I had mixed feelings about going back home. I wanted to, of course, and I now realized that there was nothing else I could have done. I loved Paul, and I had never stopped loving him and needing him. I was afraid, though, about the reception I would get. I had gone away, and I would have to accept the consequences of my act. What would Paul’s parents think? It must have been a difficult decision for them to welcome me into their house even before we got married, and I knew they had really loved me as the daughter they had not had. What about his brothers then, and Laura, and little Mary Ann? She was used to seeing me, and to spending time with little Bobby and me. How would she feel now? I was thinking all these things and many more, as the bus climbed the winding road to our town. Paul remained silent most of the time, respecting my need to think. He was happy to just have me there with him, my head resting on his shoulder, my hand in his and on my lap. I remember I could smell his familiar scent, and was so happy, because I had almost forgotten how it felt. Could it be we had gotten married just a little more than a year before? We had been together for two years and a half, and yet it felt like a lifetime. I felt very young and very old at the same time, and I was just seventeen.
Kevin had come with the truck to pick Paul up. He certainly did not expect to see me, but looked very happy nonetheless, and kept talking excitedly about how happy his parents would be. He was so taken by his display of affection that he forgot we were supposed to pick up Brenda on our way home. We had to go back and drive to her house. Brenda was very welcoming, too, and set about to organize an impromptu reunion at Paul’s house. So in the end she did not come with us at all, but resolved to walk to Mark – who lived nearby – to give him the good news and to inform the others in one way or another. She would certainly find a ride to our house. I took it as a good sign. Everybody seemed really very happy to see me, and it looked like they did not harbor any ill will. When we finally arrived, Ann and Frank were waiting on the porch and were delighted. They had to contend with Broomstick the right to hug me, though. He kept barking and wagging his tail in front of the open door of the truck – making it impossible for me to get off, and for them to get any closer.
The evening turned out to be a big happy party. Everybody was there: Mike and Laura with little Mary Ann, Kevin and Brenda, Mark, Trisha and Paula and their respective partners. Ann kept the food coming, and Frank provided a bottle of his beloved apple cider for the occasion. I felt like the prodigal son – or better I should say daughter – who had returned home and had been welcomed back by her father.
Going back to our room was more of a shock. Paul had taken out the crib, and everything else that had been Robert’s, and stored it in the barn. All that remained now was a picture of him hanging on the wall where his crib had been. It was one of those pictures parents take of babies. He must have been three or four months old and was lying naked on the blanket on our bed. He was looking at the camera and smiling. He had the plumpness of well-fed babies, but was not immobile. He seemed ready to move – it had actually proved difficult to keep him still to take the picture; he would keep crawling on all fours across the bed. That picture brought many others to my mind, and my eyes filled with tears. I wondered whether I would get used to it one day – the pain kept coming back, and I felt helpless. We kissed silently, and, although it was already late, I set about to unpack my small suitcase. I knew I could have done it the day after, but I did not want to delay. I wanted things to be where they belonged. And so Windy found his place on the chair in the corner, and the poodle Paul had carved for my seventeenth birthday found itself surrounded by the gifts he had given me in the past months. My beloved boxes were now filled to the rim with letters, dried petals or leaves, and the strangest things I had taken with me. He was already in bed and almost asleep when I finally got into it myself. We fell asleep side-by-side, holding each other’s hand.
