The Stroke That Saved My Life
It was only a stroke, but it took me away in seconds. Warnings, hints, little blips I should have paid attention to? Nada. I’d been for my morning walk, my usual 5k, and was seated at my favorite café, latte and croissant ready for consumption, a mystery at my elbow. You know, who did what to whom and why. I felt a strange sensation as I gazed out the window to the street and was wondering if a headache was coming on when suddenly everything was …. Gone. No table, no food, no room. No, me really. But I was there, in some dark nothingness. Not knowing how I got there, not knowing how I’d escape. No sound, no smell, no breath. But something was there, and it felt like me. But if senses were absent, how did I know?
I felt calm but somehow in a panic. The nothingness went on until I gave up trying to time it. Then I stirred to feel grass against my cheek. How did I know? Who knows? A fuzzy vision arrived, and I was looking at blades of grass inches away. I’d always been fond of lying in fields on sunny days and hearing the breeze and birds, running my hands across the grass. Started when I was about five in a park near my home. We lived in a quiet neighborhood where such things were possible.
There I was living in a memory. Must be a dream. Vivid dreams were no stranger to me. Had them for as along as I could recall. Escaped into them when times were tough. Some escaped to drugs and drink, sex and gambling, some to careers and status. For me it was dreams. And here was another. I relaxed into it, the vague panic of before subsiding. My eyes lifted to the horizon: I could see clouds drifting though a blue sky and a line of treetops. For the moment, I felt comforted and safe. Whatever a moment was. And yes, I seemed to be breathing again. Had I ever stopped? Well, there was that nothingness where it was undetectable. Or so I thought. Thinking, maybe I should stop that and just feel, just feel this field with its breezes and birdsong. Okay, done.
So, there I was, some kind of me, enjoying the dream. Feeling safe and secure. Then I got brave: I stood up. Yup, those legs still worked. Many wildflowers dotted about the grass, waving their pretty heads. No cows or horses. No fences either, just tree lines off in something like distance. I gazed about me, stretching my arms about me as I twirled. Gosh, what lovely dream! I had survived the darkness of nothingness to be in this beautiful place. My dream body functioned well and looked even better than usual. Middle age had loosened my edges but now I was trim. That wasn’t hard to take. Sitting at a desk, as I had had done for years, did not do any favors for your waistline or hips. Not that anyone I knew gave much of a shit. Looks were not valued in my line. Sharp thinking and quick analysis were.
I moved toward the tree line, getting ready to enjoy the forest. I felt like a child who’d escaped his parents. I wandered the forest with a sense of wonder. Everything felt mysterious and magical. I wasn’t three feet tall, but I felt like it, looking up at the leaf canopy and seeing the birds I’d only heard as I lay in the grass. And what beauties they were! I parked myself against a trunk and gazed. Lost, entranced. Like a magical child in some fairy tale, you might read on some rainy afternoon.
I must have nodded off. I only recall waking up later. A guy in leathers was standing there, looking down. Not in any way threatening, more kind of pitying if that makes any sense. My first thought was his bike had broken down and he wanted help pushing it to the nearest pit stop. I’d always found guys in leathers attractive, hot even. But in my confusion, a sweet confusion at that, such tiny thoughts were pushed aside. He said he was just passing by and wondered if I was okay. I answered that I was wondering that myself. A pleasant dizziness seemed to have gotten a hold of me. But no, I added, no sense of nausea.
He smiled and held out his hand, assuming that I needed help standing up. I accepted his offer. At his suggestion we began walking together, at least as much as the undergrowth would allow. He mentioned there was a path nearby and we’d get to it soon. I felt instinctively I could trust him and not because he was a looker. I didn’t feel tempted or seduced. He cared and I couldn’t figure out why.
When the path appeared, smooth, slightly winding but wide enough for two, we fell into sauntering and chatting like the new friends we were. He asked if I was a regular in these parts and I told him I was not, that I’d only just arrived. I joked that he must be an old timer and knew the place like the back of his hand. He laughed and said it was more like the back of his mind and that was only on the days when he could locate that mind.
We soon arrived at an opening in the forest. A collection of buildings that could pass for a village impressed me with a sort of fantasy quality. I half expected to see laughing children tumbling out of a doorway dressed like cartoon characters. I followed my new friend around a corner, and we found ourselves joining groups of two or three around patio tables with colorful umbrellas and small vases of the same wildflowers I’d seen in the field. Well, more or less the same. I was asked if I’d care to sit awhile. I couldn’t see why not. Mr. Leathers introduced himself as Terry, and shaking his hand I replied, Yeah, me Ralph. I was momentarily thrilled to have the presence of mind to be witty. Terry’s smile was an affirmation of some newfound stability. He mentioned that the milkshakes were heavenly. Mine tasted like a quite unique blend of berries and I dunno, something else.
As we sat there enjoying small talk, I noticed that the roadway was actually some kind of grass. Some of the strollers were barefoot, some wore sandals. It was a bit like some tourist spot with folk drifting from store to store. I could see a gelato place just up the way doing a roaring trade. Terry asked if I was starting to get my bearings. I said I couldn’t be sure. It was all a dream, right? Terry said it felt quite real to him, but maybe you had to be here a while. I nodded and sipped at my milkshake. I was completely baffled but I didn’t want to disappoint him. I asked if he might be my guide in this dream. He said he’d be pleased to. I didn’t comment but I was still astonished we were having milkshakes. He looked like a beer and bourbon guy to me.
Wanting to say something I asked what was next. He thought maybe getting me a room for the night. Not that they really had night here, but I might need a good rest later on. He seemed genuinely concerned rather than flirty and truth to tell I was kinda sad. Such a charmer. There was a bed and breakfast place nearby that he knew for sure had vacancies, he knew the owners well and could recommend their hospitality. Not to mention a beautiful hot tub that could be reserved for an hour. I’d never had the nerve to sit in one with naked strangers. That and saunas, definitely off limits for a shy boy like me. Mother was the last person to see me even half naked.
