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.

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(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.”)

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Letter to the Dead

I was searmailboxching through my stack of notebooks today, looking for some information I needed, when I came across the last letter I wrote to Jeff, my deceased life mate/soul mate. I used to write him as a way of feeling connected to him, but I haven’t done so in a over a year. The letter, dated October 13, 2013, was written three years and seven months after his death. I don’t remember the dream, don’t even remember writing the letter, but here it is:

Dear Jeff,

I dreamt about you last night. You came into my room, stood at the foot of the bed and touched my blanket-covered feet, then climbed onto the bed, on top of the covers, and cuddled up to me. You were in your underwear, and in the dream, I knew you’d come from where you were sleeping, though I had the impression you’d been with someone, as if you had another life. You said, “I miss you.”

I woke and teared up a bit, but no emotional storm, just an acknowledgment that I missed you too.

Was that really you? Some people would say so, but I still don’t know the truth of (or have any belief in) what comes after. I’ll know soon enough, I suppose. As long as my remaining years seem, I know the truth — they are but a wisp of time. For a long time, I was afraid of growing old alone and dying alone. I know we all die alone; I guess the fear was of being feeble alone, but I’ve chosen to believe that if my end years were going to be difficult, you wouldn’t have left me.

I’m trying to embrace life in a way I never did before — to see it as the gift everyone says it is. I was angry at you recently for leaving me here stuck between my father and my brother as I’d always been when I was young, but it’s nothing I can’t handle. I’ve found a new love (dancing) and I’m walking with a group when I can, which is helping me stay centered. I could leave here, of course, and run away from the men who are bedeviling me, but I’d also be leaving these activities and my new friends, which adds an element of irony to the situation.

What about you? What are you doing? How are you doing? I wish we could talk, catch up, tell our current truths, but maybe someday . . .

Will you still like me? Will you be waiting for me?

Adios, compadre. I love you.

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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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.