So I got back to life on the farm. The violent storm at the end of July had severely damaged the corn in the fields and the peaches on the trees, so that very little could now be harvested. The peaches had already been picked, of course, but they could not be sold. They were good to eat, though, so Ann had made a lot of jam and preserves – many more than in the past years – in the hope of selling them at the market in the following months. All this meant that money would be short soon. The extra laborers had been laid off already, and everybody was trying to think of ways to increase the income of the farm. The cows had calved, and two calves would be sold as soon as they were ready for the market. Ann was planning to use the milk for the making of cheese and yogurt, which could be sold. She was also increasing the number of chickens and ducks. This had meant that the family had to do without her cakes for a while, but the livestock would be sold at the market, too, and meant more eggs in the future, anyway. And – as far as cakes were concerned – she hoped the Lord would not resent her decision to sell them for profit this year, instead of devoting them to the cause of the poor. It was harvest time, and Frank and his sons were working hard to gather the corn the storm had spared. From it depended the next year’s crop, and they hoped they would have some to sell, too. Given the present conditions, I realized it must have been difficult for Paul to leave his family during the weekends to see me. With the seasonal workers gone, they all had extra work to do, and they could hardly afford to spare him, even for just the weekends. And then there was the work in the garden. The vegetables had been spoilt, too, but Ann had replanted them, and they had to be picked and processed for use in the winter months. There were not enough to be sold, though – the vegetable patch was small and had always been used only to meet the family’s needs. Everybody had his or her hands full, and I was a welcome help, at least for Ann.
We all worked very hard that fall. The men would rise very early at the first light of dawn to work in the fields and tend to the animals – to come back to the house only to take their meals; at night they barely had the strength to stumble to their beds and fall asleep. Ann and I could afford to take it a little easier, but we knew a lot of work awaited us, too. Besides taking care of the house, the small livestock and the vegetable garden, we would devote every spare moment to the production of the food that could be sold at the market. We would go there every Saturday. The place Ann had at her friend’s stall had become larger; moreover, everybody knew and liked her products, and demand for them was always high. So we would start at the beginning of the week with the making of the cheese, leaving the other days for the yogurt and the cakes, which needed to be consumed quickly. The fruit preserves were a big hit, too. There was peach jam to be spread on bread or biscuits, or peaches in syrup that could be used for the preparation of tarts. The jam was also great in the yogurt, some of which came with honey. Every farm had at least a beehive, because it’s so good to be able to produce your own honey. In the past it was also the only source of beeswax. Now electricity had supplanted candles, but they came in handy from time to time. Ann knew how to make them (I was beginning to wonder what it was she didn’t know how to make), and had her own little project in view of the coming winter holidays. All in all, I must say we all did a good job.
The first snow of the season was a welcome change. It meant the end of work in the fields for the year. It also meant that life was going back to normal. Paul and Kevin would start work in town, of course, but we would finally have a little more time for ourselves. What with the hubbub of activity of the previous month and a half, and following my stay with my family, I had completely lost track of my friends. Also Paul had had no time to dedicate to his, and so we were happy to indulge in a bit of social life. As he was working in town, I would sometimes go there in the evenings and pick him up. We would then spend some hours at Trisha’s, or Mark’s, or Mike’s house. Or they would come to us. It was the occasion to chat and keep us informed about our friends’ life.
Trisha had found a job at a tailor’s shop, and was taking typing and bookkeeping lessons twice a week. It was a temporary job, and she planned to work as a secretary as soon as the course was over. She was going out with Ian, who was two years older than she, and they seemed to get along well together. Also Paula had found a job; it was at a supermarket, but she had other things on her mind. She dreamt of acting, and she was thinking of trying her luck away from home. Her parents were trying hard to discourage her and to keep her in the family, and she was postponing her decision from one week to the next. She had left her boyfriend – the one that did not let her see her friends – and had none at the time. Many boys kept calling at her house, though, and she was always surrounded by admirers. I personally thought she was the prettiest girl in our group – maybe not a real beauty, but what she didn’t have in looks was more than made up by her liveliness. Also Mark was a handsome guy. I used to think that they would have made a nice couple, but somehow they never got together. He certainly had no problem in finding a girlfriend – what was hard for him was to be with her for more than a week! And since we were all still very young, he was having the time of his life. Mike and Laura were expecting their second baby. Little Mary Ann would have a brother or a sister some months after her second birthday. They had told her, but she was of course too young to understand. She would keep saying “sitter, sitter” while running around the house with her favorite doll in her hand.
