The Goose’s Song
September 2022 marked the beginning of a new and exciting journey for me, the start of University at the ripe age of 40! I began with many fears and doubts over my ability and have been growing into the confidence of “I can actually do this!” which has been exhilerating. I wrote the piece below as my final assignment for the Creative Writing class I took this winter and not only was it an artistic process as I learned to utilize the tools presented in class, it was cathartic as I processed one of the darkest nights of my life and how the experience of that night has helped shape me into the person I am today.
As a disclaimer, I would just like to add that in no way is this piece implying that I have been left alone to face hardship. I am well aware of, and forever grateful for, the amount of support I have been surrounded with and I hope to tackle another piece describing this amazing community in the near future. Rather, the piece below is exploring a more internal state of aloneness, the choices no one else could make for me.
I also want to acknowledge my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the source of my strength and hope, the Creator who made me whole and complete, just as I am.
The Goose’s Song
I couldn’t see the geese, but I could hear them. The night air, crisp but with March’s faint promise of spring, kissed my face through the open window of my minivan full of booster seats with stale French fries crammed into every crevice. I couldn’t see the river the geese had landed on either. It wasn’t that late, only a little past 7:30 but it was already as dark as midnight. I had shut the van off after parking on the outcrop of the riverbank, the long brown grass still flat from the memory of the crushing weight of snow. The same spot where we always stopped to eat meals during seeding and harvest when my husband worked from sunup to sundown in the field beside it. Relishing this rare moment alone, I closed my eyes and listened to the orchestra of clarinets announcing their return with great fanfare. The racket mimicked my inner turmoil while simultaneously mocking it. For just a moment I allowed myself to wonder what it would be like to slip beneath the surface of the icy, black South Saskatchewan River and let myself be carried away by its current.
There was a time in my life when I thought I would always be alone and that scared me. Years of unreciprocated crushes and no prospects while being indoctrinated that my worth as a woman was tied solely to becoming a wife and mother left me dissatisfied and unsettled. I was 24 when I finally met someone, and I dove into the relationship with all the finesse of a world class Olympian. Within months of our first meeting, I transferred jobs, packed my green Honda Civic fuller than a clown car, and migrated 3,000 kilometers west to be near my beau. There was never a question of who would move; he was a farmer with a herd of cows, and I was a single woman with a transferable bank job living back with my parents. A year later we got married.
I didn’t just become a wife; I became a farmer’s wife. The epitome of domesticated wifehood. I planted a garden ten sizes larger than we could possibly need and spent the latter part of every summer canning and freezing its bounty like Ma Ingalls. I learned to drive tractors and, like every farmer’s wife before me, to not take my husband’s words personally when the cows got out and needed to be chased back in. There’s a reason they sell t-shirts that say, “Sorry for what I said when we were working cattle.”
My crowning achievement, or so I thought, came with the birth of our first child. I gladly gave up my job and settled into a life of complete domesticity. It was the paradoxical loneliness that accompanied the role that caught me off guard. I was seldom, if ever, alone but the feeling of isolation suffocated me daily. My husband’s commute to work was a jaunt down the well-worn path from house to shop where the tractors rested between chores. He was always nearby yet somehow never around. When he was around, his battle with depression kept him isolated in a world I couldn’t break into.
The babies, first one, then two, and, somehow eventually four, were always underfoot needing to be fed, bathed, or put to sleep. They were selfish little creatures. Like baby robins with their beaks wide open they were always demanding, but never stopping to ask how I was doing or if I needed anything. I’d empathize with the prairie hen that I’d watch through my kitchen window. She would scurry about my backyard with her brood scurrying right behind her, so close it was like they were connected by some invisible string. I imagined if the hen ever stopped short, they’d all end up in a heap behind her. I was supposed to feel fulfilled, complete, but instead I felt hollow, used, and unappreciated. It was enough to drive a young mother to park on a half-frozen riverbank and contemplate climbing in. I craved both solitude and connection yet had neither.
The passage of time soon taught me that as seasons come, they also go. The children grew more independent, and the start of school brought relief from at least two of them for a few hours each day. My husband sought help for his depression and transformed into the man I always knew he could be. For two glorious years we were no longer fighting to keep our heads above water but swimming with purpose, land in sight! My husband still spent far too many hours at work, both on the farm and the second job he had taken at a feed mill; but when he was with us, he was truly present. We cherished those times of togetherness as a family. I found myself looking forward to our life together and watching it unfold with a hope and anticipation I hadn’t known since we were newlyweds. We had survived the worst and the best was yet to come, together.
The call came after 11:00 P.M, four days before Christmas. My husband, after tickling the children and saying goodnight, had gone back to the mill a few hours before. He needed to finish something he’d said, and now his boss was calling wondering if I knew where he was. By his tone, I knew something was wrong. The children were fast asleep by now, so I called my sister-in-law to come stay with them and didn’t wait for her arrival before I left. I drove as fast as I dared on the ice-covered gravel roads, only careful enough to not end up in the ditch. I could see the red and blue lights flashing in the dark ahead, the helicopter had already landed by the time I got there.
He’s alive! Oh, the relief that came with those words! I set myself to the task of answering the police and paramedic’s questions. I’d had the presence of mind to grab his wallet and handed over his health card to the grateful first responder. They just needed to extract him and then he’d be airlifted to the hospital. They were doing everything they could. He was talking and coherent, good signs. I should wait out of the way and let them do their job.
I was so cold. I heard someone say the word shock and someone else draped a coat over my shoulders, rubbing my back with swift, firm strokes. More people coming in. My pastor, family, friends. Hugging. Praying. One of the new arrivals was hugging me when someone in uniform, a paramedic or officer I can’t remember, came through the door to announce he was out and being stabilized for transport. We rushed to the hospital to meet the helicopter, unaware of the scene that was unfolding behind us. Maybe I should have known by the hushed phone call the nurse made when I told her why I was there or by the way they silently led us to a private waiting room. But hope refused to die and in fact flared at the sight of two police officers opening the door only to be doused by the words, “I’m so sorry, your husband didn’t make it.”
This is how I found myself alone at the age of 37. Alone to gather my children as a hen gathers her chicks, comforting them as they woke to the reality of their daddy never coming home again. Alone to pick out a casket and where it should be buried. Alone to decide what to do with a farm I didn’t want and couldn’t run by myself anyway. Alone to pick up the pieces of a shattered life and somehow put them back together. Here in this place of aloneness, I found strength I never knew I possessed. I learned the longing and fulfillment I had craved my whole life wasn’t from something, or someone, that was missing, but a God-given part of me that had always been there just waiting to be discovered. I was whole, complete, just as I was, alone.
They say geese mate for life, that some will lead a solitary life after the death of their mate. I don’t know yet if this will be my fate, I only know that somehow being alone doesn’t scare me anymore.