What if the Past Isn’t Dead?

Many years ago, Jeff and I set off across the country to look for a kinder, simpler place. We had grown up in Denver back when downtown was barely a pimple rising from the flat plains of Colorado. We’d suffered through years of exponential growth and the resultant crime rates. When Californians moved to Colorado to escape the gangs, they brought the gangs with them in the bodies of their own children. And with Denver on the map thanks to a presidential wanabee from Texas who declaimed, “Imagine a great city,” Denver was also flooded with big-time crooks in big-name suits. Lots of shenanigans going on with shady land deals at what was to be the site of the new airport, and of course the savings and loan scandal where even the son of a president managed to score some ill-gotten profits.

Add traffic to the mix, the exhaust-blackened trees along mountain highways, and a faster pace of life than either of us appreciated, and we’d had enough. (My being held up with a gun as I came home for work added to our determination to find a better life.)

We hit the road with no real plans of where we’d end up, though we did have list of relatively crime-free places to check out. It was thrilling — and liberating — at first, but reality hit when we couldn’t find a better place. We stayed in northern Wisconsin for a while (eighteen months? Two years? I should remember, but I don’t) then we headed back west. But not back to Denver. Remember that old Joe South song, “Don’t it Make You Want to Go Home?” That’s how I feel about Denver — everything’s changed, and there’s none of me left to go back to.

And now I am back in Wisconsin for a couple of weeks.

As I drove here along I-90, passing places Jeff (my deceased life mate/soul mate) and I had visited together, tears welled up so I could barely see the road. I remembered our hopes and excitement as we’d made that journey, but I also remembered the complications and complexities that waited us. And I remembered how our story ended.

Those two youthful folks are long gone, and as I struggled to see the road through bleared eyes, I had to remind myself their failures and sorrows are gone, too. Life cannot hurt him any more. That old pain does not wait for me here.

But somehow, I found it hard to convince myself of that simple reality. And so my journey into Wisconsin was accompanied by the shadow of my dead past.

I’ve been in Wisconsin a few days now, staying at the apartment of a friend while she housesits in Mineapolis, and I am doing okay.

But I can’t bring myself to go up north to where we lived. What if the past isn’t dead? What if we are still there, struggling to create a new and simpler life for ourselves? It’s best not to find out.


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)


7 Responses to “What if the Past Isn’t Dead?”

  1. Joy Collins Says:

    Hi, Pat,
    I was wondering how you were doing around this anniversary time. You and I share a sad time of year. Six years for you already and six years coming up for me in 13 days [not that I’m counting – much – it’s just there with every breath]. The past is forever intertwined with the present. It’s what has made the present what it is.
    Many hugs, dear friend.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      t seems impossible that we’ve managed to survive six years. Even though I usually manage to be at least fairly happy, my whole life is bound by his death. If he were still alive, I would not be on this trip, I would not need to be so determined to keep active and on the go, I would not be restless and uprooted. It’s odd — I sometimes wonder if he would approve of what I am doing, and yet if he were around to approve, I wouldn’t be doing it. Life is strange.

      I hope you are doing well. Will be thinking of you the next couple of weeks and wishing you well.

  2. mickeyhoffman Says:

    Northern Wi is where I spent summers at a camp when I was a kid. The camp was on Pelican Lake. I learned
    to swim right away because if you stood still the eels would attach to your legs and the water was freezing cold.
    Even in August. If you go by there, give it a wave for me.

  3. Rosie Gibson Says:

    I haven’t been on your blog for a long time. It has been 4 years since my husband/soul mate was killed in an on the job industrial accident. I thought the pain would go away but it’s as though it happened yesterday. After ready your blog I search for peace, but as long as we have memories the emotional pain will never cease or will it?

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I don’t think the pain ever goes completely away. It just goes deeper, like an underground river, and becomes part of us. Even when I am happy or contented. I can feel that river, and sometimes a smell, a place, a memory, brings that river to the surface.

      Are you still body building?

  4. Constance Says:

    Memories can be good. Sometimes they can give us peace.

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