A Killer Dealt With Kindness
I’m not the kind of person you’d expect to see here. Bit of an anomaly really. Should have been in the other place, and I was for a while but I worked my way out. Bit of a bad boy to tell the truth. Monster to some. And I can see why. Could see even then. But admit it to myself, that took a while.
The arrest, the detention, the trial, the guilty plea, the reduced sentence, it all passed in a fog,…until the fog cleared and I could see things straight. Or thought I could. The fog of anger and resentment, the fog of vengeance. Then the fog of guilt, followed by running around looking for redemption. That’s running around in a fairly small space by the way, bouncing around inside my head would be better. Going over and over the flash points. The defeats, the humiliations, the shame.
And in high school all that really matters. That humiliation and shame become your life. The media made it look like another school shooting, another psycho kid from loserville who should be put away for life. Another racist white boy riding the perks of privilege. Those assholes stole my stuff and shook it out all over town. And it was top drawer stuff.
When I confronted them they just laughed at the stupid white boy. I was out about a thousand I reckon but the take down was too much, everyone sneering at me. The gun was my only way out and I knew it. I wasn’t much of a shot but I nailed each of them. Before they caught me I already had offers from a bigger crew uptown. For about a week I was the man! Then I called my mom to tell her I was okay and they traced the call, had a guy watching for a couple of days and stupid me I was slippin’ in for a latte at the Starbucks right by and they rushed me coming out.
Being only 17 and having a half decent lawyer, no big shot from downtown but a local guy who knew the local score and got me to plead down to manslaughter and seven years. Dad figured it was money well spent and that I’d be out in five and I believed him. He felt bad as it was his gun, snatched from his junkie brother years before and stashed in the garden shed for so long he’d just about forgotten it was there. Course I’d found it when I was about 12 and tracked down some bullets in a bedroom closet, never thinking beyond a 13 yr olds cowboy fantasies.
It all would have gone as planned but for the meningitis, which took me out in little more than a day. Pain in the neck one night and dead by lunchtime the next. So immediately, well almost, I’m no longer a troubled kid but a dead one. A dead one outside those four walls! Feeing pretty good I’ll tell ya! Awesome dream, I told myself, let’s keep dreamin’ it. I’d seen something on tv about flying in dreams so figured I’d try it. Man was it easy! Almost too easy. I was back in the old hood in no time and thinking about Brianna was right in her bedroom watchin’ her on her cell. Some things never change. She’d been good about visiting, the girl who stands by her man and all, so no complaints there and she really got it about me refusing to be dissed. She even tried to bring me some joints but panicked at the last minute. Joints are gold in there. So I floated around town checking on all my old haunts, seeing who was there and who was absent. My tormentors of course were gone, I’d made sure of that. I didn’t wonder where they were now, didn’t care.
Thought about Carly, my ex. Had heard from Brianna that her boyfriend had taken to roughing her up when he was in the mood. Could I just think about her and see her? Sure, no problem. There she was in her bedroom applying make-up to her bruises. Darren had been a new kid in town and I hadn’t gotten to know him at all. Maybe thought about getting him on my list of clients but that’s about it. Right then I felt for Carly, we were right together, but she was a bit of a church girl and my pot dealing didn’t sit right with her so she broke it off. I liked her but knew she was right. I loved getting high. Fortunately that was no problem for Brianna.
Checked out my parents next. Dad was on some reno job on the other side of town, sitting sippin’ coffee with a couple of his guys while they waited for the drywall guys to show up. How’d I know that? I could hear them, don’t ask me how. I’d been dead about an hour by then, total newbie. Mum I found in the basement, stacking stuff. Tried to get through to her, but at that point didn’t really know how. Found out later of course. There’s plenty of helpful folk here but you gotta find them first. Then I didn’t know shit. But I was smart enough to know that by that night my folks would know the news: their boy had died. And that was gonna be rough and maybe I didn’t need to be around for it.
I thought about my cell but I wasn’t there. What was I thinking? Was I in the morgue? I knew we had one. Was I in one of those big drawers? But the room, a big cold place, was empty, so I left. I didn’t so much leave as found myself somewhere else. Looked like a park or something. Firepits and picnic tables. I sat down on one and went all quiet. Breezes in the trees, some night time animal noises. Sky full of stars. Then I got it, we went there when I was little and I’d loved it. Some kind of comfort zone. A chick appeared out of nowhere, looking kinda cute. Nothin’ fancy, t-shirt and jeans. She looked right at me and asked if she could sit down. I said sure. She told me her name asked for mine. Betsy, sounded like someone’s grandmother but I wasn’t about to complain.
After some flirty chit-chat she asked if I knew where we were. Assuming she was lost I tried to act smart but fell flat. It sure looked the place we came to on vacation days when I was a kid. How did you get here, she said, I had to die. Really, like how? Her boyfriend dumped her and she got depressed and swallowed some of her mum’s pills. But that was ages ago. I asked if she felt better now. Oh yeah, way better. And I’m like, older. Now I was really sucked in. Older, how? She couldn’t say for sure, but said watch this. And from a skinny fifteen year old she like ballooned into a full woman, like somebody’s mother but cool, you know? I reacted: Wow!
I must have looked dumb but I couldn’t help it. Sometimes dumb is all you’ve got. I tensed for a moment thinking she might be dissing me, but then thought Nah, couldn’t be. She then said why didn’t I come with her and she’d show me a few things. I couldn’t see why not. So off I went with her, walking at first and then running and laughing and then flying for a bit. Like about a hundred yards over some trees and then down again. When we were running and laughing she grabbed my hand and we like lifted off. It was so amazing I didn’t know what to think. Then we were walking again, coming to the river I sorta knew was there. I asked what crazy shit we’d be doing next. She grinned and said watch this. Then she kind of floated above the river, like real close but not touching and when she reached the other bank turned and dove in, disappeared until she was right by me again, only now back to the skinny fifteen year old.
I asked how she could do all this magic stuff. Cause she was dead. That simple I asked. Almost she said. So she didn’t regret taking those pills? Well maybe ten years ago but not now. Now that she had a whole new life. A whole new life doing what. By this point I really wanted to know. She said it was it about helping people like me. Like kids in legal trouble? No, dead kids that don’t quite get it. You mean I’m not dreaming? I thought I was being cute and was about to add that we weren’t in Kansas anymore when she said the same thing. Okay so where are we then? We were on earth still but as ghosts not people. We sure looked like people, didn’t we? And I sure felt like one. Yeah, she said, that’s it about being a ghost, it feels too real.
