Forbidden love in WWII
|Mr. Wilson was organizing the little paper cups in the nurses' station. He liked to get there early so he could tidy up. He liked coming in when there was frost on the ground and it was dark out. While he was doing his morning tasks, he heard a jingle of keys, followed by the rhythmic tics of a nurse's shoes. As he heard this, he glanced at the calendar. November 25th, 1954. Mr. Wilson was fond of protocol. He'd manage to memorize the codes from the brand new DSM and had made it through several additional training programs. He followed the doctor's orders exactly without question, and supported the diagnoses with enthusiasm. He thought he was doing everything he was supposed to.
"Good morning, Mr. Wilson." Said Miss. Winters as she made sure her cap was on straight and securely.
"Good morning, Miss. Winters." He said in reply. The morning bells began to chime, and the two scuttled onto the ward to draw the blinds and wake the patients. They got dressed, washed, and changed so they could make their way to breakfast. As they ate, Mr. Wilson and Miss. Winters began to prepare the morning medication.
"Miss. Winters," He asked while dispensing little green pills into paper cups "That man who always sits in that corner and stares out the window. Who is he?"
"Mr. Goodheart. Have you not heard his story?"
"Well, you see, he lost the love of his life in the war. That pushed him over the edge, poor thing. But that's only the second reason he's here. The first reason is who his love was." She said filling a syringe.
"How on earth does one end up in a psychiatric hospital because of who you love? Who was it, exactly?"
"Mr. Charles Caldwell."
"They were both studying at Harvard. Different fields, but both at Harvard nonetheless. He was studying law, Mr. Caldwell, medicine. That's what got him in the war. He enlisted as a war medic."
"So they met on campus?" He said spraying the ammonia on the large window pane.
"No, actually. It all started with a Buick."
"A Buick? I fail to see how that could lead to anything of any-"
"Do you want the story or not?" Miss Winters interjected playfully. She wasn't an easy woman to irritate, you see. But at the same time she was surely no doormat.
"Yes, I'm sorry."
"The streets were narrow, of course. It was pouring rain, and Mr. Goodheart was walking home from the grocer's. Along came a maroon '35 Buick. As it went by, it splashed Mr. Goodheart with a water from the gutter. As soon as that happened the car swerved into an opening on the side of the road and out sprung a tall blond man with tortoise rimmed glasses and a white coat..."
"Oh, dear. I'm terribly sorry," said Charles, springing from the car.
"That's quite alright. Tends to happen here with the narrow streets." Gabriel commented, trying to shake the water from his suit. Charles gave him a blanket from the trunk of the car and offered him a ride. He accepted, and by the time they'd gotten back to Gabriel's brownstone they'd exchanged telephone numbers with plans to meet at the automat for lunch the next week.
"Miss Winters," Mr. Wilson asked for clarification "how do you know this? Surly you weren't there."
"This cap gives me a great deal of power. Mostly to read transcripts of therapy sessions when I'm bored. I'd recommend it. It's like a puzzle with some of these men."
"Is that ethical?"
Miss Winters paused before commenting "Anyway, Gabriel never really had particularly good luck with women. He tried dating, of course, but he mostly seemed disinterested. Not only that, but he was the grey, stuffy type. One autumn before school was starting, he and Charles were walking down the road...
"Oh, this IS great fun!" Charles said as he threw an armful of dry leaves into the air. He decided he didn't want to walk on that road. Instead, he skipped and leaped over every other division of the sidewalk. The cold began to settle in, and his giggling was slightly muffled by his scarf wrapped neatly around his neck.
"What has you in such high spirits?" Gabriel asked with a feeling of confusion and concern.
"What have I to be down about?"
Gabriel was dumbstruck. He never thought one could be happy and joyful without cause. He figured it only happened when you go accepted to school or won the lottery. It was a concept that had never really crossed his mind.
"You see, that was apparently very normal for Charles. He always seemed to be happy. Which was very bizarre to Gabriel. Gabriel came from a very stoic household. Emotions weren't exactly praised. Keep logical and cool and collected at all times." Miss. Winters explained as she checked her watch.
"Why do you suppose that was?" Mr. Wilson asked, perplexed.
"I've seen a lot of men like that come through here. No one can believe that they had a break. They're always so happy-go-lucky. And then it's an act. They don't want to make those around them gloomy, so they stay cheerful. Of course, there's also the thought that they feel if they only lie to themselves enough they'll start to really feel it. It's temporary, of course. That's only my speculation, of course."
"Seems like an awful shame." Mr. Wilson said with downcast eyes and twiddling thumbs.
"It is. It's an awful shame. But it won't be the worst one you'll hear..."
It was a very wet day. The rain was pouring, much like the day they met. Gabriel saw a man in a long coat leaping and spinning about in the rain, eyes raised up to see the clouds from which it was falling. Gabriel knew that man in the coat.
"Charles! Charles!" He shouted waiving his handkerchief to get his attention. He started his way to him, staying upon the paved path, lest his shoes get soiled. As he approached, he couldn't help but let a small smile cross his face.
"Oh, I've been hoping I'd run across you today. How've you been?" He asked smiling. When he smiled, he smiled. All his teeth suddenly went on display, white as the snow he loved so much.
"Have you? Why didn't you come to find me?"
"I was going to, but I got distracted." he said as he looked down at the ground.
"Of course you did."
"You see," he said, pretending that he previous remark had never been made "I was walking down the road to your flat, and I noticed a couple of squirrels running about the ground. So I went up to them and wished them a good morning and gave them some of my sandwich for lunch. When it began to rain Mr. Squirrel ran away, and so I said good-bye and began to dance in the rain."
