Katie Letcher Lyle

Books & Articles:

Friends in High Places

Friends in High Places

I’m Katie Letcher Lyle, and I want to tell you about my new book. It’s my twenty-first book, and I’ve been working on it for twenty years. It’s a spiritual autobiography. I am hoping you will be willing to read a copy for possible review in your publication. I am available for interviews, signings, appearances.

It’s called FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES, and it has two subtitles and four impressive endorsements on the cover. One Woman’s Spiritual Adventures, and (get ready!) Conversations with the Dead. If you don’t already regard me as bonkers, you just might now.

In this book, I determined to explain reasonably how I know we survive death. I think I have written a sane book on a subject many people consider insane -- and to build my case in each chapter to show the weight of evidence as a reasonable basis for belief in the soul’s survival until the time comes that you arrive at Knowing for yourself. The resulting book has ghosts, talking peanuts, English psychics , my ten years’ adventures as a ghost-buster, animal communication, messages from the dead, my 20 years of attending programs at the Monroe Institute, remote viewing, the case of a boy killed in a tractor accident and reincarnated around fifteen years later right here in Rockbridge County --and lots of other exciting stories of events that have happened to me and to other people I know, that indicate clearly that some part of us survives death.

For the month of August, e-versions (Nook and Kindle) are 99 cents. After that, it’s $9.95 for e-versions. If you’d prefer an old-fashioned page-turner, a paperback copy is yours for $14.95 on Amazon. It is also be available through any book store.

Excerpt:

13. JUST REMEMBER: A MESSAGE FROM THE DEAD
...To die, to sleep:
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.
Hamlet, (contemplating suicide) Act III, Sc.1

 

Forty years to the day after our first date, I told my husband I wanted a divorce. I’m a record-keeper. He was an alcoholic, had been for seventeen years. I’d tried an intervention with his two friends Otis and Larry, which failed miserably, as he later told me it was “a little meeting to get Otis to stop drinking so much.”

By then, I'd spent two decades trying to prove to myself that I am more than my physical body, by studying at the Monroe Institute, retrieving earthbound spirits, recording automatic writing, visiting psychics in London, participating in spiritual healings, becoming friends with over fifty dying patients through Hospice, getting to know my Upstairs Crew, taking Remote Viewing three times. Could I sustain my still-developing faith? The moment I told him to leave, crying, frustrated, I was in the back yard on my knees with a hose and soap, scrubbing stinky rugs. I’d been scrubbing brown streaks off the bedroom walls all morning.

I had believed my husband a decent and loyal man until alcoholism overtook him, and as it increased over seventeen years there were moments when I suspected that he loved this other woman-friend of his more than he loved me. He yelled at me a lot, lied about everything, said terrible things about our good and upright son (whose worst sin was some tattoos), tracked shitty footprints to the bathroom and back, and absolutely refused to see a doctor. He hated all my friends and was rude to them. His driving drunk caused me sleepless nights. The police would not set a trap; his doctor would not return my calls.

On June 4, 2002, a Saturday, I was scheduled to meet with a Richmond book club at a downtown restaurant, and for the first time in my life, I nearly forgot to go to an agreed-on presentation. (The fourteen women thankfully didn’t seem to realize what a basket case I was when I arrived dirty and fifteen minutes late.)

That morning, I had had no idea where R. was; there was more shit on the rugs; when he staggered into the yard drunk at around eleven, hardly glancing down at what I was doing, I exploded. And sent him off to our “Country Estate” twelve miles away, where his office was, the farmhouse we nicknamed the “CE.” I told him not to come home until he saw a doctor. He called an hour later, saying meanly, “I guess this means divorce. There are eight among your siblings already. Guess that’s how your family deals with things. There’s never been a divorce in my family.” I was amazed how he could have thought that up so fast, drunk as he was. No wonder I nearly forgot the book club.