Paul and I were doing fine. We were slowly getting over the pain for the loss of our dear Bobby. There was the occasional nightmare, or the fretful waking in the middle of the night during a heavy rain, for instance, but we were taking life one day at a time, and were happy to have each other. It was as if I had never left. The previous months had been hard, but I had made it a point to see him regularly during the day, and had found any excuse to go to him. I needed to touch him, or just to see him smile. It was like he had described in his letter: he could feel my presence, and would then turn around to see me coming, and I could tell he was happy; those encounters were as dear to him as they were to me. Besides, we saw so little of each other, and we were so tired when we went to bed at night, that those were the only real occasions to be together. It got better, of course, and then it was good to lie in bed side by side, and take our time. We were not making plans for the future. We had put aside all thought of the cabin; it was too painful to think about. I didn’t feel like going there and had even refused to accompany him when he went there with his father and brother to hunt. We had not returned to the wood, either. It had been a matter of lack of time, and now it was not the right season for an excursion, but the happenings of the last July had taken their toll, and I knew the wood would never be the same to me. I felt sad about it – it was a part of my life that had gone forever. It didn’t mean that I would literally never set foot in it again – how could I? It would never have the same meaning, though, and I would never find in it the comfort it had given me as a young girl.
It was with a lighter heart thus that we celebrated Thanksgiving Day that year. Everybody was present, and – although we all felt Robert’s loss – we also knew it was the right time to give thanks. We had a family, a house to live in, and the means to support ourselves. And we had been able to cover the losses significantly, although the year had been a bad one. Now we just needed some rest, and then we would be ready to move on to whatever life had in store for us. Everybody was present – of course – as they had the previous year, and it was also an occasion to strengthen family relationships. Our parents spent a lot of time with one another – my father enjoying for once a bit of farm life, and Mom finally having many people to cook for. Cooking had always had a soothing affect on her, and I think she was really happy to be able to prepare food in large quantities. And then there was little Mary Ann, and I could see they were happy to hold her and play with her. For the first time I began to think about having a baby again. The pain was still recent and strong, and I knew it would never go away entirely – it couldn’t. Time mends a lot of things, though, and I was sure that – in due time – I would be ready again. Bobby had come as a surprise and had obviously not been planned, and after his death I could not bear to think of having another baby. I believe also Paul felt the same and understood my feelings. He had silently asked permission the first time we had made love after Bobby’s death, as if implying that I would get pregnant again sooner or later – it was just a matter of time. If it was true that I could not refuse him – nor did I wish to – I had wished at the time never to remain pregnant again. I realized now I did not mean it.
Paul had been able to save less money, but he was now earning again. Moreover, he was carving wood. The idea had come from the little artifacts he had done for me. He was very good at that, and had started to carve figurines that he was planning to sell as Christmas gifts. And – since I wanted to do my part – I started to work with the needle. I would embroider little mats, collars, or aprons, or would likewise crochet little items. So we would sit on the couch in our little sitting room in the back, and work together before going to bed. It was good to be doing something for ourselves. And while our hands were working, our minds were free to roam, either in silence or not. We would speak of a lot of things. At first it was about nothing in particular – maybe the events of the day, or a friend we had met. Slowly but surely, though, we started to speak about ourselves. We still did not dare make definitive plans for the future; our conversations included small things we wanted to do, like read a particular book, or visit a particular place. It was a way of gaining insight into what we really were. At the same time we also began speaking of our past, and we enjoyed telling each other what we used to do as little children; what were our favorite toys, and so on. We had never done that before, and we devoted a lot of time to it. We would take turns – one evening each – and tell about a particular moment in time. The following evening we would compare our lives, adding bits of information, or the ever present “Do you remember…?”. We found those conversations so interesting that we would go to bed late at night, and it was difficult to wake up the following morning.
