s evac-ed (almost. There are still three patients too sick to move). I went to ask Col. Potter about the travel situation (I didn’t want to, but my conscience dictated it) and since the North Korean Army is still in the area (they only agreed to stop shooting, not to move), civilian travel is still restricted. So, I am definitely going to be here through Christmas. With nothing to do except get ready for Christmas Eve and see Charles.
We are certainly making up for lost time. We talk incessantly. Normally we are quiet together while we’re listening to music, but lately we’ve been talking even then.
He’s still seeing Fr. Mulcahy, but I won’t let him talk about it. Whatever goes on there needs to be completely private. I think he’s grateful that I won’t pry into all those hurtful things he’s dredging up, and glad for my support. I really am proud of him.
He asked me why I never talk about my family, and I explained that I really had no family to speak of. Dad left when I was little (and, yes, I do realize that the main reason I dislike Hawkeye so much is that he reminds me a great deal of my father) and Mom died while I was in college. My brother and I can’t stand each other.
This really worried him. “It’s OK, Charles,” I told him. “I didn’t get to pick my family - everyone of them is either crazy or mean or both. I don’t miss them at all.”
“I understand that,” he said, (although he’s so close to his sister that I don’t think he really does), “and I certainly wouldn’t want you to associate with people who mistreat you, but I’ve noticed that the people who keep on an even keel here are the ones with strong ties outside Korea. Such as B.J., or Col. Potter. Or Max, for that matter.”
I thought about that. “I think you’re right, but I guess all I can do is keep aware of my state of mind and get help when I need it.” Which will have to do.
He asked me to accompany him to the Christmas Eve party, which I was planning to do anyway, but he said he didn’t want me to think he was taking me for granted, which was sweet.
“So we’ll be having a real date?” I said.
“What did you think we were doing?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I never quite know where I stand with you.”
He hesitated a full minute before replying. “Well. I hope to be able to clarify that before very long.”
With the wounded gone, I would have moved back to the VIP tent, but we’ve got two visiting South Korean doctors staying there (although their timing is terrible. There’s nothing for them to do here now), so Margaret offered to let me bunk with her. Actually, I think she offered more for her own benefit than mine, which is all right. She normally leads a pretty isolated existence, and I think a month (almost) in nurses’ quarters was really good for her. That she’s not eager to go back to her lonely existence is all to the good, I think.
Except I’m short on sleep. We stay up late doing girl stuff - hair, makeup and talking about boys (it feels like junior high school). She can’t believe that Charles and I haven’t kissed yet. According to her, we can’t keep our eyes off each other. I can’t deny it - I know I find it hard to look at anything else when he’s around. According to Margaret, it’s mutual. Of course, in those rare moments when I’m able to think rationally about Charles, I have to remember that we’ve only known each other a month. Should I be disappointed that we’re not making light speed? When you think about it, it’s still happening pretty fast (whatever the heck is happening, that is). I guess it’s not the time we’ve had that’s the problem, but the time we don’t have.
Tuesday, December 23, 1952
The day before my big debut - last minute rehearsal and dress fittings (Max is doing alterations!). I just needed one more thing, and the best person to ask was Hawkeye Pierce.
I sought him out this afternoon while Charles was busy in post-op (only two patients left). He was alone in the Swamp, and I was surprised to find him reading a book and not drinking for once.
“Charles isn’t here,” he said, not looking up.
“I know. I wanted to talk to you.”
He snapped his book shut. “Come into my arms.”
I sighed. “Don’t you ever give it a rest?”
“Not until I win,” he said.
“Doomsday. See me on doomsday.” I started to walk out.
“No, wait. I’m sorry. I’ll behave, I promise. What did you want to talk to me about? Behind Charles’s back.”
“Actually, I’m preparing a little surprise for him and I need you to help me out.”
“Because I need it not to look like a setup.”
“And since we don’t like each other. . .” Blunt.
“This is starting to sound like a prank. Do tell me more.”
“Well, what I want you to do, when Fr. Mulcahy and I get up to do our piece for the Christmas Eve show, is shout out, ‘Let’s have a comic song.’”
“That’s it? You want me to ask for a funny song?”
“Comic song. You have to say ‘comic song.’”
“Why do I think I’m being had?”
“There’s no risk to you,” I promised. “If what I’m planning doesn’t work, the joke will be on me.”
“And if it does work?”
“The joke will be on Charles.”
“Really? You’re pulling a prank on Maj. Smitten?” Does everyone else know more about this than I do, or is it just bored people gossiping? I decided to ignore it.
“Not a prank, just a joke. I hope it will be funny.”
He thought a moment. “OK, I’m in. But I warn you, I’m the champion practical joker around here, and if you’re setting me up, you’ll regret it,” but he sounded positively friendly as he said it.
“Thank you,” I said, and turned to go, but then thought, carpe diem. “Just one more thing, Hawkeye. It’s not that I don’t like you so much as you remind me very much of someone else I don’t like.”
“Let me guess,” he closed his eyes and waved his hands around theatrically, “your father.”
“How’d you guess?” I said, half-ironically. “Anyway, I just wanted to say that I think I understand why you act the way you do. This place would get to anybody.”
He pulled out a chair. “Sit down.” I sat. “It got to you, didn’t it? I seem to remember you throwing up a lot.”
“You know, I didn’t want you in surgery. As chief surgeon, I’m responsible for what happens in there, and someone that squeamish. . .”
I interrupted. “I’m not squeamish. I grew up on a farm; I’ve killed my own dinner.”
“You have? I mean, you are? And Charles is dating you?”
“Dating a hick, you mean.”
“I’m not insulting you, I’m complimenting Charles. I didn’t think he was capable of seeing beyond the end of his silver spoon.”
I wasn’t touching that one. “You were saying before that?”
“Oh, yeah. If it wasn’t squeamishness, what was it? Because you’re a civilian; you could’ve just remained in your tent and no one would have thought a thing of it.”
“I just found it unbearable to witness all that suffering and not be able to help.”
“Is that so?” and there was. . .respect in his eyes. “Anyway, what I’ve been trying to say is, thank you. You’ve done a good job, and the extra pair of hands have probably saved a few lives.”
“You’re welcome.” It was all I could think of to say.
Wednesday, December 24, 1952
The Big Day - and I’m really excited and nervous, too excited to eat breakfast, so I stayed in this morning and tried to figure out what to do with this hair. I usually just wear it in a bun, but I wanted something a little more special. It’s gotten really long since I’ve been over here and the winter air has made it really dry and frizzy. I struggled all morning (actually, it was only about an hour, it just seemed longer), when someone knocked at the door.
“Come in,” I hollered, still trying to get my hair to go up in a twist, but it WOULDN’T COOPERATE and kept falling around my shoulders.
Charles poked his head in. “Are you all right? When you didn’t come to breakfast, I was afraid you might be ill.”
