Heileen - Ch. 10
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:
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.