I know, I know! I was supposed to finish up Elizabeth and Rosemary’s friendship…and I didn’t…again. And I have ANOTHER very good reason. I didn’t know this until yesterday, but it seems that tomorrow is PTSD Awareness Day. That being the case, I’m postponing the Friendship post ONE MORE WEEK. That’s it! I promise! But it just so happens that I wrote a story about Jack coming home with PTSD; Sarah and I wrote it two years ago right before Jack came home on the show. And I thought it would be very appropriate to share it again, in honor of the occasion. And to all you out there battling this mental anxiety, I wish you well, and may you be blessed with someone who has love like Elizabeth, (in some form or fashion. If not a spouse, then a friend, sibling, parent, child, etc.,) who will aid you on your journey. Just remember to let them in.
A Shadowed Heart
Jack collapsed into the chair behind his desk, his head fell into his hands. His arms were shaking, and were only steadied by his quivering knees. It was happening again!
No, no, NO! Jack begged himself as he pushed a fist against his closed eyelids. Not now! Elizabeth was due at the jail any moment, and thus far, he had kept this from her. But nothing could stay the horrible plague now: the horrible plague of war. Jack’s mind was overtaken: the smells of the gunpowder and rotting flesh, the feel of every cannon shot that shook the earth beneath him, the sounds of pistols fired and men screaming in pain, the metallic taste of blood in his mouth when he was thrown from Sergeant…
Jack’s eyes flew open, and he put his fingers to his lips to ensure there was no red residue. He looked toward the door in time to see the ashen, ghostly face of one of his fallen soldiers. Jack’s skin went cold, his eyes widened, and he couldn’t catch his breath as his comrade reached toward him.
“You didn’t save me,” the soldier wheezed. “Why, Jack? Why?
“I tried,” Jack gasped out in short breaths, trembling with panic. “I really tried.”
The soldier limped closer, his bloody hand coming ever closer to Jack’s shoulder. “Jack! Jack!” Jack bolted from his seat, and grabbed the wrist; then he was looking into the terrified face of Elizabeth, and the phantom face melted away. His eyes darted downward. Instead of a soldier’s bloody paw, there was only Elizabeth’s dainty fingers, with his ring adorning one of them. With a groan of both fear and frustration, he released her gruffly, and started to pace.
Elizabeth forced her breathing to slow as she watched Jack circle the room like a caged animal. She was worried. In the weeks that had followed his homecoming, she had seen the haunted look on his countenance more and more often. Elizabeth knew Jack thought he was keeping it from her, but she’d have to be blind not to see the look of death itself in his eyes. She just didn’t understand it, and she wanted to change that.
Jack had finally stopped pacing, and wearily sank into his chair, squeezing the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. Elizabeth approached him as she would a skittish child on their first day of school. She tentatively touched his arm. “Jack?” Jack reluctantly raised his gaze, looking for all the world like he’d rather be anywhere but here. “Jack, please tell me what’s wrong. You know you can talk to me about anything.” No answer. “Jack, please? I know something has been tearing you apart inside, and I want to help.”
Jack looked sharply at her, trying not to be angry. He thought he was concealing it; of course he couldn’t, not from her. “That’s just it, Elizabeth!” he responded defensively. “I can’t tell you! I can’t expose you to that kind of horror. I spend my time trying to forget all of that!”
“But you won’t,” Elizabeth shot back. “You won’t forget about it, so let me help you through it.”
Jack paused a moment, considering Elizabeth’s words. No, he wouldn’t forget these terrifying images, not any time soon. Maybe he should talk to her about it. She was going to be his wife, after all. Jack immediately shook his head, as if to physically shake off the idea. Out of the question! Part of his duty as her husband was to protect her. He wasn’t going to let her experience even a fraction of the nightmares he was seeing in his head. No, he would handle this himself! His face took on a look of stern resolve, and he turned determined eyes back to his fiancée. “There’s nothing you can do,” he replied, cold as ice. The look of shock on Elizabeth’s beautiful face nearly made him flinch, but he held his ground. “Please, go. I need to be alone.” He turned away, unable to look at her anymore.
Elizabeth knew with that look and that tone, there was no talking sense to him now. “All right, Jack. I’ll go.” She barely made it through the door and got it closed before she had to lean against it to let the tears spill.
Jack didn’t budge when he heard the door open, but when he heard it shut, he thought he’d made a mistake. He charged at the door, ready to take Elizabeth in his arms, and pour out his whole soul to her. But the door was like a blockade stopping Jack in his tracks. He leaned his head on the door in defeat, then turned to lean against it with a sigh of frustration. How was he going to get through this?
