First published April 10, 2016
I was still just a girl when he took me as his bride. It was just a few months shy of my sixteenth birthday when parents arranged for me to marry him. He, at twenty-three, seemed ancient to me.
He was a hunter and trapper and lived deep in the woods, far from town, where we had both grown up. Although he had some money from his enterprise, he was somewhat coarse and lacking manners, having lived alone for many years. He was big and tall with a long thick black beard and wild black hair. He towered over my tiny frame. Although his size was intimidating, he did not seem unkind. I was not afraid of him.
He had done well in his trade over the previous years, and felt it was time to take a bride; to start a family. He came to town to seek not a beauty or a spoiled rich girl. He needed a wife to do the woman’s work, to mother his children. He knew he could not live alone forever. It would drive him mad, like some of the old woodsmen he’d met.
In the village, the daughters of wealthier fathers had better choices. I was a plain girl, from a poor family. I felt lucky that my parents were able to find me a husband at all. To not have a husband and children was a cause of great shame. It was the worst kind of failure, a bad reflection on the girl herself, and her family. Nothing good became of such women.
I was not asked if I wanted to marry him. It was not my decision. In any case, it was not a question I would have thought to ask even myself. As most young girls, I’d often wondered what kind of man my future husband would be but it never crossed my mind that I would have any choice in the matter. I could only hope my parents chose well.
Our marriage was a practical transaction. He was in need of a wife and I was in need of a dependable husband with whom to make babies. He’d heard of me though some family of his who still lived in town. He sought out my parents and made the arrangements. We were married in a quick service the next day. Afterward, we rode back to his small house, in the forest, far from any neighbors.
He was solitary by nature; not comfortable around people. A more social man never would have taken up that line of work. Whether he preferred being alone because he was not good with people, or whether he was not good with people because he spent so much time alone, I really don’t know. I always suspected he never had much use for other humans.
In the beginning, living there was torture. When he was home, he barely spoke at all, and there was no one else to talk to. I would often have imaginary conversations with myself, in my head when he was there, or aloud when I was alone. Every few weeks, we went to town for supplies and to visit my family; more often in the nice weather, less in the winter. Although the trip was arduous and took the better part of a day, I always looked forward to it.
My family might not have had much money, but I was trained to be a good, efficient, frugal wife. I saw what needed to be done around the house and I did it without grumbling. This was my lot in life, same as my mother’s, and her mother’s, and her mother’s before her. Without choice, I had no cause for complaint. I did my best and learned to find satisfaction in my own accomplishments.
In bed, he took me when he wanted me, not cruelly and not forcefully, but neither without any passion or recognition of me as a person.
Eventually, there were children. Five. Three boys and two girls. The boys followed in their father’s trade, and the girls married better than I and lived in town.
After all those years of marriage, even without speaking, we learned to communicate. We took care of each other, watched out for each other, even worried about each other. We became kinder, more thoughtful. We slowly pushed the boundaries of our trust. We respected each other’s differences and gave each other plenty of room. I don’t know if I would call it love, exactly. It was two people making the best of their circumstances.
He died at an old age, and by then, I was old myself. It was too difficult for me to be alone in the house, so I moved back into the town to be closer to my children and grandchildren.
You might think, after all those years, after all we’d been through together, I would have missed him. But no. What I missed was the quiet solitude of the woods.