November 1-Beginning

November 1, 2011

The sunrise was unremarkable that morning, the morning everything changed.

Not not pretty, no. Every sunrise is pretty here, in God’s Country. No, it just wasn’t spectacular. Nothing to write home about. In fact, I wouldn’t have noticed it at all if it hadn’t been for the uncharacteristic silence.

Silence on a dairy farm before dawn is unusual. Silence in the country doesn’t exist.

I thought about the absence of the sounds of milking as I listened closely to what I should have been hearing. No vacuum pump meant the cows weren’t being milked.

No silo unloader meant the silage wasn’t being fed.

No barn cleaner meant the gutters were still full, and getting fuller.

No tractor meant that Fred wasn’t out feeding the heifers.

Birds sang. Chickens in the coop were chattering about something. The calves were putting up a racket waiting for their milk. Our children were in their bedrooms, still alseep, still comforted by the way things had been, not aware that something was different.

I got up. I could hear that the cows were still drinking water. The house and barn were on the same water well and tank so each time a cow would drink her from drinking cup I heard it in the house. Thump, dadadada thump. Chunk.

But no sounds of activity from the barn. Where was Fred? and what was he doing? I couldn’t even remember if he came to bed last night. I was so tired from the summer work load. Children, the barn, the cattle and young stock, the garden and then haying wore me out each and every summer. I was beginning to dread the begining of the planting season because I was worried it would be this year that I couldn’t keep up and I’d finally have to tell Fred about what the dr found a few years ago.

I usually went to bed shortly after bedding the kids. Fred would stay up to catch the news, run down to the barn to give the girls their final slice of hay before bed. Sometimes he’d stay down there for an hour or two. I figured he needed some quiet time alone. I know I did.

The silence penetrated my musings again. This time the slices of panic began sliding out of my sleepy brain. I couldnt’ figure this out any longer, I had to go down to the barn;

I threw back the covers and that’s when I noticed that Fred’s usual pile of dirty clothes that he left in the corner for me to collect wasn’t there. This stopped me. Did this mean that he hadn’t come up from the darn at all? He never came to bed? Was he sick or hurt? And here I was lounging in bed still.

I could hardly breathe. Guilt and fear washed over me as I threw on my barn clothes over my pjs, pulled on my boots and pulled open the mud room door.

He was standing there, still drunk, vomit on his shoes and a cigarette in his left hand. Drunk and I was worried he was dead.

“Breakfast on the table yet?” he asked, clearer than I thought he could speak. The smell of beer filled my kitchen and sickened me. I was still feeling the affects of fear and barely able to absorb the reality of what was in front of me. My farmer husband was drunk, chores were late and now I would be late getting the kids on the bus and to work on time. I’d have to call in late and get the work done here before I could go to the library.

“No, not yet.” I turned and walked towards the refrigerator. I wanted him to be dead. Why would’nt he just die and save me from facing one more day like this?

I started the coffee and sausage then went upstairs to roust our two boys, Sam and Joe. Sam was the older and I could count on him to get moving and motivate Joe. Not this morning. Since Sam turned 13 the month before I noticed that my dear sweet boy was turning into an independent young man and not so compliant. And he’d seen his father at his worst. We never talked about it and I hoped he really didn’t understand what was happening.

Downstairs Fred was snoring in his recliner in front of the tv which was turned to the ag station. The sizzling of the sausage brought me back to the task at hand and I went back to my kitchen. The sun filled the room with yellow light, brightening up the room and giving me a little lift. A day like this couldn’t be so bad. Maybe there was a good reason for Fred’s drinking last night. Maybe he lost a cow or he got a phone call from home. He wasn’t that good at talking to me about his feelings. “There’s a wall,’ he said’ and you can’t get past it. It’s better that you don’t, it’s safer for me.’

I didn’t understand it then and when it came back to mind now I still didn’t understand it. How could my love be so dangerous? My heart ached as I poured coffee for Fred.

The boys came down just in time to grab their sausage sandwiches and run for the bus. Fred never did wake up, even when I shook him. The coffee was cold on the side table and our house cat sat on Fred’s lap., purring. Looked to me like Fred was there for the morning.

I called work and made an excuse for my lateness, promised to be there in 3 hours and threw the dishes in the dishwasher, the laundry in the washer and ran to the barn.

The place was a mess. Cows were hungry and their udders were bursting, barn needed cleaning, calves neede feeding. I’d done this before, as Fred had done this before. I closed my eyes to stop the tears.

