Chapter 6: B.J. Hunnicutt
No, I've got no plans to die anytime soon, but I won't lie to you. Even now that we're home, there are times when Korea doesn't seem so far away. I guess the fear we experienced has to linger. I know the pain does. Yet you're proof that the good sticks around, too. This life didn't end that night at Battalion Aid, and I fiercely hope that you'll be a part of everything that follows.
He'd flown from Boston to San Francisco with only a single layover in Chicago. He'd bused from San Francisco to Mill Valley with only one uncomfortable moment where he anticipated a flashback. Then he'd managed to hitch a ride with a fellow passenger to the small acreage outside of town with only one wrong turn. At last Hawkeye Pierce stood gazing upon his best friend's house.
He tossed a wave to the car's driver as it pulled off, then gathering his suitcase, he headed for the door. Hawkeye carefully balanced the box and folder he was carrying, mindful of what a spill now would cost him.
Though he and B.J. had seen each other a handful of times in the months since returning stateside, this was only his second trip to Beej's Californian home. The first visit had been following his flight from Tokyo, his first arrival in the states in years. Peg had been welcoming and caring, and between countless stories and their shared love for B.J., the two felt as though they'd been friends for years. Erin had been a toddling two year old, shy but not unfriendly. Regular letters and telephone calls had cemented them all the more firmly into each other's lives.
Hawkeye was glad to have returned to the Hunnicutt house. He sometimes wondered if he'd turn into his father, content to stay in the Cove and grow moss. Then he remembered his network of war friends spread across the country, and he knew he could never sit at home and wait for all the people he cared about to drop by. There were just too many with too long a journey.
Though Crabapple Cove, Maine, would forever be his forwarding address, there was a sense of homecoming here at this Californian house. It was a feeling completed when B.J.'s tall frame appeared in the door and a smile the size of the state lit up his face.
Neither man could maintain a casual walk as they approached each other. Hawkeye had the foresight to gently lower his presents atop his suitcase before being pulled into a bear hug. Handshakes and backslaps commenced as the duo was reunited again. Both grins were a mile wide, and laughter erupted from a deep well of memories and trust.
"You made it!"
"Boy, am I glad to see you, Hawk. How long has it been anyway? I'll tell you, we can't go so long between visits."
"And it's only been four months. It's good to see you, Beej."
B.J. picked up his friend's suitcase, and they made their way slowly to the door, still talking. "How have you been, Hawk?"
Hawkeye shrugged. B.J. stopped moving in wait for a real answer. With a smile at his concern, Hawkeye joined him. "I've been better. I was fitting myself for a straight jacket when you came out to see me, but it's passing. I took back my job at the clinic, I've laid off the hard stuff, and I'm starting to remember the good, too."
"That's great," B.J. agreed wholeheartedly. Transitioning back from the war had been difficult for all of them, but for none more than Hawkeye. Fresh failures near the end of the war had sent him home in a precarious mental state. Though grateful to be home, the memories of war nearly overpowered the reality of peace. He'd given up doctoring for a time and slumped into the shadow of alcoholism and depression. B.J. had listened to him deteriorate from the opposite coast and had finally flown to Maine in an effort to pull him out.
Thanks to his friend's actions, his father's care, and help from a crowd of MASH buddies in Missouri, he was making the transition. Hawkeye gazed at the man before him, grateful once again for such a true friend. "I might live through this," Hawkeye said. "Thanks to you."
The mustached man smiled humbly. "I'm really glad you're okay, Hawk."
They resumed walking. "That makes two of us." Hawkeye continued to take in the small house and lot. "I figured it was my turn to make the trip anyway."
B.J. nodded. "That is fair."
There was a flutter of movement at an upstairs window. "Besides, you didn't bring the family with you when you came to visit."
"You didn't come to see me at all!"
"Can you blame me?" Hawkeye replied with a smirk.
B.J. grinned at his former bunkmate. "Not at all. Erin's been looking forward to you coming all week. You're about to make her life."
"And that's before I tell her I brought presents! One for now, one for later."
"You had her at presents. Did you bring me anything?"
"A pair of my socks," Hawkeye quipped. "I remember how much you liked to steal them." At B.J.'s face, he cracked a smile and amended the statement. "You can share with Erin."
The door opened again before they reached it, and Peg Hunnicutt flashed them a dazzling smile. "Hawkeye! I'm so glad you made it!" She and Hawkeye embraced, truly happy to meet again. "How was the trip?"
Hawkeye pulled out of the hug and answered. "Long. Turbulent. Miserable." A familiar smile spread across his face as he looked at B.J. and his wife. "But worth every second."
Peg laughed along with him. "Glad you think so. Come on in, Hawkeye."
They stepped into the house, B.J. still carrying his friend's luggage, and Hawkeye still clutching his box and envelope. "Shouldn't there be a small one around here somewhere?" He searched the room from the doorknobs down, seeing a few toys but no sign of B.J.'s daughter herself.
As if brought on by his words, tiny footfalls sounded from the back of the house. There was a muffled calling of his name which grew louder as the three year old drew into the room. "Uncle Hawkeye, Uncle Hawkeye!"
Peg and B.J. shared an amused look with their guest. "That'll be Erin."
"I certainly hope so."