Elizabeth tried to calm her emotions, but to no avail. She just stood there, leaning back on the door, silently spilling her sorrow, and trying not to care that people were starting to stare. It wasn’t supposed to be like this! Everything was supposed to be perfect when Jack got back! Elizabeth felt lost; she didn’t know what to do. Abigail. The name alone had a calming effect. Abigail will know what to do. Elizabeth cleared her throat, wiped her tears, stood straight, then crossed Main Street to the café. She opened the door to find the place devoid of customers. She must have missed the lunch rush. That was a relief! Abigail looked up at the sound, and smiled brightly to see Elizabeth come in. The smile faded when she saw the shine of fresh tears on Elizabeth’s cheeks. Abigail rushed to her friend, and enfolded her in a soothing embrace, no questions asked. “Everything will be all right,” she whispered.
Elizabeth did feel better after having a cup of tea and a scone…and talking things through. She still felt troubled though. “Why does it have to be this way, Abigail? My greatest wish to have him home and uninjured has come true, but nothing is right!”
“But Elizabeth,” Abigail reasoned, “what if he isn’t uninjured?”
“What do you mean?”
“His mind and heart have been scarred, Elizabeth. Think about all he’s been through, all the terrible things he’s seen. That became daily life for him: always worrying about his men, and watching so many of them die, always suspecting danger around the next corner, always thinking that bullet passing his ear could have ended his life. Now he’s suddenly taken out of all that. He’s trying to get used to a life where he doesn’t have to constantly look over his shoulder; trying to put away all those awful sights and sounds. I even dare say he has something I’ve heard of called shell shock. The brain gets rattled from all the explosions, and causes him to panic. How do you think he’s feeling?”
Elizabeth was stunned into silence. Of course! How could she not realize? The pieces began coming together as she spoke her thoughts aloud. “You’re right. All that time Jack was away, I only prayed for him to come home alive, that I would see him again. Then he came home with no serious injury, and I counted myself extra blessed. I knew he would need time to adjust and mourn his lost friends, but I never considered that it could go so deep. I just assumed that after a few months, he’d be fine. Oh, I feel so guilty now! He’s not fine, Abigail. He’s…different. We’re different. It feels like we’re on completely different paths.”
“No,” Abigail wisely countered. “It’s true your path has changed. It’s rockier to be sure, and probably a bit longer than you planned. But your destination is still the same. You just need to find a way to walk that path together.”
Elizabeth considered this, but there was still something else. “How do I do it? He won’t let me in; he won’t even really talk to me.
“Then you have to show him you love him despite this rock in your path.”
“More like a boulder,” Elizabeth muttered ruefully. Then she sighed. “But how do I do that?”
Abigail took her hand. “I can’t answer that one for you. Listen to your heart. You’ll think of something.” She could tell Elizabeth needed some time to mull things over. She patted Elizabeth’s hand, then stood to collect and wash the dishes. Elizabeth just sat, staring at nothing in particular, thinking about her past with Jack. Her mind wandered over their first meeting, the spider incident in the row boat, their first kiss on the hill, the first time he told her he loved her after he’d lifted her as though she were weightless, the relief of him being alive after being ill with pneumonia, his proposal with all the beautiful candles and rose petals…Elizabeth’s eyes suddenly brightened, and a mischievous smile crept its way to her mouth. She had an idea.
The next evening, Jack was still distressed. He hadn’t had any more visions, but he hadn’t seen Elizabeth since she’d flown out like her skirt was on fire. Now that things had settled down a bit, Jack knew he’d overreacted. He just didn’t know how to fix things. He’d just bowed his head to pray for help when a gentle knock sounded at the door, and there she was, coming in the doorway. Jack felt his heart race with nervousness. He so wanted to patch things up between them, he just didn’t know the course. Well, no time like the present to figure it out. “Elizabeth,” he started. “Elizabeth, I…” Jack sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. “I really don’t know what to say,” he admitted.
Elizabeth smiled sympathetically, and took his hand. “Then let me help you. Jack, I know you saw some terrible things up north. Why won’t you share them with me?”
Jack sighed again. “I told you, Elizabeth. I can’t share them with you. Up there…it was worse than anything you could possibly imagine. I would never forgive myself if I subjected you to any of that. And now, I don’t know if I can even…”
“Jack,” Elizabeth interrupted gently. Jack stopped. He’d expected her to get upset again, so her soft tone took him off guard.
“Take a walk with me.”
Jack’s eyes widened. Of all the things she could have said, that was the last he’d expected. “Elizabeth,” Jack said in a business-like tone, “I don’t think this is the time to…”
“Jack,” Elizabeth implored, holding her hand out to him the way he often used to, “take a walk with me?”