Five days later, he jumped (or fell: his stories changed hourly) off a bridge, barely survived, was helicoptered to a hospital. His friend Otis and I raced down the Interstate to Roanoke, where I saw bone sticking out of his leg, a sickening bloody upjutting. A fortnight, a horrendous detox, and two surgeries later, he ended up in a wheel chair in a nursing home nearby. The eerie x-ray of his lower leg showed that every bony thing had been replaced by a skeleton of metal rods and nails.

Two weeks later, I suddenly realized unpaid bills were piling up, while he, who had always controlled our finances, was now crippled and unable. His hospitalization and surgeries cost a quarter of a million dollars, as he had quit paying bills, and we were without insurance. To his credit, he had been a wise investor. I paid the bills in cash from our joint account, which, at the beginning of the end, was comfortably large.

I didn't want him back as he was: addicted, angry, and abusive. Yet how could I abandon my ill, now disabled, husband of forty years?

The answer lay in a curious occurrence, without which I'd have undoubtedly taken him back, and continued trying to control his drinking.

At the CE, the kitchen table was mounded with unopened bills and mail, envelopes with neon labels screaming Last Notice! Final Warning! dating back a year. The house reeked of vodka. There were orders for porn films and numerous beginnings of manuscripts about his mother, most trailing off after only one or two pages. The weird message was: she was perfect and I loved only her, and so did my father and so did her father.

I set to work to pay bills, spent phone hours getting us re-insured. Days into the process, I followed my nose into his office at the front of the house, where sat the glass of straight vodka I'd been smelling. The shades were lowered. In the dimness, his answering machine blinked. I returned to the kitchen for a pencil, to write down messages to take to the nursing home, where I went every day with sox, new pajamas, and Hershey Bars. I’d read that chocolate candy eases the discomfort of detox. I jotted down names and numbers for him to call, some dating back three weeks.

Suddenly I was hearing a conversation between him and his close woman-friend. He'd picked up the phone after the answering machine cut on, and accidently recorded a four-minute discussion between him and her, on the day I’d gone to ask her (and she’d refused) to participate in the Intervention. She was afraid I’d found out Something. Their chat referred to their twenty-year affair, and included a bit of sexy talk. I couldn't believe my ears in that dark room, as he trashed me and lied, as she oozed sympathy and agreement with him. It confirmed something I'd feared, intuited, recorded in my dream journal—seven dreams in twenty-five years. Friends had even hinted, but I had never let myself believe, that he and the other woman had been having an affair for half our marriage. I’d always tried to like her but never felt quite comfortable. She was not a “girlfriend” type.

Deeply shocked at first, I took a police officer friend out to his house with me to look for evidence, or something. I didn't know what other snakes lay in wait to bite me. I took the tape out of the phone, and made copies of that conversation. The nearest neighbor said to me later, “Oh, the woman in the green truck? She was out here all the time.”

I confronted them both, her at home, then him in the nursing home a half hour later. Both repeated the same sentence: "The tape is misleading."

“How so?" I asked. “Misleading in what way?” Neither would say.

Angry and drunk, he later railed, “I could have committed adultery any time I wanted. I had plenty of chances, especially with your so-called friends!” Misdirection, that trick of magicians.

I soon realized, however, that hearing the truth about the affair in their own words was a gift, and the only way I could have accepted the reality of their affair. I was on the verge of inviting him back home as soon as he could leave the nursing home. But hearing this conversation gave me the steel I needed to free myself. The infidelity did not strike me as so bad; I myself had three times not been faithful, but I had never spoken disloyally of him, nor lied about him. We had not had a very satisfactory sex life. But his betrayal, and lying! And her collusion, her pretense at being my friend! I got a legal separation that day, then took half the money that we had left in our joint account, which was by then pretty skimpy, and put it into an account with only my name on it. My hearing that phone conversation was the first “coincidence.” If I’d not heard it, I might still be struggling with him and his addiction.

