Finding the Courage to Blog about Personal Matters

People often ask me where I get the courage to blog about the personal aspects of my life — first my grief over the death of my long time life mate/soul mate, then my efforts to deal with my schizoaffective brother, now the problems with my aged father.

To be honest, I do find myself a bit ashamed at having to admit my frustrations with my father. Although he is ambulatory and still strong, he refuses to do much of anything for himself. Even the home health aide from the nursing service that had been temporarily prescribed for him by his doctor has admitted he doesn’t need her. He is perfectly capable of taking care of himself. He just doesn’t want to. He claims that doing the least little thing tires him, which I do understand, but so what? Life is exhausting. Being old is exhausting. People in worse shape than he is live alone and have no choice but to do things for themselves.

windNone of this is a problem except that I am generally the one who gets stuck catering to his whims, and it’s especially a problem when he wakes me up in the middle of the night because he is frantic he doesn’t have something close at hand he won’t need until the following afternoon. (As I mentioned yesterday, this sort of behavior is teaching me to stop fretting. To live in the moment. If I don’t have what I might need tomorrow afternoon, then I tell myself to get a good night’s sleep and deal with the matter tomorrow. Although I don’t much like Scarlet O’Hara, she did have a good point in her decisions to worry about things tomorrow. Even better is Rhett Butler’s rejoinder to her, “Frankly, my dear . . . Like Rhett, I just don’t want to give a damn about things that cannot be changed or do not need to be changed at this very minute.)

Other than admitting my frustrations and leaving myself open to accusations of harshness or hardheartedness — particularly since I don’t believe the aged have the right to use their infirmities as a club to control their families — I don’t find that writing about such matters takes much courage. Because I share my stories, others who are in the same dead end situations tell me about their plights, which is encouraging for all of us. Grief for a deceased soul mate, heartbreak of dealing with mentally ill alcoholics, frustrations with taking care of the aged are things so many of us have to deal with. It’s nice to be able to break the ice of aloneness and find encouragement in knowing we are not the only ones with such problems.

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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.

Life’s Little Lessons

If one is aware of one’s surroundings, life lessons abound.

A long time ago, I used to be sort of a Kelly girl. (I was actually a Welley girl — the independent temp agency was run by the Welley’s, a husband and wife team.) In those days, the economy was such that I could work one or two weeks a month at a few cents above minimum wage, pay all my bills for my own apartment and car and have money left over for fun. (Or for saving.) Those days, of course, are long gone — you can’t have much of a life if you make only slightly above minimum wage — but the lessons I learned are still with me.

jugglingFor example, one time I started a temporary job the same time a newly hired employee began a permanent job. She was nice, attractive, competent, but people didn’t particular cotton to her because she tried to fit in. Makes sense — that was going to be her life, and she wanted to make friends, and they weren’t ready for changes to the status quo. On the other hand, I had no stake in the job. I put in my time, was pleasant to everyone, but didn’t try to be friends with anyone. After a month or so, she was not accepted (wouldn’t be accepted for another few weeks), but amoeba-like, the group had absorbed me, the non-threatening one. Ever since, when joining a new group, I don’t try to insinuate myself into the group, but simply be there, be pleasant, and enjoy whatever fellowship comes my way.

I’ve been taking dance classes occasionally with a more advanced group at the studio, one that has been together a long time. I expected a bit of resistance when I was first invited to practice the dances I knew with them, but it didn’t happen. I never tried to be more than I was — a neophyte delighted to be dancing with more advanced students — and they seemed to accept me as such without even a hint of unwelcome. I’m sure if I had tried to push my weight around, things would have been different, but since all I want to do is dance, we’re doing fine.

The same thing happened with group I go walking with. I walked with different people at different times, sometimes talked, sometimes asked questions, listened, and somehow I ended up making a lot of friends.

Other lessons are harder to learn. I’ve always been a bit of a worrier. This tendency might be a genetic pre-disposition since my parents were both worriers and fidgeters, it might be learned behavior, or it might simply be . . . whatever. I’m trying to overcome that tendency to worry, though I will always be aware of potential snags in order to avoid them if possible, but I no longer wish to waste time fretting.

People worry about me and my future, which I appreciate, but I’m not too concerned. I’ll find a way to make money, or maybe money will find a way to me. More importantly, I’m preparing the best I can by learning not to worry. I see how my 97-year-old father frets about the most trivial things, and I don’t want to be like that when I get old. Don’t want to be like that now!

