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NOTIONS Bruce Hetrick: Traveling on the ritual road from loneliness to love

May 9, 2005

AVON, CONN.- I'm sitting alone, in my red sedan, in the parking lot at 40 Tower Lane, an office building where I last worked in 1991.

It's late at night. Rain pelts the pavement. And those who now work here have long since gone home to their spouses and families.

I'm parked in the very spot where my best friend became more than that one fateful October afternoon.

Pam had invited me to lunch that day to celebrate my birthday. She'd swung by to pick me up and we'd driven west on Route 44 to a little Italian place called La Trattoria.

As we sat at the soft-lit table, I'd related to her-in sometimes-passionate tones-the exuberant highs and angry lows of my morning. Pam had, as always, calmed me and refocused the conversation.

We'd talked about work, the upcoming presidential election and our struggling marriages. We'd also delved deep into unrealized dreams and stifled potential.

And when we'd prattled on far beyond the usual lunch hour, Pam drove me back to my office, and we'd talked and talked some more.

It was then, sitting in her little blue Honda Accord, that she asked The-Question-That-Changed-Everything. Seventeen years later, surrounded by the dark and damp of midnight and mood, I hear her ask again: "Is this dangerous?" And knowing that it is and was and ever will be, I lean over, as I did on that remarkable day, to kiss her for the very first time. But this night, my lips touch nothing but air. If you like life on the simplest of surfaces, I've just spent 10 days driving 2,500 miles to scatter Pam's ashes on the waves at Cape Cod. If you're a sentimentalist, you'll savor with me the bittersweet walk through places where love sprang forth and blossomed strong.

If you're a spiritualist (or a "Blues Brothers" fan), you'll understand I was on a mission from God.

Sixteen years ago, when Pam and I marked the transition from loneliness to love at Cape Cod, we didn't take many photographs. We talked, instead, of memory, and its beauty and its power to age like fine wine. And we said of the images we'd carry from that time and place, "We'll always have our videos."

Indeed, I do.

And I played every one along my journey. And I played them again during my little ritual at Whitecrest Beach. And I added as a soundtrack the music we danced to back then. And I read some poems that touched our hearts. And I wore the white sweater Pam liked to touch each time I slipped it on to remind her of the Cape. If this were Hollywood, if Frank Capra were directing or Mitch Albom writing the screenplay, Pam would have ridden shotgun for a few joyous moments of my sentimental journey. Underscored by violins, we would have gotten one final talk so I'd know she's OK-so she could tell me to carry on, and raise our sons well and be strong. And while this isn't the movies, and no ghost of Pam held my hand through the Berkshires, she came along, anyway. She was there in the form of her sister, Carrie, who joined me on the Cape so I wouldn't have to be alone. She was there at the inn in Eastham when I found the Buddhist verse saying:

Every form of existence is transitory. Whoever recognizes this with insight Is thereby released from suffering.

She was there in Amherst when my friend Alan took me to a Green Day concert and the lead singer belted out:

Here comes the rain again, Falling from the stars, Drenched in my pain again, Becoming who we are. As my memory rests,

She was also there on 46th Street in Manhattan when I pointed out a hotel to my friend, Joseph, and said, glumly, "That's where Pam and I stayed last time we were here."

"That's not sad," he said. "That's wonderful. Everywhere you go, you get to take someone so special with you."

That night, trying to make me feel special, my friends took me to see the Broadway musical "Wicked." Pam was there, too, singing with me a duet through the good witches on stage:

Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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