Once upon a time, I lived in a what now seems a mythical city. This city wasn’t respected, wasn’t really considered much of a city at all. It had the reputation for being a cow town, and in many ways, it was a town, or rather, a town of towns. Each neighborhood was self-sufficient with schools, stores, libraries, all within walking distance. Crime was negligible because people in each town knew one another. Kids roller skated on the sidewalks, rode bikes in the streets, ran errands for their parents. And from wherever you stood, the mountains were visible to the west.
Those mountains were a constant presence, a compass so we always knew where we were, and most of all, a benevolent guardian. Violent storm clouds dumped snow in the mountains, sailed serenely over Denver where they gathered more moisture to dump on the plains.
And then it all changed. Californians fleeing their bloated state “Californicated” Colorado (as the saying went), and a Texas boy, with political aspirations and no loyalty to the area, “imagined a great city.” And so the town of towns slowly died. Smog enveloped the newly named “great city.” The clean drinking water disappeared and what came out of the faucets tasted like chlorine. Crime became rampant. People locked themselves away from the neighbors they no longer knew. And a burgeoning skyline that grew ever taller changed the climate. (Apparently, the storms thought the upward-reaching mass of buildings an extension of the mountains, and so heavy snows — once a rarity — became the norm.)
Jeff and I escaped the growth, searching for what we once had — a quieter, slower, friendlier life. We never found it, except in the life we created with each other. The neighborhoods we had grown up in were more small-town ideal than any small town we ever found. No one walked anywhere. The people in the towns we lived seemed closed, not just to us, but to each other. Cliques focusing around church or school were the norm, and outsiders weren’t particularly welcome. (When I left the town we’d lived for twenty years, the only people I had to say good-bye to were the librarians.)
I realized the truth of our Denver, then: that neighborhoods had been our lifeblood, and the neighborhood way of life was disappearing. I’d gotten used to the way things had become, and had thought the life we wanted would be forever in the past, so it came as a surprise when I once again found the neighborhood spirit.
In many ways, where I live now is like the neighborhood of my childhood. I walk to the library, run errands on foot, have the next-door friend I never had growing up. (I always envied those who had a friend living next door, and now I do!). There is a friend who lives a couple blocks away that I sometimes go walking with, and adding to the charm and the memory of childhood, we take turns walking each other home.
Because of this childhood feel, this neighborhood feel, I am sometimes affronted by the reality of growing older. What lies in front of me is (eventually) “the end” rather than endless possibility. But I am not at the end yet, perhaps not for many years, and who knows — I might find a widening of possibilities despite any creeping decrepitude. After all, I did find my way here.
It seems odd — and a bit sad — to have found what Jeff and I were looking for (minus the mountains or other places to commune with nature; there is nary a mountain to be seen anywhere in town). Sometimes I worry how he will fit into this house and this lifestyle, and I have to remind myself that he is gone. Ironically, his death more or less led me here. If “need” brings certain changes to our lives, perhaps he and I didn’t need this sort of lifestyle, but now that I am alone, I do.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.