Another striking coincidence occurred a month later. Almost at once, I began dating a once-famous jazz musician who came the day after our separation to interview me for a magazine article—a sympathetic stranger to whom I could vomit out the whole story! But in a matter of only a few weeks, things were not going well. It would have been okay that he was impotent—I’d have been glad for a male friend—but it was not okay that he blamed my neediness for his disappointing condition, while promising great things “tomorrow,” which never came.

On the phone I explained to the man that “I wanted a relationship in which I could freely give and freely get affection.” He coldly reiterated that I was too “needy.” I stood outside in my hedged-in backyard, phone in hand, fighting tears of disappointment and the awful knowledge that I was alone again.

At that moment, I heard an excited voice out in the driveway call my name. I stepped out to meet a darling man I'd known forty years before. A decade younger, he had been a student with whom I acted in four plays when he was an undergraduate and I was a young college professor. He’d kept up with me, observed from a visit the previous Christmas that R. was drunk the entire three days he was here, even early in the morning.

The previous night he'd been on business in Greensboro where he saw a sign saying 88 miles to Roanoke. He knew I was an hour beyond. He also knew I was already dating someone else. (This is a small town!) Yet he drove here the next day, arriving at the very instant I was making my farewell speech to another man. “Not dating anyone anymore,” I told him. He told me that day that he'd always waited for me.

For nearly a year we enjoyed a juicy affair which made me feel beautiful and cherished. We consummated our early crush, as entwined as a cornstalk and bean vine. He’d appeared like a Prince Charming exactly at the moment I was expressing a need for a relationship just like the one we had.

Here were two apparently chance events that precisely met my needs of the moment: the accidentally overheard phone call, the arrival of my old crush. Events like those in our lives often go unnoticed because we don't believe they're anything but coincidence.

I'd never lived alone, had moved from my parents' house to living with R. In our last seventeen years together, he'd quit his job and become depressed. Or, he became depressed, then began to drink too much—who knows which came first? I’d tried to stop his drinking, which is what wives of alcoholics do: tried to reason, even that old chestnut, hidden his booze. I didn’t know about Al-Anon then. A friend told me he’d been fired, had not quit of his own accord. He lied about everything conceivable, told me I was unbalanced and crazy, and I kept falling for it, kept believing him. This is all my fault, I thought, for years and years. I didn’t understand how, but accepted that it must be my fault.

I continued to say publically (and actually believe) that he “drank a bit too much, but that everything was fine.” Denial, as I learned in Al-Anon, is a strongly self-protective trait. One late night I became terrified as I perceived that some monstrous spirit had slipped into and inhabited the body of my husband. His face became red-eyed, twisted, and downright evil. It was so chillingly awful that I had to leave the house. The hair on my neck literally tensed and stood erect.

But that June day when I told him to leave, I was shocked to hear myself say, “I’m through dealing with your shit. You go live at the CE and deal with your own shit!” I meant it on so many levels. I was sure I’d never have dinner with a man again, much less ever find someone else to love. You couldn’t start over at sixty-four!

In the weeks following, I filed for divorce, found a wonderful counselor, and began what would be many grateful years as a member of Al-Anon, missing only four weekly meetings in the next five years –all for programs at the Monroe. Somehow I learned to be comfortable in my skin, in my house, in my dependence on myself. I took strict care of my health, fearing that under the distress that kept my mouth dry and my stomach upset for months, I might develop shingles or cancer or trip myself up with an accident. I worked on a collection of poems about my divorce and the year following it. Many were published. For the first time in my life I made a budget, met with financial planners and a lawyer, bought a life insurance policy to care for our handicapped daughter. We divorced with the help of a mediator which my Upstairs Crew nudged me to: R.’s friend Larry.

Within a year I had to break up with that wonderfully generous, funny, sexy—but, tragically, bipolar—man. Eventually I found a new life with a wonderful partner, but that’s another story.

