Where Am I Going?

I’m sitting here staring out the window, no will to do anything. I had a brief spurt of activity a couple of hours ago — packing my assortment of wide-brimmed hats and a few other last-minute, hard-to-pack items in preparation for moving most of my stuff into a storage unit tomorrow. But all of a sudden the idea I was working so hard for . . . well, for basically nothing . . . brought me to a halt.

A.A. Milne’s poem “Spring Morning” keeps churning around in my head:

Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
What does it matter where people go?
Down to the wood where the blue-bells grow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

sunflowerOddly, the words I hear are spoken in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice — or perhaps not so oddly. I think the only time I ever heard the poem was when he read it to the children in the movie Kindergarten Cop.

What does it matter where people go? Or more specifically, what does it matter where I go? Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

I still have approximately ten days in this house, though every day it becomes emptier and emptier. The furniture people have spoken for is gradually being picked up, and my last week here I’ll be sleeping on a mattress on the floor.

And then? I still don’t know. I’ve been looking for places to stay, calling folks who put ads in the paper, mentioning my predicament to everyone I talk to. Others are doing the same on my behalf. I promised to stay until June, and it’s a promise I intend to keep, not just because I like to keep my promises, but because I need those two months of dance classes. The studio has added balletrobics to the roster, and the intense workout will be good for me. I need to get in shape for . . . well, for wherever life takes me.

I’ve been researching various shelters for on the go, such as vans, tents, hammocks, and I’ve become quite intrigued with the idea of such a primitive/advanced sleep system as the hammock. (These are not those rope hammocks with the crossbars that eject you from your place whenever you move, but are made of parachute nylon, which makes them more transportable and comfortable, and come with mosquito net enclosures and tarps to protect from the rain.)

I have to laugh at my pretensions sometimes. Me on an epic walk? Me on a solo camping trip? Me living loose and carefree out in the world? So absurd! Maybe even foolish.

And yet . . . and yet . . .

Where am I going? The high rooks call:
“It’s awful fun to be born at all.”
Where am I going? The ring-doves coo:
“We do have beautiful things to do.”

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

A Home for my Stuff

Wow! According to a recent slew of emails, I’m rich! I just need to send a bunch of money to a widow somewhere in the Middle East so she can come and share her fortune with me. I’ve won a half-dozen sweepstakes. And google wants to share its profits with me. Is that all? Hmmm. No. There was the gentleman who . . . well, never mind what he wanted.

It’s a good thing I have all these riches coming to me by email. I just found a home for my stuff that will cost about as much as my first apartment. It’s a nice place, lovely views, close to a garden, far from the highway, with good neighbors. Mostly seniors, or so the manager said. Too bad my stuff is inanimate and won’t have any idea how well I’m looking out for it.

fearI chose a space, smaller than I wanted, but with better insulation, and facing away from the wind and summer sun. It was also more than I wanted to pay, but the cheaper indoor storage units were downright creepy. The first one the woman showed me used to be an outside unit, but because of problems with rain, they had to build a wall to enclose the spaces. It was dark and oh, so dungeony! I could almost see hear the clanking chains and raspy calls for help.

The second space she showed me was bigger and brighter. Too bright. The narrow hall was covered with something that looked like white enamel, the expanse only broken by the cracks delineating the doors. I had to hold my breath when she unlocked the door lest the smell of formaldehyde from the rotting bodies within would assault my tender nose. No bodies, of course. At least not in that unit. I have no idea what was stored in any of the other units, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of illegal operations of the medical variety being performed within.

If this were a fairy tale, the third space would have been just right, but as grim as the adventure was to that point, it wasn’t one of Grimm’s. Although this space had a drive-up entrance, it had no insulation and faced the summer sun, and the resulting heat would have melted my china. (If I had any china, that is.) Wind blew dust into the space as we stood there, her looking expectantly at me, me trying not to look at the shady fellows lounging by the pickup three doors down.

Luckily, there was a fourth option.

So now my stuff has a home, or it will be when it’s safe inside. I’m not so settled. I do have a couple of offers of emergency bivouacs, but nothing more permanent than that. Some people are still trying to find me a place because they don’t want me to leave. Others seem to be rushing me on my way so I can fulfill their dreams of wondrous adventures. Even the songs that follow me in grocery stores and restaurants seem to be nudging me to leave. “You say you want to start something new . . . take good care . . . It’s a wild world . . .”