Tears of frustration, fear, anger. I wanted this to all end. I couldn’t leave the father of my chidlren. And what would happen to our farm and all our dreams? And where would I go? What would I do? I gave up all plans to go to vet school to partner with Fred fifteen years ago. I gave up my life, said my rebellious mind.

No, I devoted my life to helping Fred realize his dream. Isn’t that what a good wife does? Support her man? An a farm wife goes beyond that. She puts in long hours, unpaid hours, doing what had to be done.

I looked up and saw that I had fed the cows and was ready to milk them, all automatially.

I had done this so many times that I could do it in my sleep. With this thought I finally sat down on the floor, sobbing. I didn’t want to go on. I had no one to talk to. And the man I loved and thought he loved me was sleeping off another drunken night in the barn.

After awhile I got up, blew my nose and finished the chores. I ran inside, pulling my work clothes off as I approached the house. Fred was in the kitchen sipping his reheated coffee while he watched his eggs fry in the pan. It smelled good in my house and the cheerful colors and decor I had worked so hard on just didn’t lift my sprits like it usually. did. I couldn’t even look at him/

“Want an egg?” he asked.

I couldnt’ answer. My tone of voice would tip him off and he’d take that opp to start an epic argument. I didn’t have the time. I waved to him and said as I ran to the bathroom, “Late for work.” and hoped that would end it right there.

“You have to eat, though.”

“I’ll have a cup of coffee” I said as I jumped into the shower, and hoped it would stop there.

I realized as I washed my hair that I was hoping this would stop alot, and felt the agony of confusion and pain deeply and sharply in my heart. I gasped at the suddeness and sharpness of it all. This was new.

Fred came into the bathroom. His deep auburn hair had some hay in it, I noticed, which answered my unasked question about where he slept. I turned to wash my feet so I wouldn’t have to look into his bright green eyes. he’d always seen into my heart and soul, something I thought was magic-that he could see past my lies no way could I keep anything from him. I was so afraid he’d see how I felt and blow up, because that’s what always happened. He’d pull this shit, careful, he can sense it when you get like this, and soon I’d be apologizing for not understanding and accepting and loving him enough.

“Ok, I said, hoping this would save me.”I’d love a sausage sandwhich I can eat in the car on the way to work.”

“Oh, shoot, sorry. I ate them all.” he said, with almost a sneer in his voice. I didn’t couldn’t stop myself and I looked up at him.

The game was on.

I managed to get out of the house 30 minutes later with his last words ringing in my ears. I was selfish. Only thought of myself. Never really loved him to begin with. And I was still hungry.

On my way to the library in town I went over and over the past few days, looking for what triggered his binging this time.

I’d gotten a raise and been offered an assistant manager’s job, which would make our finances more secure but increase my hours at the library. I hadn’t given my answer yet, but the deadline for a yes or no was in two days, on Friday. Fred had been initially happy for me, but as the days went on went I brought it up he was less and less interested in hearing about it. I really wanted to accept the promotion.

Working there had just been a job I needed a few years ago when money was tight. As I spent more time and made a few new friends who weren’t farm wives and some were even single I must have changed. He accused me of changing, of thinking differently. Of not needing him, of me never being around and that I was neglecting our boys.

That one hit hard. I thought I had done a good job balancing all my responsibilities…the boys would come the library after school, get their studying done, then we’d go home and the boys would finish chores with their dad while I mad supper and cleaned up the house. It was a system that seemed so natural, so good for aour family. The boys adored their dad and loved being in the barn with him, and they loved their sports, which took them away. Was that it?

I stopped at a stop sign but kept on thinking, searching for the answer. Horns honked, more than one horn honked and I looked up to see that all the cars at the 4 way stop were honking their horns and the drivers were glaring at me. I waved and went on, grateful that I recognized no one.

The library was busy and I had no time to think about how my morning began. I was able, finally, to have a moment to eat a sandwhich but I couldn’t finsih it. The feelings came crashing down on me and I began to cry just as my supervisor walked by my office.

“Oh my God! What’s wrong Ivy?” she brushed my fine blond hair which I usually wore in braids but hadn’t had time this morning for anything usual from my face and studied my face, peering into my eyes. “Ivy, tell me.”

I couldn’t stop crying and then the hiccups started. With my nose running and my hands shaking I finally settled down and told her the story I had usually told her.


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