I’m writing this on February 28, 2021, and I hear a train a mile away as the crow flies. When the wind blows a certain way, its whistle is as loud as if that train was passing through the valley that is my backyard.
On February 28, 1983, two weeks before my due date, the last episode of M*A*S*H aired. It was a Monday, and I was curled up on the couch (as much as a nine-months pregnant woman could be) when an overwhelming fear crept over me. Something terrible was going to happen to someone I loved.
The baby was kicking, so I didn’t think it was her. No, it was my husband. I knew it, like you can feel rain coming when there’s an ache in your knees.
Bruce was at play practice, then he was going bowling because it was league night, so I called my aunt first. Practice was at the high school across the street from her house and Bruce always parked in her driveway.
“Hi, Mavis, it’s Lynn.” I tried not to sound as panicked as I felt.
“Hi, there. How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine. Hey, is Bruce’s car still there?”
“Let me go look.” She set down the phone. A few seconds later: “No, it’s gone.”
“Is everything alright?” she asked.
“Yes, yes, everything is fine. I…I just need to ask him something is all. I’ll talk to you soon. Bye!” I hung up before she could ask any more questions.
The feeling wouldn’t let go and I started shaking. I called the bowling alley. Another Mavis answered. She owned the place. Kindest woman you’d ever meet.
“Hey, this is Lynn Bouwman. Is Bruce there yet?”
“Hi, honey, how are you? Yeah, he’s here, I’ll get him.”
I heard the fryer frying French fries, bowling pins knocked around, and muffled voices laughing. I wished I was there, at a place as normal as life gets.
A minute later, Bruce picked up the phone.
“Hey…I know this sounds stupid, but would you come home?”
“What’s wrong? Is the baby alright?”
I started to cry. “Everything’s fine, just…please come home.”
“Sure, I’ll be right there.”
Five minutes later, I heard a train whistle.
A year before, we were driving home from a wedding dance. It was so foggy we couldn’t see the ditch on either side of the dirt road. Bruce stopped several yards before the tracks and rolled down the windows to listen for a train. It was unlikely he’d see an engine light, he explained. After several moments of quiet, we crossed safely, but I sensed something; something similar to what I felt now, like the tracks had a dreadful power.
I paced the living room. Bruce would be crossing the tracks at that exact moment. I was convinced that, acting on my obtuse feeling, I had killed him.
Soon, headlights shined on the garage door.
I was a sobbing mess when he walked in. I told him about the inexplicable chill and how frightened I was and he chuckled and hugged me as tight as he could.
“Honey, I’m fine,” he whispered.
We finished watching M*A*S*H while I lay with my head in his lap. He stroked my hair and I tried to make sense of what I was feeling. Afterwards, we talked about death and what we would want for the other if one of us died because, you know, that was never going to happen. At least not for a long time. He said he’d want me to move on. I told him he wasn’t allowed to marry any of his former girlfriends. We laughed, but that gnawing in my gut was still there.
Three weeks later, Bruce’s tractor was struck by a train as he drove across those tracks. He was killed instantly.
I’ve thought a lot over the years about that feeling I had watching M*A*S*H that night, and I’ve considered its purpose. Was it some supernatural force preparing me, trying to soften the blow of what was to come? Was it there because I was nineteen and pregnant and predisposed to being afraid of my own shadow? Or was it just the spaghetti I had for dinner disagreeing with me?
I’ll never know. Or maybe I will.
What I do when I think about that night is remember seeing the headlights on the garage and the relief of that moment, the feeling of his fingers through my hair, his reassuring voice, and his love and normalness. Bruce always kept me in the present. And I will forever miss that.