Having a Human Experience

I did a Bollywood dance performance eight nights ago, and a few minutes later, I was lying in the parking lot outside the theater screaming in agony. Apparently, as I crossed the parking lot to my car, I tripped over a free-standing cement parking curb. Shattered my left wrist. I drove myself to the hospital (I didn’t want to leave my car in the lot, and somehow, fueled by adrenaline and unreasoning pain, it seemed the most expedient solution for getting to the emergency room.)

After a night in the ER, I was admitted to the hospital until they could do the surgery a couple of days later. When they got me on the cart to wheel me to the operating room, they told me the only panties I could wear were the mesh hospital panties, and since I was already wearing those, I didn’t think anything of it. Then, before they wheeled me away, the nurse came and pulled off the panties under the mistaken assumption they were not allowed. And I started crying. Up until then, I’d accepted the pain, the emergency room, the drugs, the hospital stay and everything else that happened to me with equanamity (or the numbness of shock?) but the removal of the panties did me in. I felt unutterably vulnerable and alone.

I still do.

I’m out of the hospital, dealing as best as I can with drug-fuddled mind and only one usable hand/arm. I’m trying not to feel sorry for myself, and mostly succeeding, but this is the culmination of a very traumatic ten years. It started with the death of the brother closest to me in age nine years and eleven months ago. Since then, I have had to deal with my mother’s illness and death, my life mate/soul mate’s long dying and subsequent death, my elderly father’s care and his death. Also, I broke an ankle, scalped myself, lost a tooth, and now have multiple fractures in my wrist/arm.

Lots of life — and death — going on.

But for now, what’s important is the current injury.

People ask me how I am interpreting this particular experience and what the message is. I am trying not to find messages. Trying to see the fall as simply an accident because anything else, such as the possibility that internal conflicts could manifest themselves physically, is simply too frightening.

Although I don’t believe in rites, such as funerals, I went to my mother’s funeral to see everyone in my family one more time. But shortly after I got there, I broke my ankle. Spend the viewing at the ER and the funeral at the bone specialist’s office.

And now, once again, I’d been faced with doing something I didn’t want to do — that dance performance. I really, really didn’t want to be part of a multi-day show and even told my class if they badgered me into it, something bad would happen. Somewhere along the line, I stopped saying no and ended up being understudy for that one particular show because they truly did need me. I enjoyed the performance, did it perfectly. And then, a few minutes afterward, I lay screaming in the parking lot.

If there is a message, it’s for me to stop doing things I don’t want to do. Or more accurately, to stay away from internal conflict. (There are actually two internal conflicts at play here — the dance recital and the book I am writing. I don’t want to write it, but I want to finish it, and now I am forced to take a hiatus.) But the truth is, I don’t want to believe that there is any correlation between internal conflict and broken bones. Way too frightening!

It’s better if I think of this latest trauma, as with all my traumas, as my being a human person having a human experience.

If I say it enough, I might actually come to believe it.

***

(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.”)

Flawless Characters

Everyone who knows anything about writing or reading novels knows that you have to start with a flawed character. Well, everyone but me. I don’t believe in flawed characters, just characters that come alive.

Tell me honestly, except for a few physical attributes that you might not like about yourself, do you think you have flaws? No, of course you don’t. You think you have problems. You laugh about your quirks. You are beset with internal conflicts. You might even have a list of traits that you try to work on, such as trying to be kinder or more disciplined, but you don’t have flaws. You are who you are. All the parts, good and bad (and who is to say which is which) make up your character.

To me, the character flaw is like the Persian Flaw. The Persian rug makers purposely put a flaw into each of their rugs supposedly because of their belief that only God can make something perfect. That speaks to me of arrogance, to believe you are so absolutely perfect you have to create a flaw to make yourself less than perfect. It’s the same with the character flaw in writing. If you create a realistic character, there is no flaw, just a character wyahabibi5ith a mixture of admirable and not so admirable points. To add a flaw on purpose takes away from the realism of the character. At least to my way of thinking, and now I have proof of sorts.

