“Lord have mercy! It’s Reverend Hills!” I take Izzy’s arm and pull her back onto the boardwalk. “Act naturally!”
“That is a challenge with you pushing and pulling me and giggling like you are a school girl doing something naughty”. Izzy laughs despite herself then forces a sober expression onto her face as Reverend Hils approaches.
“Afternoon Mrs. Willoughby. Izzy.” He tips his hat. “Lovely afternoon for a stroll, wouldn’t you say? Spring is in the air, finally. Twas a bitter, long winter this year. Bitter long.”
“Afternoon Reverend, yes a lovely afternoon.” I let go of Izzy’s arm, arranging myself into the picture of modest sobriety befitting the wife of the County Judge. Izzy snorts but does her best to disguise the sound with a cough. I feel my face crumple a bit with laughter but maintain my composure. The reverend eyes us with curiosity but refrains from comment. Tipping his hat, he carries on his way.
Once he is out of earshot Izzy lets out a hoot of laughter. I join her, giggling and grabbing her arm, tugging her off the boardwalk and behind the mercantile to the cabin set back from main street.
“I cannot believe you have talked me into this” Izzy says as she hustles along beside me, peering this way and that to ensure no eyes are upon us.
“Come along, Izzy! It will be fun!”
“You are going to get us both burned for witches!” Izzy laughs and jumps over a pile of fresh horse leavings, careful not to dirty her hem.
“Nonsense,” I try to sound braver than I feel. “They rarely burn witches anymore.” As we approach the porch of the cabin of our destination I feel myself slow nearly to a stop. Suddenly I am not feeling so very brave.
“Well then let us get to it and get it behind us”. Izzy is always the practical one. She marches easily onto the porch. I hiss at her and beckon wildly, leading her around the back of the cabin.
“Here. Switch cloaks with me.” I am taking off my silk lined velvet cape and handing it to her. When she doesn’t follow suit, I thrust my cloak into her arms and begin to unbutton the serviceable woolen coat she is wearing.
“Ma’am? What in tarnation are you doing?”
“Izzy, language!” She blushes and stammers, but I laugh and yank the coat from her shoulders. “Quickly! Put on my cloak”. As Izzy shrugs on the cape I unpin the bonnet from my head and trade it for Izzy’s simple cap. Once our costumes are donned I lead Izzy back around to the front porch and this time, with great gusto and confidence, I walk up the steps and rap on the door.
We hear a shuffling sound from within. Izzy grabs my arm and clings to me. I cling right back. The door swings open and there she stands. Lucretia Vipond, town witch. I am unsure of what I had expected, but it was not this. For up close she seems like any other normal woman and not very witchy at all. The exception is her eyes, which, unblinking and expressionless, are two very distinct colors: one a bright clear blue, the other dark brown. It is most disconcerting and I look away.
“Help you?” She pushes a strand of hair from her eyes and leaves a smudge of flour on her forehead. I stare at it, transfixed.
“Help you?” This time she is not as polite, seemingly growing tired of our slack mouths and gaping eyes.
“Sorry. Yes. I beg your pardon. Well. Yes.” I fumble and stammer.
“We’d like our leaves read.” Izzy has taken her new role to heart and walks forward regally. I shrink behind, grateful for her new confidence.
“Come in then. Close the door.” She wipes her hands on her apron and begins to fuss at the stove, adding wood to the belly, putting water on to boil.
“Set yourselves down. Will be but a moment for the tea to be ready.” We watch as she fusses with the tea leaves and pours boiling water in to the pot. She removes her dusty apron and joins us at the table, setting surprisingly delicate and fine bone china cups and saucers before us.
“I take money up front. Some folk like not what the leaves say and deign not to pay. Up front is what I take.”
I hand Izzy my beaded coin purse under the table and she fumbles out a few coins, handing them to our hostess.
“Drink up. Must to empty those cups before we can begin.”
Hot tea scalds my mouth and throat and I choke a bit in my haste. Without molasses and sweet cream I find it a terribly bitter concoction to swallow.
Izzy seems not to suffer the drink as much as I and after making short work of her tea, hands her cup to Lucretia. The witch closes her eyes and seems to murmur a silent prayer, then sets the cup back on its saucer, spins it round three times and quickly flips it over, letting the last drips drain from the cup. Izzy and I stare, fascinated.
Lucretia rights the cup and cradles it between her two palms. Her incongruent eyes stare into the bowl, studying the smattering of tea leaves. For several moments she does not move or speak, and I begin to squirm. Izzy elbows me discreetly and regain my composure. As nonsensical as I know this to be, I am of a sudden set upon by a racing heart.
“Your path is one of luxury and plenty. You will never want for anything. Hearth and home and comfort will be yours for all of your days.”
It is evident that Lucretia Vipond is merely reading Izzy’s velvet cape and fashionable bonnet. We have set our coin on a charlatan and not on a soothsayer. I am surprised at the level of my disappointment.
She finishes with Izzy’s cup then turns to me and motions that I should hand her my own. I take the last sip, then relinquish it. She spins and prays and does her act, then flips the cup over and stares into its depths. I remind myself that this is merely meant to entertain and try to loosen the holds of my disillusionment. A few coins for an afternoon of harmless silliness is no real loss at all.
“First the wink of one, then the other to join it.” I look to Izzy. She looks back to me, mirroring my confusion. “The apples weep and poison the tree. True love carries you to the next land.” I feel a shiver crawl up my spine and reach for Izzy’s hand. The witch seems to break her trance and sets the cup down with a clatter.
