BETHESDA HOSPITAL – MARYLAND
February, 14th 2000
» Breathe, Sarah, you’re almost done, be strong … »
Mac’s waters had broken four hours earlier, and the baby was still not there. She wished she had a delivery as simple and fast as Harriet’s one, but easiness was probably no longer what she could expect in her life.
The baby was slowly moving down, the epidural anesthesia had been helpful to soothe the pain, and in some more minutes little Patricia Sarah Mackenzie would be born to the world.
A little girl who would only be granted the name of her dad if the many legal proceedings Mac had set up would have a happy ending.
A happy ending …
How could she still use these words, while her strongest vital force had suddenly broke on this terrible day of July, 27th 1999, as the admiral had called her in his office.
She had every tiniest detail of this day engraved in her memories.
The weather was hot in Falls Church, as so often in summer, and the air conditioning was once more not running smoothly. They would have to budget it to be replaced , even in the courtrooms the atmosphere was sometimes too heavy and it disturbed the serenity of trials.
Mac had once again been sick on that morning, but she accepted this morning sickness with gratitude, thinking about this life growing in her belly, about this baby, a true gift from Harm’s love, who should be born not long after their wedding.
The date was set, it would happen on December 19th, in the chapel of the USNA in Annapolis. Harm’s mother, Trish, had already begun to plan it and Mac had stepped back to let her take care of it. It looked almost like Trish was happier than Mac, and Harm had told his fiancée laughingly that it would be better not to challenge his mother, unless Trish made decisions Mac could really not agree with. So Mac had let her take care of every thing, enjoying this so new feeling of being mothered.
As she entered the admiral’s office, the storm began, bringing some welcomed coolness. AJ Chegwidden stood near the window, his back toward her, he watched as the rain poured on the dry ground. Something in his behavior had Mac worrying, he looked like … downcast … like groggy …
She walked to the desk, stood at attention and announced herself .
» Major Mackenzie, reporting as ordered, Sir. »
He did not answer right away, did not turn to her. After a while, he spoke, his voice trembling imperceptibly.
» Take a seat, Mac. »
He finally turned around and came to her, leaning on his desk, obviously struggling for his self control. Mac felt an icy hand grabbing her heart. AJ was not speaking, not looking at her, and tears rushed to Mac’s eyes, irrepressible.
» It’s about Harm, Sir ? »
AJ found eventually enough courage to look at her in the eyes and began his explanation, his voice unsure.
» Captain Ingles, commanding officer aboard the USS Patrick Henry, just called me to inform us. This morning, Lt Commander Rabb was leading a mission over Bosnia when they were fired at, and Lieutenant Medwick’s F14 was severely damaged. To avoid forcing the pilot and his RIO to eject above an hostile place, Lt Commander Rabb tried and succeeded in pushing the F14 of his wingman till they were above the sea. And just as Harm’s plane disengaged, his canopy broke under the pressure and … Harm was already dead before his plane crashed in the sea, Mac. »
Words could no longer find their way through Mac’s mind, she was cold, and suddenly her stomach rebelled. No, not now !! … She ran to the bathroom, her colleagues smiling at this now so usual behavior without noticing her devastated face and the tears on her cheeks. During a long time, she stayed there, curled up on the floor, her hands covering her belly, trying to protect the last part of Harm still living in her, unable to move or react.
Half an hour later, Carolyn Imes and Loren Singer arrived in the bathroom. The crew had been informed about the accident by the admiral, who had told the two women to take care of Mac while he was calling Trish Burnett.
With a voice as soft as she could, Carolyn had spoken to Mac, forcing her to get out of the desperate apathy overwhelming her, telling her she had to fight for her baby. Slowly, Mac stood up, went out of the box and washed herself as best she could with the help of her colleagues. She had looked at Carolyn, then at Loren, and her shattered voice finally uttered one only word :
» Why ? »
But no one had any answer.