I am writing a novel about a fictitious death in my dance class. I began using all my classmates as characters, but gradually I have been camouflaging them by changing names and creating omnibus characters — combining two or three classmates into a single character to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. And I had to create a couple of wholly fictitious characters because a mystery is primarily about unraveling the back story to find out why the victim was killed and why the killer was so motivated. I didn’t want to create fictitious backgrounds for my classmates because when it comes to murder, there are no innocent folk, or at least not often. The victim — and the red herrings — usually has done something to set the whole thing in motion. And it’s those “something”s I worried about attributing to people I meet every day. Who needs that kind of pressure?

I started out with myself as the unreliable narrator, and when I blurred the edges of the others in my class, I kept the real me as a character. If I had known how easy this made writing a novel, I would have done it long ago! I don’t need to create a character. Don’t need to do psychological profiles. Don’t need character arcs or family trees. It’s all here, in my head. In me.

And especially, I don’t need to create flaws. I don’t particularly consider myself a flawed character, though I do have some character traits that are less than saintly. And I have a few other traits that come from lapses.

For example, I tend to believe my memory. Whenever I have gotten into a he said/she said or she said/she said argument, I can often find some sort of corroboration for my side, such as in a text or an email, which adds credence to my belief. Also, in dance class, I often remember steps when others don’t. However, there are a few steps from a dance we performed eighteen months ago that are completely gone from memory. Erased. I watched a video of that performance to see what the steps in question were, and even though I could see myself doing the steps, I have no memory of them. Is this memory lapse a flaw? Not particularly. It’s just a . . . lapse. Is the insistence on the accuracy of my memory a flaw? No. That’s also just a lapse.

The best part of using myself as a character is that I never have to worry about creating a conflicted character. Every page illuminates my internal conflicts about death, finding my place in the world, trying to do the right thing and failing, dancing to a different beat. (I think that’s why I like dancing so much — for once in my life, I get to do exactly what everyone else is doing without the conflict of having to choose between being out of step with the world or being out of step with myself.)

So there you have it — proof that you don’t need flaws to create a good character. You just need realistic traits.

Note: Please don’t leave comments telling me that there is no such thing as a perfect character, that they need flaws to be realistic. I’ve heard all the arguments. You believe what you want. I know the truth. Oops. Did I just show a character flaw?

***

(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.”)

Coming Home

I am creating another writer’s retreat for myself this weekend, but to tell the truth, right now my whole life feels like a writer’s retreat. I continue to feel conflict free, partly because I have put off worrying about the future and what is to become of me, and partly because I have temporarily found a safe place to land. (Hard to believe, but I’ve been here a whole month already!)  So far, my roommates are working out, with only minor irritations that I choose to let go and not obsess over. Surprisingly often, I have the house to myself, and best of all, even though I still don’t have a remote garage door opener, I do have use of the garage, which pleases both me and my aged vehicle.

I am living day to day (to the extent that it’s possible), making a point of noticing my moments, and being grateful for the good things in my life. With the questions and worries that usually plague me on hiatus, my stream of consciousness has nothing to do but let my work in progress steep, so I don’t often find myself tongue-tied (finger-tied? word-tied?) when I open the computer to work on my book.

I am going to dance classes four days a week and enjoying it as much as I did in the beginning, perhaps because when people irritate me, I can take them out of my head and put them in my story. Although I spend the remaining three days of the week working on my novel, I am sticking with the 250 words a day club, so I manage to write a bit every day. I am usually not one of those writers who live by word counts, but because of the club, I am keeping track of my words. I was thrilled when I realized that in the past two weeks, I have added 10,000 words to my novel. Wow! You might not be impressed, but I am.

I do continue to have a bit of a reality lapse when I go from my fictitious class to my real-life class, but trying to remain in the moment helps. And my teacher in life as well as in the book is always kind to me, which helps make for an even transition.

