WHAT A NIGHT! WILL! If I got through that, I can get through anything. I’m not going to see her again! GAH I wish I could collapse around your neck, dear friend, and cry and rant to you about all these feelings rushing over me…oh, Will…I’m sitting here, gasping for breath, trying to calm myself down, just keep it together until the morning, and the car service is all set to pick me up at 5 am.
Ahhhh and meanwhile she’s fast asleep and has no idea she’s never going to see me again…I cut myself loose, I did it, I got through that whole two-hour conversation without breaking down and telling them. And God, what a conversation!
Albert had promised me that he and Lotte would come walk with me in the botanic garden right after dinner. I stood on the terrace under the tall chestnut trees and watched the sun set for the last time for me over those lovely valleys and the gentle stream… so many times, I’d stood there with her and looked out at this exact same gorgeous scene, and now — I went up and down the tree-lined avenue I used to love so much; some mysterious emotional pull had drawn me there so many times before I even met Lotte, and we were so happy when we realized, while we were getting to know each other, that we were both such fans of this little spot, which I have to say is one of the most romantic man-made spaces I’ve ever seen.
First off, when you look down through the chestnut trees you’ve got this long view — oh wait, I think I told you all this already, didn’t I? About how high walls of beech trees close around you as you go, and the bushes get thicker and thicker, making it more and more shadowy, until it all ends in an enclosed little clearing where the air practically shivers with solitude… I can still feel how strangely moving it was when I first wandered in there, one sunny afternoon; I could sense, very faintly, how much joy and pain would play out there someday…
I’d been wallowing for about half an hour in the sweet, sad feeling of going away, of saying goodbye, when I heard their footsteps coming across the terrace. I ran over to them and hugged her with a shudder. Just as we started walking, the moon came up over the bushy hills; we talked about all sorts of things, not really paying attention to where we were going, and after a while we realized we were just outside that shadowy clearing. Lotte went in and sat down. Albert sat beside her, so did I; but I was so restless I couldn’t stay sitting; I stood up, stepped in front of her, walked back and forth, sat down again: it was…not a fun place to be in. She pointed out how beautifully the moon was lighting up the whole terrace where the beech trees ended: it was a gorgeous effect, and especially striking because where we were was so completely covered in shadow. We sat there gazing silently, and after a while she began, “Every time I go walking in the moonlight, every time, I always find myself thinking about the people I’ve loved and lost, I always feel this sense of death and future coming over me… We will live again!” she went on, in this gorgeous, emotional tone, “but, Werther, will we find each other again? recognize each other? What do you think? what do you feel?”
“Lotte,” I said, reaching out to her and tearing up, “we’ll see each other again! In this world and the next!” — I couldn’t keep going — Will, did she HAVE to ask me that, right when I was struggling with the idea of leaving??
“And do you think our loved ones who’ve passed on know how we’re doing?” she went on. “Do they feel it when we’re happy? when we think about them with love and affection? Ohhh, I can always feel my mother right behind my shoulder whenever I’m sitting on some quiet evening with her kids, with my kids, and they’re all gathered around me the way they used to sit around her… then I start crying, I miss her so much, and I look up to heaven and I wish she could look down for just a second and see I’m keeping my promise, like I promised her, right before she died: I will be a mother to your children. I get so emotional, I just burst out, ‘Forgive me, Mother, if I’m not everything for them that you were! Ahh! I mean, I’m doing everything I can, I keep them dressed and fed, eugh, and most importantly I keep them loved and cared for. If you could see how much we’ve come together, you dear saint!, you’d praise God and thank Him with all the passion in your heart that He listened when you prayed to Him with your last, bitterest tears to look after your children.’”
THE THINGS SHE SAID! Oh, Will, who could capture what she said? How could these cold keystrokes capture this heavenly efflorescence of the soul?!
Albert interrupted her gently and said, “You shouldn’t let it get to you like this, Lotte! Honey, I know how attached you are to this kind of thinking, but please —”
“Oh, Albert,” she said, “I know you haven’t forgotten those evenings, when we used to sit together at that small round table, when Daddy was away on business, and we’d tucked the kids in to bed…you always had some good book with you and still never got any reading done. — Wasn’t she just the most beautiful soul you ever met? that dear, gentle, cheerful woman, always so on top of everything! God knows the tears I’ve cried, throwing myself into bed at His feet, begging Him, ‘Please, make me just like her!’”
“Lotte!” I burst out, throwing myself at her feet, taking her hand and covering it with tears, “Lotte! You are so touched by the blessings of God, and by your mother’s spirit!”
“I wish you’d met her,” she said, squeezing my hand — “she deserved to meet you.” — I thought I was going to pass out. That’s the most amazing thing anyone’s said about me, ever — and she went on: “And she, of all people, had to pass away in the prime of her life, when her youngest son wasn’t even six months old! She didn’t suffer long; she was peaceful, resigned, the hardest part for her was her kids, the youngest especially. Oh, God — when she was close to the end, and she told me, ‘Bring them up to me,’ and I led them in, the little kids, who were all so confused, and the older ones, who were shattered…the way they stood around the bed, and she raised up her arms and prayed over them, and kissed them one by one and sent them away, and she said to me: ‘Be their mother!’ — I took her hand and swore I would! — ‘That’s a big promise, sweetheart,’ she said, ‘to love like a mother and see like a mother. But I’ve always been able to tell from the gratitude you’ve shown me that you know how hard this is. Give that love and attention to your brothers and sisters, and give your father the respect and loyalty of a wife. You’ll be a comfort to him.’ — She asked for him, but he’d gone out so we wouldn’t see him in such unbearable agony…the man was a wreck.
“Albert, you were in the room. She liked to hear people talk, and she asked for you and called you over, and the way she looked at you and me, so comforted and at peace seeing that we were happy together — that we’d be happy together…”
Albert collapsed around her neck and kissed her and screamed, “We are! We will be!” — Even Albert, Mr. Put-Together, had totally lost it, and I was so far gone I don’t know what I was doing.
“Werther,” she began, “and to think that this woman is gone! God! Sometimes, when I start thinking how you let the things you care about most just get taken away, and no one feels that harder than the kids, who cried for ages about how the men in black took their Mommy away!”
She stood up and I felt suddenly anxious and shaky and I sat there holding her hand. “We should go,” she said, “it’s getting late.” She tried to pull her hand loose and I held on to it harder.
“We’ll see each other again,” I screamed, “we’ll find each other again, no matter what shape we take, we’ll recognize each other. I’m off,” I went on, “I’m off and I’m okay with that, and even so, if I had to say it was for ever, I don’t think I could do it. Goodbye, Lotte! Goodbye, Albert! We’ll see each other again.”
“Um, yeah, tomorrow,” Lotte answered, smiling. That “tomorrow” hit me hard! Augh, she had no idea, as she pulled her hand away from mine — They walked off down the avenue, I stood up, watched them pass through the moonlight and threw myself onto the ground and cried myself out and jumped up and ran over to the terrace and down in the shadows of the tall linden trees just saw her white dress shimmer out the garden gate, I stretched out my arms, and it was gone.