“That is all there is. You may go now.” Without further ceremony she leads us to our exit.
The door closes behind us and I stare at Izzy in wonder for a moment. Then we begin to laugh. The sound of our joy rings out and echoes in the very best parts of my memory.
I shift where I lay.
I awaken. The echoes of our girlish laughter fade and pain from my abscessed breast startles me into full lucidity. I shift and try not to groan. Izzy sits knitting beside me. As soon as she sees my eyes open, she jumps up from her chair and brings a cool cloth to wipe my forehead. The fever has been tenacious this day. I shudder with it and long for another dram of Laudanum. I look at the clock on the mantel and see there are still hours until my next dose.
“I was dreaming”.
“Mmm.” She pats the cool damp cloth along my hairline.
“Remember when we went to get our tea leaves read? Oh my, that awful Lucretia woman!” Izzy smiles then and I see the shadow of the young girl she once was.
“Oh the things you led me to! It is a wonder we did not get ourselves banned from the congregation. Old Reverend Hills is probably flipping in his grave over that one, rest his soul. Not to mention the Judge! Rest his soul, too.”
I laugh a raspy sound and Izzy brings a cup of water close and holds it for me to drink. It soothes my dry throat and I lay for a time staring out the window. The trees have begun to blossom. Another spring. This will be my last.
“Remember what she said? The winking and the poison apples?” My hands reach up and rest upon the bandaged ruin of my breasts. I see comprehension and horror dawn on Izzy’s face. She has changed my fetid bandages enough to know what I am referring to.
“Lord have mercy!” Izzy whispers. She sits next to me and we stare awhile, at the blossoms.
“Do you need for anything Ma-am?” She asks after some moments.
“Izzy, how many years have you worked for me?” I ask. She knows what is coming, for we have been around this bush a time or two.
“Fifty three years come this September, Ma-am.”
“And in those Fifty three years how many times have I asked you to call me by my Christian name?”
“Many, many times, Ma-am”.
“Do you know what a pleasure it would be to my ears to hear my own name? Over the years I became ‘Mother’, ‘Grandmother’, ‘Mrs. Willoughby’, then the worst of them: ‘Widow Willoughby’. But never my own Christian name. Even the Judge, rest his soul, called me ‘Mother’.”
“Izzy you must call me by my Christian name! I insist.”
“So you will do it?”
Exasperated, I begin to laugh and she joins me. Together, we have done laughter well through these many years. We are fast friends, closer than sisters with a rhythm to our give and take that brings great comfort to me in my waning days.
The light begins to fade and we sit and watch the white blossoms become golden, then pink and finally a burnished red. Another sun set. Another day done. I am awash in the beauty of it all.
Days and weeks fold into each other and they all come and go. Faith, Temperance, William, Hudson, Hinton, all of their children and their children’s children, bringing noise and song and chatter to brighten my days. This is my legacy. This love and this family. I know that I am purely blessed to have had a life so well lived. Blossoms fall from the branch. They comfort me in my dying.
When my final hour arrives, it is within Izzy’s kind arms that I take my final breath. Pain has left me and I feel the familiar, forgotten weightlessness begin.
“Rest well and peaceful… Constance. Good night.” Oh, my sweet Izzy.
As I shudder gently to my end I know that true love has carried me to the next land.
My lungs are burning as I gasp for breath. I need to keep running or they will find me but my body is screaming at me to stop and rest. Thalia told me to meet her in the courtyard past the Bazaar. She told me not to get caught or I would be killed and she would be punished by the Christian soldiers. My heart is pounding as I skid around a corner in a full sprint. Screams echo from behind me as the attack reaches the center of the city. The sounds of millions of Jews being slaughtered will be the soundtrack of my nightmares. I speed up and pump my arms, propelling myself forward through the air trying to put some distance between me and the men trying to kill me.
An arm shoots out from the alley and wraps itself around my mouth and waist. I struggle but my eight year old frame is not big enough to fend off my attacker.
“Stop it Amahlya! It’s me!”
I quickly turn around and hug my best friend. Thalia smiles and strokes my hair, comforting me.
“It’s alright now, you’re safe.”
I look up at her and see the tears in her once bright eyes. I know she is terrified for me. I’m a Jew living in Alexandria and the Christian enforcers have declared the extermination of every Jew in the city, just as they had done with the Pagans years ago. Thalia’s family has been hiding me for several days now, protecting me and feeding me. If I live through this, I will be forever in their debt.
She grasps my arms and turns towards the great library. We skirt along the buildings’ canopies so as not to be seen from the attackers above. She pushes open the door and shoves me inside.
“Do not leave here until I come and get you. understand?”
I nod and back away from the door as she slams it closed. I sit down on the cold stone floor of the library and finally allow myself to cry. Millions of my people being slaughtered just outside this door, and my fate rests in the hands of a ten year old Christian girl and God. I close my eyes and begin to pray. I pray with every last bit of energy I have left in my small body for the souls of the men, and women, and children who were prematurely taken from this world. I pray that Thalia will return soon and that she will have a smile on her face and that she will tell me that everything is alright. I pray that Mama got away in the first stages of the attack and that she is somewhere safe but most of all I pray that they do not find me here tonight.
My eyes drift shut and I’m finally able to rest.
Crash! I spring up from underneath the stack of scrolls I had been sleeping in. I stand perfectly still and listen but the only sound I can hear is the thumping of my own heart beating out of my chest. I crouch behind a stack of old looking scrolls and stare at the door.
Hours pass but I remain in the same position. Not taking my eyes away from the set of large wooden double doors. My legs aching and screaming at me to change positions but still I remain unmoving.