Leaving the fantasy village behind with a promise that I could return anytime I felt like it, we followed another path through the woods to another opening where a very attractive two-story country home welcomed us. I loved the place immediately. Terry turned to me, You like? I nodded. As we climbed the steps, I found myself thinking of the café where I passed out. How long ago was that? And what become of me? Ambulance, hospital, coma? I wondered. Terry placed his arm across my shoulders and squeezed.
Don’t worry about that now. We’ll deal with it later.
Just enjoy the dream, huh?
Yeah, but I’d shorten that to Just Enjoy.
We were still on the porch, a delight with hanging flower baskets and rockers with cushions, when I told him he was such a flirt, and he answered, mysteriously, I’m even more of a flirt than you think. Then he opened the door, a beauty with a stained-glass mosaic, and called out Rosie! We waited in the hallway, a humble but comfortable space, until she came through. She greeted Terry warmly and welcomed me to her ‘home away from home’. She handed Terry the room key and suggested I show up in the dining room opposite whenever I felt peckish. Day or night I queried. Sure, anytime is fine, no worries. I thanked her, puzzled about payment options but saying nothing.
Terry led me upstairs to room four, handed me the key and nodded. I hesitated, worried about surprises behind the door. There were none. Essentially a classy b&b space, welcoming and cozy. I was hoping Terry would suggest trying out the mattress, but instead he mentioned a change of clothes and maybe new shoes. Disappointed but trying not to show it, I answered that I wasn’t really up to a shopping trip just yet, and how about tomorrow? Terry said Sure, but how about I do a quick trip now for underwear and pyjamas? Toiletries I needn’t worry about, there was an ample supply in the shower room, which he nodded to. I thanked him with as much grace as I could muster. He said he’d be back in a jiff and why didn’t I rest until. I nodded as he left the room and then wandered about, amazed at everything, and then lay back. Sleep seemed to overtake me in no time.
There I was, staring at my body prone on the café floor, a woman I never noticed bending over me in concern. I was unresponsive to her entreaties, and she pulled out her cell and called emergency services. A staff person appeared from downstairs and tried not to flip out. Both were afraid to touch me, but their states were clear: shock and concern. A few moments passed and the woman lay down beside me and whispered in my ear. I could hear her but could not reply. That’s the me on the floor, not the me watching from the window. How could all this be happening? I stood there, almost as helpless as the me on the floor, until the paramedics arrived in a flurry of activity. They ferried me downstairs and into their van in no time. Manipulating that stretcher around corners like pros. I felt sucked into the action and wound up in the van beside myself. I thought of that saying people used when angry, I was just beside myself, and suddenly saw the wonky humour in it.
A door knock awakened me. It was Terry with supplies. He laid a small pile on the bed and advised to me rest longer and not be shy about going downstairs for a snack. I asked Even in the middle of the night? I’d been an inveterate midnight snacker for ever. He surprised me by answering There really isn’t any night here, just a kind of dimming of the day. He turned for the door and then faced me. Shopping trip tomorrow? After lunch? Of course, I’d be ready, and he was gone. The minute the door closed I felt annoyed that I’d hadn’t told him my dream. And then, feeling ashamed that I’d have done anything to keep him in the room longer, turned over and back to sleep.
Dreamless hours passed, at least I thought they did when I awoke refreshed and ready for a shower. The ensuite was more like a four-star hotel and I felt like some kind of film star readying for an interview. That glamour was somewhat reduced by the generic and kinda dull slacks, leisure shirt and sandals he had left. Well, we’d soon fix that, I thought, even though by then I’d realised that my wallet had not arrived in the jacket pocket I’d collapsed in. Pfft!
I found the dining room, all five tables and picture window, in no time. A college student, tagged Kevin, smiled and asked what I’d care for. At least he looked like a college student. I felt adventurous and asked for a smoked salmon omelette. And a latte perhaps, he smiled. God he was cute. As I waited, I noticed a sad looking lady by the window. Not one to interfere, especially in the public sphere, I broke with tradition and asked how she liked the place. She gave a curt but polite reply and then turned to the window to take a sip from her cup.
Kevin appeared with my order, placing it with great care and withdrawing. I sipped at the latte and downed a couple of forkfuls. They both tasted marvellous. I thought organic free-range eggs with subtle hints of stilton, and blue mountain coffee. Kevin congratulated me on my guesstimate and added that he been experimenting with various cheeses of late. I asked, surprised, if he was the chef as well as server and he grinned, saying that that kind of thing was easier here. Like a lot of weirdness in this dream world I let that pass. I mean really, why stop the carnival?
When Kevin came by to remove my plates, he suggested I might enjoy relaxing on the front porch and if I did, he’d be pleased to fetch me a spritzer. I thanked him for his suggestion and then, as I relaxed there quietly sipping and enjoying the peace of the garden, the sad lady appeared and without a nod or greeting, placed herself along from me and opened her book. Right there I conceived of a plan: to slowly befriend this sad soul and maybe see her blossom. God knows I’d been though some shit myself, but she looked a lot worse for wear. I thought, maybe a cancer survivor, years of wasting away and friends averting their eyes.
But when I broke her silence the following afternoon, albeit with a little help from Terry, whose new guy-friendly outfit of chinos and one of those long cotton hippie era loose shirts with embroidered flower patterns that almost covered his blue jean cut-offs, it turned out that she’d died in childbirth, haemorrhaging while the preemie was somehow saved by the midwife who’d already been arrested for practicing without a licence. She and her partner had been some of those all-natural types, chemical free cotton, nutrition nuts and the whole nine yards.
Like some angelic inspiration Rosie, who I hadn’t seen since arriving, showed up to comfort her just as the tears began to flow. I took the chance to stroll around the garden, which was more expansive than I first thought, finding a small fountain by the edge of the forest, where I sat entranced until I suspected it was safe to return. Indeed, it was, Rosie having successfully mothered Mariel through the crisis. They were sipping some chamomile tea and chatting when I sat down quietly.