A real boon for my book has been my online life. For the most part, once I got online, I stopped writing fiction and went to blogging. I blogged everyday for about five years, but without conflict or adventure to fuel my posts, I don’t have much to say, so I have let fiction writing replace blogging. Now whenever I have a question, I Google it rather than spending months trying to find the information in the library, and if Google doesn’t have an answer for me, there is a whole slew of people all around the world to ask. Not only have I gotten medical information from a doctor friend, and help with the structure of a mystery story from a writer’s group, people have even offered me wonderful suggestions for motivation. (Not being a murderous type myself, ingenious motivations for committing such a crime are hard for me to come up with. I’d be more of a slam-bam-goodbye-ma’am sort of killer rather than a revenge-is-a-dish-best-served-cold murderer.)

The most wonderful thing about being back in writer’s mode is that I feel as if I’ve come home. So much of my internal conflict since Jeff died and more recently my dad, is that I have nowhere to call home. And now I do — inside my head, playing with words.

Not a bad place to be.

***

(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.”)

If You Want To Help Me, Buy My Books!

People often say that helping others makes you feel better, and it’s true, you do feel better. I used to try to help people, but then a rebellious thought hit me. Wasn’t it a bit arrogant to assume we know what other people needed? Has anyone asked the ones who are helped how they feel about receiving such help? Sure, in dire situations like the Louisiana floods, people rally around, as they should. But in everyday matters? Shouldn’t we wait to be asked before we decide someone needs to be helped? I’ve seen situations where the elderly are “helped” into being dependent, and the quality of their lives diminishes dramatically. Sometimes people no matter what their age rebel at a being given a helping hand, preferring to do for themselves. Which is at it should be.

I was perusing blog posts this morning, when I came across a post that mentioned me. The blogger referred to an open letter to blog readers I’d written where I said “So what if I still have a hard time being around coupled people? That’s my problem, not yours. So what if I still feel lonely and sorrowful after six years? That too is my problem, not yours. The truth is, missing one’s mate is something that lasts a lifetime. Think of all the good things (and bad) you have experienced during the past six years of your couplehood. Well, guess what? I haven’t had any of those experiences. I have done a lot of interesting things, but no matter what I do, what I experience, how I grow or stagnate, I do alone because my mate is gone. And if that still affects me, what difference does it make to you?”

I didn’t think I sounhandsded needy in that post, and I certainly didn’t feel needy. (Exasperated, maybe, but not needy.) Apparently, though, the blogger was upset that some of my friends still expected me to get over Jeff’s death and move on. Which was fine — I didn’t mind her being upset even though I wasn’t particularly bothered by what my friends said, especially since that wasn’t the gist of my article. (The gist was that I am a writer. Everything anyone does to me or around me belongs to me and provides ink for my pen.) What upset me was the conclusion to her post where she wrote that she and a couple of partners were starting a business and how they “wanted our business to help people like Pat.”

I’ve been online friends with this woman ever since we fell into the grief maelstrom about the same time, so I understand her desire to help others, but her assumption that I needed help made me uneasy. Diminished me. As if I she thought I couldn’t handle my life.

Her post reminded me of the beginning of my grief cycle, where people would write and say they wished they could take my pain away, or that they bled for me. I hated that. My grief is my own. I didn’t want anyone to take it away from me. I don’t need help, not that kind.

Right after Jeff died, a lot of people offered to help, but they wanted to help by giving advice. The one person who really did help found out I was defeated by the thought of cleaning that big house by myself before I moved out, so she showed up with a friend and carload of cleaning supplies and spent an entire day cleaning. Now, that’s help! But other kinds of help? No. I’m not interested, thank you. Unless you want to buy my books, of course.

Truly, if you want to offer me a helping hand, buy my books! Write reviews of my books. Do something to promote my books. What I need is a living, and since I am a writer, I would prefer to make a living from my books.

The rest of my life, for now anyway, I’m handling just fine on my 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.”)

