The Confederacy and its sick heart, the Cotton Kingdom, lay in ruins, but I had just begun to live.
Everyone thinks that when they die it’s all over, but it’s not. For me it feels as if life is just beginning. Maybe that’s because I lived scarcely a quarter of a century, while I’ve been mostly a passive observer of this world for over one hundred and fifty years now.
First, I mustn’t forget about my two friends, my spiritual brothers, really—Willis and Newton. Unfortunately they were still in bondage at the time of my death, serving as my body servants while I fought for the Confederacy, and were returned to my family in Alabama along with my trunk of personal possessions. Given they were only several miles from the Union lines when I was killed—oh so close to freedom—that seemed a great tragedy to me, especially given I had vowed to get them off that cotton farm if it was the last thing I did. I thought I’d failed, that they’d remain in bondage for the rest of their lives, but then, two years later, the Union victory granted them their freedom. And like I said before, I’d like to think that I . . . that is, my surrogates, Generals Custer and Stuart . . . played a significant part in achieving that victory.
As I intimated before, I’ve come to appreciate Custis now. When we were alive on the earth together I took him for granted, didn’t much care one way or the other, just as long as he used his position—son of our commanding general and aide to President Davis—to help get me my long-overdue promotion. It wasn’t until after I passed over, when I was lying in state in the rotunda of the Confederate Capitol, that I realized the extent of his “unnatural” feelings for me. (That’s what we called such feelings between two men in those days, if not worse.) But seeing how upset he was, downright heartbroken, despite doing his best to hide his true feelings, really opened my eyes. Maybe my eyes were closed forever, but in some ways that’s when I began to see. As much as I thought I’d already seen the truth that most of my fellow Confederates hadn’t, death opened a whole new world. I think it was fitting that my casket had a glass window over my face, so I could be looking out while everyone was looking in.
Custis just couldn’t get me out of his mind. He wanted to know all about me, understand the enigma that had been the gallant Pelham. After the war, when I was barely cold in my grave, he took it upon himself to go searching for Aryanna in New Orleans. How he found her I’ll never know. I’d just speculated that she was still in New Orleans, and it turned out I was right.
At first, Aryanna didn’t want to talk about me, or our growing up on the cotton farm together, but then she came around. I’d like to think that talking to Custis, though, helped her see things in a more positive light, and that she, in turn, helped put his mind to rest. What matters is that Custis got her to start loving me again, which after all those years and all that had transpired, is about the best I could hope for under the circumstances. Anyway, in the end that unlikely pair struck up quite a friendship, if you get my drift. Who would have thought that Custis Lee had it in him?