Only it Wasn't

Prepare for angst. Trigger warning: suicidal thoughts

B.J. Hunnicutt

It was everything I thought it would be. Only it wasn't.

I went home from the airport to my house. I ate dinner at my kitchen table. I fell asleep next to my wife - the real thing, not just a picture. And at 3:13 in the morning I woke up to my little girl crying.

I practically begged Peg to let me take care of her. She protested, saying I didn't have to my first night home, I must be tired, I should sleep. And you know me; a decent night's sleep is what I dreamed of every spare hour I had in Korea. But I wanted time with my little girl even more.

Well, Peg finally gave in, and I went to Erin's room. I'd been gone for so long, but my feet knew every step. It was just like I'd imagined. I walked quietly through the door and up to my baby girl's bed. I reached for her to soothe her crying.

And … And she screamed all the louder. She didn't know me. I wasn't her daddy come to tuck her in, I was a stranger - part of the nightmare. I tried to calm her, but the dream, the strangeness, it was too much. And I stood there useless with my hands shaking while Peg came in and calmed her down.

Erin went right back to sleep after that, and Peg said it wasn't her fault, that it wasn't mine either. She was just little. She didn't know. Tomorrow would be better.

But she screamed when she saw me. My baby girl. And I knew that going home wouldn't be as easy as I thought.

Charles Emerson Winchester III

It was everything I thought it would be. Only it wasn't.

I had been away from my family so long, it was all I wanted to be back among them, to the way of life I was meant to be leading. And it was a glorious few hours, begun when the flight landed and I met my sister at the landing gate. Honoria, but a girl when I left, is now a magnificent young woman, and we found ourselves laughing and crying all at once in our reunion.

Then the drive to the family home with Martin, our chauffeur - a man I had never paid much mind to but about whom I learned a great deal in that trip. And the meeting with my parents and the rest of our house staff was as wonderful as expected.

We had a three course meal which mere thought of had made me salivate for days in Korea. The soup course was not time enough to mention my stay abroad, much less expound upon it, but I surmised there would be other opportunities to speak about the other life I'd lived.

Following dinner, we reposed to the sitting room, and I delighted in a truly exquisite sifter of cognac. It was the perfect evening I had longed for. And then my father suggested some music, and Honoria went to the pianoforte. And began to play Mozart which she knew to be my favorite.

And indeed, once it was. But as I listened to those once soothing notes, I could think only of those dear men who died playing it. For reasons I could not explain to my family, I had to excuse myself in tears. It wasn't quite the way I imagined the return.

Margaret Houlihan

It was everything I thought it would be. Only it wasn't.

Because I didn't have an apartment lined up, and only the offer of a job, I spent my first night home in a hotel. I could have gone anywhere in the world after Korea, but something about California seemed right. I hadn't lived there since I was a little girl, but the memories were mostly good ones. Too good maybe, idealized by a child. But after leaving the army, I wanted the same stability I'd once known there, and with a coveted position being offered to me at a renowned hospital, it seemed like a good choice.

I'd had my chance to define myself as a nurse. As a woman. As a soldier. This was my chance to find myself as a civilian.

All I wanted that first night in the States was a real bed. And before that an achingly hot bath. And I got just what I wanted. A hot bath in a private tub with no line or water shortage or ambulance interruption. It was serene and quiet, so quiet.

Too quiet.

Because at the end of the night it was just me, alone in a hotel room. A silent bath, a lonely bed. Alone. Just as it would be me alone in an apartment. After years of canvas walls and crazy neighbors, we'd gone our separate ways, and that's what it took for me to realize how alone I was.

Alone. Just me. Alone. And suddenly, I wasn't sure if I would like this return.

Radar O'Reilly

It was everything I thought it would be. Only it wasn't.

The farm hadn't changed at all - there were still the same chickens, and goats, and one new calf. It wasn't as hard as it used to be to wake up for my morning chores, and it was awful nice to see all the animals again. And my Ma, too. She was mostly the same. Her hair had more gray in it, and I'm taller than her now. I don't think I was when I left.

And my Uncle Ed's gone. That's why I went home after all, but I don't think I really knew what it would be like. That piece of home is gone, but everything else was just like I imagined. Mostly.

I was in the barn one morning just right after getting home, and I was throwing slop to our pig, Gary. And I heard them. Choppers, I thought, a bunch of them. Well, I threw down old Gary's bucket and went hollering from the barn. I didn't think much about not being in Korea at the hospital and went running across the lawn to where Ma was sweeping the porch.

All I could see was the faces of the guys they'd bring in. I thought about what wounds they might have, where the doctors were, and if we'd have enough beds for all of them. I got right up to Ma and yelled, "Choppers!" And she told me real calm that, Walter, there are no choppers.

And then I remembered that I wasn't in Korea at the 4077th. I remembered that there weren't any hurt guys coming in. It must have been my cousin Melvin dusting the crops down the road.

And then I remembered that the war was still going on and that there were hurt guys - just half a world away. The doctors and choppers and wounded were real, I just wasn't a part of them anymore. I'd never felt so sick for coming home.