» Push now, Madam, I can see the head » ordered the gynecologist, bringing her back into the present, in this delivery room where Trish had agreed to be with her. Harm’s mother was holding her hand, wiping her brow and talking to her softly.
Trish watched this young woman who would spend her life mourning a Rabb who met death flying, just like she had. She was mourning a son, but was also crying over the terrible fate destroying her family. She had no idea how her heart had not broken after Admiral Chegwidden had called her to tell her about the accident. She had then only focused from this moment on the young and pregnant woman who was expecting her son’s baby, and who would need all her help and love to bring this pregnancy to its term. And she had immediately began to pray for the baby to be a girl, a little girl who would mean the end of this obvious curse hanging over the Rabb family.
» Hold on, Sarah, you’re almost done . »
But Mac was not there, the contraction was over and her mind wandered far away from this room, to Arlington cemetery where Harm’s body had been buried one week after the accident. A body she had not been allowed to see one last time. His heroic gesture had been praised with a second posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross and the Navy insisted to grant him a military homage.
Trish Burnett and Sarah Rabb, the only Sarah Rabb who would ever exist, Harm’s grandmother, had apparently found some comfort in the military decorum of the day. But nothing could help Mac forget ever just one second the simple fact that the body of the man she loved was lying in that coffin draped with the American flag, nothing. Neither the four white horses pulling the catafalque, nor the marines in dress blues marching ahead and the presence of the SecNav and POTUS’ Chief of Staff who were supposed to grant a medal to a dead hero …
Mac had to make an effort to come to the burial, she wished she could have hidden away in Harm’s apartment, curled in the middle of that bed where she had been so happy, for such a short time, remembering him alive, his sweet touches, his kisses, his warmth. And here she stood, side by side with Harm’s mother and grandmother, a new generation, even if unofficial, of these Navy wives who had sacrificed their man for … for what ? the proud of a nation, the honor of a country, peace, but which peace ? Mac did not remember any of her military reflexes, she was only a broken woman who had nothing in common with the Marines Corps Major whose uniform she was wearing.
As admiral Chegwidden, who had insisted on commanding the honor guard, gave the folded flag to Trish, Mac thought with relief that in Arlington at least she would not have to go through the flying over the burial of these F14s she hated now. She could not stop thinking about this day from last May, when she had insisted that Harm fulfill all his dreams and she felt as though she had killed him.
She could not stop feeling guilty since the first moment she had known about the accident, and doctor Ashton had many times to step in strongly to bring Mac out of the despair she was drowning in. And yet, she repeated herself every day she could have behaved different these past months, and the accident would never have happened. If she had told Harm about her marriage before Chris came back, if she had been strong enough to face her problems earlier, if she had accepted his ring the first time he told her he loved her … if … if … if … if she had not agreed to let him go back flying, if she had been selfish instead of having his needs and wishes be more important than hers, if she had been able to face the risk of having Harm maybe frustrated, but alive ; alive with her and their kids … She would have known how to help him forget planes, she would have taught him how to make them be first in his life, how to live for his family … this family he would never have, this baby he would never see.
Standing just a couple of feet away from this casket they would soon return to earth, Mac did not hear any thing, neither the birds chirping in the sunny morning, nor the priest’s words about eternity and resurrection, nor the Secnav’s speech praising an officer he so often criticized during the past. She was crying, but gradually a smile appeared on her lips. She was not here any more, she was with Harm, in his arms, in his plane, investigating with him, in court with him, in bed with him. Only the body of the man she was in love with was lying in this prison, but Harm’s mind was still with her, and soon, when this child he had given to her would be raised, she would join him …
She had to suffer the sympathy of all people she did not care for, people telling her again and again how faithful and true Harm was, how they all would miss him. And they thought they were helping her telling that ?