My Writer’s Retreat

I’ve been wondering if I should do some sort of writer’s retreat to get me back into writing fiction, and as it turns out, all unknowingly, I created my own retreat. Last weekend, beginning Thursday afternoon when my last dance class was over until Monday when the first class of the week began, I did nothing but indulge myself. I started the days with my old workout, the stretching routine and weight training that fell by the wayside when I started taking dance classes. And I worked on my book. Not the whole weekend, of course, because I am not one of those who can sit down and write for the entire day — I need to do a lot of thinking about where to go next — but I did a couple of sessions each day. Even better, I ate only the food I had in the house — good food, no junk. — so I never had to leave my retreat. Best of all, my next room housemate was gone, so I had nothing but quiet (and a bathroom to myself) the entire time. Ah, joy!

A couple of weeks ago, I had experienced a day where I felt blessed, and that feeling has been with me all this time. I have been magnifying the mood by paying attention to the moment because the power of our lives is in the moment. And I’ve been cultivating gratitude, though that particular discipline is not hard to do — tballoon2here is so much in my life to be grateful for in any given moment.

During these blessed weeks, my internal conflict about where to go and what to do has faded because I have made commitments to continue with dance classes at least until the end of the year, to build up my strength, to refrain from worrying. (I worry more than I should about what is to become of me and how I will support myself in my soon-to-be old age.) And so I let the air out of all my conflicts (which is why I haven’t had much to blog about).

I joined an online writing group where the only requirement is to write 250 words a day. It’s a month-long commitment, but every month, I can recommit, which is what I plan to do at least until the end of the year. Even a writer who plods as slowly as I do can manage 250 words in a couple of hours. I usually spend the first hour reading the previous chapter to get in the spirit, to take into consideration past story actions, and to plan the next move. And I still have time to grab 250 words from the vortex of my mind, and sometimes a lot more!

I’ve never been one to write by word counts, so the count in itself is unimportant, but the commitment is. (Oh, who am I kidding. Having written 5,000 words in a week feels great!)

This weekend’s writing retreat will be different than last week’s because I will be performing with my class at a luau on Saturday, but that is still in the realm of creativity.

Dancing, writing, living. Ah, life is good in the moment.

***

(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.”)

Getting Back to the Fundamentals

It’s always seemed odd to me that when it comes to the fundamentals of education, people talk about the three R’s — reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic. Or is it reading, writing, and arithmetic? Either way, out of a possible three, there are two errors, which is not a very good score, especially when it comes to learning.

In my case, I am more interested in three W’s. Writing, wisdom, and wit. Or maybe walking, wondering, and whim. Or as I mentioned when I came to this hiatus in my travels: writing, walking, and weights. These three W’s were my foundation during a time of great upheaval (the first unacknowledged sense that Jeff was pulling away from life and me, along with a growing numbness to the coming death of “us”), and they seemed a good place to start rebuilding my life.

I’ve been more or less stationary for almost two months — more because I have remained in the same town, less because I have lived five different places in those months — so now I am following through and investing in a couple of my W’s. Not walking, surprisingly, considering how much I have walked in the past few years since coming to the desert. Between the endless 100º+ days and the smoke from nearby brush and forest fires, walking hasn’t been a pleasant activity, so I have been taking a break. When the weather cools down, I will walk the mile and a half to the dance studio (and back again) at least a couple of days a week (not the day I have three classes. Eeek. My poor feet!), and go for longer roams on weekends.

Meantime, I have been using my dumbbells. Maybe someday I will even feel up to digging out my bars and heavier weights, but for now, multiple repetitions will be the name of the game.

And, I’ve been wotortoiserking on my book. Until recently (well, okay, if you must know the truth — until just today), I haven’t done much writing. I’ve been trying to get the book and the characters into my head, trying to straighten out a very crooked timeline, trying to make the leap from not writing to writing. Mostly, though, I’ve been turning on my computer, opening the manuscript, looking at a few words, checking my email, scrolling through my Facebook feed, playing a game or twenty of solitaire, then turning off the computer, feeling as if I’ve done my stint.