I untwisted my hair in exasperation. “No,” I said, “Just nervous and TRYING to do SOMETHING with THIS HAIR.” I started vigorously brushing it and little green flakes started flying everywhere. Oops.
“What are all those green things?” Charles asked as I threw down the brush and started picking leaves out of my hair.
“Mistletoe. I was going for that festive look; I forgot it was in there.”
“Mistletoe? Would that be an invitation?”
Oh, boy. Now?
“Um, yeah, sure. Not that you need one.” And he did it, at last. He bent down and kissed me, a kiss that meant business. I had to check and make sure I still had my hands and feet when it was over; I couldn’t feel them.
“I’ve thought about doing that a hundred times, a hundred different ways,” he said.
“That sounds good,” I babbled. “A hundred ways sounds real good.”
And he kissed me again. I stood up so he could reach me better and clung and couldn’t find my head afterward.
“We shouldn’t be doing this,” he said, pulling away, but not very far.
“Should, should, I’m tired of worrying about should. How do you feel, Charles?”
“Like this,” he said and kissed me again and I melted and he could have had me if he were that kind of man but he has character and I love him and I want to kiss him forever and I very nearly did. If four hours is forever.
Yep. Four solid hours. We only stopped when Margaret came to find Charles because he was late for a staff meeting. It was way too obvious what we were doing, and she had a smug little smirk on her face as she left.
And I went back to doing my hair. Well, what do you do when your life changes completely?
Margaret came back about an hour later. I had still made no progress with my hair. “Well,” was all she said.
“Well,” I replied.
“Did you know your lips were swollen?”
Oh no. I looked in the mirror again - I’d been looking at my hair and not my face. My lips are kind of pouty anyway, but now they were huge (or at least they seemed that way).
“Oh, God,” I cried. “I can’t go out looking like this.”
“I wouldn’t have expected Charles to be that rough.”
“Oh, he’s not,” I smiled just thinking about it. “But he’s got stamina.”
She started to laugh then, only pausing to get me an icicle for my mouth.
Max brought my dress and she was still giggling. “Did I interrupt something?” he asked.
“No, but I did,” Margaret giggled.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing, Max,” I said, “thanks for bringing the dress.” I wanted him to leave now. Please.
He looked at me. “What happened to you?”
“Would you believe I was stung by a bee?”
He looked out the window. “In December? I don’t think so.” Then his eyes sparked. “Did Maj. Winchester do that? Lucky guy.” He looked closer. “I don’t even know how you would do that to somebody. What’s his secret?”
“Stamina,” Margaret yelped, laughing even harder, if that were possible. I whacked her with a pillow, then realized she wasn’t making fun of me; she was happy for me.
“Come on, y’all,” I said. “You have to help me. I can’t go out looking like this. What do I do?”
“Lipstick,” Max said. “Lots and lots of lipstick. Let me go get my make-up bag.” And as he left I found that I was yelping with laughter, too.
Margaret and I had reduced our guffaws down to mere giggles by the time Max got back.
“I’ve got a great shade for you,” he enthused. “We’ll make those lips the sexiest thing in camp. Everyone will think you did it on purpose.”
“Max, do you know what you sound like?” I gasped between giggles.
“Never mind him,” Margaret said. “Klinger, scram. I’ll take over from here.”
And she did. She helped me with the dress, did my make-up and my HAIR (with the help of lots of Max’s hairspray). It was almost like having a sister. I was touched by her care and her good cheer, and when she finished, I felt more like a girl than I had for months.
She left when Charles arrived - a good half-hour early, but I was ready anyway. She was still smirking when she left.
Charles stood looking at me for a full minute. I must say I enjoyed looking at him too - he was wearing his dress uniform and looked quite dapper. Handsome, even. Finally, I blushed. “Do you like it?”
“Oh, indeed. But, something looks out of. . .Good Lord, did I do that?”
I covered my mouth. “Is it still obvious? We hoped the lipstick would hide it.”
Charles moved my hand and examined my face carefully. “No, I guess it’s not obvious to the casual observer, but. . .I am truly sorry.” He looked like his dog had just died.
“It doesn’t hurt, Charles,” I laughed, “and I’m not sorry. I’ve never been gladder.”
“Then I’m glad, too.” He smiled and pulled a package from his pocket. “I came early because I wanted to give you your gift before the party.”
“Ooh, ooh, me first,” I begged.
“Of course, ladies first, only proper,” Charles said, but couldn’t stop a “my, that’s hideous” when he opened the package. “Oh, dear, I didn’t mean. . .”
“Never mind. I agree the color is hideous. Max got me the yarn from a Korean woman who shears her own sheep. She dyes her yarn with clay, if you can believe it. But touch it.”
He picked it up. “Oh, my yes, that’s exquisite.” He continued to run his hand along it - I’d spent days crocheting it; I knew it was irresistible.
“I see it as an example of the difference between how things are and how they seem.”
“Is that supposed to mean something?”
“Not personally, no. It was just an observation.”
“Now here’s mine to you.”
It was obviously a book (appropriately), but as I tore the wrappings off, I saw it was the most beautiful book I’d ever seen - soft shining leather and smooth vellum pages. A joy to the touch and the smell and the sight.
“Oh Charles,” I said. It was Shakespeare’s sonnets. I opened the cover and on the flyleaf it was inscribed from Charles to me, but also to Charles from Honoria.
“Oh dear, I love it, but I can’t take this. Your sister gave it to you.”
“I wouldn’t give it to you if I didn’t believe she would want you to have it.”
“You can’t. She doesn’t even know me.”
“Well, actually, she does, or she will when she gets my letters. I’ve written a great deal about you.” And what I wouldn’t give to see those. “She’ll love you, I promise.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Because she loves me and I. . .she wants me to be happy.” He wasn’t looking at me anymore.
“And your parents?”
He sighed. “Don’t know you exist.”
“I see.” Why do I keep pushing?
“No, you don’t see,” he grabbed my shoulders. Then, visibly calming himself, “it’s not that they would disapprove, it’s that they wouldn’t understand. You see,” he took a breath, “my parents. . .my parents don’t love each other. I don’t think they ever have. They can’t know the desire, the need I have for you.”
I took his face between my hands. I knew how hard that had been for him to say, to admit to himself. “Shh, it’s all right. Don’t push yourself so. I understand, I really do.”
“You see,” he continued, “we’re getting stronger together every day, you and I, but I’m afraid we’re not strong enough yet to withstand the cold of their disapproval. I want to be sure.” He was actually crying.
“It’s all right, it’s all right,” I murmured.
He cupped his hand behind my head and then jerked back. “Gah, what is that?”
I had to laugh. “Hairspray. Lots and lots of hairspray.”
“Ah,” he said, looking at my lipsticked lips, “I see you’re untouchable right now.”