At least, she was comforted by Tuna, Skippy and Skates, who survived the disaster that caused Harm’s death, and could recount to her Harm’s last days. Tuna had shared Harm’s cabin on the Patrick Henry, and he managed to have her smiling as he explained how Harm hurried to read her emails each time they were coming back from a mission, how he was each time glowing to have news from ‘his Sarah’ and how he was almost deafening him by speaking about her. Skates, who had been able to eject from the Tomcat before it crashed, made her laugh telling her how Harm could not understand, just two weeks earlier, why he received an internet greetings card announcing him a stork would deliver a baby in his home next February. As if speaking to a two year old toddler, Tuna and Skates explained to a stunned Harm, making a lot of fun of him, sometimes even a little blue, how ‘his Sarah’ was telling him about a future baby Rabb … From that evening on, Harm had a new light glowing in his eyes, and Skates had almost be envious of such a powerful happiness …
A new stronger contraction brought Mac back in reality, voices around her exhorted her to make one more effort, the last one, and in the middle of all these voices telling her to push now, she just discerned one voice, so warm, so loving, so real …
» I’m here, Sarah, I’m with you, just one more effort, my love, our baby is almost with us. »
Mac closed her eyes, focusing on this voice she loved so much, imploring him to not leave her now, and focusing on the child she was giving life to. Harm was with her and gave her his strength, helped her to regain some courage.
Just as the little Patricia Sarah screamed coming out in the world, her mother, her eyes still closed, screamed too .
» Harm ! »
And the voice spoke again, so present, so loving :
» I’m still here, Sarah, I will always be with Patricia and you. I love you both and I will never let you alone. Each time you will be together, I’ll be with you. I love you, Sarah … »
And the voice vanished as abruptly as it had began, replaced by the medical staff making comments and taking care of the baby, finally putting her on Mac’s belly. Mac did not know any more why she was crying, nor for how long, or if she would stop one day …
One hour later, Mac was taken back into her room, full of flowers and balloons. On the white dresser sat proudly a huge Teddy Bear, bigger than little AJ, dressed in a flight jacket, harboring goggles and an old helmet, seemingly ready to fly over the Atlantic aboard the Spirit of St Louis. From his arm flew another balloon, with the golden words ‘for Pat, our little princess, from Tuna, Skippy and Skates’.
But the only thing really important for Mac in this room was the infant sleeping in her Plexiglas crib, surrounded by the loving protection of her grand mother and her great grand mother. For the two old ladies, this little girl was a priceless gift and Mac wished once again that her request would succeed, and that Patricia will soon be legally named Rabb. But even if her request was denied, the baby would always be a Rabb in the heart of any one around her.
Mac’s friends came into the room, silent, ready to leave in the second if they were interrupting, but Mac’s bright smile was an invitation for them to feel comfortable. AJ forgot his usual discretion and kissed the young mother on both cheeks, telling her how much little Pat was cute and beautiful, and how honored he felt that she asked him to be her godfather.
Harriet put down another flowers spray, and as Mac began to protest they were all spoiling her, Harriet added :
» No, Ma’am, these flowers were sent from Australia, from Bud, Loren and Mic. Bud wished he could be there for you today, but their investigation is quite complicated, and as I told him on phone the labor had begun, Mic Brumby dragged them into a flower shop. They called three times before now to know how things are and how you feel, Ma’am. »
Mac smiled, all her friends were around her. Even if the only person who really mattered would never more be physically with her, she knew that Pat and her would be taken care of by a loving family and caring friends.
Moments later, Sarah was finally alone with her baby to feed her for the first time. As the little mouth opened voraciously, Sarah had the so real feeling again someone was there, and while the baby sucked avidly, she heard this voice she would never forget :
» I’m with you, Sarah, I love you two and I’ll always protect you. »
Slowly, Mac felt asleep, her baby on her heart, dulled by the warmth of a love which would never fade.
At the same time, on another continent, Bud Roberts and Loren Singer were crossing the Sydney harbor on a ferry, at night, and under the Sydney Harbor Bridge, not really knowing why, he explained to Lt Singer
» You know they wrote Eternity on this bridge in lights on New Year’s Eve … »
» So ? And do you have a lot more platitudes all the same to tell me, Lt ? »