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the bird has flown
G, gen. In the days after the war, BJ has somehow managed to lose Hawkeye.
[Isn’t it ironic? The hawk has flown…]
I’ve tried to find him. Crabapple Cove and its lobster-loving inhabitants are thousands of miles from here, but god knows I’ve tried to find Hawk. Calling and writing didn’t seem to get me anywhere… and I figured the logical next step would be to go out there.
I think Peg wonders why I need to go. And the answer is, I don’t know myself. I want to see him, to touch him, to hear his voice…
…and when I’ve seen he’s all right, he’s happy, I’ll leave. Peg worries too much.
I think of him and I remember…
Within seconds of my meeting him, he’d stolen a jeep. Within minutes, he’d sweet-talked first a clairvoyant company clerk into going along with his schemes, and then a sceptical MP into believing nearly everything he said. As well as the jeep, his craziness raised a dust cloud.
I watched my hat go flying out of hands and saw my sanity going with it. I thought I’d come across my fair share of insanity as a medical student, but this was something beyond the your common rank-and-file lunatic – here was someone who was openly, passionately crazy. I only saw a glimpse of the darker side to it when we saw the girls in the minefield.
I think I might have begun to understand why he was crazy when I helped him carry the girl out of the minefield. And when we stopped to change a flat tyre and got shot at, I knew I’d come to a different world.
Oh, I made a wonderful start in Korea. I remember that moment when it finally became too much, the heat and noise and blood and death, and I remember falling forwards, making for the ditch, and I remember losing my last civilian lunch.
I remember who was holding me.
Of course, I found out later that it could have been different. He wasn’t supposed to be there; but then he never was. The moment we reached the camp, I found out he’d jumped a blockade, coerced Radar into letting him come along, and he’d skipped as many checkpoints as possible along the way.
I had to ask him why he’d done it.
“To say goodbye to Trapper.”
Trapper John McIntyre, his best friend and partner-in-crime, who had left without being able to say goodbye, and could leave nothing but a kiss behind.
I found out, but not from Hawkeye. He never mentioned Trapper again.
Not to me.
I think of Hawkeye and Trapper and their still, their earlier encounter playing football, their tent that was called the Swamp, their plots and schemes, the fact they did everything together, even tried to defuse a bomb…
He left without saying goodbye. I used to like that thought.
I’d never heard of anyone called “Hawkeye” before. I have an unusual name myself, but my name doesn’t conjure up an image the way Hawk’s did.
I don’t think it’s coincidence that The Last of the Mohicans is a book about war. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it ends with Hawk-eye crying beside a grave. My Hawk may lack the hyphen, but it’s all the same thing.
I remember when Hawkeye was blinded. It was a freak accident involving a recalcitrant stove. Oh, sweet irony, that an army doctor three miles from the front should be blinded by a stove. His first words after his eyes were bandaged were to ask whether he could keep his nickname. It turned out he could, of course… his blindness only lasted a couple of days. I’m sure he remembers the moment when he unscrewed his eyes and saw the world again.
I remember that.
But I remember something else. I remember a scream at three o’clock in the morning, I remember running out into the compound into the dark of night, I remember the upheaval, the noise and the panic, I remember voices shouting, trying to make sense of the chaos, the strange change in the order of things… suddenly the chief surgeon was the patient…
Most of all, I remember the overwhelming clarity of the scene; the realisation that came with that scream, the bitter irony that I should find clarity and sudden understanding at the moment when Hawkeye was…
He was never vulnerable. At least, not until the end. Hawkeye was always irreverent, wisecracking, utterly in control, and it frightened me sometimes. I felt it when he was blind. I wanted him to finally crack and I wanted it so I could be there, and all the time I thought he was in denial when it wasn’t him, it was me…
The first casualty of war is truth, Hawk used to say, followed by sobriety and fidelity. I would say everything is a casualty of war, it’s simply a matter of waiting long enough, but innocence is high on the list. I had a beautiful wife and beautiful daughter, patients suffering from flu and rheumatism and broken legs, and then I went to that place.
In some ways, Hawkeye made it better, he made it bearable. In other ways, he made things worse, he made it all more painful that it was already, simply by being there and being Hawkeye.
I never loved anyone or hated anyone so much.
War changes the way you see things. It changes the way you feel about things, and people. I loved Hawkeye, loved him and hated him with such intensity that the feelings matched the war zone, that’s why it all fell to pieces, because no-one can live with that rush, with that kind of pain and emotion, without cracking up in the end.
And Hawkeye was driven to the edge, and I was, too.
And that was the end.
Away from the exploding shells and the constant blood and pain and war, I seem to see things clearly.
It’s nice to be home. It’s nice to be with my family. I missed them; I missed them so much. I had so much more to lose than anyone else at the 4077th, and I’m glad to be home and see I haven’t lost it.
But at the end of everything, I still want to see him. I miss him.
And I’ve lost him. I wish I meant it in its poetic sense, its figurative sense, but sadly I mean it in its literal sense. I asked an old friend, a young gentleman farmer in Iowa who knows about things, and he said, “Hawkeye has gone.”
I know he’s right. Perhaps I shouldn’t go out to Crabapple Cove.
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, and I know I was dreaming of Hawkeye, and it makes me smile briefly before going back to sleep.
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night afraid that Hawkeye is dead, and I’m frightened, suddenly frightened, and I can’t sleep.
In the morning, I get up and hold Erin and stand by the window, and I know the truth, though like Radar I don’t know how I know it. Hawkeye has gone, flown in the night. Wherever he is, he doesn’t want to be found.
In true Hawkeye fashion, perhaps he’s sleeping off the war.
And things are drifting along, slowly, pleasantly. My life is drenched in Californian sunshine. I’m happy.
Sometimes I feel Hawkeye is still there, lurking at the corners of my vision. I can be lost in my thoughts, come back to myself and find I’m in Mill Valley, California, and yet I still feel Hawkeye is lying on an army cot somewhere close by, holding a Martini glass and laughing at me. I can be seeing a patient, a committed hypochondriac, and I can hear Hawkeye say, “I recommend 10cc’s of diluted dihydrous oxide every four hours…”
And I laugh, and they all think I’m crazy but it’s okay, I just came back from war…
I went to war, and I came back, and I have a family, a beautiful wife and beautiful little girl, and I’m happy.
A memory, a bright, wisecracking, irreverent crazy memory that will never fade. A reason to like olives in cocktails, a reason to play poker without ever falling for a bluff, a reason to smile for no reason and a reason to go to war.
I hope he’s happy, too. Wherever he is, I hope he’s free.
Because I know I will never see Hawkeye again.
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