Recently I wrote a post about a malady back during the Civil War called “nostalgia.” I commented that both Ethan and Rachel ended up dealing with it. You may want to read that post before reading this excerpt from An Eternity of Four Years.
I lost consciousness after the fight and did not regain full awareness of my surroundings until I awoke in a hospital in Richmond nearly a week later. I had only some vague memories of being jostled around in an ambulance on the way to Richmond but nothing more of how I got there. Blue told me I had a fever much of the time and spoke nonsense about all manner of things, mostly Rachel and someone named Tom Sullivan.
The fight in that bottom slowly began to come back to me, and I recalled what I had done. In my mind’s eye, I could see him lying there on the ground, bleeding out from my knife thrust to his heart, and I again became sick at my stomach and nearly threw up, which would have been exceedingly painful with my broken ribs. Of all the men in the world I could come face-to-face with on a battlefield, why him? I sank into a melancholy that was deep and long.
“I’m worried about you, Captain Ethan. The doc say you ain’t getting any better. In fact, he told me you was getting worse. I can tell something is paining you in the head. Maybe you should talk to Old Blue about it?”
He was right. I was getting worse, but I did not care any longer. “Not something I want to talk about, Blue. Just leave me alone.”
“You already alone—inside your head, and you need to come out where the rest of us are.”
I became angry and replied sharply, “I said, leave me alone!”
He snorted a half laugh. “That ain’t goin’ to happen, Captain Ethan. I told you way back in New Orleans I’m responsible for you now. I’m not going to let you just go crazy. Now, tell Blue what happened out there?”
“It’s none of your business.”
“I’m making it my bidness.”
“Well, don’t bother!’
“Then let’s try this: where is your God, Captain Ethan? You should be prayin’ and callin’ on Him right now”
I snorted a half laugh. “Why? He doesn’t care about me.”
“Look at you, a sorry mess of a man all soaked with sweat and talkin’ crazy. God does care ‘bout you! Where’d you get that silly notion? God loves you!”
I turned over and glared at him as hard as I could in my addled state …
“You need to get him out of here.” I heard a surgeon tell Blue. “This place is doing him no good.”
“I can see that, but where’ll I take him?”
“Some of the local citizens are taking in the wounded to convalesce, perhaps one of them? If he stays here, he’ll die—or go insane, if he hasn’t already. You need to get him out of this melancholy state he is in. To do that, he needs to be away from the war for a while.”
Then I heard a woman’s voice join the conversation. “And what have we here?”
“Ma’am, the captain here is badly hurt,” the surgeon replied. “His body is slowly healing, but his mind is not. He is suffering from nostalgia. There’s nothing more I can do for him. You know anyone who can take him in until he heals?”
“Oh, dear.” She bent over and touched me on the shoulder, expecting I would turn to face her. “Captain?”
She paused, making no reply as she cocked her head.
“Somethin’ wrong, Missy?” asked Blue.
“I thought…” she started to say something then shook her head. “Captain, I’m here to help with the wounded. Won’t you let me help you?”
That voice sounded familiar. I turned over to face her, and she gasped, “Ethan?”