107 / 365 – By Penlight


Tom’s finally got to bed. The shouting is hopefully over for tonight. He’ll be asleep when I come up. He’s always able to sleep, somehow. He can sleep through any argument, any disturbance, any terrible thing. Tonight that’s good. It will be quiet when I finally come to bed.

I turned the lights out anyway. I have my penlight on my keychain. We’re the only ones who bring our keys into the house, me so that I have my penlight handy — I keep it on my keychain. Tom because he doesn’t trust anyone anymore. “You never know what someone from the plant will do someday,” he says.

I don’t even know what time it is. I’ve been sitting here for hours, most of the night. That was how it started. Tom said, “Are you just going to sit there all night?” It’s not that he cares that I’m sitting here all night. He doesn’t like it when I sit here with Ben’s picture. I could be doing something else and he wouldn’t notice that I’m not sitting there with him, watching golf or whatever it was he had on.

Once he got started, then it takes a long time for it to stop. That’s when I turned off the light. I don’t want him to notice me. I think he knows I’m sitting here in the living room in the dark, but he stops thinking about it if the light’s on. If things don’t stare him in the face or if they’re quiet, he can forget about them. Everything slips into the silence and the dark and we can have peace.

But tonight, before that, there was lots of yelling. He was standing up over me while I sat here, leaning down, yelling. “Are you just going to sit here all night? Is that all you do? Sit here and daydream about the past?” I yelled back. I said, “Is all you do sit there and watch TV? What’s different about that? People who are doing something tonight are in town, at that spaghetti supper to raise money for the Oleruds!” John Olerud’s oldest boy had a little girl just two years ago. She was born premature, poor thing. She was in the hospital for months, and they’ve had to go back for surgeries and I don’t know what. They were starting a farm, a little place up north toward Newcastle. John and his wife Shirley have been trying to help out as much as they can, but, I don’t know, they might lose it. You think about how things have changed. Fifty, a hundred years ago, a baby like that would have died. And the family would have grieved, maybe all the rest of their lives. You hear stories about that, about little babies who were born dead or who died a few days after they were born, or who caught something and died when they were infants. Families didn’t forget them, but they went on. Had more kids, usually. Nowadays, the kid lives, but the cost, people sometimes lose their farms, lose their houses. So more people survive now, but people still lose something.

We can save babies now. Sometimes I think we think we can do so much, we forget about death, we forget about how it marks you. Dear sweet Benjamin, off at college, doing really well. Happier than his older brother, seems like. And then one day, just gone. Here, and then not there. Not where you can call and hear his voice, his laugh. Or where he’d be embarrassed, whispering, “Mom, I ran out of money, can you send me some?” Or showing up unexpectedly at the back door late on a Friday night because he felt like coming home for the weekend. All of that, just stopped.

And instead, shouting. “You drink too much!” Oh, of course I heard that one tonight. “You just sit here, wallowing in memories!” Oh, and “You’re always going off by yourself! Why don’t you come out here with everyone else!” Of course “everyone else” means “me.” Him. And as soon as I come out, he’ll turn back to the TV, and we’ll have the same old silence. Only we’ll pretend it’s not silence because the TV will be on, a steady stream of noise so we don’t have to notice that no one is saying anything. If we’re going to have silence, I’d rather just sit out here in the dark and really listen to it. Maybe that’s awful but it’s better than the shouting.


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