Had I tried to talk to anyone yet? No I’d just been looking. Should I have? Well I’d know that they couldn’t hear me. Maybe I wasn’t talking loud enough, that’s if I’d talked but I didn’t. Did I want to try it again? Okay sure. She said I was to think about my girlfriend. So I did and we were. She was sitting on the living room couch with her mother, sipping at tea and dabbing her eyes. I stood there, kind of falling into their grief and wondering what was so upsetting. Maybe the dog had died. Max was a wild one and there’d been a few near misses. Betsy elbowed me and when I turned to her she made that chatter motion with her hand. So I blurted out Brianna it’s me! No reaction. I tried again louder. Then I switched to behind the couch and placed my hands on her shoulders. Again nothing. I squeezed. Nothing. I looked over at Betsy: she smiled as if to say See I told ya. She switched, like in a second, and was standing by me. Okay, did I get it now? I guess I did, but not really.
How could I be here, right beside them, and at the same time, not be there? I felt stupid thinking it so I didn’t say it. Plus being close to Betsy, who was still young and skinny, and lets face it, cute, was kinda confusing with Brianna right there so emotional and all. Betsy asked if I had enough for now and I thought Yeah, maybe later. When she whisked me away I figured it’s back to that park but no, it was some kind of, I dunno, resort place. Tennis courts on one side and a nifty pool on the other. I could hear surf from somewhere and music from someplace else. People walking about looking very relaxed. Betsy was a grown woman again. I asked was she gonna be my mom now? No, more of an aunt coming by for the weekend. I asked where we were. She said, Paradise or at least one of them. Feeing pretty cool I said Which one? She said Your favourite. How come, I only just got here. That’s not what you said last time. There was a last time?
Yup, a couple of nights ago she brought me here and I claimed it as my favourite. I thought it’s a tease but hey why not play along. Could be worse. Way worse. She insisted on showing me around the place and boy was I impressed. Somebody at the check-in desk seemed to know exactly who I was. Course everyone at the jail knew exactly who I was, but this was different. Total smoothie niceness, like I was a valued customer. Hey I can handle that. You should have seen the room. Man did I feel special. What did I do to deserve this, I asked Betsy, still looking like this funky aunt. You died dude was her answer. That’s it? Yeah.
And who was she in all this? She was assigned my case. Oh, okay, I’m a case, am I? What kind of case exactly? She had an answer right away. Figures. I was one of those ones who could get lost after a serious illness suddenly ejecting me from the body. Illness? What, that pain in the neck? Yup, bacterial meningitis, zips you up in no time. Apparently people like her had all that stuff figured out. She told me not to sweat it, I’d get it all later. Right now I should just relax and enjoy.
Well long story short, I did get it all later. The knowing that is, the understanding, the acceptance. The process, the learning, took ages, likely years in your time. Time never seems like time here. You think you’re losing track, like a vacation, but then you start to see there really isn’t anything to lose track of. Not really. Just all your old ideas of how things worked. All that earth stuff that you lived by because you had to.
After a few days in that residence hotel I moved in with my uncle Dan, my mother’s brother who died young and that I hardly knew. He came by with Betsy and introduced himself. He remembered me as a little tyke tearing about the back garden with my buds. Betsy had tracked him down and told him the news. He said he wanted to help me transition. I wondered if he knew about my legal troubles but he didn’t say anything. I figured Betsy must have told him as she seemed to know everything. Like a school counsellor that had memorized your files.
He had a cool looking condo in a fabulous development and plenty of space for a visitor. Had my own sound system and big flat screen in no time. I thanked him for the gifts, they sure looked pricey, but he said, No problem, nothing is pricey here. I wondered if they’d been boosted from some nearby mansion but kept my mouth shut. Betsy sussed me out and said Enjoy! as she left, hinting that she’d be back to check on me. She had her mature woman look on so I was glad to hear it.
Life with uncle Dan was just fine. I kept waiting for the rules but they never came. There was drinks and snacks in the fridge, plenty to listen and watch and a pile of cool looking neighbours hanging out. I met a couple of hotties by the pool on my first day. Karla and Kirsten. All vodka’d up, they’d stolen a car for a joyride and wrecked it in no time. They’d been here about a week and were living with Kirsten’s grandma, a reformed alcoholic herself. They’d already tried the drinks here and said they were good. They didn’t look drunk when we spoke but they were making plans. Kids of 15 barely. And me, well, I was a very mature 19, and figured I should show them a good example. I sat there smiling trying to figure out how.
They chattered on about the abandoned car they’d lived in for a while and what a vacation it was from the horrors of home. They acted all free and easy but I thought they’d turn out to be kids in no time and I’d be better off elsewhere. Betsy came by out of nowhere, looking like her girly self and saved me by acting like my girlfriend. She grabbed me out of my chair and we were off.
And that how it went on from there, me getting to know my new neighbourhood and seeing how things worked. I soon learned to watch and listen before trying anything. But I gotta say people were friendly and helpful and so happy I had to think I was in heaven. Betsy laughed when I asked her. Of course we were, that’s where dead people go, right? Where else would they go? I suggested hell and she said, We’ll get to that later.
I asked if my criminal past would land me there sometime. Only if I let anger and vengeance power my life. And what about the guys I shot, maybe they’d be angry and lookin’ for reprisal? She surprised me by saying we could maybe go and visit them to find out. No shit, we could track ‘em down? Betsy said Sure, no problem. I’d had a few scary dreams about them in jail. A lot of swearing and finger pointing and then I’d wake in a sweat, breathing hard and terrified to go to sleep again. I said I’d think about it. Betsy smiled. I got defensive and asked why. She smirked, Oh you’ll come around.
I did, you know, later, after a couple more pointless family visits. Sadness and tears were like a wall around them with me on the other side shouting. Back in my heaven neighbourhood I’d be the one to get sad. It’s hard to be having the time of your life, well pretty much, when the rest of them are miserable. And the time of your life in death? Now there’s a puzzle. I asked uncle Dan and he said he got it, it was just as weird for him, even after being here a while. He’d spent most of his life being afraid of dying, like deathly afraid and now here he was, a happy camper, all adjusted. Hell, he was even taking college courses! Him of all people! Then he gave me one of those Don’t sweat the small stuff talks, you know, look around, look at all the opportunities and everything free! Really everything, I hadn’t quite twigged to that and had been kind of afraid to ask.