*

On my 69th birthday, in May of 2007, my husband, by then my ex-husband for four years, blew his brains out. To clean his office where he did it cost ten thousand dollars; you dial 1-800-TRAGEDY.

In Al-Anon, I learned that when gratitude becomes the atmosphere you live in, resentment and anger are nearly impossible. After a while, I overcame my anger at my husband’s girlfriend and my strong urge to somehow retaliate—surprisingly by praying for both of them, which I did only reluctantly at first, when my fellow Al-Anon members suggested that prayer was a good method of forgiveness. Al-Anon helped my frustration at his refusal to even try to get well, and my rage that flared at his frequent drunken rants at me over the phone. “My father told me forty years ago you were no good, and that I shouldn’t have married you!” “You took presents that my parents’ friends gave us back to stores when we got married!” “I’m going to make (her, the Other Woman) my executor because she knows more about my books than anyone else.” “You let Cochran get tattoos! Everyone in the penitentiary has tattoos! Tattoos are the first step to life in prison!” And his favorite, You’ve ruined (her) life!” as though he and she had had no hand in that.

I went to programs at the Monroe Institute as often as I could afford to in the next few years, and am forever grateful to that amazing place. I eventually forgave my husband and his mistress, realizing that they had unwittingly done me a huge favor. I finally understood that alcoholism is a disease, and really and truly beyond his control, at which point I stopped attending meetings. But for five years I did daily readings, attended weekly meetings, examined my own thoughts and motives, supported my fellow travelers, and came to understand that fault really cannot be assigned. Our failure wasn't my fault, nor was it his. If he could have quit drinking, he would have. If I could have stuck it out, I would have. In the remaining five years of his life, he was frequently in the emergency room, and once spent a night in jail, picked up near her house for public drunkenness, truculent behavior, and refusing to leave. He was an intensely private man, and I know these events would have withered the soul of the person I married. I was sorry for our son, who once said to me, “When you dumped Dad, you dumped him on me.”

I replied, “You didn’t have to go to his rescue. You could have called 911 when he called you instead of taking him to the hospital.”

“I couldn’t,” he said. “He’s my father.”

*

Peter Russell once said in a workshop at The Monroe something like, "Every human wants warmth, sustenance, safety, acceptance, love. All of us—even mass murderers and child-molesters—want those things.” In alcoholics, that search can become twisted and unhealthy. My ex-husband was terrified of his weaknesses becoming known. In realizing this, I found the beginning of compassion.

My husband was once a good man, gentle and scholarly, lofty of character, and a good provider. He wouldn’t have taken a nickel that wasn’t his. He was a kindly if remote father (the norm for my lifetime, and for the South). Alcoholism is a disease so horrible it defeats the strongest among us—with wives nearly always the primary casualties. Looking back, I understand that we had a Victorian marriage, mutually respectful and productive of two wonderful children and twenty-three books between us. We welcomed friends and strangers, had a genial union, and cherished each other’s accomplishments for many years. I married him because he was, I now think in my therapy-enlightened years, the approving father I'd always longed for. As for his expectations, I was supposed to be a good Southern wife (he once expressed disappointment that I wasn't interested in teaching Sunday school as his mother had.) But it doesn't feel right to sleep with your father. We married as virgins, which I would counsel anyone is a bad idea. Sex didn't work out well for us. Certainly that was the reason he took a mistress. As he absolutely rejected religion, I understand how my dawning spirituality was as threatening to him as though I had become a born-again Christian, a Muslim, or a witch. I no longer blame him more than myself. It was a marriage well-intentioned, and for two decades anyway we were good mates.

*

In the months following his suicide, I worried a lot about his soul. Believing as I do, I feared that R. would be, like many of the ghosts I met in my ten years of spirit retrievals with David McKnight’s group, confused and stuck. I feared this because I knew R. had no belief in an Afterlife, and therefore no map to make his way through whatever process takes us from this world to the next.

