Today is the 30th anniversary of the day my life changed forever. As many of you know, my husband died on March 22, 1983, when I was 19 years old and our daughter, Carlene, was 11 days old.
I suspect we all have a day or a moment in time that changed us, either by choice or by circumstance. Please, if you feel you can, share your day or moment in the comments below.
Here’s a glance into a few hours of that day, a day so long ago and yet still stings me to my soul:
It was a Tuesday. My Aunt Mavis called the house just before noon. My mom, who was staying with us for a few weeks, answered the phone while I folded laundry and watched “All My Children.” She put her hand over the receiver and asked, “Did Bruce go to town?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “I thought he was working in the machine shed. Let me check.”
I opened the front door and called out his name. The sun was bright and the air was a promising 40 degrees. I saw a train stopped on the tracks a half mile from our farm and remembered hearing a whistle blowing longer than usual about an hour earlier. I called to Bruce again. Duke, our German Shepherd, was curled up on the rug at the bottom of the step, a sure sign Bruce wasn’t on the property.
I went back inside. Mom hung up the phone. Mavis heard there’d been a train accident, she said.
My mouth went dry.
“Call David,” I said and turned off the television. David was our pastor and a member of the volunteer ambulance crew.
David’s wife answered and Mom asked her if there’d been an accident.
Please, please, please say no. Please say no. I covered my heart with my hands.
Mom’s face went sheet white.
“Thank you,” she said and hung up the phone. Our eyes met. I knew.
“Lynnie,” her voice trembled. “Bruce is dead. David’s on his way here.”
You know how when you rip off an adhesive bandage and the pain doesn’t hit for a few seconds? The same thing happens when you find out your husband is dead. It takes your brain awhile to understand what you just heard. Even then it doesn’t sink in because the reality is just too big to grasp in the space of a few seconds.
I walked into the kitchen for a glass of water and to turn off the pork chops simmering on the stove. I stared out the window at the south end of our lawn. I thought about the garden I wanted to plant there and made a mental note to remind Bruce to till that up for me. Then David’s car and my brother-in-law’s pickup came speeding around the corner.
Wait. Bruce isn’t here anymore.
I met them at the door. They’d both been crying.
David wrapped me in his arms and I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t cry. I wanted to throw up.
We sat down on the couch and I asked Mom to get my wedding ring out of my jewelry box. I’d taken it off a few months earlier because my fingers swelled. My hand shook as she handed me the small band, and I forced it past my knuckle.
“Do you want something to drink?” someone asked.
“You’ll need to keep up your strength to nurse.”
“I know,” I said. But I didn’t eat for another day.
I looked down at my body clothed in gray sweat pants and Bruce’s long-sleeved South Dakota State University t-shirt. My breasts leaked like sieves, and I was littered with stitches and hemorrhoids. It was one thing to feel vulnerable because I was overweight. Fat I understood. On my wedding day, my first thought as I walked down the aisle wasn’t, “I’m getting married!” It was, “Oh god, people are going to look at my ass!” But no amount of feeling fat prepared me for what crept through my bloated, post-partum body; a feeling so raw that it settled in my bones like damp winter cold.
From what little experience I had with the formalities of death, I knew people would soon come to our farm armed with casseroles and desserts to pay their respects. Still shaking, I changed out of my sweats and hoped no one noticed I hadn’t dusted or cleaned the bathroom in a week.