My Iconic Car

SI am not at all sentimental — I am too practical for that, though sometimes the things I do seem sentimental to others. For example, I keep scrapbooks, not out of sentimentality but for a very strange and practical reason. After Jeff died, I started the books for the old woman I will become. I wanted her to be able to see where her life went. I wanted her to know that even though she lost her soul mate, she didn’t waste the years she lived alone, that she experienced a full life after his death. Other people don’t have to think of such things. My parents, for example, celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary a few months before my mother died. She never had to worry about perhaps living decades with no one to share her memories. The old woman I become may not care, but I want to make sure she knows someone was thinking of her and sharing her memories, if only her younger self.

And then there is my Beetle. I have had the thing for 43 years. It’s the only car I have ever owned, and I am the only owner it ever had, which is something very few people can say. I am hesitant about giving it up, though not for sentimental reasons. (Well, except for my not wanting anyone else to have the car. Some people believe our things become steeped with our spirits, and after so many years, there is a lot of my spirit in the bug. But that’s not strictly sentimentality. It’s more mysticism. I wish I could bury this particular thing when I sign its do-not-resuscitate order.)

On the practical side, the yearly upkeep including repairs, is a lot cheaper than the increase in insurance rates and tags would be if I got a more modern car. Not that I’m against a new vehicle — I will happily get one when/if I decide what sort of life the vehicle will need to support. If I decide to live on the road, maybe a nicely outfitted camper would be more apropos than a city car. Or maybe some sort of small commercial van would be more practical than either. A new car would be nice, but if I wanted any other sort of vehicle, I’d have to buy a used one. (New van conversion campers are as expensive as some houses.) Lots of things to think about. Luckily, I don’t have to act on any of them now, because I do have a car that works (most of the time, anyway).

Then there is another practicality — if I got a new vehicle today, while my old car is still running, then five years from now, I will be driving a used vehicle. On the other hand, if I waited to buy until five years from now and continued to use my old bug in the meantime, then five years from now I’d be driving a new vehicle. (Go ahead, laugh. I don’t mind. Everyone else finds my reasoning risible.)

Although I don’t particularly like the car (I truly am surprised it lasted this long — when I first got it, I thought it was a lemon because too many things were wrong with it), I do like that other people like the car. Such an iconic car is a conversation starter. I don’t know how to strike up conversations with strangers, but I don’t have to know — the car does it for me since everyone has a nostalgic VW story they are eager to share. (Oddly, as little as my father understood me, he did understand this. “It’s like your hats,” he told me shortly before he died. “It’s part of your persona.”)

Everyone has an opinion about my bug. Some people worry for my safety and think I should get rid of it. Some people think I’m wasting my money on such an old vehicle. Some people think I should keep it, especially those who once owned a Beetle themselves. A few people have suggested that I keep it but buy a new car, but what’s the point of that? I can only drive one car at a time, and the truth is, I don’t particularly like driving any sort of vehicle. Some car guys think I should donate it to them so they can restore it — for themselves of course.

A friend told me the other day that I will cry when I finally replace this thing that has been with me almost 2/3 of my life. I have cried for many reasons the past five years, but I doubt I will cry when it’s gone. I am not very sentimental, and after all, it is just a beat-up old car.


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

No Life in My Life

I am heading toward the two-and-a-half-year anniversary of the death of my life mate/soul mate/best friend. The breath-stealing pain that I endured for many months has dissipated, so much so that I have a hard time believing I ever went through such agony. The all-encompassing loneliness that followed the pain has also dissipated, and I am comfortable with the idea of growing old alone (or if not comfortable, at least tolerant of the possibility).

I’ve even gotten over the horrendous feeling of always waiting. Not waiting for something. Simply waiting. Nothing has changed, of course, except my attitude. I am training myself to be in the present, to be me, to believe that nothing is important but what is right here, right now. It’s working — I am more at peace than I have been in a long time.

But . . . there is no life in my life, no spring in my step, no spark in my spirit.

I’m not a sentimental person. I seldom kept keepsakes and I never chronicled my life with photos, but now I do both to prove to myself that yes, I am alive, and yes, I am doing something with my years. It feels as if I have done nothing but stagnate the past two years, and yet I have that scrapbook of paper memories showing me the truth:

Since October of 2010, when I started keeping the scrapbook, I have spent time on both USA coasts, hiked in the desert and on sandy beaches, climbed lighthouses and rocky knolls, ridden an amphibious vehicle and the world’s largest traveling Ferris wheel, fed ducks and sea gulls, walked along rivers and around lakes, visited ghost towns and overgrown cities, trekked the length of four piers on four different beaches, gone to art exhibits and historical museums, attended fairs and festivals, learned to shoot guns and amazing photographs. I’ve traveled alone and with friends on planes, trains, and automobiles. And I have tasted hundreds of different foods, some delicious, some that can barely be considered edible.

So why do I feel as if there is no life in my life? Do I need to be in love to sparkle with vitality? I hope not. I hate the thought that my well-being rests in someone else’s hands. The truth is probably more prosaic — although I am not actively mourning, I am still grieving, still disconnected from the world. After the death of the one person who connects you to the world, it takes years to find a different way of connecting. All of these experiences I have mentioned are ways to keep me busy while the real work of reconnecting to the world is going on deep inside.

Besides, the experiences were good ones.


Proving to Myself That I’m Real

I’m still struggling with the sense of loss that the death of my long time mate created in me. It’s not just that I lost him — I feel as if I’ve lost a sense of reality, a sense of my reality.

During the first months of almost unbearable pain, I felt that the situation itself was unreal. Part of me couldn’t believe he was dead (though I knew he was — I watched him die). It seems strange now, but accompanying the disbelief was a belief that something wonderful would soon happen to me, perhaps because I needed to believe good would come to balance the unbelievable wrongness of his absence. I no longer hold myself tensed against the reality of his death (though it does still tear through me at times), but I also no longer have that sense of an imminent good. What I’m left with is a feeling of waiting, though I don’t know what I’m waiting for.

This feeling of being in limbo seems to be a common stage of grief for those of us past the first year. So many of us are struggling with it, trying to find . . . a new reality, perhaps.

I’m not a sentimental person. I seldom kept keepsakes and I never chronicled my life with photos, but now I do both to prove to myself that yes, I am alive, and yes, I am doing something with my years. I’ve recently started a scrapbook of paper memories. Perhaps someday I will feel a sense of reality again, but if I don’t, I can look at the book and know the truth of it. I am real.