The toddler finally appeared, and as she did so she became quiet. Her brown hair was pulled back in twin pigtails which twitched just above her ears. Big blue eyes studied the crowd in her living room, instantly drawn to the man who was still a stranger to her. She lingered shyly at the edge of the room, coming in slowly at her father's beckoning gesture.
Hawkeye smiled at that. Erin had known her father for only eight months, but it was clear their relationship was finding its way. There was trust and love in her baby eyes when she looked at her daddy. At last B.J. could show her how much he'd always loved her.
Beej tugged Erin onto his lap at the sofa. Peg perched on the armrest beside them, and Hawkeye sunk down next to his friend, enchanted by the sight of this precious family all together.
"Hi, Erin," he greeted the child. Though a moment before, she'd been yelling his name, Erin was now shyly hiding in her father's shirt.
Peg laid a hand on B.J.'s shoulder. "She'll warm up to you in a few minutes."
Hawkeye nodded, understanding the peculiarities of childhood affection. "Maybe this will help," he said, raising his box from the floor. Erin looked on with wide eyes, curiosity peeking through timidness. "This is for you, Erin."
B.J. helped take the package for the girl, and together they opened it. The child smiled widely when she pulled out the teddy bear. The plush animal was cherry red, and upon seeing it, Hawkeye had immediately wanted it for the little girl he was coming to love. The toy was clutched tightly in her arms, and Hawkeye's heart warmed to see her claim it as her own.
"What do you tell Uncle Hawkeye?" her mother prompted.
Squeezing the teddy, Erin lisped out a thank-you. Thoroughly pleased with the reception of his first gift, Hawkeye carefully balanced the remaining envelope in both hands. "You're welcome, Erin. That's only present number one. This," he said, presenting the gift with a flourish, "is present number two. That teddy bear will be the favorite for a while, but I think you'll like this more one day."
Preoccupied by the now favorite bear, the three year old didn't clamor for the new present. "Here, Beej, Peg, this is sort of for you, too."
B.J. took the proffered envelope, grinning. "Why, is this a college fund?"
"No, this actually started out as something for you. Back in Korea."
Maneuvering the envelope around the child in his lap, B.J. opened the flap. "Can't be your socks; the smell would have knocked me out." He carefully dumped the contents into his free hand. A stack of bound papers fluttered out, and B.J. peered curiously at them. Hawkeye watched his friend's eyes as he flipped through the pages, and he saw them spark with recognition. After another few moments of reading, B.J.'s puzzled grin turned to Hawkeye. "What is this?"
"It's the kids you saved. The civilians, too; I wrote down every name in our records."
B.J.'s expression was bemused. "I recognize the names. This is everyone I treated in Korea?"
"In alphabetical order, too."
Hawkeye was a moment in answering. He shifted in his seat and let his attention be drawn by the little girl grasping for the papers she couldn't yet understand. "It's for Erin. For now she'll hold onto that bear, but this list is for later when she starts asking questions. When she wonders why you couldn't be there for her first birthday or Christmas. Or even her second. When she wonders about her daddy and why he had to leave when she was so small.
"This is so that she'll understand someday. She can look at these names of all the kids who wouldn't be here without her dad, and she can understand. And be proud."
B.J. swiped a long finger across his glistening eyes then dropped a kiss on Erin's downy head. When he looked up, Hawkeye could tell the tears were still threatening by the way his mustache quivered. "Hawk, this is … Thank you."
Peg was perusing the letter that had accompanied the list. She, too, was affected by the gift, and she squeezed B.J.'s shoulder tightly. One particular line caught her attention, and she looked to Hawkeye with surprise. "This was part of your will?"
B.J.'s eyes rocketed from his wife to his friend. "What?"
The doctor from Maine waved off his concern. "Originally, yeah. I wrote that up at Battalion Aid. I left something for everybody, but I couldn't think of anything to give you. There was nothing that was … enough."
He smiled wide when he looked at the little girl in her daddy's embrace contentedly chewing on her fingers. "But then I thought of Erin. And I knew what I could do for you both."
B.J. was still blinking. "It's perfect, Hawk. Erin's too young yet, but I never could think of a good way to explain it all to her. You know that. I must have kept you up a hundred nights worrying about it. I still hate that I missed all that time, but this … with this she might someday understand."
Peg hugged her husband's shoulders. "She will, B.J."
Erin reached for her mother, and B.J. rose and lifted the child and bear effortlessly into Peg's arms. Hawkeye pushed himself off the sofa, and B.J. caught him in a second bear hug. "Thank you," he said again, still choked up.
"Better than my socks?"
"Best present I've ever gotten." B.J. again flipped through the precious papers. "And I didn't get you anything," he joked.
Hawkeye shook his head. "You did." He, too, looked down at the papers full of names. "My name's on that list, too."
B.J. looked confused. "I don't remember performing surgery on you."
"Maybe not," Hawkeye conceded, "But you saved my life. In Korea and back home, too. I wouldn't have made it without you."
The two men shared a smile, one that spoke for them. They'd each made it out because of the other. And it looked like a bright future when you faced it with a friend.
This was meant originally as a final acknowledgement of all you've done for me. All you've meant to me. However, I think a living thank-you brings even more satisfaction. You saved me. When I was discouraged and deprived, when I was deranged, you were there, ready to pull me out. Or at least willing to stand in the pit with me. Thank you. Thank you for everything.
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