For example, last night he rang his emergency bell, and both my sister and I went running to see what the problem was. The emergency? He had two bottles of Ensure by his bed, one for 1:00 am and one for 7:00 am, but he didn’t have the one he would need sixteen hours later at l:00 pm. Apparently, he’d been lying awake stewing about it, and so in his mind, it became an emergency.

The whole Ensure thing is ridiculous anyway. There is no reason for him to be drinking so much Ensure at night, though he refuses to listen to my sister and me when we tell him that those extra hundreds of sugar calories are what’s keeping him awake. Still, since he is insistent on following his self-imposed schedule, I solved the problem. I now store all his Ensure in his room instead of in the pantry. (He can walk to the pantry, just refuses to do so.) He can set as many bottles as he wants by the side of his bed, and if by chance a bottle is not by his bed when he wants it, he only needs to walk across the room to get it. But it will be by the side of his bed. He will “ensure” that.

When I find myself fretting, I stop and take a deep breath. My worries are for the future, not this minute. And this very minute, I have nothing to fret about.

Lesson learned, perhaps.

***

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.

The Joy of Dancing

While doing our routines in jazz class today, I could feel a huge smile stretching my face, and I thought, “I’m dancing!” Of course, since the realization that I was actually dancing made me lose my focus, I immediately missed a step. Still, it didn’t stop the enjoyment because after all, I’ve only been taking classes for a year, and that makes me very much a neophyte when it comes to dancing.

Dancing.

Even now, simply typing the word, I can feel glee welling up inside me.

Of all the strangenesses in my life during the past few years, falling in love with dance has to be the strangest, though in the nicest possible way.

The poster that hangs above the door of the dance studio

Dancing isn’t something I have ever had much interest in, especially classical dance, partly because I don’t have a good sense of rhythm and am not exactly graceful, so I never thought I could do any sort of choreographed dance. It seemed too complicated, not just learning the steps, but remembering the sequence of those steps and performing them with style. And yet, now I am dancing. Fortunately, a lot of dancing is about counting out the beat, generally counts of eight. . . . five, six, seven, eight. And I can count.

(I was one of those strange children who didn’t daydream, but who counted in her head whenever nothing else was going on up there. Don’t ask me why I counted. I’ve never figured it out, except perhaps there was something comforting about streams of numbers.)

But now I have many reasons to count. Ballet. Jazz. Egyptian Classical Belly Dance. Hawaiian. Tahitian. Tap. And soon, maybe even lyrical jazz. Such magical words!

During all the years of grief, when I had nothing to live for, nothing to bring me ripples of happiness no matter where I traveled or what I tried, I somehow knew only falling in love again could bring me back to life. For some bereft, falling in love with a person is the key. For others, falling in love with life is what brings them a sense of renewal.

I fell in love with dance.

I tell my teacher I owe her more than I can ever repay, and it’s true. She is teaching me not only the steps, but is imparting her own love of dancing, and dancing has brought me more joy than I could ever have imagined. (Even during the horrific months of dealing with my father’s decline and my brother’s mental problems, dance brought me a safe haven of happiness.)

Today I took a jazz class. Tomorrow, I have Hawaiian, Tahitian, and tap classes. Oh, lucky me!!

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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.

Update on Writing, Spirits, and Other Matters

Lately I’ve been hearing about all sorts of blatant plagiarism, where “authors” steal another writer’s published book, adding sex scenes or scrambling a few words and passing it off as their own. In one case, a plagiarist stole the exact cover of the book. In this brave new world of publishing where anything goes, it’s harder than ever to keep control of one’s own work. Once it’s in the public eye, the book is available to anyone with a few cents for an ebook download. Chances are, the plagiarized book would be lost in the millions of books now available, and even if the crime was discovered, most self-published authors don’t have the money to fight such infringements, and even if they did, it’s one person’s word against the other. Many self published authors don’t even bother to register their books with the copyright office in their country because once a book is written, it’s automatically covered under copyright laws. But courts are a different matter. They need the official copyright to proceed with trials and repercussions.

bookI’ve never quite known what to do about publishing my work. For now, I have a publisher, but when I get back to writing Ms. Cicy’s Nightmare, a murder mystery based on my dance class, I will continue publishing it on my blog, the way I started. (I am a bit embarrassed that the book is in hiatus after a single chapter, but in my defense, as soon as I cleared the month of July to write, life filled the void with all sorts of traumas and family dramas, which I am only now recovering from.) But when the book is finished? I might or might not get an official copyright. I am not litigious, so chances are I wouldn’t take any copyright infringement to court. Besides, I could easily prove the book is mine since the names of my characters will reflect their real-life personas. At least, that’s the plan. Besides, I don’t much like government intervention of any kind, even if it’s in my best interests.