Yes, everything. And if it bugged you could always make money appear in your hand. I must have looked dumb cause he showed me how right there and then. Stared at his hand and some bills appeared in a neat roll with an elastic around it. Kinda cool but it turns out nobody wants it anyway. I kept offering it around, clothes, cd’s, games, but the store help kept saying No thanks. One guy said he had plenty at home and didn’t need any more. I got to thinking, my armload of stuff weighing me down, about how it was all made without work or pay or whatever. Did they have sweatshops here with kids chained to the tables like I’d seen on PBS?. I’d never had a clue how videogames were manufactured and probably couldn’t get it even If it was explained, so why would I understand here?
Instead of getting myself into knots over it all, I just dumped my stuff on the bed and lay back to listen to a Green Day album that I’d always wanted. Then I watched a Nirvana video I’d didn’t even know existed. Then some sci-fi alien thing. Then I slept, I think. Sleeping’s weird here, hard to explain. You don’t need to but you want to. Least that’s what uncle Dan told me. Well, Betsy first and then I double checked with him. No peeing either but that’s another story.
In that sleep I just mentioned I dreamed of my family, real clear and vivid like, Brianna and her folks too. Couldn’t figure what they were all doing together and then, wham, there I was in a coffin with everyone taking a turn looking at me, and some, yuck, kissing me. I couldn’t feel it, not really, but somehow, standing ten feet away watching, I could, sort of. Truth to tell it was all too much. Later Dan asked if I didn’t like being the center of attention and I had to say Not really. I felt like running a mile in the opposite direction. Dan chuckled and told me he’d been kind of the opposite, lapping it all up, especially when two ex’s showed up and tried to out-grieve each other.
Anyways enough of the settling in period, the best stuff came later when Betsy had really trained me. Trained? Well, shown me around more like. There’s lots to do and see here, more than you could possibly imagine, and Betsy twigged that I was up for adventure. Still pretty much of a kid, I hear you saying, and yeah, I was, but she saw something in me that was, she said, ready to expand. I was impressed to be so praised, and let’s face it, keen to impress this woman, when she was a woman and not some skimpy girl. Trouble is I’ve been here now for ages and have matured big time. My looking back to the kid I once was gets muddied by my all-too-adult self making the young me sound more sophisticated and intelligent that he actually was. Maybe you can filter all that out.
Betsy suggested we visit the three guys I shot. I asked, still kind of amazed, did she know where they where? Not really, but here everyone was findable. She hinted that it would be a bit like finding myself at my funeral. I shivered at the thought, but as I said, wanted to impress, so I agreed to her instruction, which was basically, that I sit down, calm myself and think about them. It was easier than I thought. Their faces, as they mocked me just before the surprise take down, were clear. I felt the fear and the bravado I felt then. I felt more or less the same from them. Then I was lost in a sea of emotions and forgot Betsy was sitting beside me. At least until she said Are you there yet?
I was but I didn’t want to admit it. I wanted them on the edge. And I wanted to keep them there. Moving closer was a risk I didn’t want to take. It was like they were down at the end of a hallway not knowing I could see them. Although I’d been the one to take them out I had the feeling that they’d be more than glad to return the favour given half a chance. Betsy must have picked up my thoughts as she said They can’t hurt you now they’re dead. Just like me I replied. Yeah, she came back, just like me.
Yeah I was still getting used to the idea. Living here, so happy and energetic and all, you can’t quite accept it. It just doesn’t feel right. Later Betsy would tell me that the longer you’re here the more the people you left behind seem dead. Then she said I’d get over it and stop trying to tell the difference. And sure enough I did though it didn’t happen overnight. She asked me to have a closer look. That seemed not so scary so I did and there was only two of them. No more brothers and I wondered why. I told Betsy and she didn’t seem surprised. In fact suggested we look for the third.
So I did as I was told: thought about him till I could see him. Looked like he was in a church flanked by a man and a woman. His parents had been around so I thought maybe grandparents. I could hear a gospel choir. I had the uncanny feeling he could sense my presence. It felt like he was praying for my soul but it was like, not sincere, more to please his grandparents or maybe his pastor. Forgiveness was not his priority.
I sat back, sighed, and looked to Betsy. More motherly than womanly at that point. I reported what I’d seen and felt. She didn’t seem surprised. No she was not. How come? She’d been following the case. It was a case? She looked after the shooters and victims file. Or some of it. Too much for one person. I asked if there was a team. Oh yeah, just look at the number of shootings. I asked about wars and stuff. Sure, but that was another set of volunteers. Big operation was it? I felt smart saying that, less like some self-obsessed teenager. She gazed at me. Said: you’re getting it. I didn’t puff up with pride. Not then anyway.
So that was the result of my first try at confrontation. Later it would be confrontation and reconciliation but for now just taking a peek was about all I could manage. In the next little while I settled into the life here, such as I perceived it, mostly relaxation, pleasure and small bursts of what passed for joy. Beer and pot was never far off, though uncle Dan tried to keep a lid on my consumption. Karla and Kirsten claimed to have a really good connection and were happy to share. Their grandmother was pushing for them to get more schooling as they’d only done one year in high school but they insisted on partying and having some counsellor lady come by and tell the grandmother that there were no rules here and it was best to let the newly arrived find their own feet, well, that kinda settled it.
As I had been in my last year when the criminal lifestyle overtook me I was not seen to be one of those at-risk youths and was left to my own devices while uncle Dan dove into his college courses. I liked what I heard, at least some of it, and figured one day I’d check it out. I wasn’t keen on their taste in tunes, verging on teenybopperish, but Karla and Kisten could be a lot of fun and well connected. They were kinda slutty and shameless so I didn’t have to figure out how and why. They were fond of reminding me that Hey dude it’s a lifestyle choice every time I tried to set them straight. They had gotten to know some lowlifes and I was worried for them. They told me not to waste my time while setting up another bong hit.
