A New DirectionbySW_MO_Hermit©
Commander Jennifer Fielding was tired. No, she was totally exhausted but duty called and she responded as she always had. It was just another routine day in the life of a Naval Aviator and then all at once it wasn't. She had seen some heavy shit in her twenty plus year career but this day looked like it would take first place in the shit category. Her take off had been delayed for almost an hour while the mechanics ran down a problem in her bird. She also had a discipline problem to work on when she returned to the ship. Two of her sailors had decided they loved each other and had been caught doing the dirty in a paint locker. At least she was lucky enough that they had been of opposite sexes. Still, after her investigation she would have to spend several hours at Captains Mast and taking care of the assorted paperwork.
Finally Commander Fielding had been able to take off on her first flight of the day. On the way back to the ship she planned to turn this flight into a check flight and possibly training mission for her copilot. She was flying off the USS Enterprise on what was supposed to be a very boring flight. She was way too senior to be doing mail runs which is what this flight was supposedly about. She had ulterior motives when she opted to take this flight and use it as a check flight on her copilot when they returned to the ship.
Commander Fielding's reason for taking this flight was a very good one to her at least. The official reason for the flight was to make a mail run into Bagdad Iraq. All she was supposed to do was fly in, pickup and deliver mail and load some parts her ship needed. Unofficially, however, she was on a personal mission as well. Normally one of her junior pilots would get this duty but her Uncle Jeffery Fielding was "in town" and she wanted to take a few minutes to visit him. He was a Soldier but she didn't hold that against him one little bit. In fact, most of her family were Soldiers rather than Sailors but what the heck. Jennifer had felt the call of the sea when she was young and followed the roughly ten to twenty percent of her relatives who went into the Navy instead of the Army.
Uncle Jeff was only going to be in country for a few days so she had a choice of taking this mission or chancing not being able to see him for several more months. Jennifer had just read in her copy of the Army Times that Colonel Jeffery Fielding had been selected for the rank of Brigadier General and she wanted to congratulate him in person. She had flown late into the night the day before serving as pilot of the helo that was always up during flight ops. She was supposed to be off most of the morning but when she got the e-mail from Jeffery she decided to take the flight and visit him. Truthfully Jennifer was lonely. She was senior enough she had very few friends and peers on board. She had never been married so had no close family to write to or call. Oh, sure, she had her birth family back home in Missouri but she had no one special, no one she was close to and she needed that desperately. It seemed all she did was work, eat and sleep. At least if she took the mail run she could see someone special and have a few hours of pleasant conversation. She really needed to catch up on family and the happenings back home.
CDR Fielding brought her bird in carefully and skillfully when she reached the airport. She was slowly settling down for what she hoped would be a textbook landing when her Crew Chief yelled, "Commander get out of here! We have a hot LZ. INCOMING." As she heard him over the intercom she also received the radioed warning from the flight controller. The airport was being hit with mortars.
Jennifer looked around and saw an explosion just to the side of her aircraft. She started back up when another explosion hit just under the nose of the aircraft. Jennifer felt several hard hits on the aircraft. She felt something slam into her right breast. Her right arm went numb and flopped away from the controls. The aircraft began to nose right and drop toward the tarmac.
Jennifer looked down and saw a mass of blood on the right side of her chest. Her flight suit had been torn open and she could see dark red blood seeping out of her body. The pain hit and she moaned. She could hear her copilot yelling in the background as he tried to get control of the bird.
They hit the ground with a hard wallop and screech. Jennifer saw the front of the canopy moving toward her and heard the rotor hit the tarmac. She felt a deep blackness envelop her.
Slowly, painfully CDR Fielding awoke. Her whole body ached with a deep throbbing pain. Her right chest ached with a sharp stabbing pain. Every breath and movement hurt. She heard a moan then realized it was her. She bit her lip to stifle the noise. It was dark in the room where she lay. The doorway was open and she saw light in the hallway. There was faint noise coming through the open door. There was a steady beep, beep, beep coming from the equipment she was attached to.
