Saturday, December 8, 2012

"My Summons to Love" by Ellen Lynn

On graduating from nurse's training school, I volunteered immediately for duty in Korea. I was desperate to get away from everything and everyone I knew. When I left San Diego, and was finally on my way to Tokyo, I felt myself relaxing for the first time in two years. Perhaps so far away from the horror that had come into my life, I would forget. As a nurse, administering to the wounds and suffering of our boys, I thought, I could drive away my own suffering.

I was pretty. Two years ago I had been fun-loving, never lacking dates. Then suddenly I changed, refused to see my friends, turned down all invitations.

In Tokyo, where all the hospital cases were brought from Korea, I plunged into my nurse's task, avoiding the other nurses, and ignoring all the flattering flirtations of the soldiers and medics who tried to date me.

But Dr. Barnes—Ted Barnes—was a disturbing force. He always called on me in particular to work with him. I had learned to admire his patience, his humanity and his brilliance, while stifling the pull of my senses toward his lean handsomeness. One night, or rather, morning (we had worked all through the night on many serious cases of frostbite), I saw how completely exhausted he was and called him into the anteroom. "Dr. Barnes," I said, "I made you this cup of coffee. You had better drink it." "Why, you sound almost human, Miss Greene," he answered, "Thanks, I will." He sat on the sofa and stretched out his long legs, rubbing his thick sandy hair and yawning mightily. I don't know why, but I turned away hastily. "Where're you going, nurse? Come back. Can't you be 'almost human' just a little longer?" I braced myself. "Is there anything more you want, sir?" He had been smiling but now he looked serious. "Yes—I'd like to talk a while. I must stick around to watch those two last cases. You don't have to—but I wish you'd help me with them." "Very well, I will," I answered curtly. "Then have some coffee with me," he said, pouring a cup. Without getting up he held it out to me. When I reached for the cup he lowered his hand so that I had to sit next to him on the sofa. I had not expected this personal touch and the air suddenly seemed charged with a high tension. The hot coffee helped to cover my confusion and was soothing. Then, in a low voice, Dr. Barnes started to ask questions: Why so young a girl held herself so aloof from all company? Why so pretty a girl had no interest in men? He knew, he said, how the men talked among themselves and wondered. "You may say it's none of my business," he went on, "but we've been working together for months now. I know nothing of your history, but I know you—and I—" I turned to look at him as he paused. We were so close on that sofa, he could see my eyes filled with tears. Slowly, he drew me to him, and I sank weakly into his arms. My fears vanished in his strong embrace. His kiss on my lips was tender, thrilling, and all my pent-up emotions went into my return kiss. "Darling—Lorna—I've fallen in love with you. I knew that under that cold exterior was this warm heart. Tell me you love me." "I do. Oh, Ted, I do. I love you, I love you!" It was the greatest joy to tell him what I was trying to conceal from myself.

The next days, in the midst of our work, we'd look up—just a glance, a smile—and my heart would leap. That such a wonderful thing should happen to me was unbelievable! Once or twice we got away from the hospital. We went to see the famous sights of Japan—the ancient Shrines and Temples, the Emperor's Palace. But the quiet times together, when I could feel his kisses burning on my lips, when I could unbend in his strong arms—were the happiest of my life. Everyone noticed that we were in love. In the midst of our grim work and many tragic events, our romance gave an uplift to those around us, as though love blooming in the midst of the horrors of war gave hope to all.

But the inevitable happened. I had been lulled by Ted's kisses, his warm embraces into a sort of mental paralysis. All my problems had receded from my mind. Then one evening he talked about marriage. We must set a date, within the next two weeks! The full horror of what I had let myself in for, and Ted, too, came upon me like a shock. What was I doing? How was I to get out of this predicament? I could think of only one way. Play up to other men! It would hurt him—but he'd give up the idea of marrying me.

The next week I avoided him. He was puzzled, tried to talk to me. Once, when he was most insistent, I said, "It's no use—just one of those things, Ted. I promised to see the new medic, Dr. Williams, tonight. No, nothing to explain. Just—this war gets you, you know." My heart was numb. I wanted to die. Then, late one night I was sitting alone, reading, when he found me. He grabbed me by both arms and pulled me out of the chair.

"Lorna, you've got to talk to me. I don't believe anything you've said—except one thing—that you love me. You forget, I'm something of a psychologist. Your dates with others—they're all for my benefit. Something's the matter, the same trouble that existed before our love."

I was amazed at his grasp of the situation. Held by his hard strength, I couldn't escape and I blurted out: "Ted, you don't know what you're saying. I can never marry you—or anyone. My mother is — insane!" As he staggered back, shocked, I told him: One evening, two years ago, my father said he had something serious to say to me. He had made a bad blunder, he said, but he had been lying to me since my childhood. My mother wasn't dead! She was in the State Institution for the Insane! He finally had to tell me because he had been asked by a boy who was in love with me for permission to marry me.

It was a relief to tell Ted the whole horrible truth, and it poured out of me as though a dam had been released. I knew his efforts to reassure me were prompted by his goodness and his deep love. My love was just as deep. I wouldn't wreck his life. Nothing he could say to me would alter my determination never to marry. Fortunately for my endurance, the next morning he came to tell me he had orders to move out. "This is not the end for us, Lorna," he said. "It can't be. I'll find an answer to the problem." And he was gone.

The next weeks were full of tough, gruesome work. I prayed I would be exposed, get hit, anything, rather than this hopelessness in life. Paradoxically, I worried continuously about Ted. When I learned he had been wounded and returned to the States, I felt as though I had already died.

Then—later a cable came through from the States. And my life was change—miraculously. It was from Ted! The cable read: "Visited your mother. Surgical case. Curable. Not hereditary. Wedding Bells! Yours—Ted."

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