Finally after what seemed like days, I stand from my uncomfortable position and stretch my sore legs. I dust myself off and come out from behind the shelf. I gather some scrolls and make myself a makeshift bed. Laying myself down I close my tired eyes, not even bothering with my prayers.
It goes on like this for days. The same routine, over and over. I’m beginning to wonder what has happened to Thalia. I am worried she has been caught or is in trouble because of me but I’m mostly worried because I have no food or water. I can feel myself getting weaker as the days go by. I begin hallucinating and dreaming that the Christians have found me or that they killed Thalia. The gruesome images dance behind my eyelids almost every night. I know that I can’t stay in here much longer and that I will have to go outside these doors so I gather the few things I have with me and pull my scarf over my head.
I walk up to the heavy doors, take a deep breath and push.
The harsh light turned everything white. I cover my eyes and wait for them to adjust. Those few moments of blissful ignorance is something that I thank god for. As my eyes become accustomed to the light I can finally make out the scene before me.
Bodies are stacked, one on top of the other. Their throats slit and the street running with blood. Their accusing eyes are open and staring into my soul, questioning why I am still alive while they are dead. They never look away, nor do I. I stand there frozen in shock. My cheeks feel warm and I reach up and realize I am crying. Sobs racked my body as I take a few steps towards my slaughtered kin. I kneel on the ground in front of an elderly woman, whose frail body is mutilated and covered in blood, and I grasp her hand in mine. I grieve for the loss of people I have never met. My hands and clothes becoming soaked in their blood as I cry out for their unjust executions.
Then a sharp pain goes through my back.
I rise up above my body and look around. A Christian soldier who had been stationed on the rooftop of a nearby house had spotted me and shot me with his arrow. I look around and see the souls of all those who have been killed in this violent attack. I spot Thalia’s soul amongst the many and she spots mine. We smile at each other and embrace. Together all of us rise up.
My brain explodes and I am instantly above my body, staring down at the empty shell of a man called Serge. Killer. Madman. Villain. I am incredibly relieved to be rid of him, and a bit surprised that the ending I finally faced was not the one I had planned. The bullet that killed my body was a silent, stalking aneurysm that finally exploded one evening as I finished off the dish of tapioca my niece had delivered earlier. I died in a bright flash of light with the sweet taste of pudding still on my tongue. An ending far kinder than the one I felt I deserved.
The relief is immeasurable each time the veil parts and I return home. Memories are restored and I once again know who and what I really am. Questions are answered, and healing takes place. Lifetimes that have left me broken, either physically or emotionally, have to be healed, but the love that greets me when I arrive back home is unconditional and soul rehabilitation always begins immediately. I am restored. I remember.
The One I knew as Horst from this lifetime greets me in a rush of energy and our memories mingle. I understand in that moment that the nagging companion of my last years on earth was not this Horst but was the ghost of my own madness. I also gain knowledge that the handgun given to me by Horst had been deliberately tampered with by my friend. He had known what I would try to do with it and saved me from that end. We spin together, remember many lifetimes, many lessons. Ours is a long and fruitful relationship and I am overjoyed to see my friend.
Horst leaves and the space I am in transforms into a large, white room. Young men, some not much more than boys, in tattered and muddy uniforms, line up along the wall. I count them.
I walk up to the first One. I stare into his face, memorizing it. I have known this One before, but in other disguises. We embrace and our souls remember each other once more. I ask forgiveness but am instantly aware that this is not necessary. Forgiveness is a human game required only because in the human world there is also judgment. There is no judgment here. There is only unconditional love and understanding.
The purpose of my life as Serge comes to me then. I am surprised because it is the same purpose I had during my lifetime as the girl with no name. I am amazed that two such diverse lifetimes could be so closely linked. A murderer gone mad, and a four year old victim of terrible abuse, both sent to this earth school for the same purpose.
To engender compassion.
As I greet each One, I feel their unconditional love. They lead me to understand that the acts I committed in taking their lives sent out ripples and waves of grief, but then of compassion. Every grieving heart inspired others to reach out and show love and compassion. Each death that was at my hand inspired awakening around the world. Each murder I committed became a ragged love letter to the world to stop the violence and the killing.
My soul weeps, shedding the shame of Serge and I embrace each of the Twenty two, knowing now that we had planned this dance together, killer and victims. Everything happened as it should. In Serge’s life I just happened to wear the guise of villain, while in other lifetimes I was victim. We play many roles in our lives on Earth. We learn, we teach and we grow. All is in perfect order, even when it seems it is not.
Engendering compassion when dressed as a starving and beaten four year old girl is easy to accept. More challenging to accept is that acting as murderer or villain can also engender compassion. Even now as I try to wrap my mind around it, I have difficulty. Again I am reminded that our time on earth is meant to gather experience, and not necessarily understanding.
I have had three lifetimes of which I am aware that my purpose has been to engender compassion. Once as Serge, the perpetrator, once as the little girl with no name – the victim and now, in this lifetime, as the witness. As I bear witness to these memories it is my great hope that the breadth and scope of compassion engendered by my past lives will add to the ever widening ripples of an awakening and increasingly compassionate society.
If we let go of the need to judge, we let go of the need to forgive. Instead we find compassion. Believe that all is perfect, because it really is.
And besides, you just never know, the greatest purveyor of bad assery in your life may be one of your closest soul mates, taking one for the team. As Ram Dass says, “We’re all just walking each other home.” What’s say we take the scenic route?