An Army Lieutenant, a Nurse, came into the room. She smiled at Jennifer and said, "Good evening Commander. I'm Lieutenant Samuels. How do you feel?"
Jennifer tried to smile and said, "Like Crap. I hurt all over."
"I expect you do." The Lieutenant reached for a small cord with a push button on the end. She handed it to Jennifer and said, "This is the control for your pain killer. When the pain begins to bother you too much just push the button and you will get a small dose of Morphine. Don't worry. You can't get too much. It is set to only allow you so much an hour."
While the nurse was talking she was checking all the vital signs on Jennifer. She checked blood pressure, pulse and temperature, made some notes on the chart. She gave Jennifer a quick smile and knelt to check the bag attached to a catheter. "You're doing fine Commander," she said.
Jennifer looked at the young woman and whispered, "My crew? Did they...are they ok?"
"I don't know about all of them ma'am. Your Crew Chief is pretty badly banged up. He wasn't strapped in well and got thrown around a lot when you went in. Your Copilot has a broken leg and some scrapes and abrasions but he'll be fine. Was there anyone else on board?"
Jennifer shook her head no and said, "No, just the three of us this trip. Will Smitty make it? When can I see them?"
"I really can't say Commander. We'll have to see what the Doctor says about visitors. You aren't going anywhere for a while yourself and the Crew Chief can't get out of bed either. Maybe your copilot can drop in on both of you. He is mobile at least. Of course all of you will be leaving in a day or two. You've all got a ticket home."
Later--Jennifer had no idea how much later--a doctor came into her room. He was a Colonel, US Army. He gave her what she was to come to call his "Doctor Smile" and said in an obviously falsely cheerful voice, "Well good morning Commander. How do you feel?"
Somewhat later after the obligatory fines and you'll do wells were out of the way Jennifer finally had the nerve to ask, "Sir how badly was I really hit. I mean, I saw the mess on my chest and I'm pretty sure I had some other holes in me..."
The doctor walked to the other side of the room, picked up a folding chair and pulled it back beside Jennifer's bed. He sat down backwards on it, leaned his chest on the backrest and opened her file. He glanced at it then held it in front of him. Commander, there's no good way to say this. You lost almost your entire right breast. We saved the nipple and most of the upper side. The underside and some of your muscles were ripped away. Luckily the shrapnel that hit your chest was moving from right to left and slightly back to front. If you had been leaning just a little to the left side the damage would have been much less. You took another piece of shrapnel through your lower right side. It missed the kidney but damaged your right ovary and some of your intestines."
The Colonel looked over at Jennifer. He saw the tears, grimaced and continued, "Do you have a family? Children?" When Jennifer shook her head no he continued in a softer voice. "Commander we can reconstruct your breast. We left as much flesh as possible for the plastic surgeons to work with so it can be done. There will be some serious scar tissue and that just can't be helped. You lost enough muscle your right side will probably be weaker than it was. You still have one perfect ovary. There will be some scaring in the reproductive tract. I just can't tell you how that might affect you if you decide to have children in the future. I'm afraid you would have to talk to a specialist about that. Physically you can expect a full recovery however."
Jennifer felt her eyes water. She bit her lip and turned her head away from the doctor. She took a deep shuddering breath and said, "Thank you Sir. At least now I know for sure. For once I am glad I'm a lefty. At least I can still feed myself."
Some unknown amount of time after the doctor left Jennifer was laying in bed looking out the window. She was felt sorry for herself and angrily wiped at the tears trickling down her cheeks. She was like many, even most women. She had wanted a family; a husband, children, the house and yard, PTA meetings and the works. She had dreamed of finding that perfect man while she was in the service but that never seemed to happen. She found several Mr. right nows but never a Mr. All Right. One or two had come close but they just somehow came up short in the end so she had never married. Jennifer had planned to put in her retirement papers after this deployment and find a job on Civvie Street. Truthfully she was becoming tired of the pace she had to keep up in the Navy as well as the loneliness she felt in her personal life. Somehow her career just wasn't fun any longer. She needed more or something different now.