If all that talking meant sleepless nights, it was good for our little projects. From the second week of December we started selling our crafts at the Saturday market, next to Ann’s cheese, yogurt and – given the coming holiday season – candles. The idea had come to her some months before, while making honey. She had put the wax aside, and she had crafted beautiful decorative candles. The neighbors and inhabitants of our little town welcomed our initiative, and it became a nice source of income. Also, we did not need to go around town shopping. That year we handcrafted all our Christmas gifts, and – if it was maybe a little hard to keep the gift a secret from one another – we enjoyed the novelty. We also got together and combined our different skills, and so Paul would carve one of Ann’s candles, and I would embroider a doily to go with a particular figurine.
Mary Ann turned two in December. She had started to talk in earnest, although it was somewhat difficult to understand all that she said. She had very strong ideas about what she liked and didn’t like, and she would be sure to let her opinion known to anybody who cared – or did not care for that matter – to listen. Laura’s pregnancy was showing, and she was becoming heavy – heavier than when she was expecting little Mary Ann, I was given to understand. She had frequent backaches, and her legs were troubling her, so that she would spend a lot of time in a sitting position. For this reason she took to spending time with us. Mike would accompany her to the farm before going to work, so that she could take it easy, and we could look after little Mary Ann. Sometimes I would ride to town with Paul in the morning and spend the day at their house, helping her with the chores, and taking the little girl out for a stroll. It was very pleasant; I’ve always loved the holiday season, and this was no exception – at least at the beginning.
As Christmas drew near, I started to think about Robert again, who would have been one year old soon. Everything reminded me of his birth: the decorations, the tree and the sweets I had bought in the shops the year before. Even being with our friends did not help, and I would find myself suddenly leaving to dry my tears surreptitiously. The nightmares – that had slowly disappeared – returned, and Paul would have to shake me awake in the middle of the night and hold me tight until I went back to sleep. It was probably for this reason that it was decided we celebrate the occurrence in a somewhat subdued tone. The family met at church in the morning and then got together for the exchange of gifts, but there were no big lunch and no loud cheering. Mom and Dad were with us, of course, and did everything to lighten my mood. I just hoped that – given time – I would be able to look forward to Christmastime as I had always done. Moreover, I also felt guilty for having spoilt the occasion for everybody else. In the end, Paul and I retreated to the back early in the evening. We then spent Boxing Day mostly by ourselves, silently holding each other. It was like we owed it to Robert to take some time to remember him. He would have turned one this very day, and the family would have been happily reunited in his name. Paul had carved a toy during the many evenings spent on the couch before Christmas, and we now took it to his grave and left it there close to his name. It was the figurine of a dog lying contentedly at the feet of a little boy. It was as if Broomstick were still at his side to take care of him. The cemetery was close to the church, but we did not go there frequently; Ann used to visit a lot and leave flowers on Bobby’s tomb. I personally think that graveyards are very dismal places, and that the best way to remember our dead is in our hearts; little Bobby was my first son, and I will always have a very special place for him there; this is where he belongs. I do not need to go to a cemetery to show my feelings, and I am sure he does not need me to go there either. Paul understands this, and partly shares my feelings, although he has spent more time at Bobby’s grave than I have.
Christmas Day was a Friday that year, and that meant that we did not take part in the market the following day. It was just as well: we needed to be by ourselves, and Ann didn’t need my help anyway. The people that went to the market were not buying much – having already spent their money on Christmas gifts. Besides, my parents were also there, so that she was not alone. It was a good occasion for them to see a lot of their friends and catch up on the local gossip. They left in the afternoon the following day, whishing – as always – that they could stay longer.
I had not told Paul about my wish of having another baby. Actually, I was not sure about it myself, and I did not know whether I should talk to him or not. Of course it would make no difference – it could happen any day – but I knew it would make him happy. It was as if it was all right for us to speak about either the present or the past; making real plans for the future was something else. My New Year’s resolution was that I would change this state of affairs, and take life more firmly into my hands, but the days went on one after the other, and I did nothing. I would wake up early in the morning and go to bed at night, feeling that nothing was really happening. Not that I had time to be idle – there was always much to be done around the house – but I felt no driving force behind it. Paul looked happy to go to work and find me home when he came back, and I did not have the heart to tell him how I felt. Also the visits to our friends became less frequent. It was as if we couldn’t find anything new or interesting enough to be worth doing.
