Union Chapter 17

I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free; and laughing at injuries, not maddening under them! Why am I so changed?

–   Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

Jim saw it first.

The children saw it too, even if the adults didn’t wish to.  They talked among themselves, they worried for her, but the children stayed away.

William should have seen it – the signs were plain enough.  He had been in the Service almost as long as Jim had, but, in the cook’s defense, it was during a different era, under different circumstances.   William was used to the willful disregard that comes with bossing people around a kitchen.  He’d been a head cook long enough for his own brand of good-natured badgering and ignorance to be ingrained into his character.

The sickness, easy to spot if you had the experience, carried almost as many names as symptoms – “Shell Shock” during The Great War, “Railway Spine,” “War Neurosis.”  They were calling it “Battle Fatigue” by the time Private James Fields had snuck out of a tree with as much unsteady stealth as a frozen mid-western teenager could muster after two endless days and nights of German soldiers passing unknowingly beneath him.

soldier in snow

He’d lost more than three toes to that bitter winter in the Ardennes Forest.  Battle had ruined his every endeavor for over ten years by the time he found this place.  He’d been just another lost veteran in New York with no family and no future when he was accepted.  In the years since, Father helped him learn about his condition, why he hit the drink trying to calm the panic from sights and smells and sounds innocent to everyone but him.  Just cold could send him into an angry spiral, shaking, aching, wrapping himself in three times his normal layers, and wishing they didn’t lock up the hooch Below.  Although he hadn’t been Up Top for any period of time in over twenty years, he wasn’t drinking himself into an early grave either, thanks to a community which had always embraced his defects as well as his talents.

Jim – Old Jim now to most of the Tunnel children – had watched Vincent grow up, a boy resigned to darkness as much as he.  Jim didn’t regret his service, despite his own personal movie reel that ran roughshod weekly, sometimes nightly, over his dreams: the charred bodies, meat and bone left over after the explosions; the bullets, felt more than seen; the walking skeletons; dead friends; killer friends.  He had seen what kind of world the Nazis aspired to and Vincent had no place in it.   Damn Nazis would have had a field day with him, Jim thought more than once when looking at the unique boy – now man – placed in their safekeeping, and they in his.

By the time Jim followed Catherine into the dining hall that evening, he had read a dozen books on the subject of what they were now calling “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” – lots of words for the same problem.  The small, pregnant woman followed Mary with about as much enthusiasm as Jim had for walking in snow.  Watching her trying to fight the “stare” and panic, Jim could only think “Soldier’s Heart.”   That’s what the doctors had called it during the Civil War.  It was the best description.  It fit the bill.

Jim felt protective.  He knew they almost all did, but he had been the one who heard her call on the pipes all those months ago, before those bastards took her away againEver since, he had felt especially responsible. He had prayed on his aching knees each night for her return, and that prayer had been answered.  Now he prayed for healing, and the healthy baby she and Vincent deserved.  He wished they could have found her the first time, but if wishes were horses, they’d all be knee deep in horse manure by now, his dad used to say.

Catherine didn’t look happy, despite the life she carried.  “The Thousand Yard Stare” –  the eyes that had beheld so much they weren’t looking at anything anymore – that’s what she had when she didn’t notice people noticing her, when she didn’t try to mask it up. He’d seen a lot of that in the War and a lot of it since.  You could take a person from the Up Top, but, it was hard to take the Up Top from the person.  He’d seen it in Cullen, and in Mary, how she still got so sad sometimes looking after the little girls.  He’d even seen it in some of the children, and that really tore at him, but usually, with enough love and enough kindness, they healed well enough – Jamie had after years; so had Zach.  You didn’t push it though, or at least not without a lot of thought; that was the Tunnel’s unwritten rule, especially when someone seemed close to the breaking point.  That’s why the children gave her a wide berth.

Catherine couldn’t eat. That was easy to see, at least for Jim, who knew when a person was trying to avoid food, afraid of throwing up bad memories.  She sidestepped William carving some beautiful roasts like they were snakes ready to strike, even though  they hand been sent by Antonio in a glut of generosity spurred by the good news of her return.  It was her party, but she didn’t want to be here.  Jim could see she placed just a few small potatoes and carrots on her plate.  He slowly trailed her through the large crowd of feasters.  She sat next to Mary and sipped on a glass of water.  The women at the table, Sarah and Rachel, warmly greeted her, but after getting little from her while she pushed the food around her plate, they fell into an absorbing conversation with her guardian.