Jennifer was still staring at the dirty brown buildings and sand when she heard a noise behind her. She turned her head back toward the door and saw several more Army uniforms entering her room. There was the doctor, a young Lieutenant and then her eyes opened wider. There was a Brigadier General—her Uncle Jeffery.
Jennifer smiled and said, "Jeff, uh I mean General. I didn't know you had already pinned it on. Congratulations. I had hoped to get to see you this trip. That's why I was flying the bird instead of someone else."
Jeffery looked at Jennifer with sorrow and some worry. He moved through the people with him and bent to her. He gave her a careful hug, kissed her cheek and stood. He smiled and said, "While I would have liked to see you in different settings than this I am glad I can see you and we're able to talk. I understand you had quite an adventure." Jeffery laid his hand on her shoulder and continued, "I know how you feel Jenny. It hurts like hell. You want to cry. Sometimes you just want to die so the pain stops but you do get over it. They tell me you will be moved to Germany tomorrow. You'll probably be back in the states before I am. If you are, tell everyone hi for me. I'll try to call your folks today and tell them I saw you."
Jennifer and Jeffery visited for a few more minutes before he had to leave. She was sorry to see him go but knew he had to. After all, he was here to work not babysit a banged up chopper jockey.
Jennifer was not normally one to feel sorry for herself. She was inherently honest and detested crybabies. Knowing she still had a full and fulfilling life ahead of her she still had immense difficulty maintaining a positive outlook on life after her injury. She had a normal convalescence according to her doctors. In her mind however she did not. She was constantly impatient with her progress. She was devastated when she was told she would have to go before a fitness board for flying. She would be devastated if she could not continue to be a pilot. Every time she looked at herself in a mirror she almost cried. Jennifer had been a very beautiful woman before her injury. Now she was lopsided and her chest and abdomen were covered in unsightly scars. Many times she would catch herself standing in the shower or in front of her mirror gently rubbing the scars and silently crying over what she had lost.
Jennifer still had her life and if she wanted it a career in the Navy. It didn't matter to her that she had already decided to leave the Navy when she was shot down. All that mattered was that she was now ugly and she might no longer be allowed to fly. After her injuries were healed she would have to go before a medical review board for their decision on what future job she would have in the navy or even if she would be allowed to stay on active duty or retired.
Jennifer took a long convalescent leave and returned home to Steelville. It was great to see the little town once again and to reconnect with all the old friends and her family. Like many of her relatives before her that came home from the military a wounded hero she relaxed beside the river flowing through their land. Also like many of her relatives before her she, perhaps, partook a little too much from the bottle during that time. Also like many before her the family finally got fed up with her attitude. One afternoon Jennifer was sitting on the riverbank pretending to fish while trying to drain a fifth of the Glenlivet.
Jennifer heard footsteps walking up the trail from the direction of the Resort. She tried to ignore the noise and whoever was making it in the hopes they would go away. She heard the steps stop beside her and felt as much as saw a large male shape sit beside her in a lawn chair he had brought with him. The chair matched the one she was using.
Jennifer turned her head to glare at him when she felt him pry her fingers off her bottle of scotch. She set her jaws and glared at him while he raised the bottle to his lips and took a deep swallow. Without a word Colonel (Retired) Charles Fielding returned the bottle to his daughter. He looked at her a moment then leaned forward and put his forearms on his legs. He looked over the slowly flowing river and through the trees lining the far bank. His eyes focused on one of the hired hands running a tractor baling hay in the distant field. To her surprise Jennifer saw the hint of a tear in his eye.
Finally her father heaved a deep sigh and without looking at her began to speak. "Honey I know you hurt. You have lost something that I know was very dear to you. I remember how Charlene felt about flying. She loved me dearly but I almost think she loved flying more. Before she agreed to marry me she made me agree not to try to keep her from flying. In the end the flying killed her just like it almost did you.
"When Charlene died a part of me died with her. I've been where you are now just as have many of your other relatives and friends. I tried to kill my sorrow with the Glenlivet too. Honey you can't spend the rest of your life sitting here sucking on that bottle no matter how good its contents are. A good scotch can make you feel better for a while. It can deaden your pain somewhat but I guarantee you are still thinking about what you have lost. It can't make you forget. You really don't want to forget. All you want to do is lose the pain. Honey the only way you can lose the pain is to move on.
