I knelt on the ground, feeling the sting of dirt mixed with tears in my eyes as I held Ben for the last time.
All of my entreaties to our Maker fell on deaf ears. “Lord save him. Lord, give him another breath of life. Open his eyes. Don't take him from me!”
Yet here I was, my skirt billowing on the ground and soaking up his blood.
Nearby and fallen on its side like a great vanquished beast, its contents vomited out, lay the wagon whose wheels crushed my husband's chest. The men who shoved it off of him stood back a little, giving us room.
His breath was rasping in and out in short, labored gasps. His eyes, of such an azure blue that they were like pools in which I could always find refreshment, now seemed closed forever.
“Bonnie”, it was little more than the faint whisper of air escaping.
I enfolded his hand in both of mine, seeking to preserve its warmth; its life.
“Ben?” I tried to smile as I saw that his eyes were opened just a slit.
“Life”, the word struggled to be said.
What could I say? Yes, Ben, life. Reach for it. Hang on to it, my love.
“Choose.” he said through a strangling cough.
What was I doing if not choosing life? Choosing his life, my life with him.
“My...love. Live.” He fought to make me understand. It was his last struggle.
The light dimmed, and my wonderful, beloved Ben was no more.
That was the last entry in my great-grandmother's diary.
I close the thin leather book, taking great care not to bend the time-yellowed pages.
The way she wrote the diary was akin to the way she wrote every page of her life as it had been told to me.
I curl up in the chair and lay the diary on the table beside me, thinking about what I knew of her life.
I've been told that following her husband's death, great-grandmother Bonnie continued on with the wagon trek to the west, finally choosing a parcel of land in Oregon where she managed with the assistance of neighbors, to establish a farm. Alone and far from family she raised four young boys. The first died at the age of thirteen when he was thrown from a horse. One became a banker, another a preacher, and the third, my grandfather, took over the farm. She never remarried, though being an Irish red headed beauty, she reportedly had many a proposal.
I knew her best from her writing. Not in her diary, but in her novels. Bonnie Breeden, writing under the pen name Augustus Tyre, authored eleven books about life in the late nineteenth century in rural America. She wrote about life and death; about tragedy and joy. She wrote about what she herself learned to do; choose life.
My cell phone rang a few minutes ago. My husband Mark will be late for dinner again. He's been late, without explanation, three nights this week, following a pattern that's been increasingly familiar in the last few months.
I get up from the chair to go lie down. My head hurts. I just want to sleep.
Passing a mirror, I catch a glimpse of myself; limp brown hair, no makeup, old sweat shirt and jeans, a drawn, pinched look. I suck in a long breath; light dawns.
I straighten my back and shoulders and walk to my closet. Inside of it I locate a red silk dress I haven't put on in at least a year. I plug in the hot rollers and head for the shower.
Thirty minutes later I've dressed and spritzed on a little Channel.
Checking the mirror again, I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Then I put on a final accessory; a smile.
When Mark finally does walk through the door tonight, he's going to find someone new. He's going to find a woman who's decided, like her ancestor, to choose life.
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