Hellen's Birthday Present
It has been nine months since Hellen Patrick had received a letter from her newlywed husband John, tomorrow is her 29th Birthday. Since John's deployment nineteen months ago she has sat by their radio nightly listening as the Nazi's and Japanese continue to invade and inhabit most of Europe and the Western World. To the soldier's wife the Japanese seem unstoppable. She prays as the radioman informs her of the devastation the "Nazi's and Japs" has unleashed on the world.
Like most people in her small town in Iowa, Hellen doesn't have a phone to be contacted. The components needed to make wire is also needed to make bullets and other materials for "our" boys over there. Messages are sent and received by mail or telegram unless the news is bad. Messages such as those come by messenger. On this chilly day in March 1945, Hellen Patrick succumbs as an O.D. Green sedan pulls in and parks in her driveway.
Seeing the car and the two uniformed men walking from it brought unimaginable fear to Mrs. Patrick. As the two men started up the walkway toward her, they saw a 5'5 brunette wearing a soiled apron, a white blouse, royal blue skirt and black peep-toed slingback pumps standing at the screen door. the wife's body became weak and she trembled thinking for her birthday her gift would be closure. Her heart beats so fast it now ached. "Mrs. Patrick, I am Captain James Reed and this is Private First Class Dennis Smalls, we are here on the behalf of the United States Army. The green car drew a crowd, people gathered at the sidewalk in front of the Patrick residence. "Mrs. Patrick, is it possible to speak with you inside?" The rattled wife looks past the soldiers at the building audience and with a nod she nervously lifts the hook from the eyehole to unlock and open the brown wood and screen door. Private Smalls, would you please wait here. "Yes Sir!" the PFC nods as the Captain enters the house, the crowd of neighbors whispers among themselves in front of the Patrick house, they all had or knew someone overseas fighting, everyone had questions.
Once inside the living room Captain Reed places his servicemen's hat under his arm. He surveys the room, it was modest, like most homes in the middle 1940s. There were the usual fixtures one would see, pictures of past relatives and the large wedding photo of John and Hellen. Mrs. Patrick's crochet project bundled in a basket next to the sofa. On one of the night stands below the lamp there was a 5X7 photo of Hellen and John smiling at Niagara Falls, "Probably a honeymoon photo," the Captain assumed, the opposite stand had John's clean shaven basic training picture, he looked like a little boy, but he was 27 years old at the time. There were LIFE magazines on the coffee table neatly displayed, in the middle of the collage of Mags was her Birthday card from her mother. But what grabs the officer's attention most of all, was a simple wooden chair, he guessed it was taken from the roll top desk that hid innocently in the far corner of the room adjacent to the piano. The wooden chair was posted next to the RCA radio. There was a box of tissues in the seat of the chair and a small waist basket posted on the floor between the chair and radio. Mrs. Patrick sits and listens daily and/or nightly, the Captain figured.
"Sir, may I get you anything, I still have some cigarettes?" the wife offered. "Oh, and I have coffee and tea still in my rations." "No, thank you ma'am!" the decorated soldier answers. "Mrs. Patrick, I should get to the reason for my visit, is it okay if we sit down?" Mrs. Patrick nods as she removes a tissue from the pocket of her apron with her shaking right hand to catch a tear before it ruined her mascara. They stepped around the coffee table to the sofa.
"Mrs. Patrick, let me first assure you that your husband John is not dead, but he..." Hellen erupts. "Thank you God!" she cries bringing her hands together as her tear filled eyes looks to the ceiling, her prayer was granted. The wife could not stop praising, her cries of gratitude were loud and moving, she could be heard outside, the crowd outside cheered and celebrated as they assumed the good news. "Mrs. Patrick," the Captain interrupts, "As I was saying, Corporal Patrick is alive, but he has been wounded. "Wounded?" the wife questioned. "Yes ma'am, your husband was wounded when the ship he and his company was on was sunk by a mine at Normandy Beach last June sixth. I have been his doctor since his arrival back to the states in October." Hellen processes the information given by the officer. "Last October..." her mind calculates. "June sixth... That was.... D-Day!" she screams. "Oh my God, D-Day!" remembering the casualty count for the Allied Soldiers. It exceeded 10,000. "Ma'am," the Captain tries to regain some control. "Corporal Patrick and part of his regiment were aboard the USS Corry. The ship was sunk by a mine at Utah Beach in Normandy. There was an explosion, it was massive, killing almost everyone! Corporal Patrick was one of a handful of survivors. He was found floating among the oil, debris and members or body parts of members from the ship. He was found trying to hold another soldier's head above the oil, debris and water, that soldier past in his arms, Corporal Patrick held on to him anyway. The soldier asked him to bring him home if he did not make it. Mrs. Patrick, your husband suffered first and second degree burns everywhere, he was treated and the burns are less visible, but his eyes.... Ma'am... his eye's, they suffered like his skin, but with nothing to protect them. The days he spent in the water may have saved his skin, but it was dirty and very oily salt water. Corporal Patrick was beet red when they found and raised them, he stated that he felt he was on fire, his eyes were badly damaged, they burned each time he tried to open them. We are uncertain if it was the intense heat, the bright flash, the pollution or the salt water.... it could be the combination of the four, but Ma'am, your husband... well..." the Captain looks to his hands. "The Corporal, I am sorry, but he is blind. Hellen begins to cry, Captain Reed searched for a better string of words but was unsuccessful.