The only thing that made me feel better was caring for Mary Ann. Her liveliness gave me energy, and it was a pleasure to have her around. Laura’s pregnancy was getting harder, and she was afraid that something was wrong. The doctors kept reassuring her, telling her that the baby was doing fine, and that all she needed was rest. We all sympathized with her, and did our best to make her feel at ease. Sometimes she would leave Mary Ann with us for more than a single day. Of course the little girl loved to be with us, and took advantage of the situation to be with her grandparents as much as possible. I felt that the role of aunt fitted me very well, and we got along well with each other. I would read her a lot of stories, or – when the weather permitted it – I would take her around the farm. She loved to see the animals, and was very interested in the horses we had. So we would spend time in the barn, taking some small treat with us, and Pearl was patient enough to let her sit on her back for a while. It was good to be in the barn, which was warm and cozy. I’ve always loved the smell of hay and animals, and it was an occasion for Mary Ann to see Frank at work. He would let her stay at his side when he fed the animals, and he used to teach her how to do things, even if she was too little to do them herself. Laura would feel guilty soon, though, and Mike would then come to pick her up, and the house became very quiet again.
All things considered, we were all very happy when Laura finally gave birth to a healthy ten-pound five ounces baby boy. The labor was difficult and very painful, but mother and son were soon fine, and life got back to normal for them. It was the middle of March, and the family reunited a few days later at their house to welcome little Charlie into the family. He was named Charles after his grandfather – Laura’s father – who had died during the Great Depression a little after Laura was born.
I do not remember the following days. I was very quiet. I could not bring myself to cry. I felt incredibly tired, as if all strength had been drained from me; I just wanted to lie on the bed and rest. The couch was even better: it felt so good to lay my head down and curl up on it. The back room had always been very quiet – the noises coming from outside hushed – and that lack of noise now suited me very well.
Ann had immediately phoned to my parents, and they had come soon after. I could not bear to look at them, though. I didn’t want to be with anybody. I felt that It had been my fault. I had been selfish in my need to go to the wood. What did I want to prove? What had I done? Paul tried to break through to me; I remember him coming and going, because he needed to take care of things, but he was also frequently there with me and tried to talk to me and arouse me from the indolence I had fallen prey to. I realized only later how much he obviously needed me then, but I just couldn’t be there. My mind was a thousand miles away. I didn’t want to think; I did not want to be roused and talk; I just wanted to lie down and sleep.
Robert was buried two days later in the church’s graveyard, but I don’t really remember any of it. Up to this day, I know the sequence of events because they have been related to me, but I can’t remember being there at the grave next to Paul. Oh, I’ve had nightmares about it. They came and went for quite some time, but it was always in a different setting – in a different place, with a different dress, or other people around me. I’ve tried hard over the years, but my mind has remained blind. Maybe it is better so. A mother should never witness his son’s death; she should never have to stand by his grave.
Also the next days are blurred in my mind. We went back home, and my parents suggested I spend some time with them. Since I didn’t care, they decided for me, and I left with them the day after. The first thing I remember clearly is the stricken look in Paul’s face. He had called for help – screamed for it – in his comings and goings, but I had not wanted to listen – I could not, how could I? That look has haunted me in the following days; the remorse for having been deaf to him is probably what roused me in the end.
