Bridge to Eternity: Part 3

life_after_death-502859729-589ff8685f9b58819c0de0d1

Being dead had its advantages, David had to concede.  He could be anywhere instantaneously, anywhere at the speed of thought.   It was a strange thing, however, to attend his own funeral.  He had been surprised how many people had come.   Yet in the church pews full of faces, the face he looked for was not there.  His attention was momentarily interrupted by the sight of his mother and brothers and sisters sitting at the front of the church.  His mother sat quietly, tears sliding down her face, his brothers and sisters worriedly exchanging glances, his oldest brother putting his arm around his mother in an effort to console her.

–I’m still here, he said, but she could not hear.  He touched her cheek, and she stiffened, her hand slowly rising to her face to touch the spot where he’d had his hand.  Then her face resumed the same bleak, empty look it had had before, and his heart sank.  Being invisible to a world he had previously been very much a part of was taking some time to get used to.   

Being alone was something he could not seem to get away from, even after death; being unseen in a world full of people was something he thought would change.  He had expected a heaven, but found himself instead, wandering in a world that was stuck inside the one he’d just left.  He found himself by his casket, and as he passed by, the purple cloth that covered the casket fluttered.  The words of the funeral mass whirled around him out of time, and out of mind:

To everything there is a season, and

a time to every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, and

a time to die;

a time to plant, and

a time to pluck up

that which is planted;

A time to kill, and

a time to heal;

a time to break down, and

a time to build up;

A time to weep, and

a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and

a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and

a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and

a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and

a time to lose;

a time to keep, and

a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and

a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and

a time to speak;

A time to love, and

a time to hate;

a time of war; and

a time of peace.

David wondered bitterly where his peace was.  He wondered why Claire wasn’t there.  And then he knew. She did not know.  She couldn’t know.  He had been out of touch with her ever since she had married.  She had tried to visit him shortly after she married, but he had been angry with her for waking him; the headaches had been so bad that he could not sleep; nothing rid him of the pain in his head, and the headache had been particularly painful the day she had come; he had snapped at her, and the moment the words were out of his mouth he felt her pain, read the shock in her eyes, and instantly tried to invite her in, tried to reverse the hurt he had just caused.  She had stood straighter, her face impassive as stone.  

–My husband would not like it if he knew I was here, she had said slowly. Good bye.   And she had turned and gone.  He had seen the sadness in her eyes, the tired look about her, and he also knew, somehow, that this would be the last time he would ever see her.  He watched her walk away down the street, wanting to reach out to her, tell her that he loved her, and feeling the pain of the gulf between them.  She had not loved him, he mused. She had gone on with her life, married.  Yet something about that marriage pricked at him, a feeling of not-quite-rightness about the whole thing.   If she were happy why had she shown up on his doorstep?  

    He felt the shock in her eyes as if it had been a slap across his face, even now.   She did not know he was dead.  That was why she was not here.  He looked around the church again.  So funny, the church full of people, some of whom he had not spoken to in years. Where had all these people been when he was alone night after night, the phone silent?    Ironic that his ex wife should be here; they had not spoken in nearly 18 years; the divorce was acrimonious, and he remembered how she had cheated on him.   He chuckled at the irony.    And then he thought Claire.  Instantly, he was there, with her, and what he saw shattered him.  She sat on the couch in her living room, clutching a letter, and her screams tore the fabric of the universe.  Never had he felt such cutting sorrow; her pain sliced through him like knives.  Claire, Claire, I’m still here, he pleaded, but if the gulf that had existed in life between them had been wide, that gulf was endless now; they were on either side of an invisible wall between worlds, and although he could draw near, she could not see him, or feel him.  Suddenly he hated God.  This was not heaven; it was hell.   Why had he not told her he loved her when he was alive?  It all seemed so foolish now, the fear that had kept his heart walled off from her.   Why had he gone on with his life and said nothing, even though her love was the one thing that he had wanted, more than anything?   The mysteries of life were still there in death.  The pain was still there, the aloneness, the sense of powerlessness.  He wished he had had the strength of Claire. Somehow she would go on, live her life.  This he knew more surely than he even knew what would ultimately happen to him.   He had a seat at the theatre; all he could do is watch, and hope, and be there.  

And suddenly he knew.  She would go home, to Superior, to the lake, to the lonely cries of the gulls.   She would go home because in this huge world, there was nowhere else to be.

Bridge to Eternity: Part Two

IMG_2309

(photo taken by me, 2014, Valentine, NE)

The clock ticked inexorably.  Even in her dreams Claire felt the passage of time.  In her dreams she was always searching in the dark for something that was just beyond her reach; in others people long dead came to visit her.   She welcomed their company; her house was empty, and the long nights sleep, when it came with its shadowy visitors, was a comfort.   She had spent much of her life in a restless sort of fashion, moving from place to place searching for that indescribable something—perhaps a sense of home—that was always beyond her reach.  For twenty years her entire life had pivoted around one fateful decision—moving away.   Going home, perhaps, was an attempt to rectify the past, even though the present had changed forever.  And anyway, she mused, one place was much like another these days.   Being alone had become such a way of life that she had long ago stopped trying to change it; a string of failed relationships haunted her; or perhaps more to the point, her failure at love haunted her–and the years spun themselves out behind her effortlessly, it seemed while she watched all the people she knew marry, she felt she was a bystander while the carousel of life spun around her.

    At last she saw the lights of the Duluth hill draw towards her.  What she would do once she got home she had no idea.   She only knew that home was what she wanted; her heart ached for it, and she could not imagine what it had been in her youth that had called her away for so long.

She could no longer outrun the grief as she could no longer outrun the love that had followed her around the world for the last twenty years, outlasted a marriage, and went on still.  

   Claire pulled into town, and turned slowly into the parking lot of a motel.  Wearily, she got out of the truck, grabbed her bag, checked in, and fell into a dreamless sleep.  She did not feel the weight on the bed beside her, nor the hand that softly stroked her hair.  Even if she had, she would not have seen her gentle visitor.  Because everyone knows when you die, you disappear.