Now and then, due to luck or grace or the peculiar workings of that agency those of us who have any sense call A Higher Power (drawing the line at The, though), people come back into my life, vastly changed but still recognizable, at least after a while, as newer versions—reincarnations—of people I lost or sloughed off years ago.
There’s the brother-boy (yes, boy, although he’s now middle-aged), thoughtful, a bit depressive, learning to love the world again as he loved it in childhood, the new version of the little brother I lost years ago. G. reminds me of my little brother’s mild unworldliness—which didn’t work in the post World War Two world of his brief maturity, with its emphasis of what were then considered masculine essentials: drinking hard and regularly, chasing girls, being corralled early into marriage and fatherhood, the harness endured for years. All that was too much to expect of a gentle, ambiguous young man who fell silent in his early twenties in the midst of raucous family gatherings, and then permanently silent.
Then there’s the short well-planted wise woman who has come to replace the large woman who raised me, who stood with her arms crossed in the shadowy doorways of my childhood, speaking little but now and then offering me the comfort of those maxims that still sometimes seem the only reliable answers to life’s perplexities: A stitch in time saves nine; pretty is as pretty does; pride cometh before a fall; look at your feet and your feathers fall—although all of them seemed design to take a girl down a notch or two who felt that there was at best one notch below her present position.
There’s the spry elderly gentleman who spent his last years combating spryness, roughing it on the Colorado River, leading expeditions of awed friends to the Galapagos, jetting back and forth between Santa Fe and Washington to serve on various scientific committees, who regaled us often, after a glass of wine, with the tale of the expedition he led in the 1960’s of motor launches heading up, not down, the Colorado—and it was like him, too, not to reveal that he’d left the trip early to escort a wounded friend to the hospital. In P I used to see my father’s version of himself, sweating away at men’s doubles on an orange clay court, striding forth in ragged sneakers to dig clams on a Cape Cod beach, telling me with urgency when our minister preached celibacy as the way to God that there was another, and a much better way—which Father called “midnight feasts.”
P’s feasts, though, remained secret; he was a man of his times.
The horseback riding beau of my young twenties vanished, taking the thoroughbred filly he’d given me along with him (which seemed at the time a cruel blow) when I told him over the telephone, from during a ski weekend, that I was considering replacing him with an East Coast darling who would never be seen on the back of a horse.
So I missed decades of riding, showing, jumping, steeple chasing—and perhaps saved my neck.
My riding is now confined to a few minutes bareback on a broad handsome gelding, the color of melted caramel, led by my long-ago sweetheart’s reinvention, who shares nothing of the original’s qualities except for a life-long passion for horses and a willingness to teach a greenhorn. And a few other things: madcap humor shading at times into recklessness that attracts a carefully self-conserving soul like me, and the ability to speak out roughly when irritated: “Take a walk and work that fat butt off,” he advised a stranger who had suggested that he give his beloved dog, a truck dweller, some water.
I would never say that, nor would the original version, honed by southern manners, but I love the fact that this reincarnation has burst the bonds of the gentility that made his earlier version impossible for me, in spite of a handsome head of hair and the long legs and elegant posture of the life-long rider, which N’s reincarnation also possesses.
Some of those I’ve lost do not reappear, which is perhaps just as well: the darkly obscure husband I never really knew, the roaring one, the older brother who terrified me with his wild male energy, or the other older brother who hoped hopelessly and dreamed dreams that seemed destined to fail.
Perhaps they have yet to reappear, along with my girlhood crush, N of the translucent skin and shining red-gold hair, slim as a gazelle, distant as a goddess, or the brilliant tough woman lawyer who taught me how to fight for myself, and perhaps for that reason dropped out of my life when the job was done.
But during these long nights alone when I can’t sleep, I’m comforted by the dim presence of those who have returned, to give me a second chance.