by J.D. and M. Blais
For several minutes the two men ate in shared silence, the sounds of those around them acting as a buffer while each was left to their own thoughts. Laying his fork on his plate Luka lifted his eyes to the older man across the table.
"Did you question what you could do after your wife..?" He let the question trail off as if not even realizing he was going to ask it, and found himself immediately regretting having said anything. "I'm sorry..it's not my business." He dropped his eyes back to his own plate.
"You should never apologize for asking questions, Luka," William chided him. His eyes watched the younger man. "I did question what I could and would do. Most of all, I was angry."
Luka lifted his eyes with the words, chewing on the inside of his lip as he listened. "Because you didn't do what you were supposed to be able to do?" It was all he could do to get the question out.
William nodded. "I began to wonder what all my training was for, all the things I was striving for, were worth if they couldn't save her, of all people."
He swallowed again, the words hitting too close to home for him, then dropped his eyes to his plate as he tried not to let the feelings take hold.
"But in time, I realized that I hadn't been training all that time so I could save one person, but instead many. And it was only Fate that caused the one I lost to be my wife."
"I keep thinking that maybe I'm not supposed to be a doctor." His voice barely carried as he continued to look at the table. "First my wife and daughter...then what happened at the hospital." He brushed his hand over his face. "I don't know what to think."
"Luka, it's war. It's wrong, and pretty far from fair, and I don't think you can think much about it." William chewed slowly on a piece of bread. "You could just as easily say Fate put you here, in the middle of a refugee camp, in the middle of a war, so that you could help." Luka raised his eyes again, the uncertainty clearly etched on his face, as William continued, "The point is, you can't always question and get an answer you can understand. You're here now. You should do what you can while you are here. That goes for this life just as much as for this camp itself."
"I don't have a life anymore...I'm just here."
"Then you should so something while you are here."
He released a breath, then swallowed again, his eyes reflecting pain far greater then one his age should know. "What if I can't do it?"
William laid one of his hands flat on the table. "What do you mean?"
The young Croat seemed to consider his answer carefully, or perhaps he was just searching for a way to explain what he didn't understand himself. "Even in the hospital I kept seeing them...I'd go to treat someone and it wouldn't be them. It would be my wife..or my daughter, or my son... I don't want anyone else to die because of me."
"Did you fail in those treatments because of what you saw?"
"There were times someone else would have to take them," Luka admitted, "especially when it first happened. But if no one could..." He had to remember to breathe. "It wasn't the same anymore...it was almost like I had to not be there to treat them. I don't know how to explain it."
William nodded, his expression sympathetic. "You probably needed a little distance from the battle zone, distance and time."
"There isn't anyway to get away from it though...is there?" His voice barely carried across the table as he asked for confirmation of something he already knew.
"Not completely, Luka. It's not something to escape....in time you have to accept it. And in the time it takes to do that, you could heal yourself by healing others."
He finally lifted his eyes again. "Is that what you did?"
William nodded, slowly. "I felt like each person I was able to save, the more proud my wife became of me, because she had always liked that I didn't give up, that I was stubborn."
"I don't know if I'm strong enough to do it a second time. I tried before..." He reached a hand over to touch the crutches. "This was what I got from that."
William shook his head a little. "You got that from some idiot with a gun. Not from practicing." He paused, folding his arms a moment, his dinner forgotten. "Doctors are people who can't give up that easily, Luka. If you were good enough to get through some schooling for it, you were a person like that. Where would our patients be if we gave up when something went drastically wrong?"
He held his answer an overlong minute, then released the almost bitter words carefully. "They'd be with my family."
"What about their husbands, then? You really want them to be separated like you were?" William's words were low, but strong. "Would you like there to be more fathers like you, who's daughters or sons perished because no one would help? Think about what you are saying, Luka."
He propped his elbows on the table before resting his head in his hands, the words ringing truer then he wanted to admit. When he lifted his head again, the battle in him was clearly visible. "There's no easy way is there?"
"No," William said, with no apology in his words. "There is never an easy path, for even in an easy life there are obstacles and tragedies. No one is immune from it. There's no way to avoid it. For each decision you make, someone else is affected." William
stabbed his finger against the table for emphasis. "When you decide to do nothing, you think you only affect yourself, but in truth it affects everyone around you who could have been helped or hindered by you." Luka listened to the words with his eyes downcast, but as the man finished talking he nodded his head in acceptance. "I'm sorry if this seems harsh, Luka," he added, "but I don't want to try and protect you from the world, I want you to live in it."
"I understand," Luka said, very low. "I just don't know that I can ever go back to how I was...it's like who I was died with them."
"You're right, Luka," William answered. "Who you are will never be the same, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. You are grieving for yourself as much as for them. But you have the ability to recreate yourself from the ashes."
"What if I don't know how to do that?"
"No one can tell you how to do it. You just take different pieces of yourself and start putting them back together. You can't do it all at once."
He sighed as the man's advice washed over him and wished it were as easy as he made it out to be. He dragged his fork through the beans still on his plate with little interest. In truth his appetite still wasn't there, and he finally laid the utensil on the edge of the tin, the beans relatively untouched.
"You know, all of this discussion is academic unless you eat something," William said, smiling.
Luka lifted his eyes at the comment, then reached for the bread and pulled a bite off though it held even less appeal at the moment then the beans did.
"And here I was trying to tempt you with the doctors fare."
"I'm sorry..." He popped the bite in his mouth and chewed with little enthusiasm.
William chuckled, but before he could say anything else, another doctor ducked his head into the tent, speaking to the military guard, whom moved over to the table.
"Dr. Northstar? You're being called over to the main mess tent."
Luka looked up suddenly as the guard entered, his stomach plunging as he imagined the worst before he spoke.
"Is it an emergency?" William asked calmly.
The guard shook his head. "They only said you should come over to the main mess, Doctor. I don't know for sure."
Luka had already reached for his crutches before the man finished and was starting to rise."I can get back to the tent alone. You can go.."
The guard inclined his head politely, and went back to his station, and William rose as well. "I'd rather you come with me, Luka. I might be able to use you." He took up the plates and stacked them neatly, and the cups as well.
He wanted to protest but for reasons he didn't understand, he nodded as he got to his feet. After glancing towards where William had gone he headed slowly to the door. Was it curiousity? Or perhaps that he didn't wish to disappoint the older man by ignoring everything he had said.
William dropped the plates and cups off, and headed to meet him at the door, holding it open so Luka could get through. A small creaseline of worry had etched itself on William's head, but he didn't say anything aloud. Once outside Luka stopped, waiting for William to lead.
To be continued...