Ever As It Was

Indian River, Michigan, U.S.A. – October 2012

Many years have passed since I’ve been up this way. This part of Northern Michigan hasn’t changed much since I was a child. It’s still the blue-collar vacation zone. Off the hipster radar. Weatherbeaten relics of kitsch remain. The locals have a name for summer tourists – Fudgies. We were never Fudgies. We were never allowed to eat fudge, and we came up here all year round. Whenever our grandparents wanted to bring us. Only happy memories, here.

I stare out the window as my littlest brother drives along the winding dirt road that leads to the cottage. Rain and wind is expected for the coming days. It’s peak fall foliage weekend. I wanted to see it once more. There’s no place like North America in the autumn. I feel like crap: jet lag fatigue and nasty sinus headache. The liver-stunning dose of Nyquil has had little effect. It’s always like this when I fly against the turn of the earth. Going back in time.

I’m happy that G is talking to me again. There was never complete silence, only monosyllabic conversations and looks of contempt. All of which I probably deserved. I left him and my littlest sister behind when they needed me. Abandonment was a pattern for G: people who doted on him vanished. My father lost his mind, my grandfather died, I ran away. A Big Brother, someone he finally began to trust, just didn’t show up one day. Left him waiting to go to a baseball game. Didn’t even bother to say goodbye. The bright and enthusiastic little boy shut off and retreated into himself.

G turns down the steep driveway and shuts off the van. I step out and stretch my back. His Chihuahuas leap out the door behind me. One, two, three, four. They scurry into the brush and nose around. G punches in the code and unlocks the door. Our brother recently bought the cottage from our grandmother. He has the strongest connection to the place. Billy and I were the ones who came up here most often. Our grandfather built this place himself. While he tinkered away on finishing touches, Billy and I would wander through the woods for hours, accompanied only by my grandparent’s dog. Bigfoot was a Husky/Malamute/wolf breed. His fur was so thick that, if he went into the river, it would soak up water like a sponge and he would get stuck. My grandfather would have to put his waders on, wade into the ice-cold river, and push him back out.

The air is colder inside the cottage than outside. As usual, there’s a light on upstairs when there shouldn’t be. When I mention it, G just smiles. Everyone says that Grandpa is responsible for the electrical disturbances and other manifestations that various people have reported in the years since his death. Lights dimming and brightening, cigarette smoke, footsteps. I’ve been a witness to the most dramatic – heavy footsteps on the inner balcony, window blinds closing on their own, the radio turning on full blast. There were other witnesses – the first time my grandmother put her hands on her hips and scolded, “Floyd!” The second time, one of my friends nearly ran out of the place. I haven’t been able to stay overnight here since. I’m not so sure that it’s him. This phantom is too aggressive. My grandfather was a gentle, quiet man. Billy doesn’t believe any of it. I’m happy that he hasn’t witnessed anything. It would be sad for him to lose his sanctuary, too. As for G, he doesn’t say one way or the other.


He locks the cottage and we head into the woods. The dogs trot ahead of us. It was a very dry summer, people say. The colors just aren’t what they usually are. Maybe out here I’ll finally find the fiery reds and oranges of my memories. We find the bike path that was once a railroad track. It slices through the forest, leading to the secret haven.

G and I have different lifestyles, but similar outlooks on the way the world is. We have bonded over this. He lives in a rural place on the outskirts of a small city. His friends are Native Americans and rednecks. He enjoys picking blueberries and building contraptions of self-sufficiency. But it’s more out of a desire to be independent than fear of cataclysm. He’s too optimistic to be a prepper. I’m relieved to know that he’s more content than I am with the way things are.

I sweep my eyes across the hidden place. The next time I pass this way, I will most likely be in the form of ashes. I will seep into the earth with the rain and rest here for eternity. The forest that encircles us is brown and dull yellow. More faded than my memory could ever be. What I have come for doesn’t exist. Nothing is ever as it was. Every time I come back to Michigan, I feel that less of me remains. I am a specter in people’s memories. My voice gets lost in the chatter of kids, husbands, homes, work dramas. I’ve become an unsettling disturbance in the mundane. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve passed away and just haven’t figured it out yet.

I look over at G. His hair is beginning to thin on top, friar-like. I remember the delightful little boy who was so fascinated by everything about the world. He turns and looks me in the eye. A piercing awareness in his gaze. A nod of acknowledgment. He sees me. As I am.


43 thoughts on “Ever As It Was

    • That’s the question. I hope it’s him, I really do. Those who’ve heard/felt things are pretty confident that it’s him. Maybe I’m just overly sensitive. This kind of thing scares me. I’ve heard that there are spirits who wander, searching for anyone who will acknowledge them.

  1. Julie ! Your beautiful writing intrigues me always , this post especially as it is about Michigan and family … I have a brother like this too , who sees me …. If you ever wish to come to Glen Arbor , you are welcome to stay with me and be my guest….. Truly

    • Thank you so much, Meg. You are so generous. I don’t foresee a visit to the US at all in the near future, or even in the future. But I will remember your invitation. Wishing you a glorious autumn Sunday.

