This had taken way too long. He'd first put pen to paper back on September thirteenth - he remembered it because September thirteenth had been his first full day home, the first day in a year he'd woken up in his own bed next to his wife. It was now November eighth.
It wasn't entirely his fault, he supposed. It wasn't just that he couldn't seem to find the right words. He'd had to write it when his wife wasn't looking. He didn't know why she had such a problem with him writing a letter, but then she had a problem with anything he did relating to Korea. It was like she expected him to step right back into his old life as though he'd never been gone. As though the worst year of his life had never happened.
He couldn't figure it out. It wasn't the cheating. They had both cheated while he was away. It had been about sex, not love. He hadn't cheated since leaving that rat-infested sewer, not since that first incredible night they'd spent together after his return.
Anyway, it wasn't the girls in his bed that he remembered. It was the other people. The kindest commanding office anyone could ever wish for, who incidentally couldn't make a decision to save his life. A naive farm kid who knew you wanted him before you did. A large-nosed Arab who walked around in women's clothes. And superseding all, his bunkmate, his brother-in-arms. The man who the letter he'd finally finished would be going to.
He took one last look at the letter, trying to make sure he hadn't left anything out before he put it in the envelope.
Hopefully you'll actually read this and not just throw it away. I know you're probably annoyed that I didn't leave a note before I left. Well, I tried. I started about forty times, I just couldn't find the words. But now that I've been out of Korea for a few days - he snickered a little, feeling slightly guilty - I think I can give it another try.
I certainly can't spare a kind word for Korea or anything that happened there, but I can say that knowing you made it a little easier going through hell. I'm glad that if we had to be sent out there they paired us together. Can you imagine dealing with two Franks? Having the one overgrown weasel was bad enough. Not to mention having him in command! Ugh! I'm sure that since it's now a full two weeks after you were due back (sorry about that) I'm sure you're getting caught up on everything you missed. Can you believe Hot Lips? For awhile there I thought she might actually break stride with Frank. She sure seemed angry enough. But now she's right back to being his tag-along. The brains behind the commander, I guess. God knows the commander needs 'em, ha ha! Hopefully I-Corps will send in someone new soon. I mean, I guess they have to send someone, you can't go running a MASH unit short a surgeon, but hopefully it's a new CO and not a new underling for Ferret Face, ya know?
Speaking of new surgeons, how's my replacement? I hope it's someone like us and not some regular army guy or something. Those guys have people bleeding by the numbers!
As for me, well, I'm home. What more can I say?
Actually, quite a bit. While it's infinitely better than being in Korea, it's not everything I was dreaming about. At first it seemed like it, but now that I've been here more than a month (oh, yeah, it's October now. Sorry again) I realize there was a lot I wasn't seeing. Louise has changed. Or maybe I have, I guess. Maybe we both have. Anyway, she'd like me to act like the whole year never happened, and that's just not possible. You know what I mean, Hawk. But going back to work isn't enough for her, even though I got a job at this really prestigious hospital, Boston Mercy. Hey, it looks like I just missed the Ferret Face of Boston Mercy too. He got called up and sent to Tokyo, so I never met him, but according to the others, he was a massive pain in the neck - or a few feet lower. Didn't quite catch the name but it was some fancy, hoity-toity thing.
But I'm getting off track. Louise wants to pretend I was never over there. She can't stand the way I react to loud noises - that's the biggest change. I get really jumpy during thunderstorms, and last week we had some neighborhood picnic and no one warned me they were setting off fireworks. I guess I was not all there for awhile because when I came to I was under a table. Apparently I'd been yelling something about enemy artillery and calling I-Corps and evacuating the wounded. Fortunately, there was a guy at the picnic, a World War 2 vet, and he helped talk me down and get me home. The upshot is we've actually become pretty good friends and we talk a lot. He understands me and I understand him. Louise, on the other hand, understands nothing. She yelled at me for embarrassing her in front of our neighbors. She just doesn't get it. I've suggested that I should get help, you know, counseling, but she thinks it'd be a waste of money and I just need to work on self-control. I wish it was as simple as my wife thinks it is.
One thing that's as wonderful as I dreamed, though, is my girls. Becky's incredibly smart for nine. I think she understands more than she should about me and whatever it is that's causing me to just not adjust. She's always there holding my hand when I need her most. She wants me to tell her, but I can't do that to a kid. Kathy's too young to really know that something is wrong, but she gives great hugs on request. I make a lot of requests. If my wife won't comfort me, at least I have them.
Give Radar a hug for me, won't you? He's probably still sad about Henry. Hell, I still am, and I wasn't nearly as close to him as Radar is.
Well, it's now November and I still haven't sent this out. I think I've said all there is to say. I miss you, though I'd much rather you be here than me be there, ya know? If you're ever in Boston, look me up. I mean it. In the meantime, write me back. Hell, have Radar and Klinger write too. I want to know what's going on in Bedbug City.
I know it's a bit late to say this, but since I never said it before: Goodbye, Hawkeye.
He nodded with satisfaction. He slowly wrote out the familiar address and slipped the letter into his briefcase. He could mail it on the way to work where his wife wouldn't see.
"John! It's for you!"
He frowned as he stood to go talk to whoever it was who was ringing the doorbell in the middle of a weekday afternoon. He stopped in the entryway, confused. The mailman stood on his front porch, looking grim. "Are you Dr. John McIntyre?"
"Last time I checked," he replied with an easy grin.