I couldn’t seem to contact him. I tried a few times, assuming he did not want to "talk" to me. When I finally did see him (while listening to a Monroe tape), I felt I was forcing him to talk. I saw him looking about the same as when he died, but his crippled leg no longer looked swollen and grotesque. He had his back to me, and when I spoke, glanced over his shoulder and said, "Uh, hi."

He was (we were) in a colorless depression that felt to me hellish, a place like a smoggy, smoky gulch a disagreeable hue of olive-beige. We seemed to be standing on a small earthen rise below which tires were burning in a greasy pit, sending off a putrid black smoke that obscured the distance. There was no greenery or living thing as far as I could see. Just looking at him, I "got" that he didn't intend to hurt anyone, that alcohol was the only medicine he knew, that he was anguished, and that his suicide was a rational decision to be done with life. He impressed me as "stuck."


Me: Hi, how are you?
R: (nervous? embarrassed? both?) I don't know exactly how I got here.
K: Are you glad to be here?
R: I guess so. I don't… know what's happening.
K: You remember killing yourself?
R: But I'm not dead.
K: Oh, yes. You are dead.
R: I sort of remember; I was… um… finished.
K: I know.
R: (dully) What are you doing here?
K: Just visiting. I'm at the Monroe Institute.
R: The Monroe. Oh, I remember.
K: So… what are you doing?
R: I'm not sure.
K: Is it a good or a bad place?
R: Neither. Just boring.
K: Have you seen anyone you know?
R: Seems like I saw Miss Betts. (His step-grandmother, dead since 1966, and one of his favorite people in his life.)
K: So that proves you're dead. She's dead, you know.
R: Oh, she's not dead. But I couldn't get close enough to talk. She was way over there.
K: You sleep a lot here?
R: I'm not sure. (He kept his back to me, which I read as symbolic of his not wanting to "face" me.)
K: Can you see a light anywhere?
R: No.
K: Well, R, look around you. I'm not dead. I'm visiting.
R: I'll be okay.
K: Of course you will. You accomplished a lot in life. Where do you think you are now?
R: It's a funny thing. I can't seem to wake up.
K: You're in a space where hearts can talk to each other.
R: Yeah... (without enthusiasm.)
K: You can know more. You can keep going. You seem kind of stuck. Kind of out of it.
R: Well, I don't… know about that.
K: You can move on.
R: To where?
K: I don't know exactly, but into the Light. Look for a light, follow it. If you can accept you're dead—to earth life, I mean…
R: How's Jennie?
K: She fine. But you should contact Cochran in his dreams and tell him how to proceed.
R: Aw, I can't do that.
K: Yes, you can. I'm here, and we're talking. You can get in touch with Cochran. You can contact anyone you want. Yeah, her too. Come with me to the Garden, the Park…
R: No.
K: Can I come back sometime and see how you're doing?
R: Sure, just call before you come.
K: What, you have a phone here?
R: Oh, I guess I don't.
K: Do you remember how you got here?
R: I don't want to think about that right now.
K: You can talk to Otis and Larry.
R: I'm tired. I don't want to talk to anybody.

We were in the murky smog of 23, the Monroe-named area of the unsettled, troubled, new-dead, I'm pretty sure. Most of the spirits I've met while ghost-busting went rather quickly and easily into the Light, but others had a harder time getting there. It didn't seem a terrible place, just tedious, dead, with those hills of sand or dirt, nobody else I could see, the burning garbage. He didn't seem especially unhappy, and not afraid, mostly just irritated at my being there.

Now he resolutely faced away from me, and his body language said that the conversation was over. There seemed to be no movement, not in him, not in this landscape.

About “calling first”: he’d had a rule, which I observed, that if I came out to the CE, I was to call first. Until hearing the tape between them, I’d assumed he just didn’t like being dropped in on. (And I understood that: I prefer to choose when to put down my projects and do something else, to plan to see friends rather than be jarred by an interruption.)