Catherine slipped into an unnoticed niche where she fought for control, her breathing a little rough, biting her lip at times when she needed grounding.  Jim stood against the wall at the end of the long table, watching her as she fought, but he didn’t interfere.  She was close to the cliff, but she might pull back, and maybe she wouldn’t take kindly to an old man questioning her.

When the tumult of the hall and whatever she fought finally seemed too much, she stood and took her plate to leave. Mary called to her, but the woman wasn’t listening.  Jim hurried after her as much as his shot knees and crippled feet could to keep up, but she had already slipped into the crowd.

“Catherine, why didn’t you eat?”  William asked as she tried to hurry past him at the sideboard.  Life in the Tunnels could be hard at times, and with so few plates coming back with food left, hers was noteworthy.  William stopped her with a kind hand.  That’s a mistake, Jim felt certain, even if a well-intentioned one.

“…not hungry,” she said quietly, not looking at William, but instead staring at the knife on the carving board next to a bloody roast.  A trigger was here, Jim noted, and if he didn’t do something, everything she had been fighting was going to burst right through her.   Her face had drained to a stark white, and her eyes were rimmed red, a too-familiar mask.  Jim tried to hurry, but the press of lunch goers was hindering him as much as his worn body.

“Catherine, you know you have to eat,” William counseled with concern, if not perception.  “For the baby’s sake at least,” he continued unheeding, “if not your own.”

The plate shattered and the knife was in her hand before anyone could react.  The whole hall erupted in surprise, but few people moved.  Jim got to her side first.

He grabbed her knife-wielding arm.  It remained mostly at her side but strained against his hold, almost as if she was fighting the impulse to attack.  In an instant Cullen was with him.  Maybe he had been watching too.

“It’s okay, sweetheart,” Jim tried to soothe, “You’re safe.  You’re safe, honey.”

Her arm, and the knife, almost obscenely large in her small hand, pulled against the men’s strength.  Cullen held hardest while Jim maneuvered, trying to a catch her eyes, but they were far away.   She didn’t see him.

“You can’t tell me what to do!” she screamed, more pleading than commanding. But her voice dropped to a whisper. “No more questions…” she begged.

She was defending herself.

“He’ll stop,” Jim promised her, catching his grip as it nearly slipped, her fury stronger than he could have ever imagined. “Just ease down, honey, and you’ll feel better.”

“He isn’t going to hurt you, Catherine,” Cullen assured her.

It almost worked.  She was starting to calm, starting to see William for William, not some personal devil.  The instant hysteria in the room began to dissipate. Catherine was loosening, unraveling herself into their arms…

…until William opened his mouth again.

“Well, of course I’m not going to hurt her.  That’s insane!” he yelled, more at Cullen than at her, offense clear in his words.

The wrong words…

Jim loved William.   Jim’s own girth spoke of many happy hours spent together in the kitchens, mostly listening to the large cook complain, or laugh at his time Above, but sometimes Jim wondered if William understood anything.

The moment the words left his mouth, Catherine, still wielding the carving knife, somehow, shook off the two men and threw herself at the cook.  It took all of Cullen and Jim’s strength to keep her from him.  She had gone from almost sleeping to wild in half a heartbeat.

People were screaming.  They were losing her…

CATHERINE!” A shout like thunder came from the entrance to the hall.  All eyes turned to Vincent, including Catherine’s.

Thank God the boy is here.

Jim silently praised the Lord for answering the prayer he hadn’t had time to form.  Vincent might be the only thing to keep the Tunnels from losing their cook and a woman who didn’t know how to leave the battle behind.

Catherine, as if woken from a nightmare, instantly stopped.   Jim and Cullen, with gentle consideration, eased their grip on her shaking frame.  She looked at the knife in her grasp as if seeing it for the first time.  She deliberately lowered it away from William and then passed it into Jim’s sweating hand.

Catherine’s eyes slowly tracked from the blade back to the quavering William, clearly more in control of herself, but still not fully out of the blaze that had claimed her so quickly.  She was silent.  She turned towards Vincent and it seemed as if she would just walk away, but then she turned back just enough so she could see the cook from the corner of her eye, and whispered her requirement, an angry and dangerous warning.