Even though I have but two weeks left in this house, I’m still taking it a day at a time, enjoying the comfort and luxury available to me while I’m waiting for all those sweepstakes and wealthy Middle Eastern widows to pay off.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

Different Tomorrows

I’m hunkered down in the carpetless kitchen, waiting for the carpets in the rest of the house to dry. I should open the windows to help the process along, but since the neighbors are outside burning meat, the windows remain shut. (Yeah, I know, they’re having a barbecue, but it smells like all they are doing is burning flesh.)

SunriseNo, I didn’t do the carpets myself. My dad’s “estate” paid to have them done. (Estate sounds so grand, doesn’t it? But it consists of little more than this house.) I didn’t even feel guilty lolling around while they did the work, though I did spend part of the time outside to stay out of their way. I certainly didn’t need to worry about them taking anything — there’s nothing to take. Although I still have some sorting and packing to do — clothes, computer accessories and other things I use every day — almost everything I own is stacked in the garage ready to be moved into a storage unit when the house is sold. And except for furniture, all my father’s things are gone.

I spent most of yesterday and last night getting ready for the carpet cleaners, finishing last minute projects, clearing tables, couches, and buffet to make them easier to move. When I took a break and looked around at my almost empty living room, I felt weird. And sad. And lonely. And a bit scared to realize this is really happening.

Next week the house goes on the market, and I will be one step from . . .

There are those dang ellipses again. I don’t know what I’m one step away from. Well, the future, of course, but I haven’t a clue what is in store for me. None of us do, of course, but we assume that tomorrow will like today, more or less, and for me, one of these tomorrows will be completely different.

I should be used to such different tomorrows by now. Almost forty years ago, I walked into a health food store and my tomorrows were forever changed. When the man I met that day died five years ago, my tomorrows were again forever changed. And now once again I am on the cusp of forever-changed tomorrows.

Sometimes I feel excitement at the thought of starting a whole new life, but more often than I care to admit, I feel the way I did last night. Sad. Lonely. Scared.

So many of my plans for adventure (well, ideas — I never actually got to the planning stage on any of them) have withered unborn. Although generally I am healthy, there are many things I can no longer do and others I never could do, such as walking the Pacific Crest Trail, so I am trying not to plan, but to just keep dealing with each of my todays.

And today is adventure enough for now.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire,andDaughter 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.

Sorting and Storing and Stewing

I’ve spent the last couple of mornings sorting through my stuff, disposing of some, repacking the rest.

It’s hard because I need to be hard on myself. Do I really need three sets of pots and pans, a dozen assorted knives, and two sets of flatware? (His and mine.) Do I really need six lamps? (All ours.) What do I need to pack for long-term storage? What might I need in the next few months?

And it’s hard because I don’t know what life I am packing for. I plan to stay in this vicinity for a while longer, though I have no idea what that “stay” will involve since I don’t know how long I will be allowed to live in my father’s house, and the very thought of renting an apartment and settling down for the duration of a lease gives me the willies.

[Just spent an hour looking for the origin of the phrase “gives me the willies.” Apparently, it’s been around for hundreds of years since it shows up in print in the nineteenth century. Though there is much speculation about the origins of this particular phrase, no one knows for sure. One possibility comes from William Morris, the Word Detective, who speculates that willies might come from the name of a Slavic sprite called a vila (plural vili “sprites”) sometimes translated as wili.]

Nor do I know what my life will be like a few months from now. Will I give in to the need to be mobile and deal with the discomforts and dangers of being a nomad? Will I give in to the need to be warm and comfortable and deal wstewith the stagnation and entropy of being settled? If I opt to be a nomad, will I get a camper, or set out on foot? If I opt to settle down, will I find a place here or in Colorado?

Still, despite the difficulty of sorting through my stuff (and despite detours to look up unfamilar etymologies), I am making progress. I figure several months after the house is sold and the new people have moved in, I’ll be ready to leave here. I wonder if the new people will mind that their guest room comes with a ready-made guest. I’m thinking yes, they’d mind, so I’d better get back to my sorting and storing and stewing over my future.

The way I figure it, though, however things turn out, I’ll be okay. It’s the uncertainly of getting to where things have turned out that gives me something to try not to stew over.