I had to check with Betsy about some of their claims. Yes there were no stds or pregnancies here and whatever they said you had to work pretty hard to be a lowlife here. And, she added, if you did work at it you’d wind up in some nasty neighbourhoods where meanness was a way of life. I asked, like robberies and violence. Yeah was the answer. Then I heard that some folk never did figure out that things were free here and that if you took it seriously you could make anything you wanted out of your imagination. I mentioned the money thing and she said yeah, like that. So there were places where people did know that? She said that if thieving had been your way of life you’d just continue. Same with stuff like jealousy, anger and hatred.
I mentioned that the two guys at the end of the hallway looked like they could be angry. Betsy nodded and said we’d just have to deal with it when the time came. When I look back on it no-one seemed to think I was the sort of person that would have to be dealt with. I mean I was the one who’d done time for involuntary manslaughter. I’d done time but not much. I kept wondering if I’d have to do more here but Betsy, or anyone else, ever mentioned it.
Meanwhile I was getting laid anytime they felt like it, and learning how guilt can freeze you even here. Just a few random thoughts could whizz me back to Brianna. Sometimes she’d be looking at my portrait on her bedside table and trying not to cry. Other times she’d be with her mother, both of them crying. And then there was my family. Our not so big house felt like a mansion of gloom. I couldn’t take being there for more than few seconds. Maybe later.
Another time I asked Betsy why no-one seemed to care about my criminal past. She said that whole crime and punishment thing wasn’t a big deal here. Was it ever a big deal then? Maybe in my next life it could be an issue. It sounded like I could put off that one for a while so I thought Yeah let’s go with that. I was in no hurry to return, life here was a blast. I couldn’t see why anyone would go back, given the choice. Betsy said I might feel different later on but not to sweat it now. And no there was no schedule or timeline.
I told her how weird it felt being a ghost. So different from how I thought about it when alive. Man, people’s emotions were so strong, I felt like I was drowning in them. Maybe I’d avoided them before? I asked if this was my time to play catch up. Could be. Why not give it a try? So I did. Getting there was the easy part. Staying around was the toughie. At first their depression and grieving really brought me down. It didn’t take long before I was thinking about suicide myself. And where would I go If I did it? I was already dead. Betsy never said anything about dying twice. Maybe she just forgot to mention it.
Then I had an idea. Ideas, where do they come from. I never did figure that one. But suddenly I thought about how happy I felt in the afterlife. Maybe I could gather up some of it and send it to my folks? But how to do it? I figured wrapping it up in a box and handing it over was impossible. Then I thought about lying in my cell wishing Brianna could be with me. It was longing for sure but on a visit later she swore she could feel me, like sending it. It was like an energy she could feel while falling asleep. So I thought I could do the same here, take a bundle of my afterlife joys and send it along. After all I was standing right there watching mom as she wept at the stove, thinking no-one was around to see her. I imagined a plate of joy flying from me to her. I could sort of see it as it flew from me and into her. Yes, into her. It lit her up for a second or two and then faded. So quickly I thought I’d imagined it. Well I did imagine it, that was the whole idea.
Her head lifted up a bit, she turned and looked out the window to the garden, as if maybe she heard some bird or other. I heard her whisper Oh my darling you are here. Wow, I’d never heard her saying that. To me or my dad. Maybe when I was three or something. I was kinda stupefied there for a bit, watching her glow, sort of. And then, not knowing what else to do, I left and immediately felt dumb for doing so. Standing in my room without knowing how I got there, wondering if Betsy would explain it all.
On her next visit, a surprise pop-in like all the rest, with me dozed and on earbuds, I got, as you say, the goods. My imagination was real and sympathy for my mom’s grief reached her heart and held it till she felt I was there. Good for you, she said, you figured that out without me having to tell you. So my thoughts can do things there as well as here? And could I have done anything else? Sure but save that for next time. Had I tried going there when they’re sleeping? Well I could try that. And oh yeah, how did I get back to my room? By thinking about it. Not even if I didn’t know I was thinking about it? Sure. I shocked myself and spun back to home base in a second. One of those fast thoughts you didn’t know you were thinking. She said that some guys like me get confused and think their old home is still theirs, parking themselves in the basement or garage and turn into a ghost. So I was smart to come back here? I was proud to hear a Yes! on that one.
So life goes on here just like there but time just seems to evaporate. You do one thing and then another, eat and drink, rest, explore some new shit that you’ve heard about, get high, chase girls or have them chase you, listen to my uncle talk about college and all the stuff he’s learning that he hadn’t a clue about when alive. He doesn’t miss his wife much as they’d separated a while before he died and she was about to marry another guy like four states away. Plus he was on the outs with my dad though I don’t think it was too serious and could have been patched up. He says they just took different paths in life and that’s just the way it is with families.
Back in my room I thought over Betsy’s advice and on the spur of the moment went back to the family home. Dad was listening as mom explained her feeling that I’d been there. I could see dad was trying to believe. It was the way he sat on the couch, kind of like straining. I watched him and mom, ignoring their glasses of wine. Mom was looking for words, the right words I guess, that would tell what she felt then. I could just feel him, he was in the room with me. Dad wanted to know how she knew. Looking frustrated, at least to me, she picked up her glass and took a long sip. Dad said Oh heck, don’t matter I believe you anyway. Wonder if he’ll come back. I shouted Yeah you bet! But of course they couldn’t hear me, so I tried the thing I did before, but sending it to both of them at the same time.
Again I wondered how I did it and would have thought I was kidding myself except mom turned all dreamy, staring off into space. Dad look puzzled, stood up and went over beside her. He kissed her on the cheek and laid his head on her shoulder. Mom whispered, real quiet like but I’m almost sure she said I think he’s here again. I couldn’t take it and flew away.
It went on like that for a while. Brave little me thinking I could do better and then getting swamped by the intense emotions when they thought they felt me. Then one time I tired to kind of sneak up on mom and like say something with my mind but keeping, you know, low key. The words were ordinary like How are you today. It was like I was thinking them not saying them. Right away I heard Keeping my head above water. How about you? Hey, it worked now what. I said in my mind that it was really cool where I was now and would love to have them with me. Then I heard, I was really coming to that but now that I’m pregnant, well, it’s a whole other ballgame. That was more like something dad would say but I guess married folks grow alike. Least that’s what they say. I was worried that she’d get all upset and start crying, but then I heard Where are you living now. You’re not with uncle Dan are you? I said Sure am. Then I heard That’s what your dad figured. Then I heard Go see Brianna and your grandma, okay? Sure mom and then I left.