But, through it all, I have established a bit of connection to my book, and more importantly, to myself.

Now, I just have to focus. As my publisher told me, “You must concentrate, Grasshopper. This is literature, the soul’s highest calling. Plus, you need to write a bestseller.”

Okay. One bestseller coming up.

***

(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.”)

Open Letter to Blog Readers

To Whom it May Concern:

This is my blog, and I am allowed to say whatever I wish. When I first began blogging, the posts were impersonal — comments about the books I was reading, the books I was writing, and writing hints I garnered along the way.

mailboxThen, after the death of my life mate/soul mate, I got personal, very personal, explaining everything I was going through. Some people took offense at this, and I endured well-meaning suggestions to “get over it” because I knew my posts were helping people.

Now that my sorrow and loneliness treat me much gentler, I still write about how I am feeling and what I am doing about those feelings. The problem is that people I have met offline read my blog occasionally, which was not the case in the beginning, so I have been censoring some of my posts to make sure I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Well, apparently, I have gotten some backs up anyway, so no more censoring.

If you are upset by anything I say, remember, this is not necessarily about your truth. It’s about my truth. If I feel slighted, why shouldn’t I mention the slight especially if I don’t use your name? The only time I ever use anyone’s name is if the person is well known or an author who could use a bit of publicity, and so far, none of them feel hurt by anything I have said. If you don’t like what I write, if you take it personally, don’t read this blog. If you know me at all, you know I never knowingly hurt people. But I cannot sort out my truth if I don’t mention the things that trigger a spate of emotionalism or a feeling of unbelonging.

And there are a whole lot of triggers.

So what if I still have a hard time being around coupled people? That’s my problem, not yours. So what if I still feel lonely and sorrowful after six years? That too is my problem, not yours. The truth is, missing one’s mate is something that lasts a lifetime. Think of all the good things (and bad) you have experienced during the past six years of your couplehood. Well, guess what? I haven’t had any of those experiences. I have done a lot of interesting things, but no matter what I do, what I experience, how I grow or stagnate, I do alone because my mate is gone. And if that still affects me, what difference does it make to you?

I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me. I’m not asking you to make allowances. I’m not even asking you to notice what I am going through. But here’s a hint: if you don’t want me to write about what affects me, then don’t do things that affect me adversely.

I am a writer. Everything anyone does to me or around me belongs to me and provides ink for my pen.

***

(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.”)

From Bruising to Blessing

This has been a strange week. It started with a bruising and ended with a blessing.

Now that I think about it, the week actually started with the Pilot Fire, a nearby forest fire that completely burned the area on the Pacific Crest Trail I hiked not so long ago. Gone, just like that. (The photos accompanying this blog were probably the last ever taken of that particular spot.) Smoke has hung over the city for the better part of a week, burning my throat and filling my sinuses to a painful degree.

It was during this time of smoke that I went to a dance class that bruised me. Before the class began, they talked about a woman who had broken up with her demanding boyfriend. They all mentioned how lucky they were they had husbands and no longer had to deal with such matters. All are married, set for life financially, and it seemed to me they were smug in their belief that things would always be as they are. I stood there, off to the side, with nothing to say. I have no husband. My life isn’t settled. I don’t expect people to be aware of me, but still, their unconscious reminder that I am alone, living a rather precarious existence, bruised me.

During class, they rehearsed for a show I won’t be doing (costumes and accessories are way beyond my current budget) and that, too, made me feel out of place. Recently, one of the women had chastised me, telling me that when one joins a performance group, one does what one is told and I was feeling rebellious. (To be honest, I didn’t realize I’d joined a performance group. I thought I was just taking more advanced classes.) So for the first time ever, I left a class before time. They thought I was angry, but I wasn’t. I just needed to get out of there.