Then Terry reappeared with a man he termed ‘a new arrival’, an older gentleman who looked like he needed a good rest. Rosie must have gotten him settled as she soon came back to rejoin Mariel just as Terry and I were about to go on our shopping expedition. My first surprise was that we did not walk back to that cute fantasy village but disappeared and then reappeared in the middle of a shopping district of what looked to be a sizable town, and one of pronounced architectural beauty. So much so I wondered if it had won some urban design award. Terry asked me to hold his hand for this disappearing/reappearing thing and I was so tickled that I never noticed what actually happened. In a second, we were there. There was no journey or scenery to admire.
We ambled delightedly, at least I did, around a square devoted mostly to menswear and I had a blast choosing a new wardrobe. Two things amazed me. Firstly no-one, regardless of quality or quantity, asked for payment of any kind, and secondly, everything I tried on seemed to fit itself around my frame, you know snug but not tight. Like self-adjusting fabric of some kind. Let’s say I looked the part. And as Terry looked on admiringly, I felt myself plumping up with pride. At his suggestion we headed for a spot that specialized in cocktails. He must have sensed I needed revived, and how right he was! As we moved in that direction, through streams of happy shoppers, I felt I was floating on air. Terry chuckled and pointed out that my feet were several inches above the ground. I was shocked and made the contact I was missing. How embarrassing and in public too! Terry said it was easy to do that here. Hardly any gravity and our emotions are so persuasive to our bodies. I’m afraid to say the information went in one ear and out the other. I had about as much focus as some kid after too much candy. Let’s face it: I was three martinis dizzy. Terry seemed to be holding his course.
We returned as we left: a transfer so instant it was barely there. At the front porch Terry apologised but he had other business to attend to. When I enquired if he was helping others as he was me, he nodded. A sad case: two ladies, partners for years who had reached a rough patch they couldn’t get around and sought to end it all with a murder/suicide pact. They were now living in a tumbledown shack that vaguely resembled their old cottage, its decrepitude designed by their very own resentments and passionate rivalries. I expressed my sympathies. And how did he know of them? Well, he’d been keeping an eye on them for years, as he had done with me. But more of that later, my friend. And he turned to leave, this time walking. I returned to my room with my packages, somewhat chastened.
Later, after a dreamless nap, I went downstairs for a bite. Mariel was again by the window, picking at a salad and reading. As I took my place she looked up and smiled. Rosie appeared with a glass of water and after praising my new outfit, asked how things were going. I replied in the affirmative with as much gratitude as I could muster. This place had become such a refuge for me, and I was sure Rosie was no small part of that. She responded that not everyone was so grateful, some kept resentment close to their hearts and were often wallowing in anger at God for their fate. I said I understood but actually I did not, my experience was so thin on the ground. Months later I would be more present, with a deeper understanding of all the issues at play, but politeness was about all I could manage then. I accepted the macaroni and cheese with bacon that she offered and when it arrived with garlic bread slices, I tore into them with pleasure.
The older gentleman I had glimpsed earlier made an appearance, sitting close to Mariel. Rosie came by with a water and soon had him chatting away. I took my chance and slipped upstairs quietly. There was a screen in the corner, but I could not decipher the buttons. Never was much good with techie stuff. I stared at it in frustration, knowing I could use a little mindless entertainment. With that thought, if indeed it was a thought and not a whim an old episode of the Dick Van Dyke show appeared on the screen. I did not question my luck, just sprawled out on the bed to enjoy. As it was drawing to a close, I recalled how, on weekends off I use to find golf tournaments relaxing. No crowd noise, just a quiet voice, slow moving players and golf balls you could barely see. Like magic, a golf tourney appeared on the screen. A recent one, judging by the players. You’ll not be surprised to hear that this soon lulled me into sleep, and soon I was in a room with my parents, my estranged parents. They were engaged in deep conversation with their pastor. They had heard through intermediaries of my sudden passing but were more or less convinced that their prayers would be ineffective in my fallen state. They had long since quit loving me, that I knew. I’d been cast out into that outer darkness they whispered about. My sins were unforgiveable, and Satan’s kingdom was my undoubted destination. Hard assed Baptists to the core, I had long given up any hope of understanding, never mind forgiveness. Condemnation was the name of the game.
I wanted to inform them of my current residence in what my aunt Sarah, a catholic of a definite liberal bent, would likely call purgatory. Dear Sarah, eighty-one and still a social activist of uncommon commitment. She’d been on that woman’s march a while back and made no secret of her favourite hobby: throwing darts at a cut-out picture of our grinning comedian head of state. The pastor, piously head bent but counselling continued condemnation for the saving of their own souls. Damnation was not to be toyed with. My hurt had always run deep no matter how I buried it beyond view, but this little horror movie was exposing it like some raw wound. I needed to make an exit pronto, but some malicious psychic glue held me. Maybe I was a glutton for rejection. Leading the loner life had let me build the necessary armour but now it had developed some rips and holes.
I thought of Terry and felt a glow, a glow that gave me the strength to pull away. Soon I was stirring in my lovely bedroom, determinedly thinking other thoughts. I washed up and heading downstairs, found Rosie sipping tea on the porch. I was welcome to join her and as I made myself comfortable, congratulated her on the consistently beautiful display of flowers in her hanging baskets. She thanked me but insisted that care was more in your thoughts than your hands here. I must have looked puzzled as she added that thinking them healthy and radiant made them so. Loving thoughts that was. I asked if the practice was a form of telepathy. She nodded and said We do that a lot here.
I bucked up my courage and asked where exactly was here. She gazed directly at me, lovingly I thought, but then I was always so needy, and said she liked to think of it as paradise. Some she knew called it home, others heaven and others could not be so sure and kept it to afterlife. I asked if everyone here was dead. She replied that everyone was but not everyone knew it. Some were in denial, and some wanted to think it over. Sure, there were debates and arguments and there were college classes where you could vent your feelings and doubts. She sent some folk there and maybe it didn’t resolve the issues, but it helped clear the air, so to speak. You know, she went on, some people get here angry and resentful, feel they’ve been lied to, by society, religion, science you name it. Why weren’t they told about this guarantee of paradise, why was it such a big secret. And after they’ve been here a while, they get angry about all that god stuff. Like, if he’s running the show where the heck is he? And plenty of women want to know why it has to be a he.