"After Charlene died I did the same thing you are doing. I sat down here for hours at a time, day after day trying to make myself feel better and wallowing in my sorrow. I was miserable. Your mother and grandmother finally talked some sense into me. You have to let it go and move on. I know I wasn't injured physically like you and your uncle Jeff was but I had a soul searing, soul destroying loss. I really didn't care if I lived or died for a while. At least in one way what happened to you is better than what happened to me. You didn't lose someone you loved. You can do other things and be happy.
"You know many people believe things always happen for a reason. If I hadn't lost Charlene I wouldn't have met your mother whom I love very deeply. If I hadn't gone through that pain and suffering I might not have been trying to find something I had lost by taking my time driving across the country when I met your mother. If I had not lost Charlene I definitely wouldn't have had you and your brothers. You have to believe there are still a lot of good things out there for you Jennifer.
"Honey you have over half your life ahead of you still. I don't know what you want to do with it but I desperately hope it isn't to live the rest of your life inside that bottle. You have to get a grip and move on. Ok, so you aren't as beautiful as you once were on the outside. So you have lost the ability to do something you loved to do. Buck up. There are other things you can still do. You are still a beautiful woman. You have that inner beauty and frankly an outer one as well.
"I've never asked. I always felt it really wasn't any of my business but I do want to make a comment here. You need people in your life. You need a special person—someone who can make you feel like your mother does me; someone who can give you children if you want them or at the very least someone who can love you and take away the hurt as you deserve." Charlie looked somewhat uncomfortable and continued, "If you, unnh, if you don't have a man to do that we can make a partner welcome here too."
For the first time since she was shot down Jennifer laughed. For some reason seeing the expression on his face when her father tried to tell her it was ok if she was a lesbian made her laugh until her sides hurt. Finally she managed to stop and leaned over to hug him. "Daddy how could you think I was like that? You know I dated a lot of boys and men before I left home and after I got into the Navy."
Jennifer smiled and laid her hand on her father's forearm. "Daddy you know I have always wanted a family and children. At first I was captivated by my career and felt like I had scads of time to become a good pilot and then make babies. I tried Daddy, I really did but I just couldn't find a man who was good enough. The one or two I did find wanted me to get out of the Navy and become a stay at home wife, to join the wives club and help further THEIR careers. I couldn't do that. You and mom raised me to stand on my own two feet and to have a career too. Now I suppose it's too late though. Who would want a scared up old hag like me that may not even be able to make a baby any longer?"
Charlie leaned back in his chair and glared at his daughter. "THAT'S ENOUGH OF THAT CRAP COMMANDER!" You are a highly educated woman, a military officer. You know damn well you're spouting a bunch of bullshit. You're a fine woman and if you want to badly enough you can find a man or woman to live the rest of your life with. Your few physical imperfections will not stop them from loving you either. Your inner beauty, your personality and brain will win the day for you. Now GET OFF YOUR DAMN ASS AND QUIT FEELING SORRY FOR YOURSELF!"
Charlie stood and stomped away from Jennifer. Jennifer on the other hand felt herself almost shaking with anger. What the hell did he know? He still had his career. He had her mother too. She had no one and now she probably didn't even have a job she loved.
Jennifer reached for her bottle again and became even angrier. Her beloved Glenlivet was gone. She looked up in time to see her father walk around a corner in the path carrying the bottle with him. "Shit. Damn asshole," she muttered. She stood and threw the stick she had been holding into the river. She didn't even pull her fishing pole from the water before she stomped down the path behind her father. How DARE he take her bottle when he left? She was damn well going to get it back from him and give him a piece of her mind.
Jennifer had gone almost out of sight of her spot before she cooled off enough to think again. She walked slower then with an oath turned back to where she had been sitting. She pulled in her fishing line, folded both chairs and began trudging slowly back toward the resort. When she got there she put the chairs and fishing gear away without a word. Jennifer went straight to the room she was using and ignored everyone who was watching her.