It was August 2010. I had been back in the United States for two weeks and was moving into my darling condo which I had rented out for the past year while living abroad. Other than some furniture, wall art, and odds and ends that were sentimental to me I kept almost nothing from my life before Italy. I didn’t mind parting with these things. After all, they were just things and it felt liberating to purge!
I knowingly planned a month-long reentry in the U.S. so I could adjust before starting in my new position at my old firm. I had a lot to do to get my place ready to move back in. First I had to clean, and then fresh paint had to be applied, and then the movers had to bring my boxes, and then I had to unpack said boxes, and then I had to organize the unpacked said boxes, and then I had to buy new stuff to replace the stuff I didn’t have any more. Oh yes! There was a lot to be done.
I was in the middle of unpacking boxes, with my trusty iPod shuffling songs in the background, when the pangs of hunger hit me and I realized I hadn’t eaten all day. I went to the refrigerator and pulled out some food I had brought with me that morning. When I placed the food on the counter and moved toward the silverware drawer, it hit me. I had no eating utensils! I gave them all away the year before. I quickly remembered, however, unpacking my silver cabinet, a beautiful 9 inch by 15 inch cherry stained box that housed my fancy wedding silver and protected it from the tarnishing affects of the air. I hadn’t used my silver in years. Actually the last person to use it was my former husband who borrowed it over the Thanksgiving Holiday of 2008.
I retrieved the cabinet from the storage closet where I had moved it earlier that day; placed it on the kitchen counter; and lifted the top of the box. I was surprised to find a folded piece of notebook paper placed on top of the silver forks. I lifted it from where it was placed and unfolded it. It was something penned in the hand of Steve, my former husband. My body started to shake. What was this? Had I seen this before? Did Steve put this here? As I started to read the note, I realized it was a poem and my breath quickened.
You took me in
At a time I needed someone to take me in
You rescued me
From a life of inevitable lies and sin.
You made me laugh
At a time when I needed the most to laugh.
You made me smile
An expression I hadn’t seen for a while.
Thank you for saving me
You turned the tides.”
When I finished reading, tears poured from my eyes and my body shook uncontrollably. My mind was racing trying to figure out what had just happened. Had I put this note in the silver cabinet before I moved? Why would I do that? Why would I torture myself like that? Had I seen this poem before? Steve had written me a few poems or songs when we were together, but this one I could not recall. Did I block it out? Was I not ready to hear this message until now? Is it possible that Steve placed this note in the silver cabinet three weeks before he died? Does stuff like that ever REALLY happen? I simply could not make sense of it.
After calming myself down I went back into the kitchen to try to figure out what to do next. Eating didn’t seem much of a priority any more so I went back to unpacking boxes when the REM song, Night Swimming started to play. REM was Steve and my favorite band. Night Swimming is one of my favorite of their songs. I used it on the DVD I made to commemorate Steve’s life for his memorial service. To hear REM play on my iPod while on shuffle was rare. It never seemed to play songs I had imported from my disks, it always seemed to favor the songs purchased from the iTunes store. Then, “randomly” another REM song immediately followed. THEN Steve’s absolute favorite singer, Bruce Springsteen came on and I felt a chill down my neck. I had the overwhelming sense that Steve was there - with me - in my kitchen! Knowing that no one else was there and understanding that I am fundamentally not “normal” anyway, I cocked my head to the side, looked up to the ceiling and said out loud, “Are you here?”
Although I did not hear a voice –aloud or in my head– I felt that he was there. Actually, I should say, I knew that he was there. I was not afraid or freaked out. I felt completely safe, but I didn’t know what to do. I mean, I never had a dead guy visit me before, so I just did my thing; unpacking boxes, washing sheets, and organizing my house. I felt like he was following me around the house, which is funny because that’s what he had a tendency to do when we were first married.
Eventually I started asking him questions.
“Are you okay? Are you happier now?” The feeling I got back from him was yes, he was happy.
“Are you in… heaven?” It sounded weird saying it. The response I felt was “Kind of.” Of course I had no idea what that meant and was not about to pursue it.
“Why did you do it Steve? Why did you do this? Did you know you were going to die?” He told me (without saying a word) he was tired. He didn’t realize how much his death would affect everyone.
After the third day of feeling like he was following me around my house I asked him playfully why he was still here. I told him I was okay and after that I no longer felt his presence.
I chuckled at the irony of what was happening. I mean, I was having a conversation with the spirit of the person who would be the LEAST likely to believe that a conversation like this was possible. The man himself would have called me a nutcase!
Since then I‘ve felt Steve’s presence a couple of times over the last year; most recently when I met up with some very good friends of ours that we met before we were married. Again the awareness of his presence was triggered by a song; this time Rosalita by Bruce Springsteen. This was one of Steve’s favorite songs and it was the song we walked into our wedding reception to. I felt him in the restaurant when I got up to walk to the restroom and I just had to smile because I knew why he was there.
Obviously, I’ve heard a ton of Bruce Springsteen (or other sentimental songs) over the years since Steve’s death. These songs occasionally inspire a memory of him, but feeling his presence is very different from a memory.
I know how this all sounds. I am sure that most people would explain this away as something that was manufactured in my mind so that the unfinished business between he and I could be resolved. I understand fully this could be the case; that I so desperately wanted closure with him that my mind played tricks on me. But the thing is I don't care! I don't care if it was real or manufactured in my mind, because it did give me peace.
I don't harbor feelings of resentment against him for dying before we could be friends again. I’m not mad at him for drinking his life away. I don't beat myself up anymore because I didn’t do enough to help him. After all, he wrote me this amazing letter letting me know that was not the case.
I can now remember the best of Steve, not the worst. So to me, it doesn’t matter whether I put that letter in the silver cabinet and have absolutely no memory of doing so, or whether he placed it there three weeks before he died. What matters to me is the peace that I received. Without a doubt I know that Steve forgives me, and I forgive him. But most importantly, I forgive myself.
So, you can call me crazy for having conversations with my dead ex-husband but I will call me fortunate for being in a place in my life where I can accept this gift.