It is Sonja. She has brought my evening meal. I finish rubbing oil into the barrel of my FN 1910 and put it into the drawer of the side table. I wipe excess grease on my pants, adding another layer to the gathering stains.
Twenty two. I have cleaned and reassembled the pistol twenty two times. Tonight is the night.
Horst gave me the pistol as a gift, a memento he said, of all of our good times together. He sits atop a pile of newspapers on the dining table, his head still half blown away. The sight of his exposed brains and bone no longer take my appetite. I ignore him as best I can, though he insists on carrying on a conversation with me. If I continue my silence, perhaps one day he will take his leave from these earthly realms, as he should have done 17 years ago.
“Why would I leave you, Comrade?” He listens to my thoughts which is a habit I find most reprehensible. There is no privacy.
“Privacy is overrated, Serge. Without me you are just a lonely old bugger who scares old ladies and little children.”
This is the truth. I am feared by most who cross my path. People look at me and they see past the wrinkled sweater and scuffed shoes that I wear. They see that I am a monster.
The Great War stole my humanity. The crimes that I committed should have had me killed by a firing squad, or sent to a prison in the frigid east. Instead the powerful men in charge decided to decorate me as war hero. I was given ribbons and medals and a stipend for life that pays for my meager subsistence. A hero to them for doing the dirty work that they could not do. Yet when they avoid my gaze I can see that they too know that I am a monster. I kill men in cold blood. I see the spray of their blood and hear the cries of their mates as their dead bodies fall. I create grieving mothers and widows and fatherless children who must go on in a world emptied of their most beloved.
“That is an old song you are singing, Comrade.”
Shut up! I am silent as I scream to him, and he laughs at me. But then he fades and I am left in peace.
Door knocks. I walk across the room, silently counting my steps.
I reach for the handle and begin to tap it with my trigger finger.
As I am about to open the door I see that Horst now sits on the settee. I pause. Sonja, my sister sits with him. She smiles at me pleasantly. I close my eyes and will the vision away. Not real. Not real. Sonja is not sitting with Horst, she is on the other side of the door, holding a plate of warm vegetable stew with a heel of black rye. She will smile at me, ask after my health, never expecting an answer, then she will pick up the dirty shirts and socks to launder for me and will leave me to my evening meal alone. In silence.
When I open my eyes the settee sits empty. I breathe deeply in relief. Every night since returning from the front, my sister brings my supper. She long since stopped trying to get words from me. At first she begged me to talk to her, to tell her the horrors I had seen so that they would leave me. She pleaded for me to see a doctor, or find some help for this muteness. Finally she gave up. Now she respects my private nightmare, helping me merely with my basic needs.
Door knocks. My hand still holds the knob. I twist it open and turn to walk back to my chair.
I sit and look up. Standing in the open doorway.
Katja, my niece.
“My mother,” she strangles the words as her chin twists with holding her tears. “Onkel, my mother…” She continues to speak but her words turn to vapor before they reach my ears. I rise from my chair and walk toward her, silently counting.
She backs up, trying to hide her fear of the monster. She is outside still speaking to me, her pale blue eyes rheumy with tears when I close the door. Tap the knob.
Walk back to my chair.
I sit until it is dark and cold. Horst and Sonja sit with me, silent on the settee. I pull the weapon from the drawer and carefully load two bullets into the chambers.
“You are persistent if nothing else,” Horst is chuckling. Sonja says nothing though I feel her eyes penetrate me. I cover my ears, and rock back and forth.
Twenty two. Men without faces stare at me from the shadows. Twenty two.
The gun barrel feels cold and slick between my eyes. I change my mind and fit it into my mouth, tasting the bitter metallic tang so similar to blood. I bite down on the barrel. My body shakes uncontrollably. I feel no fear.
“Remember that one Tommy with the feather in his cap? What kind of moron would wear a feather in the trenches. I spotted that bird in my sniperscope first off and I says to you ‘ 12 oclock straight to rights we got a dancing peacock’. You shot him so clean that feather popped straight up into the sky, then floated down all gentle, like it was just a mild breeze that set it to dancing. Remember that, Serge?”
Despite the cold chill of the room, sweat flows down my forehead and gets into my eyes. I wipe them with my sleeve, then readjust the weapon in my mouth, pushing the barrel in so far that I gag.
“There was no stopping us, Serge. We were a force to be reckoned with. A force.” Horst jumps up from the settee and pulls Sonja with him. He begins to dance with her, spinning her around the room, over and through the waist high piles of discarded newspapers.
“Heaven. I’m in Heaven… and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak…” Horst sings loudly and off key. “I love this new music. I sure wish I had lived to hear it.” He laughs and spins Sonja away. She disappears into a vapid mist. Horst stops dead in front and I feel the sting of his gaze. Accusing.
“Better get busy, man. Time is wasting. Better pull that trigger.”
I grind my teeth on the barrel, adjust my thumb against the trigger. Blink sweat from my eyes. My body jerks with spasms. I stare directly into Horst’s black eyes and squeeze the trigger.
Another misfire. All of my breath leaves me.
I still live. It is a gross joke of fate. A terrible agony of laughter bubbles up from my chest and I choke on it. I pull the gun from my mouth and allow the vile noise to fill the room. Horst begins to laugh with me and for a moment all that exists is our maniacal sound.
“Some sharpshooter you are! Some great marksman! No damn wonder you are a big, decorated war hero”. Tears and noxious laughter gush from my body and it is many moments until I am able to be still.
After a time silence returns. I pick up the gun and begin to break it down. I wipe it clean of saliva and sweat, preparing it for another day.