“Just until after the show. Then you can touch me all you want.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said, offering me his arm, but there was both a gleam and a tear in his eye as we set off.
I hope Hawkeye remembers his line, I thought, wishing I’d had Margaret check him for me, but it was too late now. The show was ready to start and I was on first.
Charles sat down front, behind the children who were sitting on the floor. I spotted Hawkeye in the back, but tried not to look at him. I didn’t want to give the game away.
Max MC-ed. He introduced us, and as we walked on, Hawkeye shouted, “Hey, give us a comic song!” Bless him, right on cue.
“Silence, Pierce,” Charles shouted back as Father said, “Oh, no one can sing a comic song like she can!” and I heard Charles give a little “gleep!” Ha, ha, gotcha, I thought. I hadn’t expected him to catch on quite so fast.
Whereby I proceeded to butcher Gilbert & Sullivan, a la Harris in Three Men in a Boat. The kids thought it was funny because they like to see people mess up, but the adults were agog. I could practically hear them thinking, where did Klinger dig her up? But I kept going. Charles was snorting and hiccuping and TRYING NOT TO LAUGH but then he couldn’t help it and ended up guffawing and yelping and giggling. Then, everyone else was laughing at Charles laughing so hard. Father got the giggles and we had to stop. Charles couldn’t stop. He had to excuse himself and leave because I couldn’t go on with the next song until he did.
We were a big hit after that. We’d been asked for five songs, prepared ten, and ended up doing fifteen or twenty. I did wait until Charles came back in to do the straight Gilbert & Sullivan, but that set him off again and he had to go to the back of the tent. We ended up being the entire show, we had so many encores. No one seemed to mind, least of all the people Max had roped into following us.
Afterward, Hawkeye came up and kissed my hand. “Thank you, thank you, for letting me be a part of that. The pleasure of watching Charles come unstuffed was beyond compare. I tip my hat to you. I have just one question: what was so darned funny?”
“Three Men in a Boat,” Charles and I said in chorus, which gave us both the giggles (I think today is my day for cracking people up - everyone should have one).
“What’s that? A book? I didn’t think Charles read anything that didn’t have a pedigree.”
“It’s a comic classic,” Charles said, trying to sound dignified, but spoiling it by snickering.
“Where can I get a copy?”
“See your local librarian,” I suggested, giggling myself. I couldn’t help it; I’ve never seen Charles laugh so hard or so long, and the pleasure of being the one to do it to him was immense.
“So, Charles,” Hawkeye asked, “how does it feel to be made part of the entertainment?”
“It was the best fun I ever had,” Charles said, and I was glad, because I had only meant to amuse him, not humiliate him.
“Well, I’m going to get a drink,” Hawkeye said, heading for the bar. I waited a minute, then asked Charles to excuse me. “There’s something I have to do.”
“Buy a girl a drink, soldier?” I asked Hawkeye. I know I caught him off guard, because he didn’t have a line ready.
“But you don’t drink.”
“Bartender, give the lady a Scotch.” I swallowed it in one gulp and it was TERRIBLE. It burned all the way down.
“All right,” Hawkeye smiled. “I get it.” He raised his glass. “Merry Christmas, Madam Librarian.”
“Merry Christmas, Doctor,” I said, and went to rejoin my date.
“What was that all about?” Charles asked.
“I see. I know you have no tolerance for alcohol, so are you going to get drunk now?”
“Probably, since I was too nervous today to eat anything.”
“Good Lord, girl! Let’s get you fed before you pass out.”
Col. Potter came out and played Santa for the kids, who were soon packed off to bed. Afterward, there was dancing and much slipping off into the shadows.
Charles must have kissed me a hundred more times, all soft and gentle so as not to further bruise my mouth. I did get tipsy, but I don’t know if it was the alcohol, the applause, or Charles.
Thursday, December 25, 1952
It snowed steadily all night, and by morning there was nearly two feet of snow on the ground. Charles and I built a snowman, just as he used to do as a boy on Boston Common. Then we got into a snowball fight that grew into a furious free-for-all involving the entire camp. Father and I kept getting clobbered, because we both had to take off our glasses and were thus at a decided disadvantage. Glassless, I see the world as a Monet painting, only this one was all white and mottled green. Father and I teamed up and managed to survive by developing the rule, “If it’s green and it moves, clobber it!” I could always tell Charles because he was wearing the hideous-exquisite scarf.
Afterward, there was hot chocolate and carols in the mess tent. Charles and I spent the rest of the day in the Swamp reading books and listening to music. We weren’t alone, but it didn’t seem to matter. A day of peace, interrupted only by the sound of Hawkeye’s raucous laughter as he read Three Men in a Boat.
This is the best Christmas I’ve ever had, maybe the best Christmas I’ll ever have.
Saturday, December 27, 1952
They didn’t waste any time - the casualties started pouring in early yesterday morning, heavier than ever. Thank God for our two Korean visitors - at least this time we didn’t lose any boys for lack of sufficient doctors. We lost too many, though. One is too many, more is vast.
A couple of hours sleep, and then back to work.
Monday, December 29, 1952
The Korean Army is in retreat, the push is over, the patients are evacuated. I leave tomorrow.
Margaret was dismayed to find out that I had been here for my birthday and no one knew. She had planned a one month late party for Friday, but we were drowning in wounded, so we had it tonight. It turned into a going away party.
Some good presents - Chocolates (expensive ones, of course) from Charles; a lipstick and a can of hairspray from Max; a toy boat with three little dolls in it from Hawkeye. The best ones were from B.J. and Margaret - an address book with everyone’s stateside addresses in it from her, and an invitation to visit Peg and Erin in Mill Valley from him.
Nothing helps, though, touched as I am. The party broke up early - it’s hard to have fun when the guest of honor is ready to burst into tears at any moment.
Charles was stony silent during the evening. It was hard to look at him, harder not to. He didn’t come in after walking me, in silence, “home,” just kissed me good-night and said he had to go make a phone call.
It’s midnight and he hasn’t come back yet. I’m leaving a light on. I can still feel his kiss on my lips.
Tuesday, December 30, 1952
My transport left the 4077th shortly after breakfast; everyone came to see me off. Everyone except Charles. He didn’t even come to say goodbye.
END OF PART ONE
A GLASS OF WATER
I left Korea just a few weeks after I left the 4077th. I was sick of the place and quit my job as soon as I decently could.
I came back to the States, went back to school and got my Master’s degree in Library Science, then spent the next two years largely unemployed (never look for work during a Republican administration), working temporary or part-time jobs and getting steadily deeper into debt. By the time the Boston Public Library was advertising for an Assistant Librarian, I was applying for everything I could find having remotely to do with books or libraries. When the offer came, it was too good to turn down, Charles or no Charles. After all, Boston’s a big city and he and I don’t exactly run in the same circles.