I asked if she got stuck with all these questions. She answered that in this job you get a lot of that, but your dedication to the service helped smooth it over. And sure, there were always plenty of people who just wanted to picnic and party. You know, sailing and bicycling and all that fun stuff. Terry had hinted at flying, so I asked about that. Oh yeah, sure, big fun there once they find out. You’re on an entry level here so folk are just finding their feet as it were, but in other areas it’s the favoured method of transportation. That and instant transfer. I said that Terry and I had done that yesterday, but it had been so fast I couldn’t be sure. She said it probably was. The passing scenery when flying could make newbies like me dizzy so instant transfer helped avoid that.
She then offered me some herb tea and I accepted. A little bit of normalcy in the midst of all this crazy talk. She reached behind her, pulled out a mug already filled, and advised me not to sweat the small stuff and, you know, enjoy the ride. I thanked her for what I called, for no reason I could think of the information upgrade. She excused herself and I thought to wander about the garden and maybe ponder on all the wild stuff I’d just heard. It sure sounded like I was actually in some kind of heaven and not drifting through some extended dream. I had, throughout my life, been subject to such long dreams, the ones where you interact with lots of people in a variety of situations, so many that you begin to believe it’s actually your life and are shocked all to heck when you wake up. So, my take had not been too far off the mark then, just wrong! Just then Rosie came back out with a plate of cookies, calling to me, and I asked straight out, was all this a dream. I could see her shaking her head and laughing, it can’t be I’ve been here for years! Not unless you want to suppose that your whole past life you just lived was a dream and this is just another. Then she went on about that song Take It Easy and not letting the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy. Yes, I remembered it.
But could I take its advice I wondered as I strolled about the garden. Finding a bench beneath a rose arbour, I took my rest as they say in the old novels. I sat there quietly for a few minutes until Mariel came by with the plate of cookies. She sat beside me and offered. I accepted and asked how she was doing. Maintaining was her brief answer. Keeping afloat, you know? She nipped at her cookie in that delicate girly way they have. I asked if she was trying really hard not to think about something. She nodded. I told her I knew the territory. She asked what I was trying to avoid.
Oh, nasty condemning parents and a funeral they’ll skip.
But you’ll have friends there, right?
A few, but not many. Most of them as shy and neurotic as me. I kept my distance mostly. Being alone is better than being rejected. Fear of rejection pretty much ran my life. Fortunately, I had some employable talents that kept the career on course and the bills paid. And there was a will and a lawyer to execute it.
Mariel announced she had a confession to make. I told her to shoot, I was ready. Story was she went back to the hospital and saw her husband visiting the room where they kept the preemies. He was standing behind the glass weeping, his sister beside him. His sister who had disapproved of their natural childbirth choice and was likely now thinking I told you so. The she came to the cot and peered in at this tiny, tiny being still breathing. She wanted to grab him and fly away but couldn’t get a grip on anything. Then she wanted the baby to die so they could be together. She hovered there for ages trying to impose her will. Then she thought about the baby’s will and where its soul might be. Then she shamed herself into leaving and then she was in her room here, waking up, sort of.
I took another cookie and asked what exactly it was she wanted to confess. Ah, wishing the baby dead so he could be with me. What kind of a mother does that? In a daring move I placed am arm about her shoulder and suggested forgiving herself might be somewhere to start. Immediately she claimed that in no way was she worthy of forgiveness. Now that rang a bell. I told her about my unforgiving parents and the religion that blessed them for being so harsh. Then I spoke of my lifelong search for self worth. And to her question I did find it. About five years ago. It just kind of fell on me out of nowhere. Some time after I’d abandoned the search for good. I told her about my idea that walking away from that door somehow got it to open. She said, I get it. I replied, but not for you right? Not yet she said.
Over the next while, maybe weeks, maybe months, it’s so hard to tell here and Rosie says it just gets worse as you go on until you get so that unless you visit the earth world of night, day and calendars you completely lose touch, and by then you don’t much care. Anyway, over the next while whatever it was, I heard a lot of those ‘not yets’. I slowly came to see that they really meant their baggage, their psychic or psychological baggage, that they were not ready to let go. Hurts, heartbreaks, resentments, guilts,
self-criticism, feelings of failure. The list goes on, but I think you get the point. And as I’d had my own troubles letting stuff go, I could see their process in action and could sympathize with their struggles.
I saw myself easing out of my old loner self and into something new. Not quite the wise guide that Terry had been and was but someone who might be in training for such. I came to know or maybe sense, when to listen patiently and when to comment and let drop a few hints that might be useful later. Just as Terry, and Rosie, had done for me. What was that phrase we used to use….paying it forward?
Even though Rosie’s b&b was mainly for newcomers settling in, she let me stay much longer when she saw how good I was with others passing though. I even served food and drinks when others couldn’t make their shift. That was when I found out that the kitchen work was mainly thinking of the perfect omelette, eggs benny, (or lentil soup or Greek salad) and having it manifest on the plate on the counter so you could carry it into the dining room to be served with pride. Ditto with wine and beer. Takes a bit of practice but Rosie gave me tips, the best being ‘thinking makes it so’. Thinking delicious made it delicious. And the same if someone asked for aged cheddar or melt-in-your-mouth brie. Or even ‘awesome ice cream’.
I’d have to say it was as rewarding a position as I have held, at least as the me I knew on earth. Terry’s been hinting that I should get to know some of the others as he does, but to use a phrase you’re familiar with, not yet. Another time that stands out now as I look back on what you might call my formative years in paradise, was my first venture to a dance club. Terry convinced Mariel to come along so it wasn’t quite as gay as I thought it might be. Fact is I couldn’t tell the gender specifics around me as I shrugged and wiggled with Mariel, whose heathy country lifestyle had kept her insulated from such city decadence. With me it was timidity and some ferociously sober lifestyle. The bachelor who ironed his own shirts. The ever careful accountant forever counting himself out.