The mention of Brianna got me right to her room but she wasn’t there. Must be a school day. There she was in the cafeteria, earing and talking with her girlpals. There was like this energy around them that I couldn’t break through. Something had got them going and I hung around to see if I could hear what. Sure enough a teacher had been removed from the classroom, there’d been some kind of complaint. He’d been getting it on with some sixteen year old after school hours. One of Brianna friends said No, it was her mother who’d been having the affair and when he broke it off she got pissed and wanted revenge. The girl said Sure she knew him as a cool teacher who helped her out with biology, but no after school stuff. Not that she would have minded he was really cute, but he’d never made any kind of a move. And her mom, that blew her mind. Worked at Kitty’s Clothes at the mall and was still bingeing on Charlie’s Angels. Obsessed with Farah Fawcett and wanted to bring back her style to the millennium.
My grandparents were weeding the garden. Grandad looked like he was on his fourth beer and about to fall head first into the roses. Without raising her head grandma called Bert you about had enough? He replied Yeah I’m getting close to passing out. You manage on your own old girl? Just like I always do. Gees I had to laugh, nothing changes does it. I watched as he raised himself and staggered over to the lounger and slumped into it. I tried the same thing with Grandma as I had with mom but I couldn’t seem to get through. Too busy weeding. She used to always said it killed her to get down on her knees to do it but there she was, doing it. Then I remembered a photo she had framed in her dining room of me as a baby in her arms. Used to embarrass me but I thought of it then and kind of pushed the image at her. She stopped weeding for a moment, maybe just taking a breather but I took a chance and said with my mind Hi gran it’s me. Then I heard Where are you? I told her In the garden right behind you. Then I heard, You doin’ okay? Yeah I’m living with uncle Dan. Life is good? You bet, it’s awesome. Then I heard, I’m not going to turn around, the shock might kill me. Okay then, see you next time. And then I was gone….somewhere. Felt lost for a moment but then recognized the park I’d met Betsy in before. I heard her say There you there, thought I might find you here. She appeared looking like the skinny girl from before. Well how’d that work out for you? I told her but it was like she knew what I’d been up to and just needed to hear me to say it.
None of this stuff happened quickly if you know what I mean. Weeks, maybe months went by as I got accustomed to my new life. Lots of it spent having fun. I could see how just madly spinning your wheels could get to be a lifestyle here. The girls were sure into it. They got to look more sexy and mature, like fifteen year olds fantasizing about being twenty and just doing it. Dance clubs in the city and every kind of snortable. I should talk, I loved the pot here. Friggin’ awesome. I even got Betsy to indulge. I watched her take to it like a duck to water and then heard how she’d been a stoner when alive. Most weekends and sometimes after work weeknights. But was it like real? Here she meant. Were you really high or just thought you were high? I wanted to know what the difference was. She had an explanation but it flew right by me. Maybe I was dumb or just didn’t care, but I’ll tell you this, as she got into it she shifted from skinny girl to mature woman. I was amazed and let’s face it, kinda turned on. It was like being with an older woman and having her seduce you: every fifteen year old boy’s fantasy, except she wasn’t like seductive, she just kind of radiated. The beauty queen being beautiful.
Another time she had me go back to the guys I’d seen at the end of the hallway but couldn’t get any closer. You know my tormentors, my victims. I saw them the same, like I was looking through a telescope at something far away. She said get closer. They were in a room, wrapping packages I plastic and stacking them. I knew it, it had to be blow. The room was kinda grungy but they didn’t seem to mind. Some kinda wild hip-hop was playing. They didn’t notice me. Maybe they couldn’t see me, like people on earth. I was seeing all this with my eyes closed with Betsy sitting there. Then she said What about the third one? I thought about him in the church and there he was again, but this time, all dolled up and singing in the choir. You know that funky gospel stuff. I sent a thought to him about being sorry for everything that went down. I had to go through with it but I kinda regretted it now. As he was singing away I heard Hey man it’s cool I get it. We wanted you to be our bitch but you wouldn’t take it. I respect that. I’m a reformed guy now. My grandparents showed me the way to Jesus and now I’m in his lap. Like really. Come join us when you can.
All that while I could hear him singing. Even though I was getting used to all this sharing thoughts it was still really out there. Betsy approved, said it was a good start. Start to what I wondered, but still wanting to be the teacher’s favourite, said nothing. Sure enough I found out later what she had planned for me.
If you are guessing I matured with experience you are more or less right. Years would have gone by earth time but it’s hard to estimate that here. But I can tell you my little sister is now three and Brianna is at college and about to be engaged. I’ve learned how to visit while they are asleep and keep up an occasional communication with them. Not that they recall it later. It’s like Oh you’re here again, nice to see you. The other times seem to be a bit foggy. Memory is great for me though, Betsy told me it would be and she was right. Brianna kinda treats me like her confidant, really wants to know my take on things, her things of course. The boyfriend seems sorta cool, a tech whizz to Briana’s biology. Comes from a very traditional family that might be a challenge for her over the years. Can’t see her as the dutiful wife somehow.
The really cool thing, or at least one of them, was finding out I could get to know my little sister before she was my little sister. People are complete people here before they are fetuses and then babies. It’s an amazing process to be around and I have to thank Betsy for that. I never would have known if she hadn’t wised me up. It’s one of those things that you never give any thought to until you’re here and you run into folk that say they want to go back. Back where I said the first five times. What, a baby. How do you do that? Well, long story short: just like I told you about Betsy changing from girl to woman and back again and Kirsten and Karla maturing into twenty years olds in a few weeks, you can not only change your appearance here – hair, skin tone, you name it – but go from being a body into a tiny bubble of light. A bit bigger than a light bulb but not much. You know those soap bubbles that kids blow? Like that.
Then as a bubble you can fit into pretty much anything, and one of those things can be a womb of a woman getting pregnant. You can also go in and out, you don’t have to stay. Eventually you have to commit to one over the other. Betsy called it fetus fishing and made it sound like trying on a new set of clothes, although it’s more like personality and character than shirts and pants. And pulling in all that dna shit from your mom.