And I do love my job. I’m in charge of Recorded Media - tapes, films and records. Even with all this city’s culture, much of it is still largely inaccessible to those with limited means. Every once in a while, I’ll see someone at the listening stations, wearing those headphones and that look of discovery I know so well from myself. That alone would make it all worthwhile.
But I also met the best friend I’ve ever had here. Her name is Honey Peligrino. She’s a native Bostonian who knows all the nooks and crannies and has taken great pleasure in showing them to me. Her husband Gus (really Guiseppe) is Italian. Not Italian-American, real Italian. He came here from Italy when he was twelve, with his entire family, which in Italy means everyone from grandparents to second cousins. They all live in New York. He has a small construction firm and Honey worked part-time at the library to make ends meet. She had to quit work when she became pregnant. I’ve been over to their house dozens of times, and there always seems to be some sort of festivity going on. Gus needs small reason to celebrate, apparently. You should have seen the party they threw when they found out Honey was pregnant. They asked me to be the godmother, and I was deeply touched and warmed by how close we’ve become - like the family I always wanted while I was growing up, but never had.
I still kept in touch with Margaret, exchanging long, chatty letters that never mentioned you-know-who. She was a Lt. Colonel by the time I finished my degree, a full Colonel by the time I moved to Boston, stationed at an Army hospital in Tokyo.
Father Mulcahy is here, running a mission in South Boston. I hesitated about contacting him, since he was the person most intimately bound up with Charles and me, but I missed him terribly (as I knew I would), and couldn’t bear not to see him. We had dinner together every couple of weeks or so, and he was a very comforting and steady presence in my life. He did encourage me at first to speak to Charles, seeing my being here as God’s direction, but I couldn’t. It still hurt too much. The pain was as great as when first inflicted, even after four years. I didn’t think seeing Charles would help, just inflict more pain on both of us. I forbade Father to tell him for the same reason.
I had seen Charles once since I’ve been here. I used my first paycheck to buy a ticket to the Symphony. I knew the risk I was taking, but they were premiering a new symphony by David Sheridan. Usually, I don’t like ‘Modern’ classical music, but his music grabs me by the soul and won’t let go. I couldn’t resist. I sat in the cheap seats, and I spotted Charles sitting in the VIP section. I made sure he didn’t see me - I’ve observed that people usually don’t see what they don’t expect. It hurt, but I could bear it for a while if I didn’t have to talk to him. I couldn’t bear to go to the Symphony again after that, though.
Then came that October night about a year after I arrived in Boston, when I got a call from Gus. He was crying - the baby had come a month early and had a hole in her heart. The doctors didn’t think she would live until morning and could I please come to the hospital for the christening?
I found Gus outside of Intensive Care, where his daughter was fighting for her life. I hugged him and cried and asked, “How’s Honey?”
“She’s still unconscious. It was very hard on her, she’s very weak, but she will recover. She doesn’t know about the baby yet.”
“And how is she?”
Gus wiped his eyes with both palms. “Very bad. Her doctor doesn’t think she will live, but Honey’s brother wants to bring in a specialist to operate.”
“Gosh, can they operate on a child this small?”
“He thinks they can. He’s done everything, called in the specialist, called a priest. . .”
“What about Father Robert?” He was the Peligrino’s parish priest.
“He’s out of town.”
Then in walked Father Mulcahy, much to my astonishment, and his. “Why are you here?” he asked.
“Oh, Father, I’m so glad it’s you,” I said, hugging him. “I’m the godmother.”
“But you can’t. . .I mean, you don’t know. . .” and then Charles Winchester walked into the waiting room. Oh Lord. He must be the specialist. How was I going to handle this? I stepped behind Father.
Charles sat down by Gus. “I got Dr. Zamtuk in New York and she’s flying in now. She should be here in about an hour and a half. Two at the most.”
“But will my daughter live that long?” Gus asked, still crying.
Charles put his arm around Gus’s shoulders. “We’ll do everything we can, you know that, Gus. I mean everything. Your daughter won’t die if it’s humanly possible to prevent it.” Even worse, not the specialist then. But he couldn’t be. . .Honey’s brother? Charles’s sister was named Honoria. Honey? Honoria? Dear God.
Gus grew calmer. “Now,” Charles said, “for your job, Father. Is the. . .” and then he saw me and stopped.
“Godmother,” I said. “I’m the godmother. Let’s get this child baptized.” So my second meeting with Charles Winchester was swallowed up by much more important matters.
Then we all donned surgical gowns and masks (and didn’t that bring back memories?) and went into ICU and I stood as godmother to little Maria Katerina Peligrino. I was unable to touch or even see much of her, there were so many wires and tubes attached to her tiny body. I could have held her in one hand if I could have touched her at all. Afterward, Charles went to oversee the surgical preparations, Gus went to sit with Honey (Honoria! I couldn’t believe it) and I was left alone with Father Mulcahy. “How are you holding up?” he asked me.
“All right, I guess. I hate these hospital vigils.”
“Yes, it’s always difficult when a child is in peril, but that’s not what I meant.”
“I know what you meant. Yes, it was a shock, but I’m holding up better than I expected. It seems much less important now in the grand scheme of things.”
“You’ll have to talk to him now. You can’t avoid it.”
“I know it. Honey’s going to need everyone who loves her now.”
“Charles’s sister. Honoria. I know her as Honey Peligrino.”
“I was wondering how the mistake was made. How many women named Honoria could there be in Boston?”
“The funny thing is that Honey’s tried to introduce me to her brother at least a dozen times, but he was always too busy to come on nights I was there.”
“Hm. That doesn’t sound like a coincidence to me.”
“I guess we don’t have all the pieces to the puzzle yet.”
We sat and held hands and drank coffee and prayed for hours until Charles finally came out of surgery. “How is she?” Father asked.
“She came through the surgery all right. Dr. Zamtuk is extremely skilled at this delicate sort of procedure.”
“Thank God,” I said.
“But she’s not out of the woods. If she survives the next twelve hours, she has a good chance of making it. It’s watch and see until then. Where’s Gus?”
“With Honoria,” Father said.
“Fine.” Charles rubbed both eyes. “I’ll go tell him. I hope we have good news by the time Honoria wakes up. Are you staying?” he asked me.
“All right. I’ll talk to you later. I still want to know how you got here.”
He wasn’t gone long; Honey was still asleep. “How is Honey?” I asked. Father wandered off.
“Honey? Oh, yes. I guess I am about the only person who still calls her Honoria. She’s resting comfortably. It was a rough delivery. She’s sedated for now, but they’ll start weaning her off this afternoon.”
“But she’ll be all right?”
“Eventually. She’s in for an extended recovery; at least two weeks.”
“And how are you?”
He rubbed his face. “Tired. Worried. Frustrated. Wondering just what in the hell you’re doing in Boston, how in the hell you know my sister and why you’re not scratching my eyes out.”