I run as quickly and quietly as I can. My feet are wrapped in soft worn hide and I barely make a sound as I skirt the elders who sit around the center fire. My hands cover my head protecting the sore spot on top and I keep my eyes downcast. I am the girl known as nothing. No name has been given to me because my father is dead and my mother’s new man will not allow me to have a soul. I am not dirt, he has told others. Dirt serves a purpose and I have none. I am nothing.
The men and boys make sport out of rapping the top of my head with their strong center knuckles as I pass by and I have an egg growing where my hair parts straight down the centre. The spot is tender and sore and I do what I can to protect it but it is impossible when my hands are full of baskets with food for their bellies that I must take to serve them. If I am too slow or if I drop anything in the dirt, I am beaten, usually by my mother. She takes a whipping stick to me and hollers that I am useless and nothing, but then she whispers to me fiercely that she is saving me from worse beatings by others and I have to learn to be invisible.
My Mother’s new man is the brother of my father. He has three wives, and my mother is the least of them. She begs for the scraps of food that others have spit out when they are full, and shares with me whatever she can get. I have learned that this is enough. I never complain.
I watch the deer in the fields. They are silent and staring and flee at a moments thought of danger. I am the deer. I stare silently at the others and when I sense that I am noticed, I disappear. Most of the time it works. At other times, I wear a mantle of bruises.
Days are filled with the danger of being seen. I keep myself hidden as best I can and do my chores quickly and without mistakes so that nobody will notice me. Sometimes I am lucky and find sweet berries that nobody has noticed and I gobble them up, careful to rub dirt on my mouth to hide the bright red stain of their juice. It is wrong and I know that I would be beaten or worse, cast out into the great alone, if anyone found out, but my hungry mouth does not listen to this fear.
Nights are best. I curl into my mother’s warmth and can be still and safe for the dreams that come. That is when I can fly. I am the raven, circling high above the earth teasing those who would dare try to reach me. I am the eagle, brave and swift, a sure hunter with plenty of fat salmon to eat. I am the owl, seeing in all directions, flying from dangers that may come. Sometimes when I wake in the early dawn, I find that a feather is lying beside me and I know I have brought myself the bird medicine from my dream travels. Those are the days I am invisible.
Today I did not find a feather.
I am carrying a basket of cooked meat to the elders who sit smoking beside the fire. I hear the sound, like somebody is straining in their squatting position and I cringe, knowing that I am seen. This is the noise the others use to call to me. It is my mother’s husband who grunts, calling to me. I hold my breath and make myself not run away, for if I run away I will surely be beaten. I walk toward him, keeping my eyes downcast and being careful not to drop the meat basket. I know what is coming and every part of me aches to turn and run into the forest, but I keep walking toward him. I am the deer. I am the owl. I am the raven.
One harsh knuckle knocks the egg atop my head. I do not cry out but bite my lips shut and keep walking. I am the deer.
Another hand lashes out and raps the tender spot. Tears begin to gather in my eyes and I blink quickly. Tears would gain me nothing but more bruises. The others are laughing now, making the grunting noise and trying to add their fierce rapping to the top of my skull. I hurry my step. I am the deer. But then I am tripped by my own feet. I fall. The basket of meat empties on the ground, into the dirt at the feet of my mother’s husband.
I feel his fists as they connect with my body and for a moment I lift above where I lay and just watch as my body is knocked around, lifeless and abandoned.
My mother rushes in to lay her body on mine and begs her husband to spare the life of her stupid, clumsy, useless child. His anger turns to her and she receives his fists willingly, sparing me their wrath. His anger is spent after a time and we are left to bleed in the dirt. The cold of night folds in and we cradle each others broken bodies with our own. We are cast out. We are shunned. We must leave and go to the great alone.
Come dawn, my bruised and battered mother gathers me into her arms and walks us into the forest. It is cold so that our breath shrouds around us and frost clings to our hair. We must leave now, but I am not sure where my mother will take us. After a time of walking silently my mother stops and lays me beside a great tree stump. She wanders off, silently watching. She is the deer.
When she returns she has brought mushrooms that she has foraged from the forest floor. She feeds them to me, gently ripping them into tiny pieces so that I can chew them with my shattered jaw. She watches me closely as I eat and I am comforted by her attention, for once glad that I am not invisible.
The pains start not long after that and I wretch and wretch as if I can turn inside out, but the vile poison won’t leave my body. Hands and feet go numb and I feel my tongue and throat swelling. My mother watches closely, as the poison she has fed me does its job. I suffer for a time, then gently pop out of the top of my head and float away. I linger at the treetops and watch my mother hold my empty body. She wails for a moment as she feels my spirit leave then calms and begins to eat the rest of the mushrooms.
Gravity leaves me and I return to spirit. I begin to fly.
Dammit dammit dammit! I missed my flight. It was a quick connection and the gates were miles apart but I still had believed that the travel angels, who work so beautifully for me, would come through once again. Imagine my surprise when I finally ran up to the gate and saw the tiny plane taxiing away toward Newburgh without me on board.
My first inclination was to become Old Me and start to wail and cry and threaten and blame. Those feelings swelled up in a big bubble of frustration, but I had been in training for just this sort of thing these past few years, so New Me took a deep breath and just sat there in the moment and let those feelings dissipate into the air around me. Everything happens for a reason, I reminded myself. Including this.
