In the Afterglow of Terror
Note and Disclaimer: I obviously don't own the characters and plots of M*A*S*H, but the character of Captain Jeanie Morrison belongs to me. These are outtakes and some made up scenes from the series "This Forsaken War" and the second story in the series "Through the Early Morning Fog", an ending to the narrator and the M*A*S*H family. Enjoy!
I think what initially impressed me the most about the Maine shoreline was that dark, churning sea. It was always bobbing up and down through the storm, never-ending and strong. As the rain poured, the waters rolled and then crashed against the sandy, rocky shoreline, smashing it to pieces before pulling back and repeating its assault. The attacks lasted from the airport in Portland all the way to the small town of Crabapple Cove.
From the small back window of Daniel Pierce's 1940 Packard, I eyed the running water with amazement and even mysticism. My backseat offered less of a view than the front, but nonetheless allowed me to study this new place I was supposed to name my home. Indeed, from the moment Hawkeye and I landed in California, the concept of being in the United States was foreign to me. Even in Bloomington, I was a fish out of the water. Here in Maine, I was studying it as eagerly as I initially did with each new assignment in the Army, thinking it the most amazing sight ever.
Honestly, the airport was the first place I saw in this state that had been darkened by the storm that followed us from Illinois to here. From there, my surroundings had been obscured by the same squall that grew grim as the shoreline threatened to overtake the road and its inhabitants nearby. Even the run to the car had been covered since the rain had been so heavy and all of us eager to take shelter. It was not a good welcome home, to be honest, and quite gruesome.
In any case, maybe today was not the best time to check everything out. I mean, everyone was so concerned about the coastline flooding and getting back safely that my musings would distract them, Daniel (as the driver) most of all. He even kept checking me every so often through the center mirror up front too, turning his head so that he caught my grey eyes. He winked a few of those times too, like we had a secret between us, and would continue driving and asking Hawkeye inane questions. They had not seen each other in over three years. There was so much catching up to do before he got to know me.
Hawkeye wasn't very talkative. From the moment we entered the vehicle (Daniel and Hawkeye in the front and Shannon and myself in the back), the father in Daniel refrained from inquiring about Korea and instead talked of trivial things. He mindlessly gossiped about Crabapple Cove and its people, referred to members of the Pierce family I hardly heard of and mentioned household chores and clinic problems. Hawkeye nodded every now and then, offering a word or two of opinionated commentary and perhaps a joke or three, and remained silent otherwise.
I alone could understand why he was so hesitant in chatting. It seemed a short time ago for the both of us that we were in Korea. Not even two weeks ago, we had been dodging bullets and bombs and patching up wounded soldiers that were young enough to take their sweethearts to the prom. Now, in this strange afterglow of civilian life, in this bewildering environment that we hardly understood anymore, we had to leave behind months of primitive living, little sleep, heavy drinking and staring death in the face daily. We now had to join together in a non-military matrimony that included a beautiful little girl that stared at me with interest and my overly cautious father-in-law that did not know what to say.
I smiled in encouragement at this daughter of mine. Sure, she recognized who I was and had been brazen enough to be calling Hawkeye her Daddy too, that proud little mite. In this car ride though, she was as quiet as her father, tossing her grey eyes between all three adults. She was familiar with Daniel and looked to him for the answers often, but it was me and Hawkeye that she had to be more acquainted with. Her inquisitiveness got the best of her and she crawled over to me, resting her head against my side.
"Mommy," she said contently. She knew what it meant and filled her small voice with love of the name. "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy."
"Apparently, she had been reminded everyday of the two of you," Daniel added after her. He again was watching us fleetingly. "I continued it."
"Well, we didn't know –" I began awkwardly. I did not like the time that Hawkeye denied himself the time to grieve the loss of our daughter and somehow felt the need to mention it.
"I'm sure she appreciated it," Hawkeye interrupted quickly. When he checked on me, he sent me a warning eye. He then paused, directing the conversation back to his Dad. "I'm glad to be home though."