The ordeals of the last month, including my father’s hospitalization, my brother’s, increased insanity and my trip to return him to Colorado have pretty much numbed my creativity. Since so many of the would-be perpetrators are on hiatus’s of their own — weddings, vacations, illnesses — I don’t have much impetus to write, but soon . . .

As for other updates:

My sister and I drank spirits to the spirits again tonight, if only to bolster our own spirits.

And lastly, I just got an email from Squidoo saying they been purchased by HubPages and that some of my content will be transferred to the HubPages site. Do you have any experience with HubPages? I’m trying to decide if I should just delete my Squidoo account and forget the whole thing or let them transfer my content.

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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.

The Challenges of Looking After an Aged Parent

Taking care of an aged parent is a challenge, with new tests — and testiness — arising every day. The biggest problem, of course, is that the parents want to be babied while giving up none of their parental authority. (They seem to forget that such authority had expired decades previously when we grew up, left home, and developed our own life with our own unique responsibilities.)

rainA friend cautioned me against coming to take care of my father — she knew first hand the challenges I would face. But for the most part, he and I have managed to deal together okay, mostly because I adopted a policy of doing whatever he needed but nothing that he could do for himself. (He wanted me to wait on him like some unpaid servant, or like my mother did for the sixty years they were married.) After his recent hospitalization and an ensuing bout with pneumonia (he refused to sit in a chair or take walks while hospitalized, saying he had patients’ rights, and he had the right to refuse any treatment, so the pneumonia came as no surprise), I’m having a hard time resetting those parameters. He simply won’t do anything for himself, even though he is still strong and reasonably healthy for his age. (He says it tires him. I want to say “get over it,” though I don’t.)

And then there is the problem of the household finances. When he lost his ability to think clearly and keep enough numbers in his head to reconcile his accounts, he turned the household finances over to me.

Sort of.

When he is unwell, everything goes smoothly. He says he trusts me, and that I have permission to arrange matters (and papers) most convenient for me. When he is well, he forgets that trust, rummages around in his desk, puts everything back the way he had it, disarranges my work and makes my to-do list disappear.

Yikes. What a balancing act — letting him think he is still in control while making sure the bills get paid and balky appliances get fixed.

I figure if he’s well enough to mess around with such matters, he’s well enough to get his own meager meals, but he doesn’t see it that way. I try to be patient, realizing it must be hard to be ninety-seven years old and dependent on a daughter, but I also can’t forget that I am that daughter, with a life of my own. I never took a vow of obedience to him. Never signed on to be a servant. I’m just the designated daughter, the unattached one who got stuck with the awkward situation.

I’m hoping in the next week or so things smooth out and I can stop being at his beck and call. Well, I will stop — that’s a given. I just don’t know how that will sit with him.

And so it continues, my paying the wages of daughterhood.

***

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.

Invoking the Spirits

There is a restless spirit in my father’s house, where my sister and I are staying to care for him.

We think this spirit is my father’s. He doesn’t seem to have any interest in living, doesn’t particularly want to die. He is very agitated, doesn’t much want to do anything except sleep and drink Ensure, though he does get out of bed occasionally when a good golf game is on television.

This spirit could be our own spent spirits — taking care of someone who neither wants to live or die is exhausting, especially since he won’t do anything for himself, even though he is stronger than he thinks.

This spirit could even be my mother’s. My sister sometimes senses mother’s spirit here along with another ghost, though she doesn’t know who that other spirit is, perhaps someone from my father’s past. She wonders if the spirits are gathering in anticipation of my father’s end. Since I am not convinced anything conscious remains after we die, I don’t know what to think.

Still, tonight my sister and I did an invocation of the spirits — ours and our mother’s. Since she loved Bailey’s Irish Cream, we got a bottle in her honor, raised our glasses to her and asked her help in settling my father’s spirit.

(We only poured a little for her, but we told her if she drank it, we’d give her more.)