The man didn't smile. "Normally I wouldn't do this, but I noticed your lawn." He nodded to said lawn, which had not been mowed for longer than perhaps it should have because there were toys all over the place. "Unless I'm much mistaken, you got kids living in this house."
"Don't want a kid pickin' up something like this. And I'd rather not make a lady have to deal with this if you were here."
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm real sorry about this, sir." Then he removed a letter from his bag and handed it to the doctor. "The rest of your mail's in the box as usual."
"Uh huh." Thoroughly puzzled, he watched the mailman walk away before looking down at the envelope in his hands. It was his letter. The one he'd written to Hawkeye, finally posted at the beginning of the month. But it was marked -
And then his world came crashing down around him. Everything seemed to lose its color. He needed to sit down. He desperately needed to sit down. There was nowhere in the entryway he could sit, so he stumbled for his study.
"John?" His wife's voice was a mixture of worry and annoyance. Mostly annoyance.
"Leave me alone," he said shakily.
"John, honestly -"
"Louise," he interrupted sharply, "just leave me the hell alone."
He'd never sworn at a woman before, but he'd apologize later. Right now, he barely knew who she was. He slammed the door to his study and then leaned back heavily on it, sliding slowly to the ground. He stared at the letter he still held, as if it might change. As if those three damning letters might disappear.
KIA. KIA. KIA. KIA. It thudded like a mantra through his mind as he willed it to mean anything, anything but what knew it meant.
Something splashed on the paper, and he realized he was crying. He didn't care. He couldn't have held it back and he didn't even try. Pushing the letter aside, he pulled his knees to his chest and wept. In his entire life, he only remembered ever crying anywhere near this hard twice. Once when Henry had died. Hawkeye had comforted him then - that thought just made him cry even harder. The other had been when he was fifteen and his mother died in a car wreck, hit by a drunk driver. In their few moments that weren't devoted to women and drinks, where they were serious, he and Hawkeye had bonded over the loss of their mothers. It was something they shared. Something they had shared.
He sat there, numb and crying and silent, for what seemed like no time and an eternity all at once. He was drawn out of it only by a soft knock on his door.
Louise, I said leave me alone. But the words hadn't reached his lips before a small voice that was definitely not Louise's spoke. "Daddy? Can I come in?"
He might have been able to shout at Louise, but he could never be cross with his daughters, even if his heart was broken. He hauled himself to his feet and wiped his face, trying to compose himself. "Course you can."
The door open, and his firstborn daughter walked in and took one look at him. "Daddy? Are you okay?"
"I'm just sad, sweetheart. What was it you wanted?"
"Well, my teacher said something in class that I didn't really understand, and since you're smart I thought you could help me figure it out."
He sat down on the small couch in his study and patted the cushion next to him. She scrambled up obligingly. "Is that so? What did she say?"
"She said you don't app - appreciate what you have until it's gone. What does that mean, Daddy?"
The blond man closed his eyes against a flood of tears. 'You never appreciate what you have until it's gone.' That's for damn sure. I never appreciated the best friend I ever had until it was too late. He did everything for me, comforted me when he was hurting as much as I was, and what did I do? I let him die thinking I never said goodbye.
His daughter's voice brought him back to the present. "It means sometimes you don't think about how good the good things are until you don't have them. Before I went away, did you ever think about how nice it was to have me at home?"
"Well - no."
"But once I was gone, you realized how special it had been to have me here. Do you understand now?"
"I think so." She reached up her small hand to brush his face. "Daddy, you're crying. What's wrong?"
"Do you remember me telling you about your Uncle Hawkeye?" An outsider might wonder how a man the girls had never met would be "Uncle Hawkeye", but in his mind it was obvious. Hawkeye was his brother, therefore he was Becky and Kathy's uncle. Unlike Louise, his daughters liked hearing him talk about Korea, probably unaware of how much he edited out for their benefit, and they loved stories of their dad's crazy partner.
"Well -" He didn't want to upset Becky, but she had asked and he owed her the truth. "I got a note this morning that - that -" Damn, he couldn't say it. That would make it so final.
"Was he hurt?" she asked. He nodded slowly, and her face took on a pained look. "Did he die?"
"Yes," he whispered painfully.
The next thing he knew, his arms were full of his child. But she wasn't hysterical. She wasn't even crying. "I'm so sorry, Daddy."
"Thank you, baby." He ran his fingers through her curls, so like his. "Listen, don't tell your sister, okay? I don't think she's old enough to understand. If she asks, I'll tell her in a way that will make sense to her."
"Okay, Daddy. I love you."
"I love you too."
"Do you want me to stay in here with you like you do when I have bad dreams?"
"If you really want to." He didn't want to burden her, but she felt good in his arms, a reminder that not all had gone to hell, however much it felt that way.
"Of course I will, Daddy." She snuggled against his side, falling into a comfortable silence.
He kept his daughter securely wrapped in his arms. For a long while, he wondered whether he shouldn't call Radar. The poor kid had lost Henry, who was practically his father, and then Hawkeye, who he'd always looked up to. But he couldn't do it. There were too many memories associated with the 4077, with Radar's voice. Memories of men now gone. No, he couldn't willingly cause himself that much anguish to help someone else. Hawkeye probably would have, but he wasn't Hawkeye. Hawkeye was gone, and he John Francis Xavier "Trapper" McIntyre, was here.
He saw the last two words of his letter as clearly as though he were reading it. Mentally, he added three more.
Goodbye, Hawkeye. Rest in peace.The End