A fun night on the whole, with Mariel really letting loose for the first time after much melancholy isolation. I’d been in that place myself and felt I could see her emerging from some careful cocoon. Dancing with her, as she did her swoops and glides, was more fun than I expected. But dancing with Terry was the highlight for me. His every move was a delight. Despite the joy I could see my pattern falling into place. A hopeless love soon skirting the fringes of co-dependency. For me it was like some unavoidable fate, and I’d developed strategies to skip by its traps years before, strategies that kept me happily reading and cycling in all but the lousiest weather. You can be, I discovered, your own best friend. Sure, you pay a price, but show me any choice that’s free.
Back home, Rosie’s Place, as we’d begun to call it, we sat on the porch and celebrated our first night of fun. Mariel seemed so bubbly and giddy I was happy for her. All I needed was Terry sitting by me. I wondered out loud if the mixed drinks were spiked with something. Terry assured me they were, but he never did find out what exactly. It would, apparently, wear off as soon as I wanted it to. No hang over like on earth, not unless you wanted one. When I queried why you would want one Terry answered, Habit. Or the expectation of cause and effect. You know, the price paid for pleasure.
Mariel said she was as high as a kite, maybe some combo of coke and ecstasy. She hadn’t felt like this since she and her partner took a whack of magic mushrooms way back when and were high for near on a week during his summer vacation time. Didn’t we see those tiny soap bubbles things floating about? If she stopped talking long enough, she was sure they were whispering to her. She looked at Terry and asked if he thought she was crazy? He laughed. I said I was four sheets to something we used to call wind but darn it, no bubbles. Mariel drifted off a bit and then said that if she focused on them, they all had little pictures in them, perfectly formed little pictures at that. Terry added that, sure he felt good and had done so on previous visits but was never sure if he was really high or was just reacting to his thoughts of being high. After all, wasn’t everything in this world a thought form manifested by desire?
I knew by then that I could manifest food on a plate easily enough, but everything? That was stretching it a bit surely. He asked if I knew that Rosie had manifested this entire structure and garden, and I had to admit I did not. There’d been idle gossip about the place between me and some of the newcomers who asked that very question but, old hand that I was, I could not give any satisfactory answer, especially to this one chap Derek who’d been reading some NDE books before his skiing mishap. Mariel missed this I think as she seemed to be off in her own world entranced by those bubbles that I couldn’t see.
I asked Terry if he was dropping hints that I should be paying more attention to. He smirked that cute smirk I always fell for. Somehow, he picked up my thought and said You always did. I was puzzled, we didn’t have that much history. What was he hinting at? Out came a tale of past lives. Him and me in many relationships, some romantic, some brotherly, some business, some religious. It sounded as if he’d always been the senior partner, the wise one. He said Yes, but sometimes he’d been the arrogant, dominating, selfish one too. And older soul who should have known better, he was now trying to make up for his past indiscretions. Despite my, oh I don’t know, shock, I found the energy to smile and congratulate him on his use of ‘indiscretions’.
You mean we were lovers before?
We were just about everything before. Repeat offenders, gluttons for punishment, irresistible enemies, fuck buddies, cheaters, deceivers, father and son, sister and brother.
I hope we stopped short of Cain and Abel.
We got damn near close a couple of times. But in the big picture, if we had it would just have been more karma to work off. As wise as I may seem to you now, with all my experience, I’m far from sure how karma builds itself into a pile. You know, bricks that build a wall. He was getting a bit beyond me, but I nodded as if I got it. Maybe I’d get it later.
Well, I did, but much much later. Water under the bridge and all that. Terry had his own place, a rather nice condo in a small beautifully designed and landscaped development. Like several I’d seen before passing, but perfected in a way I find difficult to describe. I would visit once in a while, as we slowly resumed an intimacy we knew well. I was overjoyed and fell in headfirst, while he, somehow careful to maintain his status, loosened up over time. Of course, he was always off on what he called rescues and rehabilitations. First, I heard of, as I mentioned a tragic murder/suicide couple, still so maddened with jealousy and resentment, they had to be separated. Or maybe I should say, convinced that a temporary separation would speed up their healing process. Terry would tell me that process was not as smooth as he would have liked. The so-called perpetrator harboured a load of righteous vengeance and kept trying to be some kind of malicious ghost messing with the love interest that had spiked the entire drama with her seductive guiles.
Her efforts were hopeless to begin with, her vicious intent crowding out any possibility of effective action. Ghosts can do stuff, Terry told me, but they have to learn the tricks of the trade first and then practice getting focused, and even then, it’s not much more than poltergeist bangs and crashes in the middle of the night, bathtubs overflowing and computers crashing. But every time she so indulged in such vengeance her vibration lowered and lowered until she was on the fringes of one of the hell realms where the company was less than salubrious. The so-called victim was doing a little better, leaving her hideaway once in a while to explore her down-at-heels neighbourhood and chat with passers-by almost as timid as she was.
Eventually he asked if I’d like to come along on one of his calls and observe. As I’d been more active as Rosie’s, chatting with newcomers and helping them over those initial humps of why me and why now, I thought I was ready for this new challenge. Not that I’d be doing much more than smiling and taking notes. Some of the characters he was dealing with were not who I’d choose to spend my time with, some rough customers I’ll tell you. People who walked on the wild side for much of their time on earth and had brought most of their rough edges along with them. Rough edges that I felt sure would not be sanded down by Terry or anyone else. Snarly, suspicious, quick to temper, altogether unpleasant. I couldn’t wait to get away, standing behind Terry as he bargained, soothed and debated. One guy, a beady eyed villain straight from central casting, gazed at me in disgust, sizing me up with,
That your boy? That wimpy little stump? He’ll take a shitload more training than you think.
Terry affirmed his faith in my strength and adaptability. The guy sniffed and snorted, yeah sure.
