A Date Which Will Live in Infamy
I hear the planes in the early morning. I bolt upright at the sound, finding Theo already up. He races to the window and peers at the sky.
“Those are Japanese planes,” Theo says frantically. He looks at me, torn. Half of him wants to stay with me, half needing to go do his duty to his country.
“Go. I have to get to the hospital,” I say, struggling into my dress from the night before.
Theo pulls on his clothes and turns to run out the door, but quickly turns around to give me a quick kiss. I look after him and cry—again, ugh — because I know what this day will bring.
“Be safe!” I shout after him. It’s futile to say, but I say it just the same.
For a while, it was easy to forget our circumstances. It was easy to forget that we don’t belong in this time or place. It was easy to forget the absolute devastation that would come.
I’ve been so ridiculously happy with Theo that most days I don’t feel like I even want to leave. I could stay and be happy for the rest of my life, but that isn’t to be.
The sound of those planes shatters any illusions I have, not that I have many. Today will be horrific and when Theo finds out I know, he’ll never forgive me for letting it happen. I can take it for the sake of the future, but it’ll break my heart in the process.
I race to the lobby and find the girls pooling there. Roger, Daniel, and Rodrigo are rushing after Theo. Olivia and William are the last to arrive. She gives me a look of desperation, but there’s nothing I can say to reassure her.
“We need to get to the hospital now!” I yell.
The first explosions reverberate through the air. Everyone moves double time and we run out onto the street. Bombs sound all around us as they hit their targets. The bombs and torpedoes are pulverizing our Battleships and Destroyers.
I hear screams from every direction. Bullets whiz past and we have to take cover where we can. Thank God all of us make it to the hospital unscathed, but once we do, it’s absolute chaos. The head nurse screams at us.
“Get all the supplies you can carry!”
The other girls scatter. Olivia sticks by my side. I glimpse her rings as they glitter against the early morning sun. She’s been married for less than a week.
“You might want to take those off,” I suggest. Olivia looks down at it and shakes her head.
“Not a chance,” she replies and runs in the other direction to get some bandages.
It isn’t long before the first of the injured are brought in. We’ll get more every minute until it reaches a fever pitch when the Japanese planes finally retreat and it’s safe to get everyone to the hospital.
The hospital will run out of supplies and the injured and dying men from those battleships will overwhelm us, but everyone will keep working until we can’t anymore.
Olivia’s hands are full when she comes running up beside me.
“Stay safe. They won’t bomb the hospital, but be careful outside,” I tell Olivia as we’re walking into the ward. She nods solemnly and runs to help a doctor.
The time passes in strange lurches. Sometimes each second feels like an hour when I’m plugging up some wound while waiting for the doctor to get to my patient and sometimes the hours pass like seconds as I pass over men I can’t help.
There’s been a steady flow of patients brought in, but within an hour of the first bombs, the hospital is flooded with burned and bleeding men. There are screams from every corner and blood spills onto the floor. I’m stretched out with everyone needing me at once.
I’ve seen shows like Grey’s Anatomy and House, but I’m nowhere near the nurse we led everyone to believe. Sure, I know what to do, but I’m not sure any training could have prepared me for this. A doctor calls Olivia over the noise.
“Get these men into the kitchen and clear off every spare space we have!”
Olivia nods and runs to the kitchen. I faintly hear clattering as she undoubtedly pushed everything to the kitchen floor. The doctor turns to me.
“We don’t have room for everyone. You need to go outside and separate the patients.”
I’m prepared for this, but when faced with the actual task, I falter. Why me? Why not an actual nurse? I imagine I am only chosen out of convenience. I am simply the person closest to the doctor.
“Hurry!” the doctor yells at me when he sees me hesitate. I nod and make my way outside.
I walk out and I have to shield my eyes from the bright sun. My hands shake with the choices I have to make, but I take a deep breath and control the situation.
It’s the worst thing I’ve ever had to do and probably the worst thing I will ever have to do even if I live a thousand years. It’s so much worse than the sinking of the Titanic. A lot of people died there too, but I wasn’t in charge of who lived and who died. The devastation just doesn’t measure up to what I’m seeing now.
It’s the first time I’ve been outside since this started. Plumes of black smoke float into the air for miles. Several buildings, and especially the ships in the harbor, are on fire.
I hear screams from every direction, but the picture in front of me is a sight of absolute horror. The men that escaped the ships are making it to the hospital since the bombing ceased and the Japanese are flying back home thinking this is a victory. How wrong they’ll soon realize they are.
Able-bodied men are carrying others. I shake myself out of my reverie and get to work. I shout at the men.
