The crackle and pop of rifle and musket fire were all around me. Bullets whizzed past. Cannon were booming and shells were flying overhead. I looked down at my hands and realized that I didn’t have my rifle. I began to panic. The fear grew inside me and I broke out in a cold sweat. I heard a strange, whistling sound and looked up to see a shell heading straight toward me. I screamed…
…and woke up.
It was late in the night or early in the morning. I was in bed as usual, soaked to the skin with sweat. Pa came up and reassured me that everything was all right, but I couldn’t stop shaking, and tears were pouring down my face. Pa just sat, patiently, waiting for me to calm down. When I finally did he helped me change my bedding and gave me a dry nightgown to put on. He didn’t say much, but he being there was comfort enough just then.
In the morning, when I went down to breakfast, I apologized to my parents for waking them again and for making extra laundry for Ma. Of course they told me I didn’t have to apologize, but I felt badly for disturbing them. I really just wanted to disappear into the woodwork.
My appetite had not yet returned but I ate what I could, more to satisfy Ma than myself. Pa got up to go to the orchard and again I apologized, this time for not being able to help him.
He looked at me quite sternly and said, “Elias, you have to stop apologizing. You have nothing to apologize for. We don’t need you to apologize. We just need you to get well and to begin feeling up to doing things again.”
“But that’s the problem,” I said. “I don’t feel like doing anything. All I do is sit on the porch all day and stare at nothing.” Tears were in my eyes but I tried to stifle them. I felt like such a baby. I was useless and a burden and I didn’t think there was anything I could do about it.
That day, Josiah came over to visit. He asked if I’d like to go join his brothers at the pond. “No,” I said. “I just don’t feel like it.”
“So what d’ya feel like doin’?”
“Yer just gonna sit here all day?”
“That seems to be it.”
“Then I’ll sit with ya.”
“You don’t have to. Go t’ the pond and have fun with yer brothers.”
“Nope. I’ll just stay here and keep ya company.”
“Josiah. I really wish you’d go.”
He looked stricken. “Ya don’t want me here?”
“Not right now.”
“OK. I’ll come back later.” He gave me a kiss on the cheek, got up and strolled off, looking back once and waving, but I didn’t wave back. Finally he shrugged and continued on.
What is wrong with me? I wondered. I didn’t believe I’d just sent away the person I loved most in the world. Again tears came to my eyes.
I sat there until Ma called me in for lunch. After I’d eaten, I went back out and sat some more, just smoking my pipe.
Pa came back in the late afternoon, washed up at the pump, nodded to me, and went inside, where I heard him and Ma talking. While I couldn’t make out all they said, I did hear Ma say, “I’m really worried ’bout him. He’s physically nearly healed but it seems like he’s not really with us.” She had that right.
I went into the kitchen, sat at the table, and said, “If yer gonna talk about me, don’t ya think I should be part of the conversation?”
Ma looked a little embarrassed but Pa said, “Yes. Of course ya should. How much did you hear?”
“Just that Ma’s worried about me. I don’t blame her either. I know I’ve changed. I know I’m not doin’ anything. I know I’m just a burden on the two of you.”
“You are not a burden,” Pa responded. “But wer worried about ya. Mebbe we should take you t’ Doc Parsons.”
“I don’t need a doctor,” I snapped. “What’s wrong with me is in m’ head, and he caint cure that. I’m sorry yer worried about me. If I could change back t’ my old self, I would, but I just caint.”
Pa shrugged and that was the end of the conversation. We ate in silence, and after I had eaten I went up to bed. Of course I had my usual dreams and woke up sweating and screaming.
The next morning I didn’t want to get out of bed. I wasn’t sleepy but I just lay there. Ma came up and asked me to go down for breakfast, but I said I didn’t feel like it. I guess I was acting kinda selfish and I was certainly being unpleasant. Ma just shrugged and went downstairs again. About an hour later she brought up some toast and jam. When she came back two hours later it was still there on the table by my bed.
As I lay there I wondered if I should just kill myself and get rid of all the pain. I thought about how I’d do it. While I no longer had my Springfield, I still had my old musket and I decided that would be the quickest and easiest way. I decided I might do it that night. I just couldn’t take the way I was feeling any longer.
Late in the afternoon Josiah came to the house. He talked with Ma for a few minutes and then came up and sat on the edge of my bed.
“So, Elias, what’s wrong?”
“Are ya feelin’ sorry for yourself?”
At that I bristled. “Dammit, no. Go away.”
“Not ’til ya talk to me.”
“I’ve nothin’ t’ say.”