So not that long after the encounter with my former victim forgiving me and singing in the choir, Betsy invited me to her place. I was thrilled, felt really special. Still really stuck on her. So I’m on my best behaviour, saying yes please, I’ll take that fruit juice, and a friend of hers arrives, about one minute after she tells me he’s coming, just enough to get me, you know, anticipating with pleasure, and this gentleman introduces himself as the one who is about to be my little sister. I looked to Betsy praying it was a joke. But no, it was for real, and the process had been ongoing for some time. Process being this slipping in and out of the fetus as a bubble, and you know, trying it on for size.
I’d already had that thing with my mom where she said things would be different from then on, so that all fit. Well kind of. It’s gonna sound awful, but this Desmond was not only a mature gentleman he was black. Just like those guys I shot. Now I didn’t shoot them out of racist hatred, I shot them cause they had ruined my neighbourhood rep, made me into laughing stock. They coulda been Latino or Asian. Race was not the issue.
So Desmond’s spilling the beans of the story as I sat there in not quite terminal shock. Seems like my mom, a hundred years before, or more I guess, had been the mistress of a household in the south somewhere. Not a plantation with dozens of workers, but mansion with about five. Her husband some kind of anti-segregation lawyer. Desmond was like the butler guy and his wife was the cook. Maybe there was a gardener and a guy to look after the horses. It was, he told me, a heck of a good life. They were treated with kindness and respect, not in any way like indentured servants or slaves. Shoot, my mom, or my mom back then, taught him and his wife to read. The more he went on the more it sounded like some fairy tale. Almost like impossibly happy.
Anyways, after his wonderful time in paradise, a joy he’d never forget, he wanted to return and like they said, pay it forward. I wondered, Pay what forward, but sputtered, Leave paradise why? Oh you know he said, See the world as it is now. Last time I was there it was horses and buggies, cars just coming in. Plus he wanted to walk a mile in my shoes? Me, why? Cause you’re white and educated. Yeah, I said, but I really blew it didn’t I. I don’t think I deserve another chance.
Betsy spoke up: Yes you do, everyone does. A bunch of other chances. I looked at her but didn’t really get her meaning until much later. Desmond nodded and chuckled. I was trying to decide which movie actor he reminded me of. He said he was going to slip into the womb soon and would I like to watch. That sounded like the weirdest kind of porn, but I kept my thoughts to myself, and said, Really? Betsy was, you know, encouraging. For me that translated into, sure, anything to please teacher.
So we are like ghosts in my childhood home. Mom and dad are asleep. Betsy and me are like our real selves, Desmond is hovering about as a bubble. Then he disappears into mom. He might have gone in through the crotch area I didn’t really see, maybe because I didn’t want to. I looked to Betsy, hoping the lesson was over. Back at her place she explained that he’d likely stay inside for while, getting used to mom’s vibrations and emotions. And yeah the whole physical thing, the blood circulating and heart beating and all. Would he stay in there until the delivery? I didn’t really want to know but thought I should be asking intelligent questions. No he’d be back here and I’d see him. If I wanted to, that is.
Well I did, eventually, and he visited me at uncle Dan’s place. He’d heard about people going back and was curious. So Desmond talked to us about his time here, his connection to mom and his attraction to life in this new millennium. As we were getting caught up in all this he pulled a photo out of his pocket and passed it over proudly. A lovely little girl laughing at the camera. We reacted like it was a niece or granddaughter or something. Nope that was who he would become. Naomi or Chloe.
I did not have an issue about creating stuff with your mind, I’d seen it done before, as had Dan, so images like that were a small leap. But a vision of the future, or yourself as a completely different person, not to mention colour: like Dan said, that was a bridge too far. Desmond laughed and predicted we’d get used to it. Then Dan got us some beers and we started talking about the crazy ass basketball they played here. Like guys flying through the air and in and around each other, like fish, like snakes, like I don’t know what. The game had a while new batch of rules, height limitations and what not, but they still had to keep bouncing the ball as they flipped, twisted and turned in the air.
So if you can handle all that without calling me or yourself crazy, then I can move on into even weirder shit. I think now that Betsy saw something in me, right from day one, because the training I got from her, bit by bit, turned me into this whole other thing, this multi-tasking magician kid, though I didn’t look much like a kid after a while. More mature basically. But the way things go here, it’s like fast tracked maturity. During the process, at those rare times when I realized it was a process, I felt like I was maturing to be like an equal to Betsy, to be a man that she’d like consider, rather than a promising student.
That fast tracking thing, it happens in the opposite direction too. Early on Betsy took me to an old folks home, like the retirement place I used to cycle by as a kid. It looked just like the ones on earth. Betsy told me how the people there really felt like they were still old and frail, but in time they would get younger looking till eventually they’d be like forty or thirty-five instead of eighty. Their wrinkles would smooth out, the joints fade away from being stiff and they’d have these crazy thoughts about getting up from their wheelchairs and walking. We were pushing a couple of them in the wheelchairs as she told me this, passing by a fountain at the center of a garden big enough to be a park. One of them was a regular stop off for Betsy and the other her buddy. They was grateful for the push for sure, being as weak as they were. Or as Betsy whispered, weak as they thought they were. Going back for more visits with her I began to see the two of them looking more sprightly till one day Betsy got her charge up and walking. Basically by holding out her hands and saying Come on now Ottilie. Betsy had this way about her where you couldn’t refuse her requests. I know I couldn’t, but I’d figured that was just me. Always seeking to impress I tried it with Karin. I kind of pulled at her hands and, wow, up she came, standing and almost daring to smile. Both of them wanted to be lowered by into their chairs that time, but next visit they got up by themselves and walked a few steps.
It’s a bit vague now but not long after the wheelchairs were abandoned, middle-age became the norm and they got a condo together. But by then Betsy had me doing all sorts of stuff. Like going to see depressed suicidal kids in their bedrooms at night as they slept. I soon found out that almost all of them would like emerge out of their sleeping bodies and like, do stuff. They were kind of zombie like, floating about in a trance. I’d get close and poke my face close to theirs, kind of shock them into seeing me. I was supposed to be cheerful and happy and try to show them how stupid it was to off themselves. I felt like I was faking it mostly, not even convincing myself. Let’s face it, it was awesome being dead. Bit rough at first but once you got used to it, it was, you know, what’s not to like? I was supposed to tell them, no face your troubles and learn to enjoy the life you chose. That often didn’t work too well as they had that ‘I didn’t choose to be born’ stuff happening. Of course that’s when they had enough focus to listen to my rap, which often they didn’t. Like dopers dozing off they were. Like ‘Oh man leave me alone’.
