There’s a Place

Here’s an autobiographical story that Carol sent to me two days ago.

Patrick’s Cairn

There’s a place on the north coast, up high on the forest clad cliffs above the aqueous blue – your beloved Mediterranean. Its early morning in autumn, and I know I will find you there. It’s my gateway to memories.

As I leave the valley floor,and climb the twisting road, I’m watched by thousands of tortured olive trees wearing their leaves of grey and silver. The only bright color is falling from the roadside elms, in tones of orange and yellow skittering on the tarmac.

Asphalt turns into rough gravel , as memory guides me onto the unmarked track that leads into the dark green forest at the top of the mountain pass. The track loops back and forth in the woods. After a few minutes, it terminates suddenly beside a cliff a kilometer above the sea.

I step out and walk to where the rock face drops a thousand meters straight down. The sea is flat calm – there is no horizon. Impossible to see where sea and sky are touching. A canvas of whites and blues.

Walking back to my car, I try and see what you saw here. The ground underneath the untouched forest is in darkness under the canopy of oak and pine. Occasionally a thin line of sunshine pierces the gloom, and shines on the heavy dew on the rocks. Walking here is silent due to the deep mulch of fallen oak leaves and pine needles.

A family of goats stares at me motionless, and then resumes browsing, disappearing into the shadows. There are some tiny brown birds flitting in the branches, but I have never heard bird song here. Its eerie, as if nature has a pact of silence over all living things .

I am standing at the right spot. When I look down I see the tiny pieces of broken glass from where the police smashed into your car. They are almost invisible now, covered in moss and fallen leaves. Another season and they will be gone. Wind or vandals have toppled my cairn, and I build it back up. Beside it a wild orchid has established its home. I hope it reproduces, so I can find the exact place next year.

There was never any need to analyze the substrate of your mind for motive. It was all physical pain. Or was it only that? You were never the same after her death. Her demise left a hollow that was never filled.

And a memory comes flooding back. The windy night we left the hilltop Deia church where your friends were playing a concert. We slid out quietly, and looked down on the lights of the village below. As we walked the classical music from the church became supplanted by the amplified music of the folk concert being played below in the big hotel. And then the silence when they stopped and we walked and talked. And the wind blew strongly and the palms rustled, and the hedgerows shook their heads. And when we returned to the church at the end of the concert, it was to find that the musicians had dedicated a piece to you. When they announced it, heads were turning in all directions to find you. But you had slipped away, as you did in many of life’s situations.

I sit on a rock closer to the cliff and gaze at the immensity of the blue and then the fragility of the friar’s cowls and orchids between the rocks at my feet. To die surrounded by so much beauty was a privilege. Everyone should have this option. Not a hospital room with stale air and wheezing machinery.

You planned death well. You wanted to do it on your terms, as you had done with your life. “I don’t want to wake up in a clinic having my stomach pumped. I want out.”

Then you told me the story of years before when you awakened in a hospital room after anesthetic for an operation. A young man with long brown hair, and kind eyes, dressed in white was bending over you. He stared into your drugged eyes and said, “Patrick. My name is Jesus.”

And you said “Christ? I’ve been wrong about this my whole life?!” Then you noticed his hospital orderly badge, which said “Jesus Montoya.”.

And here comes a car to spoil my reverie, crunching over the gravel. It pulls up right behind me and I feel a moment of alarm. This is a very isolated spot – I’ve never seen another car before. A grey haired couple get out and cheerfully say “Buenas Dias” as if to reassure me. They walk off towards the cliff. The clouds are moving in and I feel chilled. Time to pull out of reverie with the dead and get back to the living.

At my age, friends are disappearing with some frequency. But most of them didn’t touch my life so deeply and leave such a hollow gap. I never cried when I heard. I knew that you were going to do it, and that things would need to be organized for those that you left behind. I didn’t want to open a hole in my emotional dam.

As I drive out down the track I notice for the first time that the sides are covered in hundreds maybe thousands of cistus – mountain rock roses. In a few months the forest road will be a millefiori of pinks and whites. And the forest will continue as it has for millennium.

Because at times like these, to have you listen at all, it is necessary to talk about the life we have left to live.