“Then I’ll talk to you.” He paused a few moments. “Elias,” he finally said, “I know that ya saw terrible things which I caint even begin t’ understand. I do know that ya saw people wounded and dying. I suppose some of them were yer friends. I wish I could change that, but of course I caint.
“D’ya think everybody who was there that day and who was wounded is feelin’ the way you are?”
“I’ve no idea and I don’t really care.”
“What’d happen if you and some of the others could just talk together? D’ya think that might help?”
“I doubt it.”
“Mebbe ya should go to Boonsboro or Frederick and find some others who are feeling
like you are.”
“Josiah, I know ya mean well, but honestly, what I really want t’ do is just shoot myself and get away from all this pain.”
“Oh, God, Elias! Promise me you won’t do that!”
“Then dammit, I’m gonna stay right with ya ’til ya can.”
“No, yer not!”
“Yes I am, and I won’t let you send me away again. D’ya know how that hurt me yesterday?”
“Yeah,” I mumbled. “I’m sorry.”
“Then get this straight. I’m gonna stay with ya night and day until yer able t’ get past this.”
“Dammit! I know ya think yer helpin’ me, but it won’t help at all.”
“Well, we’ll just have t’ see about that, won’t we? Because I’m not leavin’.” And with that he pulled over the only chair in the room and sat.
I rolled over so my back was to him, and there we stayed. I have no idea how long. Finally I said, “Go away!”
“Well, I don’t care what ya do, but I gotta pee.”
“So do I,” he said. “We’ll do it together.”
With that we both got up, went down the stairs, and through the kitchen, where I saw Eddie sitting. He looked up at us curiously. Josiah said, “Eddie, it looks like I’m stayin’ for a while. Would ya go home and tell Ma? Mwbbe tomorrow ya could bring me some clothes.” Eddie nodded, unable for a moment to take his eyes off my stump. Then he went out the door.
Josiah and I went out to the outhouse. It was only a one-holer, and I wondered idly how Josiah planned to do this. When we got there, we both shoved into the outhouse, leaving the door open. We pulled out our cocks and pissed simultaneously, our streams crossing. In the middle of it, Josiah began giggling.
“Oh, my,” he laughed as we went back towards to house. I haven’t done that for years.”
Back in the house, we sat in the kitchen while Ma finished getting the supper. Nothing was said by either of my parents about Josiah staying. Perhaps he had told Ma before he came up to see me. They simply accepted that he was there. Josiah and Ma and Pa talked about the fall and the crops and the usual farming subjects while I sat in silence. Nobody mentioned the war.
After supper, Josiah and I went out on the porch and sat. I didn’t say anything; he didn’t say anything. We just sat, smoking our pipes. Finally I sighed, stood up, and started back into the house with Josiah following. When we got upstairs he asked if he could borrow a nightgown. I pulled one out of my dresser.
“Is it all right if I sleep in the bed with ya or would ya rather I slept on the floor?”
“No. Since I’m stuck with ya, ya might as well sleep in the bed, but I’m not doin’ anythin’.”
He knew immediately what I was saying. “That’s fine. D’ya pretty much sleep on yer left side now?” I nodded and then got in the bed and faced the wall while he claimed the other side. I lay with my back to him. I half expected him to try to touch me, which would have really upset me, but he seemed to know that, and he lay with his back to me. I lay there wondering how I was going to shoot myself if he had me pinned against the wall. Finally I drifted off to sleep.
In the night, the guns were crackling and the cannon booming again. Again I was without my rifle, and again that shell came flying at me. I screamed…and woke up, soaked as usual in sweat.
I sat up, shuddering. Josiah sat up beside me. Pa called from downstairs, asking if we were all right and Josiah assured him that we were. Then he reached out and took my hand. He didn’t do anything; he just held it while my quivering slowly died down. I realized it was the first time he had touched me except for the little kiss he had given me the day before. We didn’t talk; we simply sat.
Finally I began shivering, not from the dream but from the cold of my wet nightgown and bedding. Josiah understood. He got up and fished out a dry nightgown and some bedding. Telling me to get up, he handed me the nightgown and then changed the bedding. Except for him telling me to get up we hadn’t spoken a word. Finally, we were back in bed, but this time, he was facing my back. Again he didn’t do anything or try to touch me, but I realized it was comforting to know he was there.
In the morning when Ma banged the frying pan, we awoke, went downstairs to the outhouse and repeated our little ritual. As we were dressing, Josiah asked, “D’ya have those dreams every night?” I nodded. “Then we need to find a way to get ya past ’em.” With that, we went down to breakfast.