*

The second time I contacted him, I wasn't trying. I was on an airplane, flying to visit my sister in Albuquerque, several months after his suicide. The plane's engine noise lulled me into an altered state, and suddenly there he was: behind a green chain-link fence, in front of an advancing flaming wall at his back. The vividly colored and fast-moving scene was almost a comic book stereotype of Hell. I could see that R. was terrified because he couldn't escape the fire behind him, which seemed to loom and gust closer and closer to him. He was stuck between the fire and the chain-link fence. He gave me a desperate look, but said nothing. As I approached, closer, I realized that the crossed-wire fence up close was nothing more than his hands in front of his face, creating what looked like an impenetrable fence.

"There are no bars," I said. "You put them there. You can take them away. You can come out.” Then I said, "Look for Miss Betts. Look for the light. She's there. Follow the Light. I really don't want you to suffer." He glared at me, but terror was in his eyes.

I said, "Look, you made that fence yourself. You can take your hands away. It's an illusion. It's not a real fence." He stood there in his prison that he had made, his hands still in front of his face. It made sense metaphorically; he was always in a prison of his own making, and frightened by a lot of things that weren't real, like his fear of anyone learning that he wasn't perfect. Something woke me then.

*

That episode distressed me so that later that night, in my sister's guestroom bed, I sought to communicate with my old friend David McKnight, dead for a few years by then. He had, of course, known my husband. I encountered him on a wintry road, walking. "Why is it winter?" I asked. "I thought this was Summerland."

"Oh, it's not winter," David replied cheerfully. "It's a crisp fall day, just the way I like it." (We create our own reality!)

"What are you doing these days?" I asked.

"Me? Serving. I'm just serving."

"Can you help R.?"

"I can't do that," he said immediately. "I never resonated with him." (It was true; my husband thought David was crazy, a person of no consequence—an opinion he held, at least in later years, about most of my friends. In Al-Anon I learned how common it is for alcoholics to dismiss earlier friends.)

"He wouldn't listen to me,” David went on. “This place is no different from earth life. He can only be helped by someone who resonated with him in life. You and I were on the same frequency, we resonated; but he and I never did. It would be jarring for both of us, and he wouldn't listen to anything I said."

There was more. David went on: "We all need our similar resonances. You two never really resonated with each other. He and (she) resonated. He resonated with Otis and Larry. You, on the other hand, resonate with hundreds of people. Others will eventually take care of him. You don't have to be concerned. You spread sunshine and fun around like manure. That wasn't his thing."

Which leads me to the uncomfortable conclusion that my husband and I, though peaceably married until he was overcome by another woman and alcoholism, never really resonated at the same frequency. We weren't often drawn to the same people. He was a mystery to me, and I gave him all the private space he asked for and created a life for myself. Nick, my current mate, and I are in total resonance; we think each other's thoughts, and often express thoughts at the same moment. We wake, sleep, exercise, eat at similar rates. We travel harmoniously through life together. Though we differ in many ways, and can make each other very mad, we are most definitely on the same frequency.

We sometimes speak of being "in tune" with the people we love. Emotion has been called “energy+motion.” With some people we have it; with others we obviously don’t. In the liminal first stage of love, humans can often feel the vibrational change, colors are brighter, arthritis may disappear, a woman of sixty-four may experience again the hot flashes she left behind fifteen years before, a man may experience again the orgasms of a younger man. Love, that undeniable energy, has coordinated the vibrations of two people.

I asked my Upstairs Crew about vibration, and here is what I transcribed from them: there is a unifying principle: energy. South Americans like Luis (a Colombian friend) know it better than North Americans. Things vibrate in ways not yet understood by physicists. In altered states, we vibrate at different rates.