Betsy also showed me how to hang out with kids just newly dead. You know, overdoses, accident victims and suicides that worked. They’d often be floating about wondering what shit to get up to next. Ghosts on a bit of a roll. They didn’t know about the real deadworld that I lived in and found ways to shack up on earth in old buildings and deserted cabins and stuff like that. They would take me for one of them and I kinda acted the part. You know, to get their confidence. You couldn’t seem to be part of that adult world they’d learned to hate or they’d get distanced right away. They were looking for the rebel dude with some smart moves and I’d been dead long enough to know that shit.
I tried showing them the flying thing but it seemed not to work where they were. Betsy said, when I got back, Nice try dude, but the vibes are too dense there for that kinda magic. Didn’t you feel sorta heavy there? Sure, but I’d figured I’d get used to it and you know adjust. She said not to give up, that I’d get inspired. I asked if she’d come with me but she said no I was on my own on this one. So I went back with some joints in my pocket and passed them around. That got me in tight and when we got high I went into my clown act. Easy enough when you’re wrecked. After raising some chuckles and giggles I topped it with the disappearing and reappearing trick. Everyone does it where I live, but in their newbie bubble it really gets attention. As in, Hey man do that shit again. It was a wreck of an abandoned house but the rooms were like huge so I could do like a thirty foot jump. I tried to get all three of them into it but they kept falling over and cracking up. I was amazed that I could do it myself really after flunking out on the flying.
Where you from anyway man?. That was Darell who’d od’ed on crystal meth.
I’m from dead world, the real one. You should check it sometime.
You like one of those church guys?. That was Kevin who sold it to him and felt shitty after, smashing his car into the guardrail.
Are there like chicks there man? That was Skeeter the skateboarder who spent a week in a coma before coming to here, sure he was still alive. He’d known Darell in grade school, had lost touch but heard of his methdive and thought about him when he awoke. I’d already tried to explain how thinking about someone will take you to them. He’d bitched, Okay, but why this dump? I friggin’ got stuck here thanks to you Darell.
I assured him there were plenty to go around.
Where you come from man?
Take us there. Suddenly Skeeter was the big boss man.
Darell and Kevin looked at each other, nodded and said in unison: We’re in. We’d been silly stoner puppies ten minutes before but now it was all systems go. They weren’t too keen to hold hands, but I convinced them the trip wouldn’t work unless they did. I knew where I was going and they didn’t so like just submit to the plan. There was no koolaid involved and we’d be there in a flash. Which we were. I wasn’t an old pro like Betsy but I was a keen pupil. We arrived at the small park near uncle Dan’s condo. Likely too cute for their tastes but they didn’t complain. As the three of them looked about and took a few shy steps I called out, like in my mind, to Karla and Kirsten to come meet some new arrivals.
They were the usual excitable bunnies and I could tell they looked crazy cute to these three. They were pissed at having to leave a party somewhere so I suggested they take my new friends along. The boys looked keen but it must have been some kinda fancy affair as Karla insisted that they go to her place first and get some funky outfits. Kirsten looked puzzled and asked if maybe they weren’t still too fucked up about dying and all. Skeeter said Shit no, we’re ready to party ain’t we. None of the three looked like they were about to burst into tears so I gave my blessing. Not that anyone paid the slightest attention or even said so long. If I was stupid enough not to go, then screw me. Course by then I was all mature and beyond partying. At least that kind. I went off to hand in my report to Betsy.
She seemed pleased with my efforts and after hugging me said I was her best new student. All puffed up I didn’t even stop to think who the others might be. I did want to start calling her coach though. When I had that thought she switched to being an old lady, grey hair and wrinkles, the whole bit. I tried not to react. I wanted to be cool, like I’d seen it all. Betsy chuckled and said she had to go to her knitting circle and would drop by later. Later turned out to be weeks. Well it could have been less or maybe more, it’s so darn hard to figure out time here. Like you sleep but not because it’s dark. That’s right, no night time, no sunset no dawn. Just a continuous soft and gentle sunlight type thing, not that you can see the sun. After a while I just stopped looking for it. No sun, no stars at night. That’s the other world I was told early on. Betsy took me to see it so I wouldn’t worry that it had disappeared. I guess it was something I said. It was like going to see the sleeping people in their beds like I’d already done but kind of stopping half way. I think. We were floating above my home town and Betsy said Look up and there it was, a sea of twinkling stars, hundreds of them, thousands likely. The she nudged me and nodded. I looked to my right and there was the first rays of dawn looking all peachy.
At the time I thought yeah another question answered, but not really when you think about it. And thinking was something I was getting into, after ages of being a teenager just going from one thing to another. It relieved me, seeing the stars and the sun coming up, but where did that leave deadworld where Betsy and I, and thousands of others, lived. Which was real and what did I mean by real. Betsy laughed out loud when I asked. Oh, you’re getting it Matt. Getting what? The mystery of all this. First there’s the mystery of the afterlife that everyone wonders about. Then they get here, thinking Oh yeah that’s all done with, let’s have fun now. And yeah, getting on the happy is a big deal but then you start to see the mystery hasn’t disappeared but only deepened.
Please explain I said. Well we’re dead and they’re alive, right? I nodded. But we feel more alive than ever and they look dopey and blind. I nodded. And then there’s all the other worlds beyond ours. I said like what. She gave a quick explanation about other heavens: there’d seemed to be about ten, a couple of which were like invisible, no landscapes or towns or mountains or even people. I asked what they were there for. Doing nothing was the reply. Before I asked why do nothing, she said Because you’re worn out from doing all those somethings, all that stuff that seems so important. I asked Like what you’re teaching me? She nodded. I must have looked stumped cause she said, Don’t worry about it we’ll get to it later.
When I told uncle Dan what she’d told me, he grinned and said he’d heard at a class that this was a next level existential crisis. That’s if you wanted to think about it. Which he didn’t and really neither did I. Truth is I was loving everything I was learning from Betsy, not to mention her. Well the mature version, not the skinny girl or the, what did she call it, crone.
