ABIGAIL B. CALKIN
As I rounded the turn into the barrow pit that separated my house from the
highway, I saw a truckload of cattle and an older man in overalls. Poor fellow, I thought.
He came to the Willamette Valley to buy cattle and is now headed back to his meager
ranch in Eastern Oregon and he loses a wheel. I slowed to less than five miles an hour in
order not to cover him with dust, parked my car by the house and walked back to see
what assistance he might need.
He had nothing to do with the cattle. He worked for Fish and Game and was
following a pickup with a large trailer loaded with cattle. Weaving badly, it was
obviously in trouble. He slowed so he could keep an eye on it. It was not much later a
wheel came off the trailer, flew across the road, hit an oncoming loaded log truck on the
bumper and ricocheted off, flying over the pickup, its trailer and the Douglas firs
alongside the road and barrow pit. Relieved he had not caused the log truck to swerve,
the pickup driver pulled into the barrow pit followed by the green Fish and Game pickup
as the log truck continued to barrel down the highway to one of the mills.
The cattle driver went to the closest house, mine, to ask to use the phone. With no
one there, he tried the next house, my landlord’s with its white fences and four horses
pastured there. No answer. He ran up to Greenwood Drive and checked several houses
there. No one was home at 5:00 on this Tuesday afternoon. By the time he jogged back to
the now very noisy cattle and the barrow pit, I had arrived home and walked back to the
trailer and the older man standing there.
What I saw was a young man running along Greenwood Drive, the nearby road
that curved about 50 feet above the barrow pit. He was blond, in good shape and looked
as if he were enjoying himself. He ran down the McKenzie Highway and stopped where I
stood. We looked at one another and said nothing.
What I saw was a drop-dead gorgeous man, blond, youthful, in fabulous shape,
and with a smile that did not stop. I was interested. What he saw was a seven-month
pregnant woman in a cream-colored dress with vertical stripes of blue flowers. To him,
she looked gorgeous because she was attractive and so happy with her pregnancy.
After he used my phone, we stood on the deck of my cabin by a river in the
Oregon woods and talked for four hours. He told me he had returned the previous year
from Vietnam. I’d never thought much about the Vietnam War because I, a self-absorbed
young woman in her 20s, had spent the beginning years of that conflict living in a
different country. When I returned to the States, I continued to ignore it.
Unbeknownst to us, by the end of the evening, we had written the opening lines of
our relationship. When he called the next day, he textured our future when he told me
he’d fallen in love with me. It was then I learned his name was Robbie, as if it were a
postscript. He moved in two months later. One of the elements we have always had in
common is the pleasure of being in the wilderness, including living on its edge, evidently
not uncommon for some veterans.
Having fallen in love and wearing my own albatross around my neck, I thought
we were struggling to establish our territories amidst love, work, and raising a child.
PTSD wasn’t defined till 1980. We ambled in the semi-dark until the mid-80s when we
each began to look at our own issues and realized we had some work to do. For me, it
was a lot; for him…oh no, he glances but declines to look in that mirror.
I blindsided myself. I could have thought I was a veteran’s wife then. In
retrospect, it should have been obvious he had issues left over from his Vietnam tours. I
saw his temper, sudden outbursts, and tears. I saw his spontaneity and his passionate and
obsessive work ethic. Five years after his initial discharge, he re-upped, this time in the
Army Reserves. I lived my many lives—mother, wife, lover, friend, writer, career person,
ah yes, and the wife of a man redeployed. I never realized, however, until 2009, the
impact the military and his deployments had on him and our relationship. It then struck
me how much of his life was beyond my ken.
We have shared much—a life together with all its personal and practical comforts,
ups and downs, and intimate details. He’s now willing to tell me many stories and
feelings, but not willing to read what I’ve written. He’s shy, thinks he’s not done
anything special in life other than work hard, which he’s proud of. He views death more
practically than anyone I’ve ever met or any words I’ve ever read. His perspective is that
we’re born, we’re here and we die. What’s so special about any of it except for this
moment that we’re in right now?
Soul of My Soldier: Reflections of a Military Wife
Abigail B. Calkin
poetryrepairs #211 15,04:Introduction
ABIGAIL B. CALKIN
This is a poem about a woman holding her infant,
clinging to a cliff.
Above her is a hungry, angry tiger,
below her the raging rapids of a deep river.
The mother has no choice but death for herself and her infant.
This is a song about her comforting her infant before they both die.
poetryrepairs #211 15,04:Introduction
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