Visions of the things to be
The pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see
“Hey, Finney? Catch!” The boy turned around just in time to get hit in his right temple by a football, sending him sprawling to the ground. Several of the men laughed and pointed while Nurse Able walked over and helped Sean Finney to his feet.
“Hell, Able there is more of a man than you are!” The man laughed.
“That’s Lieutenant Able to you, Corporal Walker! Or would you rather Private Walker,” she barked. The comparison was flawed; Phyllis Able was in no way anything close to being a ‘man,’ but that made the insult sting that much more for the boy.
“Listen, kid. You’ve got to toughen up! These guys will eat you alive.” She felt the words were fairly futile. In no one’s universe would Sean Finney be tough at all, much less tough enough to withstand the brutal teasing of the men in the camp. She shook her head and rubbed his shoulder; wanting immediately to rescind the gesture since it was one more way that seemed to coddle the boy. He turned to her and smiled.
“Thanks, Lieutenant.” He snapped a salute and walked back to his tent; shoulders only a little less weighed down. Phyllis watched as the boy walked away and thought she saw something but chalked it up to the boy’s usual discouraged demeanor. How anyone could ever have signed off on his enlistment?
“Make sure you log it all in before chow, okay?” Radar smiled and did one of his scrunchy faces. Always the encourager, he found it increasingly difficult to help Finney; the boy seemed to be in a perpetual funk. Finney nodded and spoke.
“You bet, sir!” He said, offering a salutation that was reserved for officers only; his way of showing respect and gratitude to Radar, whose face reddened only slightly as he looked around. Seeing that they were alone, he shook his head slightly but his smile grew broader.
“Jeez, Finney… anyone could have come in. Especially the Majors.” It was almost an inside joke that had grown camp-wide as everyone seemed to know about Maj. Burns being practically joined at the hip to Maj. Houlihan. That relationship had gone south recently after Hot Lips met the man of her dreams. Still, the two worked together to lean hard on anyone below them in rank. Col. Potter had done his best to diffuse that by gently nudging Maj. Houlihan further into being the person outside that few knew her to be; compassionate and caring.
As if on cue, Maj. Burns walked into the supply room and hrumphed.
“This place is a mess, Corporal!” He got in Radar’s face until Finney spoke.
“The corporal was just giving me orders to re-organize, Sir. Anything you’d like in particular? I really want to make this shine.” Radar put his hand over his face as Burns turned and smiled at Finney.
“Well, I want to see this place clean and organized by Oh-seven-hundred tomorrow, get it?” He snapped at Finney.
“Yes, Sir.” Finney nodded and saluted the Major, which was a custom little-held by most of the enlisted men in the camp. Burns nodded and pushed past Radar and out the door.
“You didn’t have to do that. I can take care of myself.” Radar frowned. Finney nodded.
“I just wanted help, Sir.” The tone was almost apologetic and sad. Radar shrugged his shoulders and grabbed a file box from the shelf.
“I know. Thanks.” He pulled the contents out of the box and logged them on the sheet of paper on the clipboard.
“If we work hard, we can finish this in time for the movie…. I heard it’s a western.” Radar smiled and Finney nodded. Sean Michael Finney would have preferred a musical or a comedy; it wasn’t so much that he didn’t like westerns; Randolph Scott and John Wayne were favorites. But he identified more with the musicals and the comedies. A red-blooded American boy like himself would have been expected to want to grow up just like the Duke, but Deanna Durbin and Judy Garland were his idols; even if he’d never get the chance to stand in front of the cameras and sing.
The next day….
“Colonel Potter? Has anyone figured out who the camp pilcher is?” Klinger whined. He pointed to his outfit; a full-skirted dress in periwinkle and highlighted by white piping.
“Looks fine to me, son,” Potter said without looking up. They’d had the same conversation three straight days. Someone was stealing personal items, including at least four dresses from Klinger’s wardrobe. He raised his head at the loud voice that came from behind Klinger.
“Colonel? The nurses are complaining that their personals have been rummaged through.”
“Their personals?” Potter feigned ignorance.
“I think she means underwear, Sir,” Klinger said. Margaret Houlihan was military all the way, and wasn’t about to talk ‘civilian;’ at least in from of a non-com. She glared and Klinger took a step back with a look of apology on his face.
“Okay, Margaret. Let me see what I can do. Maybe the girls over at Rosie’s?”
“I don’t think so, sir. They tend to go with a bit more…”
“Don’t say it!” Margaret glared again at Klinger.
“Soft?” Potter tried not to laugh.
“I understand your concern, Major. We’ll get to the bottom of this,” he said, missing the irony entirely.
I try to find a way to make
All our little joys relate
Without that ever-present hate
But now I know that it's too late, and
That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please
“Father Mulcahey?” Finney had his hat in his hand. The look on his face was one of pain and sadness.
“What is it, My Son? Some bad news from home?”
“No, Father. I have to talk to someone, and I don’t know….” Tears came to the boy’s eyes. Much more than a death in the family, Mulcahey realized by the boy’s expression. He put the papers on the make-shift desk onto his cot.
“Would the sacrament of reconciliation help, Sean?” Confession was not only good for the soul, but built into the belief system they shared that provided relief from regrets and remorse and sad self-anger. Judging by Finney’s expression, the boy’s heart was heavy enough to weigh him down. More than the teasing and joking he withstood from the other men in camp. This had to be much more serious.