Nobody disagreed with that assessment. However, it also ended all discussion about the war and our absence from life itself, lasting for about fifteen minutes. Towards the line between another small town and finally Crabapple Cove, I noticed that Hawkeye started relaxing. He eagerly was trying to check out everything around us like a child trying to figure out what to buy at the local candy store and finding the selection too much. He wiped his window free of condensation and tried hard not to fog it up, waving here and there to the brave walkers outside he knew and exclaiming that some had changed.
Daniel chuckled at the observation. "You wouldn't believe how many people are asking about you."
"Oh?" Hawkeye raised an eyebrow, his eyes still on the scenes in the rain. He did not glance back at his father.
"People have been…curious…about your daughter and wife. I said as much as I could without causing a scandal."
"Dad, I am a scandal in this town. I think I just about chased every skirt before leaving for Boston."
"This one is a little different than chasing the local Catholic school girls. Especially since some found out Shannon was born before you two married, some had been…well, they have been distraught that traditional conventions were broken."
"I hardly find that upsetting."
Daniel sighed, sounding exasperated that something had to be explained to his son several more times. "Hawkeye –"
"It's no matter now," Hawkeye interjected to avoid an argument. "We're home. We're married. That is what matters."
His father nodded, suddenly taking a side road that caused the car to bounce and splash mud on the windows. Shannon held onto me tightly, gripping my green uniform to ensure that we did not get hurt. It was a scary gesture for us both, I thought, and one that was perhaps engrained into her by fear or empathy. I could not tell which yet. There was so much catching up to do and much more to learn about this little girl. The newborn that spent a week in my arms in Korea was now a young toddler with thoughts and feelings. That concept alone brought tears to my eyes.
It's not fair.
But all was coated in injustice and hypocrisy when it came to war and its endless and empty ceasefires. While news of the armistice was the greatest we had yet to experience in our time in hell, the fact that Syngman Rhee did not sign the truce meant that both North Korea and its southern counterpart would be at each other's throats for years. It might mean us heading back there if the Army so chose to draft, but I doubted it with the promises given to me. The UN presence in the ROK would keep things heated (if not interesting) for some time and a new generation's blood will be spilled. The split between the two was complete and we were home. Peace was all I desired now that the politics and death were behind us.
Despite that, I could not dwell on what was now thousands of miles away. I gazed forward into the unknown, tolerating the bumps on the muddy pathway and the few times we stopped and Daniel had to go out with Hawkeye to push the car out of a rut and I had to take the wheel. By the time we reached what was supposed to be my new home, it was nighttime. The storm had hardly stopped and was continuing to beat on us as we exited the car and brought in what few belongings came with us from Korea.
Shannon ran ahead and opened the door for all of us, the last one in. With many thanks from all three of us (Daniel even grabbed some of our luggage and his hands were full), I eyed the huge house with trepidation. I was not exaggerating. The place was very large. It appeared to be three floors high (with the top perhaps being an attic) and an extension that might have housed some vehicles or was a supply room. The porch wrapped around the structure strongly, but like the rest of the building, was slicked in what appeared to be dried salt from the ocean several yards away in the back.
It's a beach house!
I sort of imagined that Hawkeye lived in a fairy tale place like this. After all, he described Crabapple Cove as the best there could be when it came down to growing up. The small town offered shoreline swimming, hunting and camping and all of it spanning the extraordinary perimeter that rural Maine towns had. Everyone knew each other and their business, greeted each other by name and never turned out a stranger. Granted, Hawkeye warned me beforehand that it was somewhat conservative here (much like Bloomington), but that had been something I was used to. Residing with my mother and then the Army gave me that kind of experience.
The first place that greeted me was some type of living room. Straight head were stairs that headed to the second floor (and another smaller set went to the next story). On the left was a door to a closet. On the right was an opening to a large space, complete with a few couches, coffee table, a working and much-used fireplace with a mantle and many, many pictures on the walls. On the far end was a dining area with table and chairs and a door that read PRIVATE and DO NOT ENTER.