And if  this invocation doesn’t work, well, we have the rest of the bottle of Irish spirits to imbibe to bring peace of a sort to ourselves. I’m not much of a drinker, have had perhaps one drink in the past four or five years, but since this is a spiritual quest, I will do my part in finishing the bottle.

So, if you have any Bailey’s Irish Cream on hand (or if you need an excuse to buy a small bottle), please raise a glass in my parents’ honor.

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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.

We Can Never Know What Life Will Bring Us

My life is slowly winding down . . . Hmmm. That sounds ominous. Let me rephrase the sentence. The dramas and traumas of my life are slowly winding down — my life itself is going strong.

My brother is gone from the area, my father is sleeping most of the time, my sinus infection is mostly healed, my sister is trying to decide if she wants to continue catering to my father’s whims and needs or if she wants to head out. And I’m left wondering what the heck happened during the past fifteen months.

Fifteen months ago, I was mostly housebound. My father set the burglar alarm when he went to bed somewhere been 7 and 9 pm, and he wouldn’t give me the alarm code. (His compromised health made him even more paranoid than normal. I have no idea what he thought I’d do while he was asleep. Debauched parties, maybe.) Such imprisonment seems barbaric to me now, but at the time, I was still struggling to find a way out of grief for my life mate/soul mate, and nothing really mattered. Even worse, my then ninety-six-year-old father was ill, had just been released from the hospital, and I wasn’t sure he’d make it. I was waiting on him, doing whatever he wanted because he claimed he was too ill even to walk to the kitchen to get food for himself (afterward he said he thought I liked doing it, as if by letting me wait on him, he was granting me a favor). Hanging around all yinyangday and nursing him was making me feel even more imprisoned.

And then my homeless brother, who had long been estranged from my father, showed up to try to make amends. Within the month, my father came alive, shouting at my brother for innocuous little offenses that my brother couldn’t even understand. (Like being too quiet. Like eating food that had been purchased for my father. Like interrupting the old man while he was praying.) Things got worse, and finally, against my wishes, my father kicked my brother out of the house, just as he had done when my brother was sixteen.

This isn’t meant to be about my father and brother, though my father’s actions toward my brother precipitated the hell my life became. It’s about me. How my father’s resurrection angered me and allowed me to take my life back. If he had energy enough for tantrums and fights, why the heck was I catering to his every need as if he were an invalid? And so, when I found a nearby dance studio, I signed up for lessons, more for something to do than anything else, and I fell in love with dance. The very same day I took my first dance class, I also discovered the Sierra Club walk, and so my life opened up even more. I came alive.

We are gradually ending back where we started, with just me and my father. But those fifteen months are still to be reckoned with. They were some of the most horrific months of my life, dealing with both my father and dysfunctional brother. But they were also some of the most wonderful months of my life, learning to dance and making new friends.

I don’t know if I’ll ever make sense of it all, but what I am left with is the feeling that no matter how we plan, no matter how much we think we are in control, we can never know what life will bring us. Fifteen months ago, I could never have conceived of the abuse from my schizoaffective brother, never have conceived of the heartbreak of saying goodbye, maybe forever. (The brother I knew is gone. I don’t know who that tormented and tormenting stranger is.) Fifteen months ago, my grief group friends were scattering to new lives and new loves, and I was mostly alone. I couldn’t have conceived of making so many delightful new friends. Fifteen months ago, I had absolutely no interest in dance, couldn’t even have conceived of the importance it could have in my life. And all those things happened without my making a single plan.

Of course, I will continue to plan — that is my nature. But I will also be aware that plans are simply that: plans. They aren’t life. They don’t have reality. Reality shows up all on its own.

***

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.

Anything Goes

I’m feeling restless today, as if waiting for something to happen, though I’m not sure what. Life, perhaps. Or maybe death. My father is teetering on the brink, but he is still too connected to life to want to let go and too tired of it all to want to stay. At ninety-seven, and after two months of being mostly bedridden, he’s entitled. Still, his unrest leaves its imprint on the house.

I was fine at my dance classes today, going through our Hawaiian routines, playing our Tahitian numbers (I say playing because Tahitian more than any of the others, makes me feel light and free), and practicing paradiddles and on Broadway (or Shirley Temple or Spaghetti, depending on what era you learned to tap) and putting them together with flap-ball-changes for a little tap dance. I was even fine at lunch afterward. But when I walked into this house, I was beset by restlessness. (Which is why I am late with today’s post.) Couldn’t sit still, couldn’t think, couldn’t do much of anything.)

