Adele Elliott: Haunted by past lives

July 18, 2009

Adele Elliott - [email protected]


"It''s no good trying to keep up old friendships. It''s painful for both sides." 


W. Somerset Maugham 




July and August are tedious months. The weeks between holidays seem endless. It will be even longer before the air cools and thins. These days, breathing can feel like drowning. 


The fireflies know this. I saw only one this week. There is an underground creature that has appeared lately. It comes up from subterranean tunnels, probably to gasp for a breath. Some people tell me it is a muskrat, or a woodchuck, or a gopher. No one seems to know what it is, or to care much about it. Oh well, live and let live. 


Unexpected beasts of all species are popping up this summer. I keep getting messages from my very distant past. High school friends (circa 1960s), and others, plant notes in my inbox. Some stumble on me through Facebook, some Google me. Evidently, I am very easy to locate. 


An old admirer of my sister''s (from only about 20 years ago) has found me. He is happily married and living in Bay St. Louis. 


Another friend (but, not a boyfriend) from my distant past has contacted me and is also living on the Mississippi Coast. He, too, is married, just checking in. 


How strange that we New Orleanians ended up in Mississippi. We were all profoundly affected by that evil Katrina. These two give the impression that they have recovered well. I, on the other hand, function only with the help of Prozac and red wine. 


One manifestation of my "madness" is that I no longer talk on the phone. After the storm, many tried to call me. They called for months, even years. Most have given up now. 


Chris says that I am rude. He is a good social secretary and chats with old friends, making excuses for my silence. 


But, e-mail is not the phone. Short notes do not pierce the heart as a voice can. I answer them in the early, dark insomniatic hours, when the house is quiet, except for my husband''s gentle snores, and whistles of the trains that skirt Columbus'' city limits. 


I have learned that it is not a good idea to tell friends from my previous life about this column. They seldom like it. "Why do you say so many nice things about Columbus?" they ask on those rare occasions when they read it. "Why do you act like you will never come home?" whine the ones who are still in New Orleans. 


I feel deeply that I will never go home. That life has ended, a sort of death to the woman that I was. I am too changed to "go back." 


We of the baby boom generation have reached a point where we have lived multiple lives. Marriages and divorces, parenthood and careers, each phase is like a distinct incarnation. These are times apart from the others; some may have a label like "Student," or "Artist," or "Homemaker." Other phases are identified by the decade. My 1970''s  persona was quite different from my 1980''s. 


But, those lives leave ghosts. Wispy specters emerge from a past remembered, murkily, fog-like. The Internet is a sort of Ouija board that crosses the veil between past and present. 


I have trouble trying to explain that I am not the girl they remember. I am so very changed, by experience and by age. Just as I will never again wear mini skirts and "Twiggy-inspired" makeup, I am unable to revert to my former identity. In my world, time travel is still impossible. 


So, to Fast Eddie and Charlie and Jeanette, et al, I remember you all fondly. But, please accept me for the newer and ever-so-slightly improved, but not as pretty, version of that girl you knew in a long-ago life. This is my current manifestation, and I am comfortable with it, for now.

Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.