Often in UFO encounters, one person sees the UFO, and the other doesn't. (This was true of our ghost-busting circle; some actually saw the spirits; I never did.) If a part of your vibration happens to match the vibration of, say, a UFO, or an earthbound spirit, you perceive the visit. Events leave their vibrational patterns on landscapes, in houses, on people, on the very DNA. Thus we are forever vibrating, changed by a vast multitudes of events, such as divorce, death of a loved one, sudden fame, falling in love, becoming a parent.

*

A third contact with my ex-husband was in a dream. I dreamed I called his phone number from my bedroom. He answered, and I thought, Oh, that's how we can talk! "Are you okay?" I asked. "No!" he shouted, "I'm not!" His anger was clearly still about the other woman.

In Al-Anon, we practice tolerating what we cannot change, changing what we can, and being wise enough to perceive the difference. His not even trying to explain about the phone message is a thing I couldn’t change, and I felt it as a painfully sharp detail about where his loyalties lay.

*

A fourth attempt to contact R., after our son's 2008 wedding, brought a surprise. R. was standing quite a distance away, in a cold light the color and feel of a wan sunset after a stormy day. Though he was this time facing me, he was still keeping his distance. He seemed thin, tired, and very young: "How are you?" I asked.

"Okay. You?"

"Did you see Cochran get married?" I asked.

"I looked in on it," he said.

"Did you see Jennie reading her poem?"

"She's her mother's daughter."

"Can we talk?"

"I really don't want to."

"Why not?"

"We never—as you say—resonated." (Sarcasm was his favorite weapon.)

"But I understand now. It's okay. We loved each other once. We both did the best we could," I said.

"You've ruined (her) life."

"That was her doing—and yours. I just exposed it."

When he didn't reply, I said, "What do you expect me to do?"

"Give her back her painting," he said. I was surprised, but at once knew which one he was talking about.

"The water lilies?" I had liked the painting, and I like to support local artists and friends. It had cost a thousand dollars. But in my house, even in a little-used room, it was a constant reminder I didn't need. I’d already thought about donating it to a local charity.

"Give it back."

"But if I give it to Habitat or Hospice, people without means will benefit."

"They'd sell it for nothing. Give it back."

He looks thinner, but his leg seems healed. He's in a white shirt, khakis, his hands folded in front of his groin, sneakers, very young, maybe younger than when I met him. I didn’t quite understand the implication of that, but later it occurred to me that maybe he needed to somehow return to a purer, younger state to be rid of the layers of protection, deceit, and fear he’d piled on throughout life. That may be part of his process.

I didn't think it a fair request. I came to a compromise. I didn't feel I owed him—or her—any favors. But I respect messages from the dead. So I called her, on my cell phone, figuring she wouldn't answer if my name appeared. I told her I was thinking of donating the painting to a charity, but had decided to ask her first if she'd care to buy it back. She said no, it was mine, and to do anything I wanted with it, thanked me for the offer and quickly hung up.

Time passed. I consigned my unhappy dead ex-husband to the care of others: like his mother, our dogs, General George C. Marshall, whom he’d hugely admired, his step-grandmother (with whom he requested his ashes buried)—in the excruciating, shaky-handed, skritchy suicide note he’d left our son in May.

*

In November of 2008, I had another “visit.” We seemed to be on the porch of the CE where there are rocking chairs. He was in one, and I in another.


K: I see you’re better now. You seem relaxed.
R: I’m okay.
K: Not happy?
R: Well, funny, but I’m a dog most of the time. Dogs aren’t happy or unhappy. They just are.
K: Are you well-treated?
R: Can’t say. Dogs don’t know that.
K: Do you remember your life?
R: Oh, sure. There are things to contemplate, it’s… like a book I once read.
K: Was it a good life?
R: Not particularly. I was lonely my whole life.
K: You can ask for friends to come be with you, I think.
R: Don’t be telling me what I can do.
K: How do you read the world now?
R: A sad place. You were always so happy. (sarcastic, resentful)
K: I’d hoped to find you better.
R: I might be.
K: Do you still want to drink?
R: Sometimes… none of your business.
K: But we were married forty years.
R: Not like my mother and father.
K: No, but I know that your mother always thought that she might have done better.
R: My father thought I might have too.
K: Do you wish for (Her)?
R: Emotion fades here.
We are relaxed during this conversation, but our chairs are turned away from each other.