My sister and I spent the late afternoon baking one of our family’s childhood favorites, a sort of convocation or invocation of the spirits, seeing if perhaps our deceased mother would come help with our father. He seems more settled tonight, so perhaps she came. And we had our first meal together in — hmmm. I can’t remember the last time. Since we’ve been taking turns looking after our father, we are seldom both here at the same time except at night.

We’ve had our times of not getting along — we are just too different — but tonight we were in perfect accord, she working the dough and me fixing the filling.

This isn’t exactly a recipe-type blog, but what the heck — it’s become something of a diary, so anything goes, right?

Hamburger Rolls

Combine 2 Tablespoons sugar, 1½ teasHamburger Rollspoon salt, 3 tablespoons shortening. Add ½ cup boiling water; stir well until dissolved. Add ½ cup milk then add 1 cake yeast crumbled. Blend in 3 cups sifted flour. Let rise once until double, roll out ¼” thick, and cut in squares approximately 3”x3”. Place a couple of tablespoonfuls of hamburger/cabbage filling to in the middle of the square, fold corners of dough to the center and pinch closed. Put rolls in greased and let rise a about 30 minutes. Cook 15 to 20 minutes at 400°.

Filling

Brown 1½ lbs ground beef, skim off grease. Slice cabbage (that had been boiled until tender) and some onion, add to ground beef. Season with parsley flakes, salt, pepper. Cook with cover on for 10 minutes.

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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.

 

Where Things Make Sense

Dance class still remains the one bright spot of my days, a place I can go where things make sense, where music and beauty are more important than death and sickness, where choreographed movement is powerful enough to tame even the chaos of my life. (Even though my abusive brother is gone, my 97-year-old father is still riding the rollercoaster of old age, alternating between neediness and the need to control, between accepting God’s will and clawing to live, between practiced saintliness and grumpiness.)

During the 3000 miles I traveled on my recent journey, I never once felt at home, not even when I returned to my home state (where technically I am still a resident). I certainly didn’t feel at home when I came back to my father’s house — for me this lovely house has always been a place of death and dying, mental imbalance and grief. (Only the grief was mine. The death, dying, and mental imbalance belonged, in order, to my mother, father, brother.) The one time I felt I had arrived anywhere was when I stopped by the dance studio after my trip. The teacher and my fellow students greeted me with delighted smiles and hugs, held me while I wept, took me to lunch. (Even though they didn’t all understand my tears, considering the abuse I’d been subjected to by my brother, they did understand grief.)

jazz shoesI’m still fighting an allergy-induced sinus infection that kept me from class yesterday, but I was determined to go to jazz class today. I’m glad I went. After we did our warm-ups, we started learning a new dance.

A year ago, when I took my first jazz lesson, I wasn’t sure I’d ever learn the steps. I couldn’t tell what the teacher was doing, couldn’t pick up her cues fast enough, couldn’t make my arms and feet do different things at the same time. By the end of the month, I knew enough so I could write down the first steps of the dance, and I practiced. Now I know that dance plus two others. And today we started a fourth.

During class, while she was counting out the beat as I’ve seen so often in movies — five, six, seven, eight — joy welled up inside me. I was dancing! Actually dancing. Me, who previously could only balter. (Means dance clumsily, for those of you who don’t want to look it up.) Actually, that’s not exactly true. I just wanted to use the word “balter”. I was simply a neophyte. My dancing up to a year ago had mostly been bobbing to a beat, though I did sort of know a polka step that my Polish mother had once tried to teach me before losing patience with my lack of rhythm. (Around that same time, my once-upon-a-time tennis champion father tried for an hour one day to teach me tennis before losing patience with my lack of talent.)

I don’t know where my life is headed. Well, obviously, none of us do. But big changes are coming and soon I won’t have a place to go, nowhere to call home, no place I particularly want to live, no one in particular to make a life with.

But for now, there is one thing I want (need!) to be . . .

Dancing.

***

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.

A Trip to Eternity

Right before I took my brother home to Colorado, I took another trip, one just for me. In its own way, this first trip is as incomprehensible as the second one, and together they comprise a very strange and mystical journey.