I used the extra 4 hours in the Philadelphia airport to relax, eat some soup, read a book and just catch my breath. The time went quite quickly and before long I was taking my seat on the tiny plane that would take me on the last leg of my journey to Newburgh, New York. I was on my way to the Omega Institute for a week long seminar led by Dr. Brian Weiss on Past Life Regression. This in itself was quite surprising. Old Me would never have thought to take the time or spend the money to do something so outrageous. It wasn’t practical, people would think I was crazy, who was I to think I could learn this stuff, and on and on the doubts and resistance would come. Of course those thoughts did come to me, but instead of believing them and giving in to them, New Me decided to ignore them and listen to my inner guidance. I felt a strong, intense calling to be there, so I decided to throw logic and fear to the wind and answer the call.
The plane was flying at a very low altitude, under the clouds and as I watched out the window at the passing nightscape something really bizarre happened. The lights of the towns and cities below seemed to refract and spread out in beams, interconnecting and creating the most amazing, beautiful grid of light. I stared in awe from my vantage point up in the air and was overwhelmed by the beauty. What was this? What did it mean? Old Me determined it must be caused by the convex curve of the window or perhaps by atmospheric conditions or something logical like that. New Me quietly told Old Me to shut up and just enjoyed the magic of the flight. The beauty of it all made me feel a bit high and when we landed firmly on the ground I giddily walked through the nearly deserted airport toward the stand of taxis to find the driver I had booked. I walked outside, stopped dead in my tracks and I laughed out loud, causing several weary travelers to look my way and wonder what was up with the crazy lady staring at the sky. The grid was still there! The streetlights above and the lights from the surrounding buildings were beautifully refracting and continuing the light show for me. It took my breath away. Old Me briefly considered that I may be coming down with a touch of a brain tumor or something, but New Me knew that this was something big: something mystical and amazing and the real reason why I had missed my flight. I was meant to see this phenomena. I had no idea why but I knew that this would be important.
Everything happens for a reason.
I have learned that we show up for each other over and over again wearing different guises. This was never as clear as during that week in Omega. The very first morning I wandered the dining hall, breakfast tray in hands, feeling very much like new kid at school. Then I found her. My soul sister, friend from all eternity and a little piece of home. “May I join you?” I beamed at her, already impatient to get past the awkward introductions and start reminiscing about our vast connection. Katie, my beautiful Katie, sister mother teacher friend, flew all the way from Australia to attend the seminar. Somehow, she told me, she felt a calling to be there at that time. It was something I would hear over and over during that week.
Each experience that happened while we were at Omega revealed new connections, threads in the tapestry. I first met Butterbean during a regression that week. It is not surprising to me now that she showed up when she did. I was regressed by a young man with a deep soothing voice who just so happened to be named Thomas. Of course she would show up. Everything happens for a reason, right? In my life as Butterbean I recognized Miz Ginnia as a dear friend of mine who had passed away the previous year. Though there was no physical resemblance, the soul was the same. Imagine if your best friend changed the shirt they were wearing, you would still easily recognize them wouldn’t you? That is the case with our soul friends and families.
150 people attended that seminar… 152 if you count Dr. Weiss and his wife, Carole. We converged for a week, drawn from all over the globe in a way so compelling that none of us could ignore the call. Then the stories began to emerge of connections from lives past. People we just met turned up playing significant roles in other lifetimes. We were all inextricably linked, woven together in a tapestry of experiences and lifetimes and we had been given this amazing gift to remember it all. We were like those beams of light I saw, weaving a tapestry, intricate and beautiful, beyond the imaginings of the human mind.
We journey here to gain experience, not necessarily understanding and while Old Me rails against the mysteries, New Me revels in the magic of it all.
My lives have been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the everchanging view
A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold
A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold
~ lovingly paraphrasing Carole King
“Buttah bean. Lawd girl what has got into you?” Sweet Thomas comes to me and uses the tail of his shirt to dry my face of tears and snot. The course fabric stings, but in a good way. “What is it, chile? Someone run off with your favorite barn kitty?”
I pull away and set my face all angry, just like I seen my Ma doing a hunnert times a day. “I ain’t no chile!” I says, all hot like, letting the anger chase the sad away.
“You right. You near a grown woman now. My most grevious error.” He says like the lord a the manor hisself, doffs his cap and bows afore me all hoity toity. I laugh, then get mad at myself for allowing him to cojole me such.
“You jes never mind why I is sad. It is my own bidness. And speaking of bidness, what bidness has you over here to the house? You gonna catch a whippin’ if they sees you.”
“I gots bidness, so never you mind, chile. I mean Lady Buttah bean.” He laughs and darts away afore I can swat him with my soapy hands. He heads on up to the cookin house and I go back to the job at hand: Scrubbin the monthly stains from Miz Ginnia’s bed clothes and washing the snot outta the master’s kerchiffs. I got them all soaped up and ready fer boilin, so I adds some wood to the fire and take my big stirrin stick and give the pot a swirl. Greasy bubbles and chunks of whatnot float to the surface. Miz Ginnia taken to her bed agin with the lady times. I feel the tears swellin up from my neck and I get firm with myself. I ain’t no chile anymore and neither is Mis Ginnia and the time is passed now that we can play together like babies. I gotta do my work and don’t think about in no more. Ma is right and I outta listen to her. Me an Miz Ginnia ain’t kin and we ain’t family and I is nothin but her personal house slave now and I has to jes accept it. And I does.
I jes get so sad sometimes.
As tiny childrens we played right here beside this crick while my Ma stirred up the pot of washin. I remember one time we was settin on the bank and we pulls each others shoes plumb off and jumps into the water. Ma comes runnin over and pulls us out afore we can get too wet or drowned or whatnot and she sets Miz Ginnia up on the bank to dry in the sun, then she takes that stick from the washin pot and she give me some licks on the backs of my legs, jes to remind me about my place in this world. Even back then, as a little chile I knew not to cry out or complain.