Hellen absorbs the information given to her, her eyes shift as she remembers. "Sir, you mentioned John being in the states since October, where is he now? Is my husband somewhere I can go to see him?" Hellen questions hoping for a positive reply. "Mrs. Patrick," the Captain warns. "There are some things you should know before I answer that question.
Ma'am, as I said I have been your husband's doctor since October, I am a psychologist. Mrs. Patrick, your husband is fighting. Fighting himself and everyone around him." the Captain sighs, "I have tried everything to help him with his anger. The other day we concluded that it may be best to discharge the Corporal and to send him home. Get him away from the Army and the bad memories. Ma'am, I believe most of all he needs you! He needs you to tell him it's okay and that things will be fine, that it will all be alright!" Captain Reed looks at Hellen, "Ma'am, your husband is outside. "Wha... what?" the housewife face is turn flush, wanting to leap from the sofa. "I need to fix my hair, start dinner! There is so much that needs to be done!" Not knowing what to do first Hellen begins to stand, the Captain stops her. Mrs. Patrick, Mrs. Patrick Please!" the officer begs. There is something else.
Ma'am I did not tell him we were bringing him here. He believes he is in route to another facility, he is afraid to see you!" "Afraid?" Hellen replies, "That's nonsense!" The Captain rebuttals, "Ma'am, you are his biggest fear! He is afraid you will not approve of him, he believes he is less of a man without his sight. Of course I have told him repeatedly to contact you. But he is a stubborn man. There is nothing more I can do for him. He needs to take charge of his life! He needs you Ma'am! He needs to know you still love him. "Of course I love him! I will always love him!"
The captain stands, "Mrs. Patrick," on a brighter note your husband's blindness is indefinite. Our doctors have not encountered an injury quite like that of Corporal Patrick's. His eyes are showing some signs of healing, there is the possibility he may see again, but no one knows for sure. Corporal Patrick spends his days looking at a window, waiting to see light. He will most likely ask to sit in a chair in front of a window, probably that one in front of us. Ma'am, that is what he has done everyday since he was told there is a chance for a recovery. Corporal Patrick is an unhappy man, he will be that way until he releases, as a psychologist I see this all the time, it is unfortunate, but he has you, many others that I work with have no one. I can take him with me if you prefer. The US Army will take care of him, he is still one of us. What do you want to do Mrs. Patrick?" Hellen quickly stands, "Sir, my husband is outside!"
Hellen straightens her dress and apron after touching up her hair. She smiles with a nod to the Captain. They exit the house walking past PFC Smalls, "Private First Class Smalls, Mrs. Patrick will need assistance with the Corporal's bags."
As the trio nears the car, the neighbors sound, with their questions. "Please wait here," Captain Reed asks. Hellen stands fast with PFC Smalls. The Captain walks into the group of spectators, he looks around and the people becomes silent. "Good Afternoon, I realize you all have questions, but now is not the time, today we have a delicate situation. I am sure you people understand. There is not much I can tell you that you haven't heard already. The allied forces are winning the fight and there is talk that the war will be over soon!" The people whisper for a moment before someone yells, "How soon? My son is over there?" "Yeah! Yeah!" other people add. Not wanting to stamp an end date on the war. "I cannot answer that, it's classified." The Captain considers a crowd neutralizing statement. "There could be a Communist among you, hell, from what sources have told us, all of you could be Communist! Please go back to your homes, if you notice anything suspicious please call your local FBI." The friendly crowd of neighbors look at each other with new untrusting eyes. Most began to murmur as they turn to walk away. A handful of people stay. "So what gives?" someone asks. Captain Reed looks around at the neighbors, "Corporal Patrick is hurt, we are going to take him inside. Mrs. Patrick and I would appreciate your silence if you wish to stay. Please have a heart and show some respect. You would want the same if this were reversed." The Captain smiled, "Thank you!"
