Table of Contents
Shifting uncomfortably at first, the surgeon finally sat back in his chair and spoke quietly. "My reason for joining was completely different than yours. First of all, I was a much better student than you." He smiled as Kirk squirmed, embarrassed.
"My mother, and because of her, my father as well, was convinced my hands and long fingers meant that I was destined to be either a piano player or a doctor. Well, I'm tone deaf and can't carry a tune in a bucket with both hands. But I had always been interested in the life sciences and had actually thought about the medical profession without my parents' prompting. They persisted regardless, so one way or another, I suppose I was destined to be a doctor.
"Due to my excellent academic record, I was accepted by a number of schools, but received a full scholarship at the University of Mississippi, so my choice of schools was easy. My parents weren't exactly rich and I didn't want to be a financial burden on them, even if they were the ones encouraging me to be a doctor.
"I threw myself into my school work and received high marks across the board. Unlike you, my social life was somewhat limited due to classwork, labs, and other academic pursuits. However, I did find time for a few social events and I met a very interesting young lady named Emory Dax. She was a Trill, one of those beings who carries a symbiont lifeform. I was both intrigued and smitten. It was a short courtship, as we both had other priorities. However, I learned a lot from her and she started my interest in alien life forms."
"Particularly if the forms had the right curves, correct, Doctor?" Kirk finished his observation on a smile and a glint in his eye.
"Really, Jim... but you weren't exactly wrong. Anyway, my social life remained limited and it suffered even more during my residency. At least until I met someone very special."
Kirk took a wild guess. "Your wife?"
McCoy was surprised by his friend's guess. "You're right! We dated on and off as my hectic schedule allowed, but she was, at least at that time, patient and understanding. Then I told her I was returning home, to Georgia, following my residency to begin a general practice. She was devastated until I told her I wanted her to be part of my plans and my life. I proposed and she accepted. We were married in her hometown with all the pomp and circumstance you can imagine. It was all a bit overwhelming but her family picked up the tab, even for the honeymoon. I had married into money and didn't even know it.
"Mary and I planned to start a family as soon as my practice was firmly established. In just a few years, we were doing quite well, even without her family's help. Everything seemed fine, then..." McCoy became lost in thought.
"What happened, Bones?"
"Life got in the way, Jim. My father became very ill, in fact, terminal. He was in terrible pain and there wasn't a lot I could do for him and, eventually... he died. Not long afterwards a cure was found."
A very sympathetic Kirk tried to understand his friend's feelings. "It must have been hard on you, being a doctor and not being able to help your own father."
"You don't know the half of it, Jim... but that's another story."
"So what happened?" Kirk was caught up in his friend's tale.
"It made me rethink my career. Like Olivia made you rethink your life, my father's death had the same effect on me. I decided to focus on research and became deeply involved in various projects which were ultimately more time consuming than my medical practice had been. Mary, my wife, understood my need to 'do something' and, initially, she supported me.
"After a few years, I became fairly well known and attracted the attention of Doctor Kittikachorn of Thailand."
Kirk lit up, "Not the man called the Pasteur of the 23rd century?"
"Yup, the same one, but we called him Doctor 'K.' He was amazing. When he got involved in a research project, nothing could get him to change his focus. He was a bit like a terrier. He would latch on something and wouldn't let it go. He influenced me greatly and, unfortunately, I began to adopt his techniques."
"Why unfortunately? That ability has served you well and saved the crew of the Enterprise on several occasions. What was the problem?"
"My work caused friction at home. I wasn't there very much. I was even an absent father in the worst way, actually missing my own daughter's birth. I was right in the middle of a research project and I knew the due date would be well after the research was concluded. But... Joanna, my daughter, was early by more than two weeks.
"It was a bad start and things began to go downhill quickly. I made it worse by accepting another research project. It was the straw that broke the camel's back. Mary left and took Joanna with her. I was upset, but somehow I believed I could work things out, once the project was completed."
"But, it didn't happen, right?" Kirk said what McCoy couldn't.
Ignoring Kirk's comment, McCoy continued. "A number of things happened about the same time, beginning with the end of that research project. It was then I decided to restart my private practice. Unfortunately, that was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. I didn't have the financial support of my wife's family and quitting my prior practice left a lot of people wondering about my prospects. So I took a job at a hospital. I tried several times to contact Mary, but she wasn't interested.
"Then I ran into a fascinating lady. She had heard about my research work and tried to recruit me. I wasn't really interested, as research had left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I had hopes that I could still make my marriage work and I knew research wouldn't help. However, after I thought about it, I realized I was fooling myself. Besides, the lady was interesting."
"Let me guess, Nancy Crater."
After several minutes of glum rhetoric, McCoy finally smiled. "Correct, Jim, but I made another mistake."
"I brought all the 'excess baggage' from my bad marriage into my relationship with Nancy. I guess you could say I shot myself in the foot. Anyway, after a while, Nancy lost interest, especially after she realized I wasn't going to take the research job. I chalked it up experience and tried to forget about it." He finished on a weak smile then continued.
"I kept trying to contact Mary but she refused to talk to me, far less see me. I decided to make the best of the situation and tried a number of other... romantic adventures, all unsuccessful. A few were almost tragic, at least emotionally. My failure with Mary just kept getting in the way. Guilt, I suppose, or fear that I might fail again, or worse, succeed in messing up another woman's life somehow.
"One evening, I was consoling myself at a local watering hole when I struck up a conversation with a lady from Starfleet. She was... well Spock would say, fascinating. That was Commander Emily Welles, the local Starfleet liaison officer and somewhat of a recruiter. She had also heard of my research work and tried to get me to join Starfleet. I'm not sure exactly how it happened but, I agreed to listen to her. Actually, I think it was just so I could be with her.