Later though, when Ma is busy wringin and hangin, don’t Miz Ginnia come right up and hug me tight and whisper that she sorry for my troubles. Sorry for my troubles. Don’t that beat all?
But now Miz Ginnia has started her lady times and Mistress think it ain’t proper for her to be wanderin about like a wild thing, so we don’t play together no more. And truth before God I misses her like a hole is in my heart.
More tears comes down my cheeks and this time I lets them come. I don’t hear Sweet Thomas comin up behind me, so the breath jumps outta my mouth when he leans over and kisses real soft like on my wet cheek.
“Don’t be sad my Buttah bean. Don’t be sad” he whispers in my ear, then walks away toward the fields.
Jes then a little bit a that hole in my heart is filled up.
Time passes and I become accustomed to the new rules bout Miz Ginnia. I ax respectful and curtsy and such, and it make Miz Ginnia sometimes laugh and sometimes get angry with me. See, she don’t want to be a growed up lady with rules neither. But Mistress ain’t changin her mind on this, so we follow the rules, though sometimes we still whisper secrets to each other when nobody else is around to hear us.
I am combin out her fine, silk hair. Long to her waist and straight as a stalk o wheat, Miz, Ginnia’s hair is bout the prettiest thing I ever seen or touched. Softer than a new chicken. She prefer I brush it for her mornin and nighttime and she close her eyes as I do it. Seems to relax her some.
“Daddy says he won’t allow Sweet Thomas to marry you. He says that you are too young to start having babies.” I make a hmm sound in my throat, but don’t say nothin. See, Sweet Thomas and me has already gone and jumped the broom and I already has a babe taken root in my belly. Sweet Thomas and me, we are lots of years apart in age, but that don’t bother us no how. Other people make it seem like something sinful and wrong that a man ol enough to be my granddaddy could love me and marry me. They is wrong. Love don’t know no age.
“I tried to talk him outta his opinion. So did Mama. She says it would be good to add more strong backs to our stables, but Daddy, he won’t budge.” Mis Ginnia open her eyes now and looks at me in the mirror. Her eyes is a bright blue color, like the sky and she is a fine, delicate creature, with her light creamy skin and her tiny fingers and feet. It like she is made of porcelain, so fine she almost ready to shatter.
“Seems like your Mama will be having her way afterall.” I sez. I drop my hands to my belly and look to her in the mirror. She so light and delicate, me so round and sturdy and yellow like the Buttah bean they call me after. It takes a minute for the idea of what I is sayin to plant in her mind, but when it do she jump up and turn around fast as can be.
“Butterbean!” She whispers, all fierce like, then she do somethin that surprise me more than anything in my life ever could. She slaps me clean across my face.
I stand starin at her, shocked at what she done. I feel the stingin handprint on my face and I fights to keep the tears that want to sprout outta my eyes.
“Zat all ma’am? Can I go now?” I sez, turnin my eyes to stone.
“Butterbean, I’m so sorry”, she go to grab me, like in a hug, but I turn toward the door and walk away. Afore I leave I curtsy and there ain’t no humor about it now.
“G’nite ma’am”. I shut the door and am almost outta the house when my face finally crumple.
When word get out Master has Rumsey the caretaker whip Sweet Thomas, and I is sent to work in the cookin house, which suit me fine. I work close beside my Ma and now we both grown ladies we see eye to eye. She had me when she was 13 and that is just the age I am now, so she understand the workings of what I is experiencin. She a brave, strong lady. My daddy was sold out from the farm afore I was born so Mama had me all on her own. I lucky that I got Sweet Thomas and when I finish my days sweatin in the cookin house I get to curl up on his big lap and lay my tired head on his shoulder and listen to his breathin. That when I know I is safe.
The day I die turn out to be the happiest day o my lifetime. I is givin birth to my son, an even though I know I is not gonna make it, I am so happy cause my Miz Ginnia, she comes to me! She sets right down aside me an she wipe the sweat from my brow and she murmur nice things to me. Her cool, soft hand on my forehead feel like heaven. My body is racked with spasms as it try to rid itself o the baby that done got itself sideways and won’t turn for nothin. Hours an hours I labor with this chile but he ain’t gonna come. I knows it now. So do everyone in the room. Sweet Thomas hold my hand and big fat tears fall down his cheeks, and leave him shiny wet under his nose. My mama don’t cry, but she get fierce angry at God and start to hollerin at Him. She only stop when Miz Ginnia come to be by my side then she close up tight and don’t say nothin at all.
Miz Ginnia, she lean down real close to my ear, so close I feel her soft breath on my cheek. It feels like love. I can see right close into her blue eyes and I know it be alright if I let go now. She whisper to me jes then.
“I’m so sorry for your troubles, Butterbean. So sorry.”
I die and l leave my body down on the bed. My baby waits for me and we hover above, watching the scene below as realization and grief seize the people left behind. I feel their grief and sorrow, but am also filled with a knowing that they will be just fine. I recognize the spirit that was my baby and it is my beloved guide. He holds his loving energy out to me. We embrace and begin to spin, and like a white mist of energy, spinning faster and faster, we ascend.
I was a skeptic. Not so much about the existence of past lives, but about my own experience with it. I have a vivid and active imagination so in my mind I firmly believed that I could quite convincingly make stuff up and then believe it to be true. My first foray into past life adventure was done with a huge edge of “yeah right!” surrounding it. This is not to say that I had never believed in the unseen or the unprovable. To the contrary and as you will learn in my future posts, I had some pretty weird shit happening to me during this time.