*

And then Christmas of 2008 came. A year and a half had gone by since his death. There’s a folder in which, for years, I've kept leftover, or extra, Christmas cards to send at the last minute to people who send me a card, or whom I've forgotten. That's most people. I'm what you’d call a defensive Christmas card-writer.

On Christmas Eve I got out the folder to find a card for someone I'd gotten a card from. My eye hit on one we had made years before from a photo R. had taken of a fiery sunset over our back yard of winter-bare trees, and I chose it out of the folder.

I opened the card to write a message—and there, unmistakably in my ex-husband's handwriting, were the words

JUST REMEMBER THAT I STILL

No punctuation, just those words, written large in a stronger version of his handwriting than I recall ever having seen. I turned to my handicapped daughter, who was home for Christmas. "Jennie, whose handwriting is this?"

"Dad's," she replied, grinning.

The vigor of the handwriting was the first thing I noticed. It was clear, firm, steady, alive—dare I say happy?—and it almost vibrated off the page, in stark contrast to the trembly chicken-scratch of the suicide note.

But he didn't write it years ago. There was nothing in that folder but blank cards. I swear it.

And the words! An exhortation to remember him, as though I could ever forget—remember that he is still, but also that he still—I took it, and take it, to be a confirmation of his persistence, his survival—I Still—enjoining me to Remember—a Christmas present, a message that he has somehow gone beyond the suffering, the self-hatred and despair, in short, a sign that he had triumphed over the horror of suicide, gone beyond to a peaceful place where he can gather his wits, and that he persists, as I believe we all do, and that I am just to remember that, not all the sad things.

It isn't a love letter—and I didn't expect one—love fled a long time ago. I love someone else now—and I'd like to think he's able to be honest, finally, as I hope I am, but I think it's a thank you for my obvious concern, and a reassurance that he still is. Somewhere. Nearby. Near enough, in fact, to give me (and Jennie) a present to find on Christmas Eve.

*

A year or so later, I asked Barney Brown, a recent friend, to read this chapter I had written, and comment. Barney had been an AIDS counselor in California. We’d talked a few times, though I didn't know him well. Why I asked him to look at this manuscript I can't say, perhaps casual conversation at a dinner party. I think the operant word here is synchronicity.

It turned out that Barney is a loyal AA member, sober for years, which I didn’t know. After he'd read the manuscript, he came down with flu, and our intended conference was postponed for a week. When we finally got together, he said he liked this, but found parts of it "toxic." He opined gently that I shouldn't write about my divorce yet, because I hadn't gone beyond history to wisdom—which he defined as a "state of having no emotional charge on a thing."

I realized that writing this had stirred it all up again. I knew he was right.

It has since been rewritten.

Barney then casually remarked that he'd met R. once—when Otis and Larry brought him to an AA meeting. I was surprised, as R. constantly disparaged AA, calling it a "cult." I didn't know he'd ever been to a meeting. "I never saw anyone less interested in rehab," Barney commented.

Then Barney told me that, after reading the manuscript, in the throes of fever, tossing wakefully one night, he'd contacted R., and perceived that he was still struggling, pieces of his “toxicity and anger and remorse and humiliation spattered across the landscape."

Barney went on. "I tried to gather up the pieces and send him to rest. I suggested to him that he try his next life as a dog."

"Why?" I asked, the hair rising on my arms.

"Because he liked dogs, and he was so damaged I thought he'd need another lifetime to be rid of the poison of his last life. A loyal dog. Clean, brave, reverent."

“Wait!” I said. “R. said those words all the time! Clean, brave, reverent! They were like a mantra. You really were in touch with him!”

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