“I came to Boston because I needed a job; which is where I met your sister. We worked together. She took me under her wing and we became friends.”
“Best friends,” he said, ironically.
“Yes. Best friends. It never occurred to me that Honey Peligrino and Honoria Winchester could be the same person. There’s no trace of a silver spoon about her, and she never talked about her family.”
“There’s a good reason for that.”
“Let me guess. She ‘married beneath her’ and they disowned her.”
“Got it in one.” He rubbed his eyes again.
“And I, personally, am a coward. But when my sister went, I went, too.”
“Oh.” I felt like someone had stabbed me.
“‘Oh’, indeed. How can you sit there so calmly? Why don’t you hate me?”
“I have hated you for years, but sitting here with you now, I can’t find it in me.”
He held out his hand. “Friends?”
I didn’t take it. “No, not friends. But not enemies.”
He stood up. “That will have to do for now, but eventually we’ll have to work through this. You’re family now, in a way I never imagined. We’ll have to find some peace, somehow.”
“I know, but right now we have more important things to take care of.”
“Yes,” he said, “and I’d better go take care of them.”
Father came back in and sat down. “Would you take some advice?”
“From you, of course. Father, do you know how much I love you?”
“And I couldn’t love you any more if you were my own daughter.” I started to cry. “It seems you’ve been entrusted to my care.” He gave me his handkerchief.
“So what’s your advice?”
“You have a loving heart; why don’t you try using a little of it on yourself?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve been carrying this open wound for five years now. It’s long past time to heal it up. Can you consider this an opportunity from God?”
The tears flowed faster. “Will you help me?”
“You know I will. Whenever you need me, I’ll be there.”
I cried a little longer, then dried my tears.
“There’s something else you might consider,” Father said.
“Everything is much more intense in wartime. You spent a month with us under conditions that had the most seasoned veterans tottering on the edge, and you had no experience or preparation. You might consider whether you unconsciously are placing to Charles’s account the blame for the entire experience, not just the disappointment he caused you.”
I had one of those strange viewpoint shifts, and I realized that Father was right. Ouch. But it was a good ouch, filled with hope and truth.
“It’s morning,” I said. “I need to go see to my friend and my goddaughter.”
I saw Honey first. Gus was asleep in a chair by her bedside, looking vulnerable as a small boy. Honey was so pale as to be nearly transparent; it hurt to look at her. I realized that in all my concern for Maria, I hadn’t given enough attention to her mother. A nurse came in and shooed me out - it wasn’t visiting hours and I’m not immediate family. I thought that was pretty unfair as Honey’s family consists of Gus and Charles. And that gave me a thought I couldn’t get rid of.
I went to ICU next. Charles was in the waiting room arguing with the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. On second look, I realized she wasn’t, but she had an inner intensity that was striking. Charles introduced me to Dr. Zamtuk as Honoria’s friend and Maria’s godmother. I couldn’t help it, I hugged her. “Thank you for what you’ve done.”
“She deserves more than thanks,” Charles said.
“Don’t start again, Charles,” she said. “I’m not taking your money. I owe you too much as it is. Will you tell him I’m not taking his money?” she said to me.
“She’s not taking your money. Why not?” I asked her.
“He saved my brother’s life.”
“He’s saved lots of lives. So have you. It’s your job.” Charles kept trying to interrupt but I wouldn’t let him.
“Rather, he saved David’s soul.”
“Now, Jenny,” Charles said.
“How so?” I asked Dr. Zamtuk.
“David was a concert pianist who lost partial use of his right hand in Korea. . .” Oh, my,
“. . .and Charles here wouldn’t let him give in to despair. He kept at my brother until he convinced him that the music was still part of him. David’s a composer now. So you see, I’m only too happy to finally be able to do something for this man.” She turned suddenly and kissed Charles smack on the lips. Charles spluttered. “Aw, come on, big guy,” she said, “give me something to brag to my husband about.”
“Jenny, you are too much,” Charles said.
“Yes, I know,” she twinkled. “Now is it settled? Please? I’m just paying off an old debt.”
“All right,” Charles finally agreed, reluctantly.
“I came to check on Maria,” I said.
“She’s not out of the woods, yet, by any means,” Jenny said, “but her O2 saturation level is up, which is a good sign.”
“Oh, good,” I sighed. “Charles, may I talk to you about something?”
“I’ll be back in a minute,” Jenny said.
“What is it?” Charles asked.
I hesitated. Was I sticking my nose in? “I just had a thought, and it may be way off base, so tell me if it is. . .”
“Just out with it.”
“OK. Do Honey’s, I mean Honoria, your parents know about this?”
“No.” Just that.
“Charles, it’s their grandchild.”
“No,” he said again firmly. “They disowned her when they disowned Honoria.”
“How can you vilify them as monsters when you don’t give them the chance to act like human beings?”
He turned on me. “You’re someone to talk. You haven’t spoken to your family in years; you told me so yourself.”
“That’s true, Charles, but after my mother died, I spent a year trying to reconcile with my father. It didn’t work, but at least I tried. You have to ask yourself, what would Honoria want? She can’t speak for herself; you’ll have to do it for her.”
He glared at me. “I’ll need to talk to Gus. This has to be a family decision,” and he stalked out angrily.
Jenny was back. “How much did you hear?” I asked.
She shrugged. “All of it. I eavesdropped. You really touched a nerve, didn’t you?”
“Yeah.” I fiddled with my hair. My bun was coming down. “Family stuff is always so messy.”
“So how long have you known Charles?”
After that little scene, I couldn’t pretend we’d just met. “I knew him a long time ago. This crisis, well, it’s the first time I’ve seen him in five years.”
She examined me closely. “So it’s like that, is it?”
“You talk too much.”
“Yes, I do, don’t I?” She laughed. “Pay no mind to me, I’m harmless. But if you want my advice. . .”
“. . .you’ll grab onto that one. Men like him don’t come along twice.”
“Yes, they do.”
She laughed again. “OK, they don’t come along thrice.”
“You’re still talking too much.”
“I know. Do you want to see your goddaughter?”
“They won’t let me in. I’m not family.”
She looked me up and down. “You look like family to me. Come on, I’ll get you in.”
“By the way, who is your brother? Maybe I’ve heard of him.”
“Probably. He’s David Sheridan.”
Oh, my. She saw my reaction. “Do you know his music?” she asked.
“Know it? Like I know food, or air.”
“I’ll tell him you said that. He’ll be gratified.” And if David Sheridan’s wounds made him what he is, what might mine make me? Then I realized that all of David Sheridan’s music was Charles’s as well.
Maria was lovely, in spite of all the tubes and wires (they seemed to have multiplied). I ventured to barely touch the tip of one finger. “Come on, little one,” I urged her, “we love you and want you to stay with us. Your mommy and your daddy, your Uncle Charles, and I - we all love you.”