“The dead go by that tree!” I yell, pointing to my left trying to keep the wobble out of my voice. I hold back the tears that I want to shed for every person I see. I can’t be weak right now.
I check each man and mark them with someone’s lipstick like I’d seen in the movie. Critical go inside, but there are more people than I can count that have fatal wounds that I’ll have to leave in pain to die under some tree to my right.
Those people will haunt my dreams forever. They might have been saved if it wasn’t 1941 or if the doctors weren’t overwhelmed with patients and could take the time they needed. That isn’t the situation though.
All I can hear is screaming, and that’s all I have been hearing for several hours. At first, it’s bothersome, and it makes it hard to concentrate, but at some point, it becomes background noise. It stops making me feel nauseous. I don’t have time to feel that way.
Part of me wants to think of William and what he’s up to, but the moment he creeps into my mind, I want to throw up. I have to put him aside and hope to God he’s all right.
The plan was for him to stay in the hotel until the bombing stopped. He could make himself useful then, lending a hand where they needed it. I know the Arizona will need a lot of help. Even though it’ll end up being pointless, they still have to try.
I herd people into every single open space we possibly have. When the beds are full, the kitchen counters have to suffice. Floors end up being the last resort and we have to try not to step on anyone or slip on the fountains of blood that cover every inch of everything in this damn hospital.
Blood has never bothered me before, but after today, I might have a permanent aversion to it. It’s more blood than I’ve ever seen in my life and more than I ever want to see again. I thought maybe I’d become a nurse after I go home, but I’m not so sure I want to anymore.
A few times, I catch sight of Paige rushing around. I hear a doctor yell at her to go outside and sort the men. I know what a nightmare that’ll be for her, well, for anyone. I wish I could be there with her for that, but I’m too busy so she’ll have to face that alone.
There’s no stopping now. So many people need so much more than I have to give. Sometimes I have to stop for a minute to catch my breath against a wall. I wish there were someplace quiet I can go to rest my mind for just a second, but inside this hospital, there’s literally nowhere to go that doesn’t host a nurse, doctor, or horribly injured person.
It’s already the afternoon. I should have eaten breakfast since I knew what time the Japanese were coming, but we stayed up so late last night, I only woke when I heard the planes flying over.
At times, my stomach feels like it’s eating itself because I’m so hungry. When I don’t give it any food, the hunger pangs subside. I can feel myself getting shaky from the lack of food, but I stamp the feeling down.
I can’t stop. If I do, someone could die. There’s already too much of that. I don’t need to add more because of my stupid human needs.
I’m thankful when a few unhurt men come in. They’re covered in dirt, soot, and blood, but it doesn’t seem like any is theirs. William comes in behind them and I close my eyes to send a thank you up to whoever’s listening.
“Are you okay?” William asks. I sigh a relieved breath.
“I’m okay. Just tired and hungry. How is it out there?” I reply. William shakes his head.
“Worse than I imagined—,”
“Do you need anything from us?” one man asks, interrupting William. I nod at him.
“Yeah, we need blood,” I reply.
The men and William nod. We have little space, but I lead them to a small area that doesn’t hold any injured people. I poke them the way they taught me and on the first try, blood flows freely through the clear tubes into the bottles we have.
William is the last to get poked. He looks up at me as I work.
“You look beautiful,” William breathes. I laugh once.
“Whatever. I’m a mess,” I reply, looking down at my bloody dress.
“You look like a very capable woman who is saving so many people.”
I smile at him so very thankful this man is my husband. I kiss him once.
“Hey! Do we all get a kiss for giving blood?” a man asks. The other laughs with him.
“Not unless you’re my husband,” I reply, patting William’s hand. The men grumble good-naturedly but say nothing.
“I’ve got to go back now. I’ll be back soon to take the needles out,” I say to William. He nods before I walk back into the chaotic wards.
Slowly, the herds of men dwindle. I can see a pile of the dead under a palm tree and I want to throw up. When there are no more people to sort, I have to go back inside, but not before looking for Theo in the crowds once more.
I’ve already seen William. He asked how I was and where to find Olivia. I gave him short answers and wearily pointed inside. I don’t have a clue where she is or what she’s doing though.
While I’m outside, I keep looking out in the crowds of men hoping I’ll see Theo, but also hoping I won’t see him. I still haven’t caught so much as a glimpse of him before I have to go back into the hospital and deal with whatever carnage is in there.
Carnage is a good word for the scene inside. Even though the flow of people ebbed. It’s no less crazy inside as it had been when I left several hours ago.