"I spent several hours talking to her and she was very friendly and quite impressive. However, I wasn't too keen on space travel. I still had a notion of patching things up with Mary somehow, so I decided against joining."
Kirk was now totally confused. "Wait a minute! You're in Starfleet! You must have joined!"
"Don't rush me, Jim!" McCoy was enjoying his friend's confusion. After he took another drink of coffee, he continued. "I remained at the hospital until I received an offer to join a major practice in Atlanta. I thought this would be my opportunity to finally work things out and start over. I would to restore my family once and for all.
"After getting settled into my new job, I went to see Mary. It did not go well at all."
"Worst day of my life, Jim." McCoy gathered his thoughts then spoke so quietly, Kirk could barely hear him.
"Mary was living with her mother at the time and we'd always been on friendly terms, at least up to then. But when I arrived, Mary had a 'gentleman friend' visiting her. He was holding Joanna and it looked as if he was more of a father to my girl than I was. It just hit me the wrong way and I reacted... well, it was inexcusable. I became angry and started to yell and that scared my mother-in-law. The next thing I knew, the authorities had arrived and I was being 'escorted' away from Mary, Joanna and my mother-in-law.
"I managed to talk my way out of being arrested and jailed, but just barely."
In an attempt to introduce some humor into a very non-humorous moment, Kirk commented, "Must have been quite a conversation. How did you manage that?"
"One of the officers was a former Starfleet man. I told him I was joining and probably be heading out into deep space soon. I wouldn't be seeing my wife and child for a long time and was understandably upset."
Genuinely curious, Kirk continued to prompt his friend. "The officer was sympathetic, is that it?"
Smiling, McCoy eyed his friend. "Well, mostly. He escorted me to the Starfleet liaison office and before you ask, yes, Commander Welles was there. I explained how I had a 'change of heart' and wanted to join."
"Her reaction convinced the officers escorting me that I was telling the truth and left, at least once I had signed on the dotted line. Then he was very understanding and sympathetic."
"And you were in Starfleet! Bones, that's a great story!" Kirk finished on a broad grin.
"It's not over yet, Jim."
"Really? How so?"
"I explained my situation to the doctors I was working with and apologized. They understood and I was off to San Francisco.
"When I arrived at Starfleet, I was greeted with open arms. I went through the required training program for a non-command officer and they took it easy on me, considering my 'advanced age.' They recognized my name as being an experienced research scientist and assigned me to their labs immediately."
Now Kirk was really confused. "But you're Chief Surgeon on the Enterprise. I don't know much about operations and policy in the Surgeon General's Office, but I do know they don't assign research scientists to starships as Chief Surgeons!"
McCoy was amused. "Of course not. Before I got assigned to more research I told them I really wanted to get back to my original love, surgery and general practice. After all, it was research that got me into trouble in the first place. Why repeat my previous mistakes?
"I really began to enjoy myself again and forgot all about my personal problems. After some time at the Fleet Hospital, I studied with the best they had and they were the best anywhere. Eventually, I was given the Legion of Honor for my work. I was even decorated by Starfleet's Surgeon General for pioneering new techniques which combined my surgery and research skills. Starfleet's hospital was a great place to work and learn. I was very happy until one unusual day."
"Unusual? In what way?"
"I was served with official divorce papers from Mary's lawyers. After all the time that had passed, I had thought Mary had... forgiven me, or at the very least, forgotten me and let sleeping dogs lay. I hadn't really thought of that possibility but, there it was, staring me in the face. It was the final nail in the coffin, so to speak.
"I just couldn't deal with it. Reluctantly I signed the papers. Then I went immediately to the Surgeon General's office and volunteered for active space duty. I felt the need to get away from it all. I figured shipboard duty was my best option. At least no more lawyers would be knocking on my door!"
Nodding in understanding, Kirk finished his friend's story. "Doctor Piper had just retired and was leaving Enterprise, so you got the job."
"My timing was perfect, wasn't it?"
"As far as I'm concerned, yes. I really liked Piper, but I can't imagine Enterprise without you."
"I suppose my failure as a husband and a father did finally work for some good. But it's not easy admitting failure to anyone."
Kirk spoke softly to his friend. "You just did, to me, remember? Why don't you take it one step further and tell that to Mary as well? Right now your situation is like a disease. If your relationship was a patient, you'd diagnose it and come up with a treatment. The treatment is simple, admit to the mistake, Bones."
"I guess you're right. It's just... difficult."
"Tough decisions generally are, Doctor. But you know you need to do it, regardless."
A brief pause ensued and both men remained quiet, thinking about what had been discussed until Kirk broke the silence. "Okay, Doctor, I need to complete my reports and you need to let me finish. Once I've finished, you're taking me to that bar --"
McCoy interrupted, "The Comet's Tail Casino and Bar!"
"Right. Then you're going to introduce me to 'your Olivia' and the two of us will spend the night forgetting our stories."
"Is that an order, Captain?"
"Unless you want to share your story with Spock," Kirk countered.
"Heavens, no!" McCoy was genuinely horrified at the prospect, but added an afterthought. "You know, I'd consider it if he told us the real story of why he joined and the details of his ongoing 'feud' with Sarek."
Intrigued, Kirk leaned in, "Want me to ask Spock?" The devilish grin and sparkle in his eye scared McCoy.
"No!" The doctor jumped up and headed for the door. "I'd rather go to the bar!"
Kirk feigned disappointment and yelled out as McCoy left, "All right, but I think you're letting a great opportunity slip away!"
As the door closed, Kirk thought for a moment. "Maybe Spock would agree to exchange stories with me?"
© 2020 Brad McDonald / U.S.S. Kitty Hawk