  2. A lovely bittersweet reminiscence, well told. I love your collection of stories. You capture the spirit of places and people in nets of words, then untangle and release them for your readership.

  3. Your phrasing is a delight Julie. It must be reassuring to know these connections with your past are still there – all of mine are gone, I have nowhere to go to resurrect the ghosts.
    Fudgies – I like that πŸ™‚

  4. Have you read novel of Joyce Carol Oates ? Sometimes, your stories remind me of her. Complicated family stories, and most are bittersweet (I like that word, even in French: “doux amer”).

    (oh, and if you come to Belgium, tell me !)

    • Yes, I’ve read a few of her books. Some I thought were great, others not so much. She’s written way too many books for all of them to be great. She’s chosen quantity over quality.

      I’m not planning to visit Belgium again, but if I do I’ll certainly let you know.

      • Yes, JCO has written too many books ! but I’m a bit foolish: I decided to read them all, in chronological order. I’m not very far, yet. But it’s always an inspiration to write better.

        • Oh my. You have my admiration. She excels at writing about relationships and I like how she doesn’t shy away from darker themes. I read a biography about her, I think it was called “Disappearing Writer” or something like that. It gave me a new perspective on her writing, but I don’t think I’d like to meet her in person. Thanks for comparing some of my work to hers, though. It’s a lovely compliment.

  5. Dear Julie, I like your story very much and thank you for it, despite the fact that I’m not sure about grandfather! When I go back to where I grew up I also feel out of place, that’s life. Unfortunately, I don’t even have a brother who looks at me and sees me as I am.

    • Hi Martina – As always, thank you for reading. I think that when we leave home, we truly leave everything behind. And the longer we’re away, the more we disappear from the minds of those who’ve stayed behind. It’s a painful thing to realize, and often we realize it after it’s too late to go back.

      • Hello Julie,
        This makes me think of Edward Said, who was raised as an orthodox Christian Palestinian with American nationality, he was born in Jerusalem, educated in Cairo (he attended an English primary school and American secondary school) and he gained renown as a professor at an American university. With such a background, it is not surprising to read in his memoir of his childhood that “the overriding sensation I had was always being out of place.” What he remembers yearning for, throughout his life, was the wish that “we could have been all-Arab, or all-European and American, or all Orthodox Christian, or all Muslim, or all Egyptian, and so on.” This feeling on not quite fitting in, of in-betweenness, invigorates Said’s work but also, he claimed, lent it a strength, because being able to identify with both sides of the “imperial divide” allows the hybrid to feel that he or she belongs to more than one group, more than one history! So, it’s worthwhile, to pay a certain price, according to me.
        By the way I also advice the book β€œThe Go Between” by L.P. Harley

        • Thanks for the book recommendation, Martina. I think nowadays very few people are All-Something, and many have identity issues because of it. That’s the effect of globalization…for better or worse. It’s supposed to bring us together, but I’m not sure it’s working so well. Said seems to have found an effective solution for himself, and hopefully others.

      • That we do disappear from people’s minds was brought home to me when I went back to my birth country after a long absence. I wanted to shout; hey, people it’s me. Don’t you know me? It was as though I were a ghost. The sense of truly belonging had gone. In a way that was helpful, because it meant I was able to concentrate on finding a new place of belonging. I am curious though; you seem to suggest that this place is where you want your ashes to be, even though you now feel like an unsettling disturbance. By the way, your new blog look is lovely. Suits your literary journey so well.

        • We lost one home, but found another, or others. Yes, with loss came the treasure of discovery. There’s one place in Michigan that remains “my place”. A hidden corner of the forest. It’s a place to be alone or with others who understand, so I’ve always felt like I belong. That’s why it’s the end of my earthly trail. I was vague about it, because I want it to stay hidden.

          Thanks for the compliments on my new blog design. I’ve been thinking about a design that suits my personality and writing for a while, and finally came across some perfect images. I’ll be keeping this template for a good, long while.

  6. Transitions, looking back and then regaining a foothold to move forward always gives me a bittersweet feeling, This past week, a dear mentor passed. I have been reliving memories for the past few days as a way of giving thanks for the time that was granted.

    A few years ago, I read Mary Catherine Bateson (daughter of Margaret Mead) – this passage came to my mind as I read your post.

    β€œ… as we age we have not only to readdress earlier developmental crises but also somehow to find the way to three affirmations that may seem to conflict. … We have to affirm our own life. We have to affirm our own death. And we have to affirm love, both given and received.” Mary Catherine Bateson, Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom

    BTW – your post showed up in my reader!!! All is well…

    • My condolences on your mentor’s passing. Reliving memories as giving thanks is a fine tribute. I think the affirmations don’t conflict at all. Death is a part of life. I’ve affirmed mine many times. I know he turned out to be a charlatan, but Carlos Castaneda (or whomever he stole the teaching from) said that we need to use death as our advisor and consult it before every decision we make. Thank you, as always, for your enlightening comments.