I managed to make light of it all and was relieved that our next port of call was a pathetic, wounded widow, who still acted as if she were just that, despite Terry’s insistence that he’d met her husband and could bring him by. Accusing him of lying and being some kind of demon in a dream she was prisoner in, she launched into a rant that seemed fueled, as far as I could tell anyway, by some furious hatred of religion and church. The husband, Terry told me later, had converted after their separation, but was far from condemning the atheists and agnostics others might rail against. I suggested Evangelical and he nodded. That he’d hooked up with another lady in his church after passing would be a hurdle, Terry thought, but not an impossible one. There was also, I heard, a son, who had taken his own life some years before, blaming the nasty mother for his depressions and refusing to come to her aid now.
I asked if Terry knew of any homosexuality and when he nodded, I said Hey I’m familiar with that territory, let me have a go. He said he’d think about and that I should polish up my psychotherapy skills in the meantime. When he dropped me off at Rosie’s and went on to more of the same, I fell in with Mariel, sitting on the porch sipping one of Rosie’s delicious fruity concoctions. She had recently returned from visiting her husband and now healthy baby and didn’t know whether to be devastated or delighted that his sister, long a fierce critic of their wholefood lifestyle (Granola Birkenstockers she called it), had taken a year’s leave of absence from her teaching post to help raise the child. She reported that everything was so tickety-poo she felt like throwing up. But then she had to admit that she’d always felt that Jenny’s academic career lacked a man and a baby and no wonder she was so damned neurotic. Then we both laughed. That was a relief as I did not wish to enter the fray, especially after what I’d just been through.
As I look back over the months following these episodes, a few other scenes stand out. The first, not that there’s any kind of timeline up here, it all just seems to flow, and if one is honest, in more than one direction, is my funeral. If you’d told me back on earth that I’d be attending on my own, I’d have taken it as a joke. How could that possibly happen? Well, it does, and I can testify to it. Some kind of magnetism draws you irresistibly. One minute you’re here enjoying whatever part of paradise you’ve discovered, and the next you’re there, a witness to your own removal from family and society. For me family was a loose group of friends, who’d been there for me when I needed them, but I’d made a practice of not being in need. Not a lone wolf on some hunt for status but more a lone sheep seeking a calm pasture.
Justin and Jewel seemed genuinely sad. A gay couple who was happier living together than with any lovers and proved it over the years with an infectious joie de vivre than even got to me, Mr. Serenely Withdrawn, on my occasional weekend visits. God bless them for being so inclusive, with that selection of issue-free straights for summer garden parties, a couple of whom came along to the service. And as I’d donated my bodily organs to science, there’s wasn’t much other than memories for folk to hang on to. As for me I felt the mix of their feelings washing over me and couldn’t resist the tears. Bit of a lesson there. Terry asked if anyone sensed or saw me, but I had to admit I hadn’t even considered the possibility. Their feelings I felt, their perceptions no. That was later, after Terry had given me some tips.
The next development that stands out is my plunge into helper status. I’d become quite adept in Rosie’s establishment, playing the waiter game when needed and then hanging out with any newcomers that seemed either needy or sociable. They came from all areas of life, blue collar, white collar, homemakers, public servants, the worlds of high fashion and entertainment. I tell you it was a real education in diversity, and I don’t just mean ethnic. A few had been brought I up in one or other religion and had either slipped away or rebelled and ran away. Others had been raised Marxist or Scientist, by parents who had not time for the lies and rules of religion. Some had been abused by pastors and priests and were still wounded. I sure had to raise my game to deal effectively with all that. Yeah, it took practice and Rosie was often there to advise.
Then Terry and I managed to face our left-over issues. Terry, being more aware of past lives, seemed keener to get at them, while I, not being in recall, had to be persuaded. That dam broke when he took me to one of these little theatres we have here. They are like small cabins with equipment that looks impressive but not so much that you feel dwarfed. Terry knew how to work them, and we were soon watching movies, or excerpts from movies, where I can see other ‘me’s’ acting and reacting. I was able to take about five until I called it quits. In one Terry had used and abused me until depression and loneliness made me take my life. In another, rival brothers on either side of a civil war, both righteous. In another, father and son, not exactly the best of friends. A mother who died in a fire while we were out hunting, a sister who’d gone out to play in the forest and gotten lost. Another we were again secret lovers in a dangerous time, and when push came to shove, he sacrificed me for his own status and safety. Another where I was the wife who schemed against him, successfully I might add, so that she and her lover could take flight.
There were more, he added, ancient ones going back to Egypt and Sumeria, but I could check on those another time. But I’d been blown away by what I had seen. My denial had been shattered. How could I possibly be so many people and still be me? I decide to let that one simmer as I learned to be of service in paradise. Maybe I took that a bit too seriously. Rosie regularly reminded me to not forget to have fun. Things always worked out no matter how dire things looked when they got here. That was after more trips with Terry to learn the art of cheering people up. That may sound superficial but lots of cases were just so down and out that some lighthearted joking and poking fun, often at governments and religions, never mind families still on earth, seemed a smarter choice than being salesmen for the joys of paradise. As we all know misery loves company, and some of them fit that bill exactly. They often lived in little towns and villages where everyone seemed grumpy, suspicious and generally miserable.
Terry had warned me about the nature of what he called the lower astral and the folks who wound up there. Sometimes he called it a ghetto of the spirit. They rarely believed you when you told them of the paradise that you lived in. As he told me, it was like trying to sell them a used car or some swampland in Florida. For most you were a shyster and for those who retained a measure of conservative religiosity you were a demon come to tempt them. Get thee behind me indeed, I muttered, as we moved on.
Let me not forget the garden parties at Rosie’s. Especially since it was my idea. What jolly affairs they were. A group of musicians that I had met in town, the same town I went shopping in, agreed to come and play for us. A sort of sweet lilting folky jazz emerged from their instruments – guitar, mandolin, fiddle and flute. All quite new to my limited taste. But uplifting happy music it was. So suitable for this world. When I got a chance to ask the leader what their inspiration was, he grinned Dawgjazz. Apparently, it was synthesised by a musician still on earth, a David Grisman. Although, he hastened to add, they sometimes jammed with a pal of his who had passed a while back, a Jerry Garcia. I have since discovered that they are both revered musicians in that field. Me, I was still fantasising about meeting the glorious Ludwig Van.