When I pictured what I’d do with my life, this was never anywhere close to being on the list. I guess I handle the stress and pressure well. I don’t cave like most would probably expect of me, but it’s definitely not something I’ll be pursuing.
For hours, I don’t see Theo, but he makes his way into the hospital. He looks unhurt, but he gazes at the mass of people in shock. I want to cry when I see him, but I also know what he must be thinking.
I don’t run to him like I want to, but he makes his way to me. I’m more exhausted than I’ve ever been in my life. I smile at him thanking God he’s all right. He can hate me so long as he lived, but he has to live.
“Are you okay?” Theo asks, his voice devoid of any emotion. My mouth opens with all the words I want to say, but none come. I just nod and give him a small smile. Theo nods back.
“I’m going to help where I can,” he announces before turning and walking away without another word.
I’m left alone with the rest of the patients. I knew Theo would be pissed at me. He has every right to be, but it’s still a stab in the heart for him to show no emotion. It’s maybe a good sign he came all this way to at least see how I am.
I hope I’ll have the time to explain everything to him when he comes back. If he comes back, says the unhelpful voice in the back of my mind.
Theo is probably trying to help get men out of the battleships even though it’ll end up being futile. The men who will die inside need to know that someone came to their aid, that someone tried to get them out and they aren’t alone.
The flow of patients finally stops. Everyone that can be saved is stabilized and the dead are gathered so they can make a list. I’m glad that job is someone else’s.
I stand outside for fresh air, but of course, the air is no better out here. Olivia comes up behind me and puts her hand on my shoulder. I grab it then turn to hug her. Every inch of her is covered in blood and grime, but at least she’s okay.
“This was horrible,” Olivia says in a whisper. I take a deep breath.
“It was the worst thing I have ever witnessed,” I reply. She nods but says nothing.
In the distance, I can see Theo walking towards me. I know I have to talk to him. Olivia sees him too. She grabs and squeezes my hand reassuringly. I squeeze back and make my way to Theo.
William stands next to Olivia to support me as I face the firing squad.
“Hey, Paige,” William says. I turn around to face him. “He might be mad now, but you can’t doubt that he loves you.”
I smile at William and Olivia. Every time I think I can’t be more grateful for William, he does something else amazing. I’ll miss him almost as much as I’ll miss Theo…. almost.
I turn back around and walk toward Theo. His expression is hard and I can tell he’s exhausted. I want nothing more than to fall into his arms and have him hug me and tell me everything is all right. That won’t be happening though.
“You knew!” he spits at me once I’m within earshot. It’s a bullet to the heart. I nod but look him in the eye. I know I did the right thing, and I’d make the same choice again. Nothing could have stopped it, anyway.
“You knew and you let all this happen. You let all those people die!” he yells. I feel the tears coming.
“I will live with all the deaths I might have prevented for the rest of my life. You will never beat me up more than I’ll beat myself up, but this had to happen. I know the future. I couldn’t have prevented it any more than you could have,” I reply. Tears start to waterfall.
“You could have told someone, you could have told me.” Theo’s voice breaks on the last word. He’s not yelling anymore, but he has a look of betrayal on his face.
“What would you have done?” I ask, defeated.
“I don’t know. I could have told someone they were coming so we could have had a chance in hell,” he replies.
“What good would it have done? Who would have listened to you?” I ask. These are all scenarios I’ve already gone through.
“I would have tried,” he replies bitterly, but his voice breaks again.
I want to say more, to defend myself and my actions, but the tugging in my stomach grows stronger and I know we’re going home.
I laugh bitterly. I knew it would happen today, but it has to happen now when I need to stay the most? There’s just one last thing I need to say to Theo before I leave.
“Theo, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you and I hope one day you’ll forgive me. You might after you see what all this brings. Please know that I love you. Loving you has been the most real thing I’ve ever experienced and I will love you for the rest of my life. Goodbye,” I say, tears freely streaming down my face.
In the briefest of moments, Theo’s face softens. He’s mad, but I know he loves me. I just have to remember it, as William said. Theo and I might have only had a short time together, but the love is real.
I look back at Olivia. She looks up with an expression mixed with relief, shock, and sadness. She turns to William and hugs him so intensely I feel like an intruder for watching.
Olivia kisses William with everything she has knowing this will be goodbye… probably forever. I reach out and take Theo’s hand. He lets me, but it’s as if he’s made of marble.
“I love you,” I manage in a whisper. Theo finally grips my hand, but it’s too late. All at once, Pearl Harbor and Theo disappear from view and we’re tumbling through time.