One thing I forget to mention was the religious heavens. The church thing wasn’t big in my family, so I rarely gave it a thought. Then I come here and there’s hardly any around. I see the odd church or temple like building but not much activity around them. You wind up admiring the architecture while waiting for something to happen. And that’s another thing, buildings of all kinds are like more beautiful here. I’ve heard that it’s because there’s no budget problems. Fancy designs with rare materials are not problem. They create them with their minds. Like a committee agreeing and putting the vision into practice. Betsy said it’s amazing to watch and that I should check it out sometime. Which I will as I’m getting way more interested in architecture just from being here and having the time to be impressed.
But let me tell you about hanging out with depressed teenagers at night. Betsy’s idea of course. I wait until they are out of their bodies and can see me. Then I try to get friendly. We know who’s thinking about suiciding. Or Betsy does and she tells me. Who tells her? Their spirit guides that’s who. Everyone’s got one, she says. What even me? Sure, she says, can’t you guess who it was? You? She grinned. Why’d you let me shoot those guys? Oh she tried but I was too full of fear and anger to listen. She said I could do the mea culpa thing If I wanted. I had to ask her what that was. Latin for an admission of guilt. Well I’d done that in court. On advice of my lawyer of course. Then there was the karma she added. According to her that was stuff from past lives. Like debts, balancing debts. Those three had held up my little country gas station, beat me half to death then buried me in some woods in a panic. Poor blacks thinking poor whites were way better off. Had a spot of cash in a drawer but the rest buried out back. With my wife and kid away visiting her mother, they had plenty of time to torture an admission out of me. Betsy said we could do a regression that would make it all the more real. Thanks but no thanks. I asked if maybe my wife then was Brianna now. No, my first who dumped me. Buried memories of being left alone with a baby kept her always seeking an out. Little more than bad dreams but enough to throw her off. Well that seemed to explain a few things.
All this while we’re waiting for a teen to snap out of his sleep and go obe. Which he did eventually. It took me ages to figure out how to talk to these kids without alienating them. They didn’t want to be counselled. They wanted a pal to bitch with. Plus life is such a blast here and I’m supposed to be talking them out of ending it all and coming here? My heart wasn’t really in it. Betsy reminded me how so many of them wouldn’t actually get here but would get stuck in their earthbound ignorance. Ghosts with no place to go. The planet had plenty of ghosts already.
Anyway somehow I got his trust and visited some more, slowly talking him around. This takes ages as they often don’t remember the last time you spoke with them. Every time’s like the first time, until finally somehow it clicks. He’d been on my roster of visits for a while when one night he tells me he registered for adult education classes to get his diploma. Had to stop hanging out with lowlifes to do it, but seeing them drop one by one from meth was becoming a total bummer.
Over the years or what seems like years I’ve developed into like a total pro life-coach guy. It’s quite an act, the rebel do-gooder guy, but of a con-job, but it’s in a good cause. Desmond, now a girl of four about to start kindergarten, comes out of his body less and less, but it’s been an interesting progression. From being weirded out by the womb all warm and squishy, to the discomfort of hunger and stinky bum and baby teeth to playing with doll houses and all that girly stuff. Early on he’d appear to us, Dan and me, like before, the avuncular uncle (that’s Dan’s description), the charming black story teller guy, until one time he’s this bouncy girl with ribbons on her hair, chattering away all giddy like. How he went from one to the other I’ve never been sure. Betsy tried to explain but I’m not sure I got it. Her own transformations were as much fun as a lesson for me and she could do it on a whim. Think it and it’s there, she would say.
I have yet to see those other heavens she described before, but I did get a tour of some of the religious heavens. Sermons and choirs and all that stuff. A bunch of different ones, including people in robes crossed legged and silent. That cool temple vibe I called it. Very calming. There was one rally, big stadium, gospel rock band and a speaker who looked a bit like Billy Graham, rousing the crowd, like that Springsteen concert dad took me to when I was like fourteen.
Like I said way back at the beginning, I’m not the sort of heaven guy you’d be thinking of. Sure not the kind of heaven guy I thought of when so-called alive. There’s all kinds here, really. Being here really changes the way you see things. You get more accepting and understanding. And just yesterday, or was it the day before, things get so scrambled here, I attended the christening of Brianna’s son. She got the right guy in the end and seemed blissfully happy, like all moms. Mine too with her little cutie that used to be Desmond.
When I told all this to Betsy she joked that sometime I could do the same. What, be a baby again and go through all that shit? I’d rather stay here with you. She said I was getting too attached, that it would be better to strike out on my own. I’d been taking her direction for ages but this time I felt like sticking up for myself. Or us really. I wanted her something fierce. She smiled, a bit more girly than I’d seen. Almost bashful. I knew I was on to something. Then this serious look came over her. Well, we did that once before but kind of blew it. I must have looked puzzled so she said Watch this and then she projected, with her eyes or her brain, a little movie onto my wall. In it were two young people, a girl and a boy in old fashioned clothes, the boy in a loose shirt and shorts and the girl in a short belted robe. They were like running around in a garden of sorts with I dunno, small trees or big bushes in really big pots. Laughing and screeching like kids but older kids. Then there sort of on the grass rolling around and getting hot. I said, So we were an item way back when? Yeah, problem was we were brother and sister. In that society, wealthy, spoilt, corrupt, such things were not unheard of. But our dad was the product of such a relationship and was terrified we’d do the same.
So? You were sent into exile to work in his brother’s grain exporting business and I was kept under lock and key at home until a suitable husband was found. Mother, who’d been quite the playgirl herself, suddenly reformed her ways and became the good mother. And no we never saw each other again, just occasional snippets of news from grain traders I got to see at dinners once respectable womanhood became my life and children took my heart.
The little movie faded and I slumped back into my couch. I looked over at Betsy, So that’s why I’m obsessed with you? She made that bashful smile again. She sat beside me and lightly kissed my lips. It goes both ways Matt. I wanted to rush past the memories and into her arms. But there’s nothing holding us back here, right? She nodded as I trailed my fingertips across her long neck. After we connected, like full-on intimacy, and no I’m not telling you anything about that, she whispered, You know Brianna is due to have twins in the next couple of years. Or at least it’s on the cards as an option. Not for us, for her and her husband. Without considering anything really I said, Let’s not go there right now, okay?