Okay, last standout: Terry encouraged me to go to a discussion group on being born again. Of course, I was reluctant. Why leave paradise for that school of hard knocks? Terry understood, he felt much the same and was so immersed in his work he had not desire to give it up. He just wanted me to know my options. You know like reading the menu and making your choice. He just wanted me to see the entire menu.
Well, I sat in the back and kept my mouth shut. The leader, a lady of almost angelic qualities lead the discussion. We all had so many options she hardly knew where to start. Yes, even in paradise, where all promises seemed to be fulfilled and all gladness comes to pass and settle in one‘s heart, leading you to suppose that nothing could be better, no harmony more surpassing, no joy more genuine, yes, there are options for adventure and advancement. That is not an exact quote, but as close as I can recall.
And that was just for openers! Apparently one of our options was to grow towards our higher selves and merge with their consciousness. It would take us away from our known selves, yes, but in a positive way, in the way of growth, of expansion. It would show us the deeper, more encompassing being that we truly were, once the disguise of personality was revealed for what it was, a vehicle to get us through incarnation. And though we were, by all accounts, dead, we were still the recognisable personalities that struggled on earth. By merging with higher self, we would know for ourselves just how much deeper and wider we were. Somebody in front of me asked what exactly we would have given up to reach this state. The answer was simple: our attachment to who we were now. Did that mean our souls were illusions? No, they were not, they were the actual force behind the personality, and would continue to be as we approached higher self. They were of the same essence as higher self. And in fact, were spun off from it in the first place. Someone else said Like sparks from a divine fire? She nodded, Yeah, a flame from the fire. A flame that leapt out and ran away…only to one day return. And when we returned would that be it forever, lost in the fire? No, she said, not lost, merged, but knowingly merged. You’ll still be you but maybe not the one you saw in the mirror.
That was about it for me. I was ready to retire for an ice cream. But the speaker went on to describe other interesting options, one of which was incarnations on other galaxies and planets. Another was returning to earth as someone else. Yes, she meant reincarnation. Yes, back to all that shit you were thrilled to leave behind. Yeah, no thrill there. Anticipating our reaction perhaps, she assured us that one day we might want to take that chance. Today would be our introduction. At some point various friends from the past would come in contact and suggest that we might want to work on some of our unresolved past issues, maybe have another go at, you know, things we’d messed up before. Marriages, businesses, political and religious affiliations, power and service issues. Being a father, being a manager, being a tradesman, a craftsperson, a natural whiz at high tech, an actress, a film director, a politician. Anything really, but especially the roles you reviled now. Walking a mile in the other’s shoes and all that. Empathise with enemies and see what they can teach you about yourself. Be kind to those you were cruel to. Support an old soul mate in their struggle.
Later, chatting with Terry in one of our cafés, going on about my complete lack of interest in those options and my love for the life I lived now, I could see he was holding back somehow. Eventually he piped up, saying he’d like to make a suggestion. I was less than keen to hear it, but he was a dear friend and let’s face it, a guide of some accomplishment, so I listened. Justin and Jewel, my old friends with the open arms of welcome that often sustained me, were thinking about babies. You know the test tube kind. His sperm, her egg and none of that intercourse stuff. She wanted to bring the fetus to term and experience all the pain that might come her way. And they were strong in their friendship, tolerant and sympathetic, and felt that would carry them through the tough years of childhood and adolescence.
He was their guide too, at least one of them, and had been made aware of their ambition. He was also aware of a past life where they had neglected their children to fully indulge in their elevated social status, with their love starved daughter finally running off with a cad who dumped her the moment she got pregnant, with a miserable death in squalor not long after. Then a son who took to the road, dying in a swordfight trying to impress his father with his fearless manliness. And no, I was not one of those souls: this wasn’t personal. This was about me being of service. And how would I do that exactly? By dying young and tragically apparently. Sounded very theatrical but maybe not my cup of tea. I was the guy who ducked out of big drama, not the one who starred in it.
I did not have to star in this, I had to be cute and unbearably lovable and then die. Why, was my question, why exactly? Well, life was all about lessons learned and for Justin and Jewel that would be ‘devoted love denied’. Sounded cruel and heartless to me. Seriously how could I be a partner to that kind of plan? Terry said, by seeing that it’s for the greater good. A minor sacrifice for me. Yes, bigger suffering for them but he intuited that it would lead to an adoption later on. He lifted his drink, sipped and smiled; it all works out. Just then Mariel came by. She been out for a little guilt free shopping and thought we might be here. She got some juice and chips and sat down, her bags by her side. She asked what we’d be discussing so intently when she saw us.
Terry recapped, and in doing so explained how he came to know of their plans. Simply put, they talked to him when they were OBE while asleep. Lots of folk did, they just didn’t recall when they awakened. I did too and did I remember? Well no. Mariel asked if she did, but Terry hadn’t been one of her guides and thus did not know but suggested it as entirely possible. She asked where her guides were then. Terry figured they’d been playing a waiting game while she exhausted her self-pity and punishment. She didn’t quite get that, and he responded by saying that all guides get to choose their own course with their charges and while they were not perfect by any means should be trusted to work out their plans. Mariel took it all in but seemed unconvinced. She asked how I was feeling about this whole dying baby plan. When she dreamed of travelling to her baby’s home it was a deeply wrenching experience still, even when the little soul seemed to be looking at her lovingly. Her sister-in-law was doing a great job, adapting to her new non-professional life. No respectful looks and praise, no deference to status and achievement, just love from the baby and gratitude from her brother who was only just able to keep enough money coming in. Life was going on without her, and like all the discussion groups she’d attended, that was what you had to learn: life goes on without you and no matter how much you’re missed, the bereaved pick up the pieces and move slowly on.
My comfortable existence at Rosie’s continued with me feeling pretty good at my adaptability. I could actually relate to people and be there for them in times of need, which at Rosie’s, came often. They’d seem calm and adjusted, ready for their new adventure, and then they’d break down, all weepy and wistful for their old life. Some were helped by meeting up with grandparents and other assorted relatives and friends. Others left Rosie’s fairly quickly, settling into someone’s spare bedroom, little realising it had been manifested especially for them some time before. There’s a lot you don’t know when you first get here and now that I’m an old hand myself I can see the wisdom in that. Just like we don’t spoil children’s fairy tales about life until they are ready for the ugly truth, the truth here is far from ugly but it can be shocking to the unimaginative and narrow minded.