On my way out the door, I wondered if I needed to find other people, widows, perhaps, where I didn’t feel so alien.

As fate would have it, the very next night, we did a luau for a bereavement group, and talking with those women — some frantically determined to stop grieving after the first year, others well into the second-year grief resurgence — I realized I didn’t belong with them, either. My pain was too old, too dimmed, and though I understood what they were going through, I was beyond such raw pain. And, selfishly, I don’t want to revisit those days through other people’s grief.

I never was one for groups, but after Jeff died, I made a concerted effort to be sociable. So now? I don’t know. I consider myself lucky to have a couple of good friends who understand (mostly) what I am going through, and I am lucky to have found a place to live this month where I could set up my exercise mat and weight bench. I have also been making an effort to live in the moment, to give up worrying about the future, to think new thoughts when the old ones get too oppressive. (Though, honestly, it is hard to think new thoughts. All I have done my whole life is think, so all different kinds of thoughts have already passed through my mind, but I suppose looking for a new thought to think helps get me past the disappointing times.)

And then, yesterday came. The fire was mostly out, only a faint smokiness still hanging in the air. I had beginning ballet and beginning tap, which I love — no straining to work beyond my capabilities. No rehearsing. Just working on technique, steps and combinations. (And only a couple people in the class showed up, which made things even easier — no feeling of being overwhelmed.) And miraculously, I felt blessed all day. Oddly, a friend invited me to a movie last night, Miracles from Heaven, which seemed to compound the miraculousness.

I still feel blessed today, though nothing special has happened. I worked a bit on my novel, trying to figure out what characters I need and where to go from here. I read a couple of Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael mysteries. And I played a dozen games of computer solitaire while I let my mind wander. And I am blogging!!!

Truly blessed.

***

(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.”)

Grateful For Numerous Choices

Although I wrote a post saying Life Shouldn’t Be So Hard, in many ways, that “so hard” arises from the many things for which I am grateful, such as relative good health, a bit of savings to indulge my whim for not settling down, and most of all, my numerous choices. For the first time in my life, I have no one to consider but myself. No one to take care of. No responsibilities. No need to be a grown-up and do the typical grown-up things like get a job, sign a lease, decide what and where to settle down. The world still beckons me, and there is no reason why I shouldn’t follow that beckoning.

As a wise person told me, “You can always settle down later if you want to, but there is no guarantee that you can travel later.”

I am currently staying at a ghastly motel, but I’ve decided to play the “Taxi” game until I find a place to stay around here or until I decide to take off again. At one time there was a horrible television show called “Taxi” starring Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, and a whole host of strange characters. One fellow lacked a good grasp of English, and he rented an opulent apartment for an exorbitant amount of money thinking he was paying for a year, though the rent was only for a month. When he couldn’t get his money back after discovering the truth, he and his friends enjoyed the luxury and amenities for that month, and then went back to their normal not-so-exciting lives.

Ever since then, Jeff and I called such a phenomenon “taxiing” and we often talked about going for broke just once, and taxiing it, yet we never did. We were too frugal, too conscientious, too responsible, too aware of the vagaries of life to lavish what little we had on such a short-term pleasure, especially since the expense would make things difficult in the future.

Now, although I’m still practical, I’m more inclined to let the future take care of itself (at least during those odd moments when I’m not worried about what is to become of me). There’s no reason I can’t stay at a nicer motel or hotel for a few weeks, and live it up. (Or down, since such a place would be a lot more relaxing than this fleabag motel where the bugs are feasting on me.)

But, whatever I do, no matter how I sound in my more frantic or desolate times, I am grateful that for now I have such a choice.

pleasures

***

(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.”)

Life Shouldn’t Be So Hard

In response to my post, Still in Flux, where I lamented that after 12,000 miles, I didn’t notice any change in me, a reader commented:

I think everything’s changed, Pat, but you seem to be missing it right now. You have changed. Significantly. Go back to when I first met you; at three months; and see the fears then and look at yourself now. Indeed everything’s changed.