And so my life changed for a short while. This is what I consider the darkest period of my life. Up to this day, I can only say I am glad it’s over. Unfortunately it’s far from forgotten. Mom had packed a small suitcase, taking what she thought I would need, which was mostly clothing. She took Windy, though, and set it on the chair next to the couch in the room upstairs. On the shelf in the same room there was a copy of the book my father had had published, but it was their copy and lacked all the tiny mementos I had collected over the years, and that were as part of it as the words themselves. I did not feel like reading, anyway, nor did I want to be involved in any activity. Father had to resume his work immediately, but Mom was able to take some days off – although not many. She would wake me up personally in the morning, and had to literally drag me off the couch and to the bathroom. I must have been a very poor sight, but I didn’t care. It was with difficulty that I followed her on her errands, or sat at some neighbor’s house, who had been so kind as to invite us, just because they knew I needed to see people. Why didn’t they leave me alone? At times I even thought this was all a punishment: I had refused to accept the move to the new house and had run away to the wood instead; now the events had taken me forcibly to the same house I had not wanted to live in. It was as if things were trying to set themselves back to the way they should have been: I was not pregnant; I had no child, and I could behave as if I were not even married.
Paul would work all week long on the farm and catch the last bus on Friday afternoons. I was polite to him, and of course I did not object to him sleeping with me, but I was distant – very distant. He would almost always bring me something – either from him or from the other members of the family. It could be flowers, or a cake Ann had baked specially for me, or yet again the peaches we grew in our orchard. I said thank you and put the flowers in a vase, or tasted the cake and the peaches. Together with the gifts there was always a letter. They were from Ann and Frank mostly – some from Kevin, or Trisha and Paula. After a couple of weeks he wrote one himself, obviously thinking that – since I would not listen to him – maybe he could get through to me in writing. Together we would walk around the neighborhood, visit with friends, and go to church on Sundays – of course. I remember very little. He was always very nice to me, and I followed him without questioning – but without caring, either. He would leave just after lunch on Sundays, hugging me hard and kissing me on the forehead.
And so the days passed. Mom had to go back to work, and I was free to stay home and do what I wanted – which amounted to nothing. I would spend hours at a time sitting on the couch and simply staring at the wall. I would then go down to the living room and might decide to listen to the radio for a while. I never ventured out by myself, and was reluctant to open the door when a neighbor knocked. Most of the times I would pretend not to be in; sometimes I would open out of guilt. I would be polite, making tea, or offering some other kind of refreshment; it was clear, though, that I wished they would leave soon, and they most often did. Mom and Dad scolded me for that, pointing out how kind these people were, and how important it was for me to do things. Of course I understood well they were being very kind, but I was in no mood to notice at the time. Mom began to ask me to make myself useful around the house, so that I would not remain idle all the time. It was right, of course; she was a workingwoman, and it was just natural that she would ask me – who had a lot of free time – to help. So I did my chores because it was asked of me, but I did them hastily, and it showed.
After a month or so I think something began to change. I would still spend my days in the house, but I would now hold Windy in my lap when I was upstairs, and I started to talk to it again, like I did when I was a kid. I did look so much like a kid, and as such I had to be told what to do, how to dress, and what to eat. I had lost weight, and I must have really looked like a scarecrow. Mother did her best to change the situation; she would go out of her way to cook my favorite dishes, or to raise my interest with something, but it was all in vain. I just wanted to be with my favorite teddy bear. I talked to it about Robert, and slowly detailed to him the events of his last day. I opened my heart to him, in the hope of finding absolution. Of course none came, but I was slowly feeling better. That’s when the nightmares began. I kept reliving Bobby’s burial, but never in the same way. I wouldn’t recognize the place, or the people next to me; sometimes it was hard even to understand where I was at first. What was common about those dreams was the terror and terrible pain, and then the guilt that came with them, and I would wake up sweating – to remain awake for the rest of the night. That’s also when I understood for the first time that I did not actually remember the events; the realization increased my guilt; how could a mother not remember? It was my beloved child lying there in the dark forever!
A little later I put aside my reluctance to read the book my parents had provided, and I started to look for the pages I had marked in mine. It was time consuming, and I spent a whole day at it, forgetting my chores, but feeling a warmth I hadn’t felt in weeks. My mother came home that afternoon while I was crying in my room, and we embraced and held each other long and hard, until also Dad arrived and found us there. The book kept me company for many days, and I started to put new bookmarks into the pages – a photograph, the petal of a flower, or a leaf. It was good company; I knew I could rely on it to whisper the right things to my heart.