While still keeping my room at Rosie’s and gladly interacting with any and all who crossed my path, I visited with Terry, settling into our relationship with something of deeper understanding of its roots, although honestly, I preferred not to overthink our karma, as he called it. I wasn’t buying his line about You don’t have to be a Buddhist to get the reality of cause and effect spreads out over many lives, I just didn’t choose to debate it. Maybe he was right, but I preferred to live in the moment of our love, and he wasn’t about to disagree with that.
I was informed that the birth plans were continuing to unfold and that I was not being compelled to act out the baby role. There were other possible candidates. On one occasion Terry asked if I’d come along and meet up with Justin and Jewel while they slept. It sounded like fun, so I agreed. It was a joy to see them out of their bodies but still in their bedroom. They sure were pleased to see me and that was so gratifying. We talked old times, I rhapsodised about my wonderful new life, and they eventually mentioned the family planning. Without a blink I wished them well. A short while later they both seemed to get sleepy and drifted back into their prone forms. And that was amazing to witness. I’m not even sure I can describe it. Best I can say is that it looked like it might in a film, their bodies fading into images without any density, then into clouds with decreasing shape and outline and then, poof, they were gone. And I thought I’d grown accustomed to the magical things that can happen here!
Looking back from my ever-so-wise vantage point now I can stand back and see the experiment for what it was, shaken free from the inevitable attachments. Once I made the commitment the process continued at its own pace, having been initiated earlier, biologically that is, with the introduction of sperm and egg. The fetus, I was told, would grow whether or not I inserted my spirit within it. And when I did find the courage to do so, my intention seemed to be the captain of the voyage. The warm fuzzy compression I felt while briefly resident was by turns blissful and oppressive. I wanted to be there, and I wanted to escape. The knowing of me inside my mother began to erase the knowing me as a man in paradise but before it became complete, I ejected myself and was that man again.
Terry was beside me in my room at Rosie’s, smiling, and then saying I’d been gone but for a few minutes. I said, Gees it felt like forever. Like there was nothing else, nor could there be anything else.
But here you are.
Mmn, here I am. Nice to see you. Nice to see anything really. I paused; Terry watched. In there it was fuzzy and pinkish, misty and warm.
Floating in an ocean of bliss?
You could say that. But I am relieved to be here again. It’s as if I am not really ready for that. Nice to visit but I wouldn’t want to stay, you know?
Well, we can make use of that measure of discomfort as you move on.
Sounded enigmatic then, but no more enigmatic than other comments he’d made. I let myself swirl in the enigma. Some time later we went for a stroll around the garden. I remember feeling very in tune with the bushes and flowers, almost as if I could talk to them and they would hear.
There were other meetings with the prospective parents. It helped if I saw them that way and gave the support that friends should give.. They said they knew they were out of body but soon forgot as they slept and went through their day. We recall vague dreams of talking to people but not exactly who, although your name came up as a possibility. Jewel added that she’d been sure it was me, but then Justin had talked her out of it. He nodded, yeah true. You wonder sometimes where the doubt comes in. Then I nodded.
By the third meet up I was feeling like a fraud. How could I be part of a plan to bring them so much pain? What kind of a friend was that? Terry reminded me of the big picture: the suffering as a balance of karma followed by an adoption of another child suddenly left alone. I said I felt no more than a cog in the wheel. Terry added that we all were, when we sat back and thought about it. Wheels within wheels. Circles within spirals. Best to just be a playful little nobody. I made a face. Okay a cheerful little nobody. We laughed. Later I mentioned his comment to Rosie, who laughed herself, saying the smaller you were the more holes you could fit through. I said I’d think about it.
Which I did, feeling good about myself as the helper and sometimes guide for the newbies passing through. And it helped. Even though I couldn’t see what I’d come to call the baby thing as any help to anyone, even taking in the proposed long-distance plan. I couldn’t decide, when I had the nerve to think about it, whether I wanted a name or not. Maybe it would be easier if I was anonymous, but then another OBE visit with the parents revealed the choices of Jessica and Jeremy. What’s with all the J’s I joked. They found it funny too. But they never thought to ask about the incoming soul, they adopted that any child as long as it’s healthy pose which I knew was sincere.
After that visit Terry asked if I wanted to back out.
It’s not too late?
It’s never too late.
A couple but none as suitable as you. They’ll get attached and won’t want to leave.
A strong heathy child will ruin things?
Good for that soul to struggle to survive, but not so good for the souls of the parents who wish to suffer as they made others suffer from neglect.
You know this for sure?
Well, they discussed it before birth. That and their other plans.
Like being gay man and woman but living together non-sexually?
Yes, they knew it would be time for such a daring choice.
And me, you witnessed my plans?
Yes, you selected your judgemental uncaring parents and loner lifestyle.
Why, oh why?
You don’t recall being that fire and brimstone preacher or the Puritan hypocrite with the underage lover?
One never wants to see oneself grimace with guilt, but I did that time.
Yes, oh really. Can you see the jigsaw puzzle putting itself together?
Now I can, I couldn’t before.
Terry then told me of souls who performed this service for others on several occasions.
Still births and crib deaths?
And thus, I was convinced. Six days of a tenuous hold on life. An unbearable love for my mother that seemed to come from nowhere. Many visits by the me here to the grieving parents, my old friends who had stood by me through thick and thin in my own trials by fire. Some visualisations with Terry where the probability of the adoption of the boy left after the car crash was displayed, pretty convincingly I might add. And a return to what was becoming normal life at Rosie’s which I just loved. I had, somewhat miraculously, given my old life, become quite adept at being everyone’s buddy. And as for all those tantalising options I heard about in that little talk, coming back, going on, disappearing, well they could wait while I luxuriated in paradise. I mean, what’s not to like? Maybe that stroke really saved my life.