Dare to Dance
Note and Disclaimer: This is a new series, "Joy is in the Voice of Love", narrated by Nurse Kellye. As always, this series will never be mine.
My mother, Makuahine, always told me, "Dare to dance. Leave your shame at home."
It was an old Hawaiian saying. I heard it everywhere. When I was younger, I literally thought it meant to dance to music. That was easy in Hawaii. You can go to one anywhere on the beaches. All you had to do was follow your heart and it will lead you to a hula. It brought me to many celebrations that lasted long into the night.
After I graduated from secondary school, I enrolled in nursing school. Now, I was far away from home, in New York City, and I missed the tropical weather I grew up in. The east coast was grey and cold. I felt like a fish out of water, even though so many immigrants still arrived here daily and some of them looked just like me. They looked for a new life. They also were misfits here in the city.
In those days of learning to be compassionate and healing, the advice took on a new form. Gradually, I learned that Makuahine did not always mean to move my feet to the music. She meant to never be fearful of being yourself. Learn to love the life around you and embrace your differences. Leave the shame where it belongs – at home. It should be under a bed, tucked away with the resentment and anger. After all, life is too short to be afraid.
When I enlisted in the Army, these words changed depth again and all of those meanings came together. Inside this institution, everyone was one color and functioned to make a war machine turn. Even I had my part, to nurse the sick and wounded. There wasn't any room for me to be myself. But I had to remember that I was part Hawaiian and Chinese. It was a bitter pill to swallow in the environment, but one that still filled me with joy, despite the lack of festivity.
That was what it meant to dance. You make the most of the bad situation and own it. Don't temper it with negativity. It will not do anything.
This especially held me up when I was sent to Korea. My orders did not make time for a stop in Hawaii. I was saddened by it, but was sure my family will understand. They would have prayed to the deities to keep me alive and invoked their wisdom to me through letters. Besides, I hoped the assignment will not last long. Surely, everyone will be home for Christmas, as the old saying goes.
I was not so sure about returning to Hawaii in December when I was finally at my duty station. At the moment, it was Pusan and this was a disaster. A M*A*S*H unit was developed there, headed by a few officers and ran by a handful of enlisted personnel. I was one of the first women to arrive. The head nurse, Major Margaret Houlihan, was there to meet me. We saluted each other and she helped me out of the jeep.
"Welcome, Lieutenant," she said briskly. "Your quarters are over there." She pointed to the right, to a tent underneath some netting. "I will have the company clerk bring your things to your quarters."
It was pleasant. There was something stiff about Major Houlihan, though. She was Regular Army, as we called it back home. She was tough as nails and I was sure that she was going to be worse when we were working.
Well, I'll show her.
After my bags were brought to my tent, I unpacked and settled in. In minutes, I was already introduced to the existing staff. Immediately afterward, I was put to work. Major Houlihan expected us women to stitch the tents, clean the erected hospital, tend to the patients and more. There was no time to eat, sleep or talk. From that first day on, one day worked its way into the other without our notice.
Yet, I learned to keep dancing and I ventured others to do the same.
In the following days, this dare became more prominent. More and more people showed up. Eventually, it became almost like a circus, especially with my instigation. Practically all of us were scared, but we were not Regular Army, like Major Houlihan. We found ways to keep occupied despite the work and the fear. Most of it was nonsense, but it was still a dance.
Late one night, about a month after I arrived, Major Houlihan visited me in my tent and demanded to see me before I napped. Now, at this point, we were eating and sleeping in shifts. Our free time was either in a bunk or the Mess Tent for a few precious hours. Colonel Blake said so, since so many complained and pulled one too many pranks while working. The doctors were the worst and the funniest. They were also very charming.
Just as I feared, Major Houlihan never thought so. She was a stiff warhorse who did not believe in fun and games. Soon, she was the scapegoat. I mean, her inspections were infamous. Her shrill defense against the men (save for the inept Major Frank Burns) was the stuff of gossip. She never cut any breaks either. She was hard on us girls.
This is why I was surprised to see her, clipboard in her right hand and foot tapping in impatience. During my time so far, I ensured that every area was spotless, the patients more than comfortable and every regulation followed. Major Houlihan never complained and always grunted her approval towards me. By the way her face exerted sweat before me now, I had committed the worst sin in the world.
"Lieutenant Yamato, how do you explain this inventory?" Major Houlihan slapped the clipboard with her spare hand. "There were at least forty thermometers yesterday. Now, there are nine. What happened?"
I was outraged and rose from my bunk, fists ready at my side. "Major, Private Goldman dropped a few," I said, pointing to the figures and justifying my written word. "Colonel Blake considered them lost. Then, we had several patients that required their temperatures taken."
"Well, you are off by five of them," Major Houlihan claimed. "You need to find them."
I was incredulous by her declaration. "Major, those were lost. Goldman tripped over a rock and they fell out of the box and broke."
"I understand that," she said slowly, like I was stupid. "They need to be accounted for. If you have to, pick up the pieces."
The tone of her voice left no room for argument. I rose to the challenge. Something inside of me bubbled and wanted to burst, like a volcano. It was an anger I did not know I possessed. I had groveled for this woman. I did more than my fair share and never asked for myself. I even took joy in doing my part for my unit. Without my participation, the gear will not turn.
How dare she?!
I kept my cool, though. "Well, Major, I most certainly passed all of my classes in mathematics. I also have common sense and human decency. Do you know how to melt your icy heart?"
Major Houlihan was shocked that I spoke so blatantly. She spluttered and tried to say something of importance, to discipline me for being so rude. She could not find the words, though. I swore, her hand almost moved to slap me.
Instead, the Major stomped her tapping foot. "You will be put on report and bed arrest. Until you are called to duty, sit on that bunk." She pointed to my sleeping arrangements.
I laughed. I laughed in her face. What a joke! It's not like I had not been doing anything special. There was no way for me to.
Angry, Major Houlihan left. She did not address my laughter. I stared at the door, long after she left. It felt so good, to be myself. It was invigorating.
Kellye Yamato, one.
Margaret Houlihan, zero.
Learn to dance, Major. You might like it. For the moment, I shall tolerate your insipid nitpicking. There is a hole in your armor. We will find it and get you on the floor soon enough.