“… Do not shun sorrow;
It’ll stalk you forever.”
I could not keep the pain away much longer; the time had come for me to feel the sorrow, so that I could move on.
“The heart and the mind are closer than we think, and love is the key to them.”
I had tried to do without Paul’s love, but I was losing my mind as well as my heart because of it.
“You were here in my mind, and now you’ve gone forever.
I think of what you could have been, and never will.
And my heart grieves.”
After I was born, Mom was told she could not bear any more children. She must have grieved for them the way I was grieving now. At least I had had mine for seven months, and could have others.
Later that month I finally read all the letters Paul had brought. The first ones – from Ann and Frank, or my friends – were all in the same tone: it had not been my fault to start with, and I should reconcile myself with the situation and come home. I was young and had a whole life in front of me; I could not waste it – I owed it to myself and to Paul.
I actually did not know what to do with my life. It’s so much easier to do nothing – things tend to become blurred, and you feel less pain. I wanted to feel no pain, and I assumed that I could not feel pain for something I was not thinking about. As I was beginning to understand reading Mom’s book, I had been wrong, because those days kept coming back to me. I kept seeing little Robert as if he were still alive, and the look on Paul’s face the day of my departure was very vivid and kept nagging at me. I read those letters over and over again, slowly trying to believe in what was written in them. Some – the later ones – were even entertaining. They were from Trisha or Paula; in them they told about their lives. I remember Trisha had left her boyfriend at a certain point, and was trying to make me understand why she had to do it. Paula and her boyfriend, on the other hand, seemed to be very much in love, but that precluded her from seeing her friends (I remember I wondered why, but I never asked her).
The summer went by without me; of it, I remember the nights – when the nightmares and the heat kept me awake – more than the days. These were now passing faster, but I still could not bring myself to open Paul’s letter. I dared not see in writing what I assumed he was thinking of me – that it was my fault, and I was the only one to blame. Summer was drawing to an end, and I could feel the change in the air, as the days were getting cooler, and the hours of light fewer. Paul kept coming over the weekends. He hadn’t written any more letters, and had never mentioned that one. He kept bringing presents, though – a small carving, a flower, or some sweet. Those little thoughts were as dear to me as he was, but I would not let my feelings show. Only in the solitude of my room could I bear to look at them and cherish them. And then one day I opened the letter and started to read:
Thursday, August 6, 1959
My dear Heileen,
It’s hard for me to commit my feelings to paper. It’s never easy to express clearly what’s inside oneself.
I work at the farm and come back in the evening to an empty seat at table and a cold bed.
I don’t mean to be reproachful, mind! I keep asking myself what it is I did wrong. How could I not find a way to touch Your soul in those days after our dear Bobby’s death? A man’s supposed to give strength to his family, and I failed. I failed to be there and hold You tight; I should have never let You go!
Everything here reminds me of the life we had together. I can see Bobby’s face looking up at me from behind the couch, or smiling from his crib in the morning. And I am afraid to go to our room at night because sleep is so hard to come!
I miss him, and I miss You. In the middle of the day I take a short break from work, and I can almost feel You there beside me – little Bobby in Your arms – like You have been so many times. Sometimes I think I can hear You coming from behind, but then I turn around, and I realize it was just the wind mocking me. At other times I wake up in the middle of the night and call Your name.
Will You ever forgive me, Heileen? I need You so badly it hurts, and I don’t have the strength to go on hurting this way.
It will be hard, and it will take a long time, but I know that – if we are together – we will be able to accept Bobby’s death. God has tried us hard, but we must have faith in Him, and go on with our life. TOGETHER. We have each other, and I love You.
Do You remember the day I found You in the wood? I promised then that I would always stand by You, and I failed in my promise. I am sorry, so very sorry! But I swear that, if You have me again, I’ll always be at Your side. This is my sweetest dream – that I may one day come to Your house, and see that Your face has changed – that You don’t hate me anymore. I need to look into Your wonderful eyes, and have them look back at me, like they used to.
