A Visit From My Dead

A not-quite-ghost story.

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I had a visit from my dead yesterday.

It is, perhaps, an occupational hazard for biographers. The dead come by and haunt you.

You show up at an archive, open a box of documents and meet them, in the graceful, hopeful handwriting of their youth; follow them through the tempests of their love affairs and their personal and professional triumphs, and meet their end with them, as they recount, in shaky scrawls, the terrors of old age and onrushing death.

Then you pack up their letters and crumbling photographs, send the box back to storage, and try to get back to your life. And most days you can. And some days you can't. Some days the dead won't go.

Yesterday it was Mary Field, a young woman who, in the earliest years of the 20th century, left a stifling, dull Midwestern home and a tyrannical father and went to Chicago to work as a social activist and join the ranks of early feminists. They called themselves "new women." She fell in love with Clarence Darrow, had an affair, broke it off, married another man, ruined her daughter's life, and died, well into my lifetime, old and lonely and terrified, calling Darrow's name.

Mary was in my thoughts yesterday, conveying the chill of mortality.

I fled work and hiked some miles in the last hours of daylight.

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