“Yes, if…do we need to..?”
“No, Sean. Here is just fine. Go ahead…I’m listening.
“Bless me father, for I have sinned. It has been two weeks since my last confession.” He choked up, prompting the priest to break with propriety and ritual; he put his hand on the boy’s arm.
“Go ahead. There’s nothing you can tell me that God doesn’t know already. And nothing that He can’t fix.” The boy lifted his head and Francis John Mulcahy looked into the face of shame and fear. He bowed his head and spoke a silent prayer for wisdom before continuing.
“What you tell me will never be spoken of with anyone else; it stays here in this tent…it’s a holy place, and you can say anything to me without judgment. I can’t say I understand everything, Sean, but I know that you feel very bad, and I’m here to help, okay?” Father Mulcahy may have ‘heard everything,’ but he wasn’t quite prepared for what Sean had to say. But true to his word, he was there to help without condemnation; something the boy had apprehended already and needed to release.
“Go ahead, Sean. Take your time. I’m not going anywhere.” He said it as an encouragement, and encourage it did; the boy grabbed Father Mulcahy’s hand and kissed it and began to weep. As awkward as the gesture felt, he realized that the boy was entirely sincere in his respect for the office. Shamed whispers brought surprise and raised eyebrows as secrets were shared.
“I don’t know what to say than that you’re more important than any problem you have, Sean. It must be very painful for you to want to end your life.” As the boy laid his head on the make-shift confessional, his shoulders began to shake from the deep sobs. Father Mulcahy patted him on the back, struggling with little success to keep from crying, but then he remembered the scripture about mourning with those who mourn.
And so, between patting the boy’s shoulder and smiling, the two waded through the tears that both would shed before the night was through as Sean told Father Mulcahey just what was so painful.
The next morning…
“Radar? Corporal O’Reilly?” A voice came from behind. Radar turned to find a pert looking nurse with very short hair; she wore a dress uniform and her accent sounded vaguely Irish.
“Yes, Ma’am?” He stood and saluted the young lady. She looked to be about as young as he was, but her rank and his respect for women brought him to attention.
“I wanted to thank you for all your help.” She said with a weak smile as she bowed her head. Radar stared at her; she seemed familiar and yet he didn’t recall at all that a Canadian nurse had been attached to the 4077th, much less remember helping her.
“I’m sorry to go, but I’ve only got this one chance, and I have to take it. Please don’t tell anyone until after I’m gone,” she pleaded as her head turned to face the open flap of the tent, revealing a jeep that sat idling. He looked again at her and his eyes widened in recognition. She took a step forward and put her hand to his ever-reddening face.
“I’m sorry, Walter,” she choked back a sob. He faced her and shook his head; mostly no but partly in confusion over the feelings he held for the girl in front of him. She leaned closer and kissed him on the cheek before walking hastily out to the Jeep. She walked straight into Hawkeye and would have fallen down but for the offered arm. She climbed into the Jeep and nodded and smiled, her own face turning a bright red. A moment later she was gone.
Hawkeye stared down the road until an ‘aha’ escaped his lips. He turned to enter the tent and found Radar sitting on his cot. His eyes were red and his face was hot; mostly from embarrassment and too much from shame, but just a little bit from an awkward feeling of regret. Hawkeye stepped into the tent and patted Radar on the back. Radar looked up into Hawkeye’s eyes and they shared a secret without exchanging a word.
The next day...
“Can anyone here tell me where our supply clerk trainee has gotten to?” Potter looked up at the assembled group. Maj. Burns, as usual, was his grumpy and intolerable self. Margaret looked around at the others and shook her head. Radar turned to Hawkeye and put his head down slightly. Hawkeye shook his head no; his gesture a reminder that they shared something that no one else would ever know… but for another.
“I believe he was transferred, isn’t that right, Radar?” A confident question that demanded a confident answer.
“Ye…yes, Father. Private Finney was transferred. Don’t you remember, Col.? You signed the papers the other day,” Radar said, feeling relieved and glad that Klinger wasn’t the only one who could forge a signature.
“Colonel?” A whiny voice came from the doorway. All eyes turned their attention to Max Klinger; in military mufti. They stared until he spoke.
“What? Colonel? Does anyone know who’s been stealing my clothes? I’m out three pairs of panties and two pairs of nylons." Radar turned to Hawkeye who just nodded and smiled. And everyone else save one shook their heads. Father Mulcahy spoke softly and said at last,
“I suppose whoever took them? She must have needed them more than you.” He turned his head slightly and looked up before mouthing,
Radar had finished distributing the mail and realized that he had more than just the customary letter from his mom. He looked at the address; Truro, Nova Scotia. He opened the envelope and read the short note.
I hope this letter finds you well. I wish that you were able to be home, and I’m sorry I couldn’t stay to be of help. You’re very special to me. In all of the horror of the war, you made life more bearable by being the best friend anyone could ever have. You helped me see past the morning fog, and for that I’m forever grateful. Maybe someday you’ll forgive me for leaving and forgive me for everything else. I hope for all the best for you. Love, Your friend
Story based on characters and situations created by Richard Hooker as portrayed in the television series, M.A.S.H., created by Larry Gelbart
Suicide is Painless
Written by Johnny Mandel
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