As the days pass, and our wedding anniversary draws near, I am overcome by contrasting emotions. We have been happy together, and I was looking forward to celebrating this day with You. But then I remember that it was its celebration that brought about our son’s death. Any time I hear a thunder, I can’t help crying, and I weep for him, for myself, and for You.
But if You can’t bring Yourself to love me still, I beg You to say it. Just state it clearly, and I promise I’ll never bother You anymore. I’ll stop coming to your house, and You’ll never hear from me again, if this is Your wish.
I love You, Heileen. I’ve loved You since the first day I saw You, and my love has grown, and my heart feels broken and empty now that You’re not here.
Please take me back.
I am sorry.
I finished the letter with eyes full of tears. He was sorry, and he thought I hated him! How could that be? I had let almost two months pass and had said nothing at all to him. He had kept coming; waiting for something – anything – that told him he hadn’t lost me. I had been so blind! I was so taken by my hurt that I was unable to see his, and I realized now that it must be at least as great as mine. After all, the kid in the grave was his son as much as he was mine. I retreated to my room early that evening – barely touching my dinner. My parents said nothing; they had given up hope, I think, of changing my behavior. I had refused to go out, to see people, to interact with them. And I must have looked like a very bad wife. Paul had stood by me when I had needed him, but I had not done so in his time of need. And I had let misunderstanding seep between us. I felt that nothing would be well again. It was Wednesday. I would have liked to run out of the house and walk all the way to the farm to see him. On the other hand, I felt so ashamed that I was not sure I should have gone back at all. And so I waited. Time never passes when you’re waiting. It was just two days, but I did a lot of things in those two days. I was active around the house, and I started to go out on errands. My mother was the first to notice the change, of course, and – having divined the reason for it – simply said nothing and welcomed my new mood. With father it was a little different. Of course he knew, but he kept wary – as if he needed to see to make sure. I would catch him looking at me during dinner, or he would stop in the lawn when he came home, and glimpse inside to see what I was doing.
Finally Friday came, and as always Dad went to the bus station on his way home. I was in the kitchen as Paul stepped off the car. Mom went to the door to say hello, and then remained with Dad, so as to give us privacy. Paul came into the kitchen and busied himself in helping me with whatever I was doing – making light conversation, as he had gotten used to doing lately. He probably thought that it was better than keeping silent. He hated it when we didn’t talk. I kissed him hello, but was too ashamed to go further. I wanted to throw myself into his arms, and yet it was so difficult. In the end I just told him that we needed to talk, and that we could do so after dinner. Fool! Why was I being such a fool? And so we talked later. We retired to our room after dinner. He must have understood something from the way Mother was behaving. The house must have felt too cheerful to him – such a strange thing as of lately. I told him I was sorry and begged him to forgive me. As I opened my mouth to talk, all the words that had been left unspoken rushed out of me, and I kept speaking – repeating myself – saying a thousand things together. I do not remember exactly what I said, nor do I know what he replied – words kept bumping into each other. At the end he just held me silently, stroking my hair, and whispering endearments.
We did not make love that night. We were too exhausted, and – as it was hard to fall asleep – we just lay side by side. We had negotiated a truce, and I think we needed to get used to each other again. I knew I was guilty for not having stayed by his side, and I wanted him to understand this. It was not – could not absolutely be his fault! At last I must have talked myself to sleep. We made love the next day, and then we knew it was all right, and that the dark days were over. We left on Sunday afternoon to return home, with the promise to visit my parents again soon, but – as my father pointed out – never to return to stay, unless we both agreed on it. Dad had held me on his lap that afternoon and had asked me to stand by my wows, as I should have already done. He had grown fond of Paul, and he did not like the way I had hurt him. My place was next to him and not with them – his love for me as a father notwithstanding. He would look forward to our visit, of course, but he would not put up with any women’s tantrums, as he called this.