“Don’t ever tell me what I have to do for my baby…”

She turned fully to the room and, for a moment, was forced to survey a hall of astonished faces.  The stare came back, full on, and with slow, difficult steps she shuffled towards the exit, dazed and far away as everyone moved aside for her.  But as soon as she cleared the crowd, she raced out of the hall, pushed past Vincent, and stumbled through the door.

The room of people made way for Jim as well.  He wanted to be sure Vincent was going to take care of the lady.  The boy might need a push.  He could be a little thick; it took him almost three years to get her in the family way in the first place.  But Jim was relieved to see Vincent holding her.  She was doubled over in his arms, vomiting on the floor of the corridor not far from the hall, throwing up the memories that were pushing her to the edge, pushing her to threaten if, thankfully, not hurt her friends.  Vincent held her head, whispering into her ear, and when she seemed finished, he looked in Jim’s direction, giving him silent thanks for help that the older man was happy to render.

“Take me away from here,” she asked in a flat voice that matched her eyes.  “I don’t know the way.”

Vincent placed his arm around Catherine, lifted her up, and guided her out of sight.

Chapter 18

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17 thoughts on “Union Chapter 17

  1. […] Without further ado, Union Chapter 17 […]

  2. Jenna says:

    Omigod!!! This was so surreal! Catherine reacting in such a way! But if you think about it, this makes perfect sense! I like the character of Jim. Helped explain this chapter and define it quite well. You are really portraying this story so well. I think it worthy of the series! 🙂

    • Crowmama says:

      Thank you Jenna! You have no idea how much I worked on this chapter. I really wanted to show how much compassion and love the Tunnels have and Jim was my in. People who are the outsiders sometimes have the greatest capacity to understand. 🙂

      I hope you keep enjoying the series! 🙂

  3. Krista says:

    This is *such* a powerful chapter—I’ve said this before and will doubtless say it again, but I really commend you for not shirking the full ugliness of the scenario. Catherine, rescued from her captivity, would hardly be mentally or emotionally all right for some time to come, and it the aftermath would have been easy to not write..but you have and it takes a lot of talent to write it and write it believably. Amazing work.

  4. Crowmama says:

    Krista – I have to admit, I almost couldn’t do it to. I waffled a lot between Catherine losing it more, and then less, and finally came here. I can’t imagine being locked in a room under scrutiny for six months, and NOT going a little mental, (ok, pretty mental.) Thank you so much for your belief in this story. I truly live for your comments, and appreciate every bit of advice, critique and praise you have showered upon me. 🙂

  5. Speedy says:

    Oh thank you thank you for another chapter so soon! This was so breathtaking and so hard to write! You can tell by the intensity of it! My uncle has/had post-traumatic from being in Vietnam. I remember growing up and how hard he had it when he first came home in the early 70s after being over there for two years. He went through a lot of counseling and soul-searching before he was able to “maintain” himself. He says even today– 40 years later– though it’s distant, there are times where he’s back there and seeing the carnage that he unfortunately was a part of (yes, he did kill in the line of duty for his country). He says its not something that easy to live with or reconcile with. But after much support from my aunt, his family, and friends, he was able to come to some sort of “peace” with himself for what he went through. The intensity that you are showing with Catherine is almost a mirror of what my Uncle went through when he first came home. But, I think with the love and support of her Tunnel Family, Catherine will come to terms with it– (well, we did have that “sneak peak” of yours from the Anniversary tribute! 🙂 ). I look forward to seeing how you bring V&C together as they work their way through this terrifying and emotional time!

    Fantastic job!

    • Crowmama says:

      Thank you Speedy for sharing your uncle’s story. He sounds like a great man to be able to come back from that type of trauma. I am glad this chapter rang true for you. You would be the best to judge.

      My mother had a lot of friend’s come back from the War, including “Jim” who was actually caught with a buddy in a tree with the running back and forth Nazis right underneath them for two days. She would talk about the nightmares and bad spells her friends went through, and how much just letting them talk about it seemed to help. My mom was the queen of the “quiet drink and a talk.” 🙂

      Catherine will come back…I mean you did see the sneak peek, but we got some intensity to go before the healing can truly begin. 🙂

      I so appreciate your comments Speedy. They make me want to write faster!

  6. sue says:

    Wow , intense is the word that comes to mind after reading this,,, lol do you think you could sell the movie rights to this story, cause I would be first in line to see it, As I have said, I loved this show and was sad at the ending we were given, I love your story and the fact that its not all candy coated sweetness I think, that’s what makes it so different from other stories, you have given us something different and its wonderful!