Maxwell Klinger

It was everything I thought it would be. Only it wasn't.

A month after the war's end, I was finally, finally, back in that place of dreams. Toledo was the long awaited oasis, parading as a mirage for far too long. I was back! Packo's Hot Dogs, the bowling alley, the Mud Hens, all of it was there waiting for me. And for Soon Li.

It was a dream come true - I had Toledo and the love of my life. We had the run of the city, and it was everything just to introduce Soon Li to America's Midwest jewel. And to my family. I told her absolutely everything about them before we even left Korea, how they'd welcome her and feed her and love her just as much as I did. I was excited! And she was excited!

Except it didn't turn out like that. People didn't like that I brought Soon Li home. I caught my buddies on the bowling team whispering about her like she was some souvenir I'd picked up. My family made it no secret that they wished I was still married to Laverne. And people on the street - folks who had never even met Soon Li, didn't even try to see how kind or thoughtful or generous she is - called her names when she came out of the grocery and told her to go back where she came from. Makes my blood boil just thinking about it.

Toledo was home. It was a part of me. I'm not sure it is anymore.

Colonel Sherman Potter

It was everything I thought it would be. Only it wasn't.

I'd waited for this day for forty years. I was proud of my army service, still am. But life on the homestead looked mighty fine. I've doctored in trenches, fields, and collapsing buildings in all parts of the world. I could doctor wherever the missus was. It certainly wouldn't be hard for me to set up shop in Hannibal, MO.

That's what I thought anyway. But I guess forty years in a field hospital pitted against violence and bodies with the life bleeding out of them takes a toll on one's bedside manner. I thought I'd celebrate treating the common cold or a run of the mill sprained ankle. And I did the first few. But those aren't the sort of patients you can bark orders to. There's no urgency in those cases, and to tell the truth, in a month I was bored.

Everyone kept telling me to take it easy - I'd earned it. Makes a man doubt himself. When all I longed for was peace, and then to find myself wishing for just a mite more danger.

No, it's not the danger or the surgery or the cases worth bragging over. It's the purpose. Couldn't find it on the home-front. For the first time in forty years of doctoring, I started to feel old. Used up. I started doubting if there was anything useful left in me, anything I could still give. And I started to feel afraid. Afraid that maybe what was blissful retirement for others might turn into a coffin nail for me. Suddenly I felt that mite of danger in being back home.

Father Mulcahy

It was everything I thought it would be. Only it wasn't.

Truthfully, how could it have been? I didn't realize how many dreams, how many memories, contained voices and music and laughter. If I thought the sounds of home were lost to me in Korea, that was nothing compared to actually being there, cocooned in silence. Cut off from the lives around me.

To me, there was no such thing as the slam of a car door or the peal of a church bell or the soft words of a friend. No lifted hymns. No murmured prayers. No satisfying smack of glove on skin. No confession. And with it, no idea what to do next.

I wasn't alone in that burden. It seemed the diocese was just as lost as to what to do with me. I had waited so long for this homecoming, but then it seemed as though I was back to waiting all over again. Waiting for an answer. For a meaning. I tried so hard to ward off bitterness. There were plenty of young men who came back from war with far worse injuries.

And there were altogether too many who never returned home at all. I had no right to wallow in self pity, as if my plight were the only or greatest of them.

Hope does remain, and I found that I could still cling to my faith, if perhaps not my vocation. But all the same. It wasn't how I imagined my homecoming. Not at all.

Hawkeye Pierce

It was everything I thought it would be. Only it wasn't.

Don't get me wrong, Crab Apple Cove was almost exactly the way I left it. Time hasn't touched that town since 1938 except to drop off radios and cars that are still ten years out of date. I never worried about it still being there. I never worried about it changing on me. But change happened.

It's the same town - the rain hangs in the air the same way, main street still smells like the town bakery, the automatic lights of the Ford dealership still turn off at 9:00 pm. It's all the same. But I'm not.

And now I wonder why I thought I'd be? The man who used to live here didn't know what it was like to live in a war zone. To frankenstein living tissue together with maddening speed. To amputate limbs perfectly healthy except for a double shot of lead. To bow and bend under the fear of losing your life, of watching someone else lose theirs, of being helpless. To feel yourself snap.

The Hawkeye Pierce that came home from Korea isn't the one that left. How could I be? When I came home, I brought the bottle with me. I'd drank before the war, but not like this. It used to be to unwind, to have a good time, to embrace being alive.

Afterward it was to cope with not being dead. To numb myself into a state that resembled dead, that required the same amount of caring. So that I wouldn't have to deal with the nightmares that had followed me home, too. Or the fear.

For the first year back, I didn't set foot inside an operating theatre. The only surgery I considered was a frontal lobotomy - self diagnosed and self inflicted. I came home changed. Broken.

The thought of home had been a lifeline in Korea. I worshipped the memory and lived for the return. But it's not at all how I thought it would be.

Thanks for reading this angsty look at our favorite camp's homecoming! I really do think that these characters have happy endings (a thought better supported by some of my other stories), but I can't imagine that their return from war was easy or painless. I'd love to hear your thoughts!