By then, it'd been some time that Gabriel had know Charles. At first, he would've asked if he'd hit his head. But by then he'd begun to accept it as usual and just smiled. That was another thing that Charles had gotten Gabriel to do. To smile. Finally he was turning human.
"Gabriel disliked the cold a great deal." Miss Winters explained whilst going over the counters with a whisk broom and peering into the day room. "Which was not at all like Charles' feelings. In fact, I recall reading...."
"Oh, this is wonderful!" Charles said as he fell backwards into a snow bank. "It's all so white! This really is the best kind of weather, don't you think?"
"Oh, you are a downer sometimes!" Charles said in his own special way. It was almost an endearingly irritated, but playful tone. Or so it's been described.
"What? One's joints get sore. The pipes freeze. Driving is near impossible. " Gabriel said with an air of prideful cynicism. "Why do you love this weather so much?"
"It's a sign of winter." He said with a tone that made it seem like the answer was obvious.
"Yes, generally snow means it's winter." Gabriel said, dripping with sarcasm. "Why do you love the winter so much, then?"
"Everything looks muted. The trees look so graceful in a clumsy sort of way. Everything looks like a black and white photograph. Everything is bright, but not like it is in the sun. It's muted. Instead of showing flaws, it's softer. Kinder. Plus night time comes sooner. That's a great thing." He said, continuing to dance as he spoke.
"Yes, because darkness is the best time of all." Gabriel said with all the more sarcasm.
"It hides the flaws of the world. You simply can't see the things like peeling paint or dirt or impurities. You may simply paint what you like in the gaps. Or, just don't know it at all."
"How does knowing less seem better at all?"
"There are lots of things on this earth I have no business or desire to know."
"Seems like the philosophical type" Mr. Wilson commented with interest.
"What was your first clue?" Miss Winters commented with even more sarcasm than Gabriel had used.
"Things were going so well. What happened, again?"
"It was during the war, you see. Gabriel was pardoned from the draft by reason of health defects. Charles, however, was not. So he was appointed as a war medic..."
They were standing on the train platform waiting for them to board. It was a cool and foggy morning, and they had been saying their goodbyes for some time. Gabriel began to straighten Charles' tie.
"Why do you insist upon straightening out my clothes?" Charles asked.
"I wouldn't have to if you'd learn to use a looking glass! You don't want people thinking you're a slouch."
"You know very well how much weight I give what other people think of me."
"Do you have plenty of socks?" Gabriel asked with a feeling of concern.
"Socks. Remember the trench food of the last big war? I don't want you coming home crippled."
"We aren't in trenches anymore. "
Before Gabriel could interject, the train whistle sounded. This indicated that the men must board, and they finally said good-bye. They promised they'd have lunch the day he came back and they'd write each other at the first opportunity they could.
"Oh, a letter from Charles!" Gabriel exclaimed as he thumbed through the mail about a week later. They managed to write at the first opportunity, which was generally the same day they got theirs. They had exchanged letters for a great deal of time. But one day, a telegram came in place of a letter. Opening the telegram, confusion turned to horror. He was the person to be notified if Charles was lost in a war casualty. He fainted at once, and after he'd come to, he began to weep. And weep. And weep.
He went to the train station when the men were coming home. He was sure there was a mistake. But there was not. Charles was dead. Killed by a night time air raid. He never saw it coming.
"Just like he would've like it, I suppose." Mr. Wilson said with a shaky voice. Miss Winters handed him a handkerchief to blot his tears.
"I suppose. But that's when Gabriel's disposition changed. After Charles's death he decided to swear off love. No one could replace the one man he loved. He ever loved. He couldn't think to betray him. It was having these thoughts that he realized they'd been so much more than friends. He began to regret not realizing that while he was alive. Then he realized that they would've never survived. He knew he'd be here, and that caused a fair amount of trouble, obviously."
"What got him here, exactly?"
"They found him weeping again in the corner, rocking back and forth screaming 'I wish I had! I wish I had!'" Miss Winters said, obviously restraining the hurt she felt for him.
"And that's how he got here?" Mr. Wilson asked with an unsure voice.
"Yes, mostly. He was primarily brought here for that. Then they decided to 'treat' the underlying 'condition'. They really should've treated him for the guilt. He'd sworn off love forever, fearing unfaithfulness and heartbreak again." Miss. Winters explained as she scribbled on a pad in frustration. "And he's been here ever since. He's just never been stable enough to release. Or so they say."
"I take it you question the good doctor's judgment in treatment." Wilson said in a snarky tone.
"Very much so. I don't think treating loving someone should be a life sentence. They could never even prove that they'd done anything to deserve an involuntary commission. Inferring and discovering are two different things." Miss. Winters stared into the dayroom again, this time directly at Gabriel.
"Why don't you point that out to the doctor?"
"I'd lose my job. And I'm not sure if there'd be anyone left that would make sure he didn't feel like a leper. He's no one to love him anymore. I have no intentions of ripping love away from him once again. It's not the same, but it's what I can do."
Mr. Wilson was confused. He began to wonder what he would do. Does one follow protocol that may be unjust in order to maintain smooth working conditions? Or does one actively rebel in order to change the policy? Miss Winters tended to do the former, as she wanted to protect those who are vulnerable.
"You're a kind woman, Miss Winters." Mr. Wilson said, almost with pride.
"I'm a nurse. It's in my job description."