    • Crowmama says:

      I only wish we could “see” what I have roaming through my noggin, Sue! I had to watch a lot of the 3rd season back in the day, and then for this story, and let me say, boy oh boy…disappointed! Catherine is my favorite character so to say I was completely devastated when she was…well I won’t even say it…is the understatement of the decades.

      I am not a “candy coated” sort of gal, as you probably guessed, and I take your assessment as the highest compliment. 🙂 I am trying to write something “that has never been”, or at least, I hope to be close. Your comments keep inspiring me to write more and faster. Thank you!!!! 🙂

  7. sue says:

    LOL,, as a not so “candy coated ‘gal myself ,,, and one to hardly ever reply to blogs I can say please know that is a compliment,,,, also how you ever got through watching season 3 is beyond me I personally don’t own it., and can I only say,” MAY YOUR FIGERS BE FLYING THROUGH THE NEXT CHAPTERS!!!

    • Crowmama says:

      I’m working, Sue, I promise! Thank you again! 🙂 I think of Season 3 as pure research. “What I did for love…What I did for love!” – Chorus Line…:)

  8. Brittany S says:

    I haven’t wrote to you about the other chapters but it is scary weird how we are all connected in the way we “see” a re-write for season 3. I began my story writing as a cathartic way to heal from my own “PTSD” of a traumatic delivery with my first child. This chapter as some of your other chapters have been very real for me. Catherine lashing out or turning inward just speak volumes to me. I had a feeling you were working up to the PTSD for that is what I have been working towards… it makes the most sense… again… I began mine as a way for me to begin to heal. Thank you for this real and as Jenna said “surreal” look at Catherine. (My dad is a Vietnam Vet too. He and I have had “trauma 101 to healing” talks.Thanks again.)

  9. Crowmama says:

    Dear Brittany – I work all the time with mothers who have trauma from birth. Although birth is an everyday miracle, it can be very rough, especially when a mom isn’t respected, or if her birth goes way off track. If you would ever like to talk about your experience with me, please write me at dandkcrow “at” Verizon “dot” net. (I spell out the email so I don’t get any more automatic spam.) I am glad this rang true for you from both your perspective as a birth trauma survivor and as a child of a veteran. War and childbirth have a great deal in common, since people who haven’t been through it have a hard time understanding, (although some people have very good imaginations and empathy.) When you are in the thick of both childbirth and war you worry you are never going to get out of it, and once you have been through it you are never the same again. I like the prize at the end of childbirth. My military spouse will tell you that no medal on earth can compete with little tiny feet and baby coos.

    Fanfiction is “a series of stories meant to comfort fans after the death or mistreatment of a beloved character” – (Thank you Krista.) I couldn’t stand the misogyny and poor writing of the 3rd season. And as a doula, I couldn’t just leave Catherine to have that baby without anyone there who loves and cares about her. As I started writing I found she needed a lot more healing than I thought. Major help is coming…

    Brittany, as a new person to fandom, I am not familiar with your stuff, but I would love to read it. 🙂 Thank you so much for writing me. Your thoughts are truly appreciated. 🙂

  10. Megan says:

    Wow is Catherine so lost right now! I never knew anyone with post trauma disorder but you make this seem very real. Is Vincent going to start getting her to talk about her experience in the tower? It seems that’s what she needs to start doing otherwise she’s like the pressure cork ready to pop off the bottle of wine….
    Terrific job!

  11. Crowmama says:

    Dear Megan – Another baby got in the way of me answering your question. Pesky babies! They just don’t know when they aren’t due for another 3 weeks. 🙂

    To answer your question and give you a bit of a preview of the next chapter:

    He prayed he was right to take her, worried they’d be too far away…but he needed to lead her to the place where she could not hide, and that required a journey.

    ~Where were you lost? In the tower, yes, but before… You saved me, but I lost you. We lost one another.~

    Hope that answers your question. 🙂
    As always, I love your feedback. Thank you!!! 🙂

  12. Crowmama says:

    Megan, I am so sorry to make you wait. My hubby is away and I thought I would get my next chapter to my beta a lot faster, but Word ate my edits more than once and my kids have been asking to eat 3+ times a day. Sheesh! Chapter 18 coming very soon!!!

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