Father was in the waiting room when I came out. “Why are you still here?” I asked.
“I had some visits to make since I was already here.”
“You should go home and get some rest, or do you have to work?”
“There are some phone calls I should make. If I can’t find someone to cover for Charles at the clinic today, we’ll have to close it.”
I blinked. “What did you just say?”
“Charles administers our clinic. He gives half his time and a good deal of his money to it.”
“You never told me.”
“Forbidden subject, remember? I’m going to get heck from Charles when he realizes that I’ve known you were here for a year and didn’t tell him.”
“Father, may I tell you that everything you ever said to me was true, and I’m an idiot for not obeying your every whim?”
He laughed. “Just see that you do better in the future.”
“I will. And you don’t need to stay on my account. I’m fine.”
“Are you really?”
I thought. I didn’t want to be less than honest with him. “Yes, I am. I made Charles mad a little while ago, but he’ll get over it.”
“What did you do now?”
“Told him to call his parents.”
Father whistled. “That was bold, but you’re right. Is he doing it?”
“I don’t know. He went to confer with Gus.”
“I’d better go find him and offer some moral support.”
“You’re too good for us, Father.”
He laughed again, gently. “Just offering a cup of water where it’s needed. You try to get some rest; nothing’s going to happen for a few hours.” He kissed my forehead, and left. Family. You find them in the strangest places.
The good thing about hospitals is that you can fall asleep in one nearly anywhere and no one will disturb you. The bad thing is that you never know who will be watching you wake up. Mrs. Winchester was watching me. Don’t ask me how I knew it was her; it just couldn’t have been anyone else.
Ick. And me with my hair all matted and no toothbrush.
“Don’t let me disturb you,” she said.
“Uh, it’s OK. I’m done sleeping.” I sat up and ran a hand through my hair. I needed a bath, too. “Mrs. Winchester, I presume.”
“And you’re Maria’s godmother.”
“So Charles did call you. Good. Is Mr. Winchester here?”
“No,” she said in a tone that brooked no discussion, and I suddenly knew what Charles meant by ‘breeding’, “but I want to thank you for making Charles call us.” This was probably the first time this woman had done something against her husband’s wishes since her marriage. Good for her.
“What time is it?”
“It’s a little after noon,” she said. “Honoria’s asleep, but they’re reducing her medication and she should wake up soon. Would you like to borrow a comb?”
Oh, yes. I ran off without mine. I was making myself a little more presentable when Charles came in. “Honoria’s awake, Mother. She’d like to see you now.”
He sat down next to me after she left. “Thank you,” he said.
“You’re welcome. Were you surprised when she showed up?”
“Stunned speechless. Father was adamant. I’m shocked that she defied him.”
I looked down at my hands. “Your mom forgot her comb.”
“She’s my mother, not my mom,” and there was such pain and emptiness behind those words that I could only shudder. And wonder why these people’s approval had been more important than my love. The more I saw, the less I understood.
“How’s Maria?” I asked.
“Steadily improving. The crisis isn’t over, but I think she’s going to make it.”
Maria did make it, although she had to stay in the hospital for a month. Honey went home in three days, but still needed care for a couple of weeks. Charles was going to hire a nurse for her, but I wouldn’t let him. I talked my boss, who was immensely sympathetic, into letting me take my vacation. Gus had a remodeling job that he couldn’t miss out on - construction work is seasonal and jobs get harder to come by in the fall and winter. With all these hospital bills, they needed the money. Charles wanted to take care of that, and that was the biggest fight I ever saw two human beings have without hitting each other. They’re both proud men wanting to take care of their family, but Gus won.
Charles would have liked to be with Honoria all day himself, but he had too many responsibilities. He did manage to shorten his hours, and usually arrived by mid-afternoon. He would examine Honey, make sure she had what she needed and the proper amount of exertion. I found it easier to deal with seeing him every day if I thought of him as Honey’s brother and not as ‘my’ Charles. We split the household chores between us; he cooked and I cleaned up. Much better than doing it the other way around - I’m a terrible cook, but Charles can do things with clams that make you glad you’re alive.
I’d been going over my Korean journal, trying to do what Father said and try to figure out how much of what happened was Charles, and how much was Korea. And how much was me. As I read, I was realizing how I had used him. All right, I needed him, but I did use him.
Mrs. Winchester came by every day during Honey’s recovery, always bringing something. I don’t think the woman knows how to have a relationship that doesn’t involve money, but I had to admire her persistence. As Father says, “It’s not where you are on the path that’s important, it’s what direction you’re going.” Mrs. Winchester is definitely going in the right direction.
I walked into the kitchen one morning to find her in there crying (I thought she had left). I went and put my arm around her - it was like the first time I hugged Charles; stiff as a brick.
“I’m sorry, you shouldn’t see me like this,” she said.
“It’s OK. This situation is trying for you. I’m estranged from my family, too. I understand.”
She cried on my shoulder for a while, then sniffed. “I want to thank you for taking care of my daughter.”
“It’s my pleasure. I love her.”
“I can see that. I’m sure she’s told you all sorts of terrible things about me.”
“No, she’s never talked about you at all.”
She sniffled. “I think that’s worse.”
“Listen,” I said, “I know this is hard, but we’re all glad you’re here. We really are. It’s going to take time to work it all through, but we are glad.”
“Thank you,” she said, and then she left.
“So you’re Charles’s lost love,” Honey said to me a few days later. She was making a good recovery, and was getting restless.
“If you want to call it that.” I rubbed my eyes.
“You know, he wrote me all about you. Imagine me knowing you all this time and yet not knowing. You never talked about it.”
“Just like you never talked about your family. But how could you not know, if Charles told you all about me?”
“He never told me your name.”
“You’re kidding. How can that be?”
“We thought Father might be reading our mail.”
I stared. “But you were both adults.”
“Didn’t matter. Father always kept a tight rein. He hired a private detective to investigate one of Charles’s girlfriends once. We just decided not to take any chances. And after Charles came home, he would never talk about you. He was different, after Korea. Quieter, more compassionate. Sadder. He’s the one who told me to follow my heart. ‘Honoria,’ he said, ‘it’s not that great a deal to be a Winchester. We’re not a happy lot.’” She fell asleep.
Charles was there, sitting in the living room with one hand on the telephone. He had a strange expression on his face, as though he were trying not to laugh and not to cry at the same time.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
“One of the few times Mother tries to be motherly, and she gets it completely wrong.”
“She’s trying, Charles. What did she say?”
He looked at me queerly. “I don’t believe I should tell you.”
I put my arms around his shoulders, much to his surprise. “Charles, may I tell you how sorry I am that I didn’t seek you out when I first came to Boston? I’ve been thinking about what would have been the worst that could have happened - we would have had a big screaming fight and gotten everything out, instead of all this suffering we’ve been doing. You said you were a coward, but I’m a bigger coward than you are.”