Jack felt his heart soften. The glow of her eyes and the love in her voice told him he probably should go along. He smiled for the first time in days, took her hand, and replied, “Is there a reason for this walk?”
“There is,” Elizabeth stated with conviction, “and it might be a little long,” she added as she grabbed a lantern. Jack wondered how far they could be walking, but he followed his bride-to-be out of the jail and down Main Street.
As they walked, Jack realized they were headed toward the land he’d bought. Maybe she had a new idea for the house or the garden she wanted to show him. They’d have to be quick, he observed, as they were quickly losing daylight. When they weren’t far from the property, Jack saw several lights in the distance. He looked inquisitively at Elizabeth, but she only smiled, and kept walking. As they arrived, Jack felt his heart melt completely. What looked like a good half-acre was covered in candles, very similar to what he’d done at the church when he’d proposed to her. “What’s all this?” he asked, emotion filling his voice.
Elizabeth set the lantern down, faced her fiancé, and took both his hands. “Jack, I love you. More than that, I am in love with you, and I can’t wait for us to spend our lives together. That means for better and for worse. So whatever it is you’re struggling with, I’m not going anywhere; I’m staying right here by your side. I just hope you’ll let me into your heart again, and let me share this burden with you; because your pain is my pain.”
Jack couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. He hadn’t cried like this since he lost Doug; he was overcome. Oh how he loved her! Then show her, a voice said to him inside his head. “Oh, Elizabeth!” he cried hoarsely, then pulled her close, and pressed his mouth over hers. He kissed her like she was water, and he was a man who had crossed a desert. Why had he denied himself this beautiful connection when it replenished his soul so completely? He kissed her on and on, and when he released her lips, he spread tender kisses all over her face and throughout her hair. Then he took her face into his hands to just gaze at her, and marvel at her beauty, inside and out. His next thought couldn’t go unsaid: “How did I ever live without you?!” He kissed her once more, then put his arms around her to just hold her close. Without letting go, he positioned their arms into a waltz and began to dance with her, their faces close together.
Do it now, the same voice inside Jack’s head told him after a bit. Tell her! Jack gently stopped the dancing, took the lantern in one hand and Elizabeth’s hand in the other, and led her to the log to sit. He put his elbows on his knees, and took a deep breath. “It started about a week after I got home. At first, it wasn’t too bad: I’d close my eyes and see a blast every once in a while, or look behind me when things got too quiet, sure that someone was following me. But the last few weeks, it’s gotten worse. I can see everything like it happened yesterday. I can smell all that gunpowder, and taste blood in my mouth. But then a few days ago, something truly terrifying happened: I saw him.” He paused, trying to gather the courage to go on.
“Saw who?” Elizabeth prodded.
Jack blew out a breath. “I saw one of my men who got killed. I watched him die, Elizabeth. One of those gang members,” he almost spat the words, “took aim and fired right at his heart without a second thought. I tried to run to push him out of the way, but I wasn’t fast enough. I wasn’t fast enough!” he repeated harshly. He finally faced her. “I saw him again in my office right before you came in yesterday. I saw him as plainly as I see you now. It was so real! I’m haunted, Elizabeth,” he acknowledged. “I’m haunted. And if this keeps happening, I can’t protect you. I can’t take care of you.” Jack took a cleansing breath, feeling a little better already. “That’s what’s been happening to me; that’s why I’ve pushed you away. I’m afraid I won’t be able to take care of you.”
“Oh Jack. I’m so sorry!” Elizabeth could only hug him, hoping she could take some of the fear away. Please, God, Elizabeth prayed silently as she squeezed her eyes shut. Please give me the words to say. Almost instantly, words flooded into her mind, and her eyes popped open. She eased back to look into Jack’s lamp-lit hazel eyes. “Jack, let me make one thing very clear: I don’t need a husband to take care of me; I need an equal partner so we can take care of each other.”
Jack’s emotional sigh was filled with relief and love, and more tears. He returned his hands to her face. “I love you! I love you so much!” Jack slowly looked around at all the candles, then an idea appeared in his mind. His hands dropped to her hands, and one knee hit the earth beneath them. “Elizabeth Thatcher, will you still marry me?”
Now Elizabeth cried a few tears of relief. She touched his face, and replied, “I can think of no greater honor, Jack Thornton.” She joined him kneeling on the ground, and kissed him deeply, finally feeling their spirits connect once again.
Until next week, my dears. Stay well, stay safe, stay calm, stay friendly, stay happy. This is Hooked Heartie, signing off. May your heart let your hope blossom.