***

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.

Negativity Is in the Ear of the Beholder

People who tell me I’m negative make me feel . . . well, they make me feel negative, and for no good reason. I might not be a sunny person, always looking on the bright side, and I might not be one of those who believe you fake it until you make it, but I’m not negative. I’m pragmatic. A thinker. A truth seeker. And the truth is, people who call others negative often want things their own way and are peeved if the others don’t like it.

For example, a friend invited me to go to lunch, so I arranged my schedule around the time she chose. An hour before we were to meet, she called and changed the time. The new time would interfere with my plans for later in the afternoon, so I told her I wasn’t sure I could make it. She called me negative.

Another friend often emails me and asks if I’m available at such and such a time so we can talk, and many times I wait for a call that never materializes. If I express my disappointment or say I’d appreciate being informed of a change of plans, I get called negative.

The other day I mentioned I couldn’t do something, and a person I’d met a scant hour earlier, said, “I hate negativity. Don’t ever say you can’t do something in my presence again.” Huh? I couldn’t do it. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t try to do it or wouldn’t try to learn to do it. Nor was I being negative. It was a simple statement of fact. Being positive and saying I could do it would be a falsehood — a negativity — which is anathema to a truth seeker.

During those horrendous first days, weeks, months, after the death of my life mate/soul mate, grief would so overwhelm me at times that I would scream to the heavens, “I can’t do this!” And at that very moment, I couldn’t. Sometimes it took everything I had to simply breathe, let alone attempt one of the myriad end-of-life chores. Sometimes the pain of grief would well up, obliterating everything but raw agony and angst. But . . . I did what I needed to do. I used the heat of my anger and despair as fuel to accomplish such impossible tasks as clearing out his “effects” or boxing our things to be stored.

Two months after he died, I got up early, cleaned out the few remaining items I’d been using, packed my car ready for the trip to my nonagenarian father’s house so I could look after him. I walked through our rooms, remembering with what hope my mate and I had moved there, remembering the good times, remembering the more frequent bad times. Remembering his last hug, his last kiss. His death.

As I was shutting the front door, I thought of all that lay ahead of me. Pain welled up in me, and I cried out, “I can’t do this.” Then, it dawned on me: Yes. I can. Because I did. I got out my camera, and went through the house one last time, taking photos of the empty rooms to prove to myself that all those things I thought I couldn’t do, I did.

I still have times of screaming “I can’t do this” when life overwhelms me, but it’s not a sign of negativity. It’s merely an expression of the moment. And if someone doesn’t like my saying I can’t do something without finding out why I think so, it’s too bad. I can’t live my life to suit those who call me negative.

***

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.

Yes. I Can.

It seems as if it’s been a lifetime since I wrote an article for this blog, and perhaps it has been. I thought my move away from the house I lived for the past two decades with my life mate would be the start of a life change — a real journey. I expected to be different at the end of my trip to my new location than I was at the beginning, but in truth, the change had already begun.

During these past months, I’ve had so much thrown at me that I was overwhelmed. First my mate’s death, then arranging his cremation, packing and shipping the stuff I’m going to keep, doing a yard sale, cleaning out his things, disposing of all the detritus one accumulates during a shared life time, preparing for my journey. All this I did alone while dealing with overwhelming grief. During each agonizing step of the way, I’d cry and wail and scream, “I can’t do this!” So much pain. So much loss. So much change in such a short time. And I had no idea how to cope.

My last morning at the house, I got up early, cleaned out the few remaining items I’d been using, packed my car, and took one more look around the house. I walked through the rooms, remembering with what hope we had moved there, remembering the good times, remembering the more frequent bad times. Remembering his last hug, his last kiss. His death.

As I was shutting the door, I thought of all that lay ahead of me, and I cried, “I can’t do this.”

Then, it dawned on me: Yes. I can. Because I did.

I got out my camera, and went through the house one last time, taking photos of the empty rooms to prove to myself that all those things I thought I couldn’t do, I did. I know there will still be much for me to have to deal with — learning how to live without him, learning who I am now that I am not part of a couple, finding a way and a reason to live – and through it all, I might continue to wail, “I can’t do this,” but this truth is, I can. And that was the real journey, the real discovery. The trip turned out to be just a trip.