Aimlessly shucking off his green Army coat, Hawkeye stood in the closed doorway with me. While Daniel and Shannon made themselves at home and carried on with their usual activities, we remained behind to check things out. The shock and awe look on his face was about the same as mine. He was someplace where he knew, a familiar zone that he took comfort in before he was shipped off to Korea. He took it all in, breathing deeply in and out before settling himself on the couch where Shannon was coloring.
Copying him, I placed my catchy outerwear on top of his on the floor and followed him. While he took a spot on the end, I ended up on the arm of the furniture. I didn't know how to feel. Sure, this was a beautiful place from what I had been able to see. This new dwelling was also where I would feel happy and would have settled down in.
At the same time, I felt like a foreign visitor as I was in Korea. It was easy to see my husband and daughter blend in like they belonged. Their perfect positions smoothed over the plain canvas and made the picture complete and without a blemish. I was the oddball color on the outside, ready to ruin it at a moment's notice even though I had been a part of Hawkeye's life for three years now. I would be the inept, foolish outsider that would blotch the portrait and make it worse off.
I didn't want to think of myself that way. I was supposed to be a resident of this house and be its primary caretaker eventually. I was Hawkeye's wife and Shannon's mother. This abode by the sea was supposed to be my sanctuary and the place where I would spend the rest of my life hopefully. I was not to be a guest, forever asking permission and behaving perfectly. I can relax and be myself here.
For the time being though, I would have to be content with just observing how things work and learn the ropes of being a housewife on my own later. Already, Hawkeye was beginning to get back into the swing of things, although he was reluctant to touch Shannon and take the joy that was snatched away because of the war and the finale it dealt him. For now, he smiled wanly as she used her crayons like an expert, scribbling lines all over paper that appeared to be pre-filled pages meant for patient reports.
Hawkeye noted that and called Daniel over for clarification. I had not noticed where he had disappeared off to. Indeed, he came back rushing into the living room with a tray full of sandwiches and glasses full of what appeared to be tea. He placed that on a coffee table nearby and raised an eyebrow at his son.
"What?" he huffed, out of breath from Hawkeye's panicked tone. He was worried too, willing to take on our whims until we recovered. "Is everything all right?"
"Is she allowed – I mean, can Shannon…?" Hawkeye began indecisively, pointing at the papers.
"Yes," Daniel replied laughingly. He was relieved. "She has the run of the place actually. Somebody supplanted your spot."
I giggled. "Somebody stole Hawkeye's spotlight?"
"And is proud of it." Daniel grinned. "You can't blame her."
"I wouldn't." I glanced at Hawkeye. The conversation with his Dad was easy for me, which made the atmosphere a little less stroppy, and it allowed me some teasing. "I'm sure her grandfather likes to instigate a little."
"Is there a routine?"
"She'll show you how everything is done, Jeanie. She's lived here long enough to know that this is where she'll live until she's grown."
Daniel shrugged his shoulders. "It's something we'll work out later. Come on. Eat some dinner. I'm sure you're all starving."
Hawkeye laughed. "Jeanie was driving. That was enough to work up an appetite!"
"I am not that bad." I thought about punching him and decided against it. Shannon was watching me closely and taking cues from my interaction with Hawkeye and I didn't want to set a bad example. "Besides, it's not like we had to drive at breakneck speed to get away."
"Get away…from what?" Daniel was confused.
"Nothing," Hawkeye quickly interjected, shooting me a look that spoke of our secrets. He grabbed a random sandwich, chewing and swallowing.
We all copied his motions. While Shannon was interested in everything but the bread crust, we all relaxed into something that resembled normalcy. However, the silence was deafening until Daniel spoke out in appreciation of our arrival, sentences repeated. There wasn't much to say in this afterglow except words of gratitude, hope and joy. Words about Korea had to wait if we wanted to say them. I found that I didn't want to, taking comfort from the one person who would understand.