I had nowhere in particular to go on my sojourn, so I headed north to visit a friend I’d only met offline once. I had enjoyed our visit so much that I thought I like to take her out to dinner and visit some more. When I realized there was no way I’d get to her place early enough to have dinner with her, I decided to head west toward the ocean. I was experiencing a brief grief upsurge because I’d just talked to my bank about removing Jeff from our joint account, something I’d resisted all these years, and it felt like one more little death.

“What’s it all about, Jeff?” I sobbed. “Have you figured it out yet?”

There was no answer, of course. He has never answered me in any way I could understand. I continued driving west on the same highway, but somewhere along the line the highway must have veered off, and I ended up on a narrow two-lane road that seemed to be going north. The road curved, and vineyards hugged the hillsides. Although Jeff had never visited any vineyards, he had a special affinity for them, and collected any movie he could that featured such terrain, such as A Walk in the Clouds.

vineyard

I stopped at one vineyard where a musical event and barbecue were going on, sat for a while and enjoyed a glass of sangria, good barbecue, and satisfactory (though too loud) music, then I continued my journey.

I ended up at the coast in the dark. I stood at the water’s edge, listening to the surf and watching the tides come in (or out), then I went to find a place to stay for the night.

surf

As you might expect, there was no vacancy anywhere by the beach on that Friday night at the beginning of August. I headed inland, drove for hours on a winding road with no shoulder, no turnoffs, and no other cars, but finally ended up at a motel around midnight. The next morning, I talked to my friend about dinner plans, but she was unavailable, so I headed west again with a full tank of gas. Again I ended up on a winding road with no shoulder, no turnoffs, and only a few other cars. I couldn’t see where I was going or where I had come from since most of the road was lost in the curves. All I had was the moment, and the moment was lovely.

scenery

When I was down to less than a quarter of a tank, I began to wonder if I would find a gas station before I ran out of gas. I didn’t much care, except that there was no place to pull off the road if I did. When I came upon a small market, I stopped and asked the woman at the cash register if there was a nearby gas station.

“Where are you going?” the woman asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

She stared at me blankly and asked, “Where did come from?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t even know where I am. I’m just driving.”

She nodded, then admitted there was a gas station up ahead about twenty-five miles on the road to Lake Isobel.

“I know where Lake Isobel is,” I said.

“It’s desert,” she told me. “Not very pretty. Since you’re out for a drive, you should turn left instead of right when you reach the end of this road and go to Ponderosa.”

I bought a peach and chips and thanked her for her help, then continued on my way. The stop at the gas station on the Lake Isobel Road was like a stop in a foreign land. I had no idea what language they spoke, didn’t understand a word they said to me, they didn’t understand a word I said, but after a frustrating half hour I had a full tank of gas.

I turned left, of course. The scenery was remarkably beautiful.

sequoia national forest

I meandered along, stopping occasionally to take photos, and when I came to a parking area, I paid the price and took a break for a walk. “Trail of 100 Giants” proclaimed a sign, and so I found myself walking among the giant sequoias. Oh, my. Such beauty. Even the carnival atmosphere of the other visitors couldn’t mar the cathedral-like air of that awesome place.

redwood

The next day, I found myself within a few miles of California City, a platted area designed to be a megalopolis in the middle of the desert, and since I’d always been fascinated by the idea of the place, I took a quick look. Oddly, the roads and signposts of this city-that-never-was still surround the town.

California City

And finally, on my way back to my father’s house where I am temporarily residing, I took a turnoff to see The Devil’s Punchbowl, something I’d seen from afar, but never up close. The Devil’s Punchbowl is a huge scooped out area in the earth lined with magnificent boulders.

devil's punchbowl

It was while wandering around the punchbowl that I glimpsed the scope of my journey. Though I do not truly believe in signs, it seems to me that the trip to the wine country was a message from Jeff (or from my own inner being speaking in a way I could understand) telling me to pay attention. From the vineyards, I’d gone to the eternal waters, to the eternal trees, to the eternal land, to the eternal rocks.

A trip to eternity.

Even though I know what the trip was, I don’t know what it means. Maybe that we are part of something bigger than we can know. Maybe that our lives mean more (or maybe less) than we think. Maybe that it will all come right in the end. Maybe that we are where we are supposed to be. Maybe that the universe really is unfolding the way it’s supposed to be. Maybe, more specifically, that it doesn’t matter about dropping my brother off in Colorado, that he will be all right.

I do know that when I drove back after leaving my brother in Colorado, the eternal moon stayed by my side all that night while I wept.

***

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.

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