I responded: It’s odd, but returning here has thrown me back into grief mode. I would have expected such sorrow if I had gone back to Colorado where we’d lived, but he never lived here, never even visited here. It started when I drove into town, even before I remembered that the last time I had driven that bit of highway into town, he was still alive, waiting for me at home. But then, this is where I brought my memory of him. This is where I brought my pain. This is where I cried out for him. I know I am lucky we were deeply connected for all those years, but that doesn’t help with the empty/disconnected feeling I am still struggling with. I feel inept at times. Life shouldn’t be so hard. Or maybe it should be. How would I know.

And she came back with: “Life shouldn’t be so hard” What does this mean, Pat? What is the “hard” you are dealing with? Is it that you still feel moments of grief? Is it that coming back to town is filled with the energy of your grieving place? Is it hard because you don’t accept his death despite intellectual acknowledgement? Is it hard because most of al you miss companionship/relationship/whatevership and hate being alone.

Nail what is actually so very hard right now in July 2016. It will help with your thoughts about the future.

And so, I have been thinking. What is so hard about my life right now?

In some respects, I have it easy. I am basically healthy, with only a few odd problems that the right stretching routine should ameliorate. I have no responsibilities, so I can live at my own whim. I have a vintage car that is mostly reliable. And I have a bit of savings to cushion some of life’s blows for a little while longer.

And yet, and yet . . .

Although it has been six years since the death of Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, I still feel his absence. The void he left behind is not as deep and black as it once was, but it still confounds me, still pulls me into sorrow. I have accepted his death in every sense, but the truth is, acceptance does not always bring with it the peace we think it should. Because accepting that he is gone from this life leaves me even more alone with his absence. (And being back here, where I can still feel the energy of my grief, makes it all the more difficult.)

What is particularly hard is that I have no roots. I often feel (especially when I think of the future) as if I am suspended over an abyss with nothing to hang on to. The high desert was a place of refuge for me during my years of profound grief, its harsh climate mirroring my own inner environment, but now it seems alien, even though I have friends here, and dance classes. The sun is excruciatingly hot, which is dangerous when driving in an old car without air-conditioning. When I lived here before, mosquitoes didn’t bother me, but now I seem to be just as much of a magnet to the critters as I was on the outer banks of North Carolina. I didn’t think my trip changed me, but it must have because I don’t seem to fit the cookie cutter outline of me I left behind.

Part of the hardship comes from not being able to find a place to live. I have looked at tiny windowless rooms scarcely larger than closets with a higher rent than the three-bedroom house Jeff and I lived in, gated communities that are merely fenced rooming houses, apartments with incredibly stringent requirements. I am staying at a fleabag motel on the outskirts of town, which at least gives me a place to get out of the heat and a fairly comfortable place to lay my head, but staying here isn’t conducive to writing. To write, I need a place where I can concentrate, and believe me, a transient motel is not such a place.

Maybe I don’t belong here in the desert. Maybe I don’t belong anywhere. But then what?

Which brings me to the thing that is most hard about right now, July 2016. I don’t know what I want. I don’t know what I don’t want, either. Most people my age don’t necessarily want anything since they already have the things they want, the very things I don’t have — spouses, houses, families, places they’ve grown roots.

I spent the past couple of decades taking care of my sick and dying, uprooting myself after Jeff died to take care of my nonagenarian father. Consequently, I don’t have the retirement funds I would have had if I’d had a regular job all those years, and yet, I did what I needed to do. Now I need to build a life, and I have no idea how to go about it.

The truth (at least as it appears to me at this moment) is that I am restless but not yet ready to be a perennial wanderer, tired but not yet ready to settle down. I like being alone, and yet I am desperately lonely, missing the effortless companionship of our years together. I want and want, and yet I don’t know what I want.

So many internal conflicts! Life shouldn’t be this hard, especially since, for the most part, my life is fairly easy.

***

(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.”)