Forsaking Hawkeye for a few minutes, I studied Daniel while I chewed on a turkey and cheese sandwich slowly (again, there was that pasty taste in my mouth). He most certainly was projecting light in such a way that spoke volumes of his character. Even though words on paper and reassurances from Hawkeye informed me that he was kind and generous, he most certainly showed me how wonderful it was for him to have a new daughter-in-law and granddaughter in his home. His aura spoke of his soft nature and a resolve to keep strong. I wasn't just some stray cat he was letting in. I was a new member of his family.
At least that won't ruin the picture too much.
When dinner was finished, Daniel picked up the dirty dishes and carried them away, swatting away my protests to help. "Shannon needs a bath," he offered instead as he disappeared into the kitchen. "Hawkeye, why don't you show Jeanie upstairs and get the warm water going?"
He agreed with a grunt, pulling me up from my position with ease and guiding me to the stairwell to show me our destination. Shannon knew the humdrum well, zipping past us at breakneck speed and racing us upstairs, shouting all the way. Without thinking, I chased after her, laughingly saying that I was going to get her. I even rushed away from Hawkeye enough to catch her, swinging her around and around as she giggled hysterically. Then, she jumped out of my arms and continued her quest to strip herself for her soaking, reaching the bathroom fast.
Hawkeye soon joined us silently. He passed me, moving the shower curtain aside and running some water. While he filled the tub and added some bubbles from a bottle nearby, Shannon looked to me for assistance with her clothes. I obliged without question, casting them to one side in a hamper. Afterward, naked as the day she was born, I held her close to me, sniffing her black hair and imagining the few days I held her as an infant. She squirmed out just as Hawkeye finished and climbed in herself.
Finally, as Hawkeye left to go downstairs, I was alone with my daughter. It was like a dream come true and my feelings wanted to explode in this mesh of nonsense I couldn't comprehend. For the time being though, as I bottled it up, I watched her contently as she splashed around and blew the mounds of bubbles swirling around the water. She babbled about something, a boat maybe, and that got my mind rolling with a story. For a few short moments, I pretended that we were tossed in that churning sea, battling the waves to get home safely. Shannon giggled as I narrated the tall tale, making sound efforts that put Hawkeye to shame.
When Shannon got bored with the antics, she took some bath toys and played with them herself. I began washing her hair, untangling the knots with a comb on the sink behind me as the water rinsed away the soap. As I did, I heard some voices behind me. It was Hawkeye and Daniel. They were speaking quietly, but I heard bits of their conversation. I didn't meant to eavesdrop, but I was so worried about my first impression that I didn't care.
"Hawkeye, she looks ill." Daniel really sounded worried. "So do you. You're whiter than a ghost and you've aged. What the hell happened over there?"
"You wouldn't understand," Hawkeye said quietly. "This is one long trip I cannot explain to you, Dad. Maybe a little at a time, but not now."
"How do you expect to raise a family then?" Daniel pressed. It was the hardest he was on Love. "You need to be strong for Jeanie and Shannon. They're going to need you more than ever before. I won't be here forever."
The shame in Hawkeye's voice was obvious. "I know."
I stopped myself from rushing out to the hallway and defending Hawkeye. It wasn't my place. Indeed, it also raised some questions. We were considered normal in Korea, running on a lack of sleep, food and sanity, but here it was not acceptable to function as we did. There would be no more partying. The drinking would cease. No friends who experienced the same as we did would come to our rescue. There wouldn't even be an Army to poke fun of anymore. It was all gone and we were expected to survive the aftermath.
And somehow, all of it was a scary concept. It would be a challenge indeed to fall back into a pattern where primitive living did not exist. This was a civilian life, for God's sake, and we longed for it in Korea even as we assimilated to the conditions. I even dreamt of the day I would come here and begin anew, experiencing fantasy after fantasy to tie me over. Now that it was a reality, it was going to be more difficult than I thought possible and being strong would get be the key to us through.
This was one hurdle we both would have difficulties with. But I sure as hell was going to try. It wasn't just me and Hawkeye anymore. There is Shannon and Daniel and that's what made this more important and worthwhile too.