  7. Hidden places, we all need such out of the way days to sink into at times. Late summer, early autumn rains, like for most, dust ravages colour, dulls the living’s natural lustre, for a strong wind is just never enough. It’s good how some places keep knowing how move out of sync with progress. If one knows where to look around here, they’ll find a spiral of old railroad formation, remains of old low timber bridges. They went in all directions until the motor started to take hold and set society’s trim.They do make good paths. Sometimes I think, Julie, that as we grow further above the dirt and grass to become our own tree, we forget to lose our leaves in Autumn and find a new Spring each year. No, no specter,

    • It’s good to have a hidden sanctuary, to choose where we will one day rest. (I have a feeling that you have at least one.) The end of the long and dusty trail. This particular place isn’t dramatic at first glance, but there’s a definite energy. Some people actually bought that small piece of land because they want to be sure that no one develops it. Because, slowly, houses have begun to appear in the forest where I once roamed for hours.

  8. Hello Julie, I enjoyed this reading really much, also for me chilhood memories are indelible, but I’m conscious that they slightly change during the years.All this has a bittersweet taste. Cris

  9. I remember that I use to see something at night by the window, I was so afraid of it, but one day I just simply said to him (yes I felt he was a guy and he had green eyes I know weird) but he left.

    I learn a couple of things about you in this peace and is nice to know about your brother and about this place where you were happy.

    P.S it is official I lost my wordpress to a spamer, I got the news today so I just got a new one with my name, maybe it was for the better…http://dorispacheco.wordpress.com/
    please follow me πŸ™‚

    • Oh, that’s scary. Do you remember what you said to him?

      I’ve written about my other brother and sister, but this is the first time I’ve written about my youngest brother. I haven’t yet written about my youngest sister. I’ve got a big family.

      That’s terrible about your blog. You had years of beautiful posts there. Do you know how they got your password? Of course, I followed your new one. Looking forward to your posts there.

      • Sorry for my grammar errors just notice them on my response I need to keep practicing my grammar skills πŸ™‚

        I just went to the window and told him to go away very calmly,
        told him the truth that he was making me feel scared and to please live
        and he did, weird. In a funeral I got to see the lady that was dead walking around the people in the funeral, I had never seen her before, I told my friend that her aunt was there, she did not believe, I told her what she was wearing and that I did not want to go up to coffin to see her, so she did and she came back all white, and told me she believe me. This was years ago, I also saw my aunt at her funeral like 8 years ago but after my dad pass way I have not seen any dead people anymore, it is too scary and I do not want to have that burden on me. I know I have this ability to see them but I have repress it for some reason, my family is very catholic and if they know about that they probably would take me to a priest to do exorcism, they do not get my artsy side either and my believes.

        Wow you have big family, did not know you have a younger sister, it is very intriguing to find out about your family since you talk about your past, we are finding little pieces of the puzzle as we go. I been reading other peoples memoirs from indie authors and I hate to say, but I do not like their style, you have a very interesting way of putting your life, you have a writing style that I love, you play with words differently. Also, I like what you being doing with your blog love the theme and your new avatar picture, very nice, it give a sense of traveling and direction.

        • Oh wow, I can’t imagine seeing a departed person. I think that when important people in our lives die, they protect us in certain ways. Maybe your father is keeping the spirits away from you.

          Thank you for the compliments on my writing and my blog design. Since I’ve had a blog, I’ve changed themes every few months, but I’m going to keep this one for a long time.

  10. You have brought back fond memories of the years I lived on South Street in Indian River. It is an idyllic village when you aren’t involved in drama. Like you, I left my home (in Wyoming, MI) as soon as I could. My brother became a raging alcoholic. Could I have helped? No.
    I am happy that you always will live wild and free.
    “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

    Ralph Waldo Emerson

    • Hi Chuck – So nice to hear from you. I didn’t know that you used to live in Indian River. There’s something special about that unpretentious little town. It seems that we have, at times, followed the same path, but just missed coming across one another, except for the brief period at the stately and bizarre Christopher House. Love the Emerson quote. Thank you, my friend.

  11. A lovely text (and photos) Julie. A trip down memory lane? πŸ™‚
    They can be hard sometimes.
    I’ve never been to Michigan. I can imagine a walk in the woods similar to Normandie.
    I’m more of a “Suderner” mahself! πŸ™‚
    Ye be good naw ye hear?
    (And have a lovely week-end. After a while one comes to realize why brothers and sisters are so important: They’re the only ones who remember you – and vice-versa – when you were a child!)

    • Hi Brian. I’ve never walked in Normandie, so I can’t say if it resembles Michigan. Sometimes I recognize Michigan in other places, but there’s always something a little different. You have a good weekend, too. Cheers.

  12. I was 39 before I got a speeding ticket, and it just so happens that I got it a couple of miles north of Indian River. I was doing 101 on I-75 trying to get to Tahquamenon Falls for the last boat ride before my job relocated me from Detroit to Tampa, Florida.

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