He pulled me down next to him and looked me intently in the eye. “It’s better this way. At least, with a common purpose, we have a chance to look at each other as human beings instead of. . . .” He trailed off.
“A hot poker in the eye?” I suggested.
He chuckled. “Aptly put. You really have impressed my mother, by the way. What did you do?”
“Let her cry on my shoulder.”
He was stunned. “Not. . .really. Not my mother. I’ve never seen her cry; it was something she always said Winchesters didn’t do.”
“Funny, I’ve seen every Winchester I ever met do it.”
He smiled. “It’s because you make us feel safe.”
“I don’t think you feel very safe with me right now.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you didn’t tell me what she said.”
He thought about it for a moment. “She said, ‘Why don’t you take out that friend of Honoria’s, Charles? She’d be really good for you.’”
“Yes. It’d be painful if it weren’t so funny. Humorous if it didn’t hurt so badly.”
“Charles, we have to find a time and a place to resolve this. Father said that I’ve been blaming you for my entire Korean experience, and I think he’s right. I’ve been re-reading my journal, and I’m seeing things in an entirely different way.”
“He said pretty much the same thing to me. I had Honoria give me back my letters and I’ve been going over them for much the same reason. Listen, I’m glad you brought this up, because I’ve been thinking about this very seriously. I’d like you to read them, too.”
“Oh, Charles, I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. That would be like. . . .”
“Reading someone else’s mail? Look, I think, I hope that if you could understand what was happening with me then, you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me.”
“Don’t you see how vulnerable you’re making yourself?”
“It’s worth it. I’ve hated myself for years, and if this is the way out of this. . .mire, then I want to do it.”
I just couldn’t. Unless. . . .
“All right, on one condition. You have to read my journal.”
Now it was his turn. “No.”
“You have to. You have to forgive me as much as I have to forgive you.”
“I bear you no ill. Nothing about it was your fault.”
“I’ve thought so, too. I’m not so sure now. I think I pushed you too much, expected too much, right from the beginning. I think I was caught up in the romance of it all.”
“We both were.”
“That’s what I’m saying, we both have to bear our share of the responsibility. And forgive. It’s the only way I’ll read those letters.”
He sighed. “All right. This is going to hurt, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but maybe, finally, the hurt will end.”
He started to get up. “Just one more thing, Charles. Could you clear up a little mystery for me?”
“What is it?”
“Honey’s been trying to introduce us for months, but you never showed up when you were supposed to. Why is that?”
He sat down. “You see, ever since I got back from Korea, Honoria’s been ‘introducing’ me to her friends. Where she found them all, I can’t imagine, because I never thought there were that many good-hearted, intelligent women in the world. I just got tired of hurting their feelings. It became easier to make myself unavailable until they went away.”
“I see.” He went to make dinner, and I suddenly realized what was so different about him. He had lost his shell. There was nothing between him and the world but his skin.
The next day he gave me his letters, and I gave him my journal. I really, really did not want to do this. That night, I had to call Father before I could even start.
“You have to keep in mind that war tends to telescope time. You and Charles went through more in a month together than most people do in a year, or ten years. Try to keep in perspective as you read them. Think of it more like reading a book than trying to relive the experience. Try to understand what’s going on in the same way you analyze characters when you’re reading - listen to what is not said, as well as what is said. Does that help?”
As always, it did. I sat up half the night reading them, and it was all there, from the moment we met until we parted. It’s really strange seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes, and Charles’s assessment of me when he first saw me as “a vinegar-y Midwestern(!) spinster” made me feel a lot less guilty for all those “arrogant’s” and “Chaaales’s”. Some of his observations were so far off as to be funny (he thought Max was a rival for my affections!), but I was sobered when I realized how my observations could be equally askew (he wasn’t ‘showing off’ his knowledge when we first met, he was feeling me out. He wanted to know if I was a true devotee or just some do-gooder). I realized we got together because we each satisfied a thirst (in my case, literally) in each other, not just to have the books and music, but to have someone to share them with. I finally found out what he’d meant to tell me the night he fell asleep in my bed - that he would have liked me as well in Boston as in Korea; the reason he never followed through on it was that he was beginning to realize it wasn’t true. I was deeply moved by Charles’s enchantment (there really is no other word for it) with my innocence - “like a gardenia among briars” as he put it - and his overwhelming desire to protect me. That explained so much - his reluctance to kiss me, the whole D’Artagnan episode. All in all, I got a picture of a man striving hard to become better than he was. And listening to what was not said, I realized it had never been about his parents’ approval after all. It had always been, and always would have been, about Honoria. He could never turn away if it meant leaving her to their father’s iron hand. When the break finally came, they went together, but that was hindsight. How could I possibly be angry with him for that? And why had I not figured that out before? I had all the information I needed back in Korea. Was I the most selfish, blind person on earth? When I was done, I was completely sick with myself. Time to call Father again.
I gave Charles his letters back the next afternoon while Honey napped. “I forgive you,” I said.
“Just like that?”
“More than that. I understand why you had to do what you did. How about you?”
He gave me back my journal. “I don’t see anything in there but love and concern. You may have forgiven me, but I feel worse about myself now than I did before.”
“You don’t see it? Here,” I opened the journal to its last page and handed it back to him, “read this again.”
He gave it back. “I know I didn’t have the courage to say good-bye. Are you trying to torture me?”
“You’re still missing it. We know what you did, the question is, what did I do?”
“You? You didn’t do anything.”
He looked confused. “What could you have done?”
“Any number of things. . .I could have written you, I could have called you, I could have missed my bus that day and confronted you. Anything but let you walk out of my life without a word.”
“But surely you realize that none of that would have made any difference in the end?”
I wanted to shake him. “Maybe not. But maybe, if I had stuck by you, we could have found a way out of it. In any case, I should never have let you go without a fight. Either all this,” I waved my journal, “is a lie, or else I let fear rule me. Either way, I failed you.”
“Father Mulcahy would say you’re being too harsh on yourself.”
“No, he didn’t.”
“He didn’t? What did he say?”
“He said I should confess my sins to the person I’ve wronged and ask your forgiveness.”
“I still don’t think there’s anything to forgive.”
I nearly threw my journal at him. “Read it again, Charles. Open your eyes - see me as I really am, as I really was, instead of as you wished me to be. There isn’t anything else.”
He took it and went to make dinner. I went to check on Honey. “What was all that?” she asked.
“Oh dear, did we wake you?”
“Yes, but it’s all right. I’d rather hear you two fighting than all the hurt silences there’ve been around here.”
“If he would fight. He seems perversely insistent on carrying all the guilt himself. It’s not right - a goodly portion of it is mine.”
“I’m glad you see it that way. Give Charles time; he’s been carrying this load so long, it’s going to be hard to give it up.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said, and burst into tears.
