In the Wake of a Silent Train:
By Lynn Haraldson
While I officially started this book two years ago, I’ve been writing it for 38 years.
When Bruce died, I didn’t let my world crumble as maybe I should have, at least for a while. I was 19 and afraid and I did everything I could to run away from grief and make my life “normal” again. I failed, over and over…
What I’ve written, I hope, is a story about love, truth, and forgiveness.
From In the Wake of a Silent Train: A Memoir (working title)
Except for the moments I nurse Carlene, and even then I don’t get much privacy, the bathroom is my refuge; the only place people leave me alone and I can breathe and think in quiet for a few minutes.
Today is the funeral, so I linger in the shower, crying where no one can hear me. I am littered with hemorrhoids, my breasts leak like sieves, and I am tired. Bone weary tired.
I struggle with nursing, but for the few days that we were a family of three, I didn’t struggle alone. Bruce rocked and sang to Carlene while I slept, and in the middle of the night, he got up with me and we watched Rocky and Bullwinkle to distract me from the soreness. We were finding our rhythm, establishing rituals, and defining our family. I never knew such love existed.
Now, our burgeoning rhythm is gone, lost in the chaos of death. As friends, family, and a few people I don’t know, at least not well, bring their tears and casseroles to our farm, Carlene and I are eyed-up and clung to by people with real grief. But how am I to soothe the pain of others when I don’t know what to do with my own?
I especially don’t know what to do with the questions: Could his nephew have Bruce’s archery set? (I didn’t know Bruce had an archery set.) Do you think you’ll get married again? (Wait…aren’t I still married?) Maybe we should adopt the baby? After all, you’re only nineteen…
Our pediatrician called the other day. He heard about the accident on the news. How are you, he asked. I’m OK, I said, even though I still can’t eat. In a gentle voice, he suggested I supplement nursing with formula. Right now, this makes me cry more than death. That wasn’t part of our plan, I said. We decided that I would nurse, we would use cloth diapers. Bruce would be so disappointed.
“Lynn, that was before,” the doctor said. “You need to take care of yourself and you need to take care of Carlene. Bruce would understand.”
I turn off the water and wrap myself in Bruce’s ratty brown terry bathrobe and sit cross-legged on the long vanity, facing the mirror, like I did when we got ready for a date or for church. Bruce would shave, shirtless, while I put on my makeup.
I think about Bruce’s smooth skin, firm stomach, and the soft brown chest hair that trails in a narrow line to his belly button, and I wonder again what is in the casket that I’m not allowed to see. Will his body be dressed in the outfit I picked out: a dark blue jacket, gray slacks, and a cream knit tie? Or will everything be neatly folded next to an assortment of remains?
His mother insisted he be buried with the onyx ring she’d given him when he graduated from college. I reluctantly gave that up, but I insisted on keeping his wedding band. That and his wallet were all I got back from the accident. Not his coveralls or boots or the kerchief he kept in his back pocket. Not even the jar of Carmex from his coat. His tractor disappeared, too. They said it was taken somewhere I’d never have to see it, just like his body.
I rub foundation on my face, trying to cover the dark circles under my eyes, and I imagine Bruce standing next to me, knotting his tie, something he tried many times to teach me.
“Place this end over that end,” he said, guiding my hands with his. “Now loop this end under the other end…yeah…yeah… just like that…and up through the top…” and soon my hands were on my lap and he completed the knot.
“Someday,” he laughed.
I turn on the radio. Toto’s “I Won’t Hold You Back” is playing.
“Now that I’m alone it gives me time, to think about the years that you were mine…”
We didn’t have years. I start to count. June, July…twenty-one months from the day we met to the day he died.
We were supposed to be married for seventy-five years. We talked about this, remember? On the couch that Sunday when your parents were in Iowa and we had the house to ourselves. It was the same day you showed me that card in your wallet, the one with the alphabet in sign language on one side and Kama Sutra positions on the other. We practiced with our clothes on and we laughed so hard we cried.
I turn off the radio and climb off the vanity. It is time to get dressed.
Our closet is in the bathroom, an addition Bruce’s parents built on when they lived here because there is only one other bathroom in the house and it is upstairs. I open the door to my side and take out the only thing that fits other than maternity clothes – a stretchy white knit skirt with an elastic waistband and a short white jacket with three-quarter length sleeves that I bought in anticipation of the baby’s baptism.
“What color shirt should I should buy to wear underneath?” I asked Bruce as I paged through the Penney’s catalog.
“Purple,” he said. “It’s springy.”
Spring was his favorite season. Or was it fall? He loved so many things that I don’t remember. Of the two of us, he was more optimistic. Even his blood type was B positive while mine is O negative. Bruce was always on the side of the underdog, the suffering cow, the runt of the litter.
A month ago, when our sows were farrowing, Bruce spent most of his nights in the pig barn. I’d never seen a pig, or anything, be born, so when one of the sows was about to give birth, he came back to the house and woke me up.
I could smell him before I saw his shadow outlined in the dark, a combination of cold air, hay, and manure. He was on his haunches, touching my hair.
“Lynn,” he whispered. “The pigs are coming. Do you want to watch?”
“Yes,” I whispered back.
I got dressed and put on my parka that I could no longer zip over my belly. It was biting cold, probably below zero, but the stars shined bright as we walked across the yard, my arm tucked through his. Our breath, frosted like a cloud, lingered in the air before evaporating. The only sound was our boots crunching snow.
A heat lamp hovered over the sow, who was lying on her nest of straw. One piglet was already born and nursing and another one plopped out onto the straw as we neared her pen. The little pig lay there, stunned, with thin sack lining clinging to his back and legs like a spider web. He coughed to breathe before he stood up, then walked like a drunk down the street, struggling to disconnect his umbilical cord. Once free, he walked over his mother’s hind legs and stumbled onto a nipple.
Within an hour, four more piglets were born, each a mini version of its mother, with dark spots scattered randomly around their pale bodies, as if someone had shaken a quill pen over them.
All but the two smallest were nursing. Bruce placed them in a cardboard box and we brought them to the house to warm them over a heat vent. Within an hour they were more lively and Bruce returned them to their mother. A half hour later, he crawled into bed and I warmed him, too.
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