Captain Reed walks from the remaining bystanders to the car, the motor was running and the radio and heater was on. Corporal John Patrick sat in the right rear seat waiting for his escort. The Captain opens the rear right passenger door, "John, we are here. I have someone coming to speak to you." He looks at Hellen and waves to her indicating he is ready for her.
Hellen steadies herself to approach the car. She has waited more than a year and a half for this day. Her knees are weak as she tries not to cry. She missed her husband, her pain has been unbearable. As she slowly walks forward she remembers the many nights she cried herself to sleep and waking up to realize the nightmare is not over. Her husband is now a few steps away and her anxiety is peaking. The green in his uniform is first to come into sight, she increases her pace to the opened rear door.
John Patrick, the decorated hero sat in his Class A uniform adorned with his many service ribbons and medals including a Purple Heart and a Congressional Medal of Honor. He looked forward proudly, his stare was blank, he could not acknowledge anyone. "John?" a soft shaking voice calls out. The sitting soldier made no motion. "John," the woman's voice was closer, taking him from his quest to find the light. "No, No, No! the Corporal whispers. "Sir, where are we?" he questions. Captain Reed extends his hand to stop Hellen Patrick from advancing closer. "John, I brought you home." "Sir! John nods, "I told you I didn't want her to see me like this! You said I could have more time! You lied to me!" John fears would be realized. "John," the Captain tries to explain, John interrupts. "She can't see me like this! Sir.... not like this! Not like this!" Hellen will not wait another second, she could hear John's voice. "John!" she screams running to the sedan.
Hellen anxiously steps in front of the Captain to see her husband. Her smile falls quickly realizing he did not want to see her. "John," tears fill her eyes. "John it's me! Honey, it's me!" Hellen begin to cry. John sat fuming, he did not want his wife to see him weak and vulnerable. He saw himself like an infant, dependent, susceptible, and now he is filled with hatred. "Hellen, I am sorry, I did not want you to see me this way. The Captain lied to me, he lied and said I was going to another facility for treatment, he said I had more time..." The Corporal clinched his teeth helplessly looking forward, "he lied, they all lied!" Hellen stops to look at the Captain, John was not the man that left nineteen months ago. The man sitting in front of her was cold and angry. Pouting like a child. "John, you are home. I will take care of you." Hellen said softly. John sat looking forward praying to see the light. Wanting, needing now more than ever to see it. There was only the darkness.
Hellen, I don't need you to take care of me! I see now I must take care of myself." John's eyes watered, this is the first time they had done this since the rescue. The Captain takes note of the new action in the Corporal's eyes. "My country has deserted me! I gave those Son's of Bitches my eyes and in return they deserted me!" John angrily takes off his servicemen's cap and tosses it to the floor, he removes the Medal of Honor from around his neck tossing it aside as well. John turned to step out of the green sedan. "John," Hellen offers nervously. "Let me help you." "I DON'T NEED!... the blind man screams releasing his anger before stopping himself, "I don't need your help... I don't need anyone's help!" Hellen Patrick and Captain Reed step backwards as John Patrick stands, the spectators clap and cheer seeing their neighbor and friend. "Hey John!" "Yeah, Welcome Home John!" the supporters yell to the decorated war veteran. John unbuttons his Class A Jacket, he removes and drops its to the ground, the action silences the crowd. "Corporal Patrick!" The Captain yells, "You are a soldier in the..." "I AM NOT A SOLDIER!" John Patrick rebuttals. "I am a civilian, the Army took my eyes, you took them and threw me away to fend for myself.... John begins to walk forward. "Get the hell off of my property!"
The blind man cautiously walks across the grass, hoping to step unto the cement walkway without tripping and/or falling, he prays he is walking toward his house. Hellen, the two soldiers and the neighbors watch silently as the blind man makes his way to the sidewalk. John's patton leather dress shoes steps onto the smooth hard walkway, he sighs inside. John turns to the left confidently thinking he has only a few steps to reach the staircase to the porch. Hellen looks on nervously as John cautiously continues forward, she wants to run to him, with each step Hellen makes some type of motion, wanting to help. John kicks the bottom step, The Captain observes with a smile. Everyone silently and some tearfully watch as John Patrick, the unstoppable war hero, blindly walks up the steps to the screen door. He feels for the brass handle and goes inside. Captain Reed looks at Hellen with an encouraging smile. "This is John's first step toward beating this! Give him some time, he is going to be okay!" "Smalls!" he orders, "Could you give Mrs. Patrick the Corporal's belongings?"