She held me until I was done. “Charles is the best brother in the world,” she said, “but you’re the sister I never had. If you two can fix things between you, my world will be perfect.”
I dried my eyes. “Don’t get your hopes up too high.”
“Just stop hurting each other, and yourselves. That’s all I ask.”
After dinner, Charles asked me to take a walk with him. He returned my journal. “I thought I asked you to read this again,” I said.
“I did, while stirring pots. You’re right. Time to take off the rose-colored glasses.”
“And stop seeing me as some sort of plastic angel?”
“I may have imagined you an angel, but I never thought you were plastic.”
“Can you accept me as a human woman who failed at this as much as you did?”
“And can you forgive me?”
“Of course I can,” and he looked at me with such tenderness that I began to weep.
He put his arm around my shoulders - just that - but that one moment of genuine forgiveness was better than a hundred kisses.
Of course, it wasn’t as simple as that. It was weeks, weeks of long talks and tears on both our parts, before we had worked through all our shame, guilt, and anger. Weeks before we were finally able to put away what had been and move on to what was, and what would be.
The rest of the story is rather undramatic. We still saw each other at Honey’s - it gave us a safe place to re-learn each other. About a month after Maria came home, Charles’s mother left his father. It completely scandalized the Bostonian upper crust, but I felt she had done the right thing. Funny how Mr. Winchester pushed everyone away until he was the one left out in the cold.
It was six months before we actually dated; he said it was silly for us to keep going to the Symphony alone when we could go together, especially as we always seemed to end up together for hours afterwards, drinking coffee and talking, but I kept putting him off. I needed to be sure of myself. Father again, “If it weren’t for the past, is Charles the kind of man you’d want to be with?” Hell, yes. You’d have to pry me off with a crowbar.
We dated for about a year before Charles asked me to marry him. Of course, I said yes. We never regained the old passion, but it would have been insane to try. Our new passion is richer, sweeter, more like chocolate than blood. When we gaze into each other’s eyes now, it’s with satisfaction, not hunger.
We had to tell Mrs. Winchester the whole story. It was very painful for her to realize that the woman she’d tried to pair her son off with in the present was the same woman she’d tried to part him from in the past. There had to be a new cup of forgiveness passed all around.
We spent a lot of time going over the letters and journal together, a process painful, enlightening and often amusing. At the end of it, I think we understood each other, and ourselves, better before our marriage than most couples do after a decade.
I had to arm-wrestle Mrs. Winchester every step along the way about the wedding. According to her, everything we wanted to do was wrong, from the guest list (“What do you mean, you’re only inviting people you care about? What kind of wedding is that?”) to Father Mulcahy’s role. I gave him the choice of either performing the ceremony or giving me away. He said he’d done plenty of the former, but this was probably his only chance to do the latter.
“You can’t be given away by a Catholic priest!” Mrs. Winchester said. “What will people say?”
“I don’t know,” I replied, “but it might be fun to find out. Can we put tape recorders under all the pews?”
She doesn’t get mad at me for laughing at her anymore. I think that, deep down, she admires me, she’s just so bound up with the RULES. We finally gave her free rein of the reception to keep her happy. Our only requirement was that she pay particular attention to the children (we issued separate invitations to all our friends and family’s kids - another thing we did wrong). We considered our marriage a family affair and wanted the wedding to be the same. We kept the ceremony short and sweet for that very reason.
We invited the gang from the 4077th, although under our ‘only those we care about’ rule, we had to give special consideration to Hawkeye Pierce. Neither one of us could honestly say we liked him, but we did decide that we cared what happened to him, so he was invited.
Margaret’s plane was held up coming from Japan and she missed the ceremony. We had a great reunion at the reception, though.
Charles and I had agreed to give each guest a little individual attention. Each of our former Army friends had settled well into their peacetime careers, unbounded domesticity, or both. B.J. and Peg now had three children; Erin, Ben, and April, with another on the way. Max brought his lovely Korean war bride, Soon Lee (some of us came out of Korea better than others), and his two handsome boys. Col. Potter brought Mrs. Potter.
The most complex post-war adjustment was, of course, Hawkeye’s. I noticed he was sticking to ginger ale, so I asked him about it. “I’m in Alcoholics Anonymous,” he said.
“Really? GOOD for you. How long have you been sober?”
“Two years, four months, three days. I’d always thought I was drinking because of the war, but then the war was over and I was still drinking.”
“Thank God you got help. I’m proud of you.”
“You really are, aren’t you?” He sighed. “Barbara’s been a life-saver for me, too,” he indicated a stunning redhead dancing with Col. Potter. “I’ve known her forever - used to put crabs down her back when we were kids.”
“I always thought you were a naughty little boy. And she’s your. . . ?”
He quirked an eyebrow. “Funny you should ask. I’ve had the ring in my pocket for a week, but I haven’t had the courage to ask her.”
“I’m not sure I’m good enough for her yet.”
“Why don’t you let her be the judge of that?”
“You’re an odd one,” he said. “I can never figure you out.”
“When you do, tell my mother-in-law, then you’ll both know.”
He laughed. “So just how did you win Charles’s folks’ approval?”
Now I laughed. “Easy, I didn’t. I still haven’t met his father, and his mother certainly doesn’t ‘approve’ of me; everything I do completely upsets everything she’s ever believed in, but she does love me.”
“That’s better, isn’t it?”
“Infinitely better. Now go propose.”
“You mean now? It’s your day, not mine.”
“Hawkeye, if you find your life’s happiness at my wedding, it will just make the day all the sweeter.”
I had wondered what Jenny Zamtuk and Hawkeye Pierce would do in a room together - flirt outrageously? talk shop? both at the same time? - but I needn’t have worried, he only had eyes for Barbara and Jenny only had eyes for her husband, a music professor at a small college in New York. But David Sheridan(!) was at my wedding. I was almost as excited about that as I was about getting married.
The party was winding down; the guests were gathering up their belongings and their children (Barbara caught the bouquet), when an older gentleman walked in. I would have known him anywhere; the resemblance to Charles was startling. I hiked up my wedding dress and ran over to him. “Mr. Winchester, I’m so glad you came.”
He gave me a good look all over. “So you’re the girl we couldn’t keep Charles from marrying.”
“Just answer one question. Will you make my son happy?”
“Yes, as long as he makes me happy.”
He laughed, much to my surprise. “Good answer,” he said, and then was gone again. Maybe we can win him back, too, someday.
Charles had promised me a wedding night I’d never forget, and he certainly carried out his promise. He’d spent months beforehand preparing and teaching me (which was a pleasure in itself. He’s a very loving and gentle teacher) what I would need to know for our consummation to be filled with joy and tenderness instead of pain and anxiety.
Two days later we were embarked on what Mrs. Winchester called “the silliest idea for a honeymoon I’ve ever heard” - in a double-sculling skiff on the River Thames. Charles even brought a banjo and a can of pineapple.