My first past life adventure began when I finished reading Dr. Brian Weiss’ book “Many Lives Many Masters”. I was fascinated by the whole thing and wanted to try for myself. My Dad, the most down to earth no-nonsense guy you will ever meet, had told us many times over the years of his own spontaneous past life memories, so the subject was not new or particularly foreign or forbidden to me. I found a regression on YouTube, lay down on my bed and let myself be guided. Turns out I am highly suggestible and was easily and profoundly hypnotised quite quickly.
The day I died as Hark (Herald) Tubbs (read about that here) came to me in flashes of knowing as opposed to technicolor images. It was as if one second there was nothing and the next there was everything. I had made it my intention to glean details from the experience: things that I could use to check the validity of this experience. As open minded as I was trying to be, I knew that my wild and vivid imagination could create some pretty convincing stuff and I wanted validation.
I got names. Dates. Places. Relationships. I wrote it all down when I awoke and then I began my search.
Google is an amazing tool. Within a couple of hours I had found records online of Herald Tubbs (called Hark by all who knew him), his brother Seth and his younger brother Eli (recorded in the records as E. Tubbs) signing up for the Union Army in 1862. I then found out that there was a big battle in Jackson the following year which would be the time and date of the brothers deaths according to what I had written down after my regression. I had memory of a baby sister, Hester and I was able to find marriage records for a Hester Tubbs about 15 years after the battle in Jackson. Everything I had “remembered” was validated.
It blew my mind.
And it excited me beyond belief. Hungry for more, I signed up for a week long training seminar with Dr. Brian Weiss at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck NY. More on that later.
While it is really cool that I had such a vivid experience my first time out and really amazing that I could validate so much of it, I truly believe that whether these memories are real or are metaphor, past life recall has had a profoundly healing effect in my life.
And WOW has it been fun!
This is the most wretched bored I have been in my entire life. I have sharpened every stick in this forest to help build the godforsaken abatis which is now about as long as the eye can see. I have sat in the rain and the sweltering heat and the frosty mornings and I have waited. And waited. Nothing ever is going to happen, of that I am sure. Why I was so fierce certain that this war would bring me the excitement and adventure I had not found living on the farm I do not know. I am one of thousands of men. Boys. All waiting together here in this field in Jackson, Mississippi, hundreds of miles from our homes and the comforts of loved ones and a solid roof over our heads and good wholesome food on our tables. We are waiting to find our glory here on earth, or in the hereafter, whatever God would decree. My only solace is that my younger brother Seth sits beside me through it all. We are both still healthy, which is more than most. Those who are not suffering with the flux are battling shakes, or pox, or the morbid sore throat. The medics can not handle the numbers of men who will surely die, not from battle wounds as we had originally intended, but through the raging maladies that corrupt this place. I thank the Almighty that Seth and I have yet been spared and can count boredom as our only complaint.
The field is large, once lush with a burgeoning crop of tobacco, but that has long since been trampled beneath a thousand boot falls. The farmhouse has been abandoned of its occupants and is now housing for the officers. There is a creek nearby and the abatis we have built protects access to the supply water, essential to our survival. Crews of men work all day just to carry water to the hospital and to those of us doing the countless drills that they have us do. 5am is reveille then it is hard tack for breakfast, drill, drill and more drill until we break for more hard tack for lunch. Since the abatis has been completed the powers that be have decided that we should now fill our afternoons with more drills. Over and over we practice the same maneuvers, until we are a battalion of sleep walkers, blindly following the shouted commands of whoever is on the horse at that moment in time. We become soaked, sometimes with rain and sometimes with our own sweat. The uniform I wear is terrible heavy wool, too tight across the beam and I have developed a horrible, itching rash where it binds under my arms and across the neck and back. I feel as though I may crawl out of my own skin, given half a chance. Who would have guessed that the thing I might miss the most of home was the linen overshirt that I wore day to day on the farm, worn soft by countless scrubbings along Ma’s washboard.
Oh and Ma. How I miss my Ma. Her plain face and short, round body. Her brown hair, all soft in a bun at the back of her neck. The gentle sound of her voice, no matter what rage Pa might be in, dowsing the fire of his anger with her cool, soft lilt. How she would quake to see the conditions here, us living in the mud and squalor, sitting like fools waiting to catch whatever sickness comes next. I am thankful each day that she need never know the truth of this horror. Home she can stay, safe in the knowing that her two sons will come home some day, safe, God willing and whole of body and mind, if not spirit. She would worry, I know. But with young Eli to tame, and sweet baby Hester to tend the time of this war will go swiftly.
Seth is writing again. He left his sweetheart at home waiting on him. His time passes as painful slow as my time, but at least he has beautiful brown eyes and yellow hair to contemplate. I have no sweetheart. Never did have time away from the running of things to take up such fancies. Pa always relied on me to be the strength at home while he was off to preaching. I looked after the farm for my Pa and I will look after my brother Seth as I have made my solemn vow to my Pa. “Do not bother darkening this door if you doth come home without thy brother.” He says to me as I was leaving. I were not surprised none. Him and I have never got on much and he favored me for the strap as much as he favored Seth for the last piece of Ma’s good pie. I hope that his favors for the good are given to Eli in our absence as I would surely hate to see him bear the brunt of Pa’s ill will and stinging strap. The lad is but a boy, only 13 years old, though tall for his age. But he is a clever boy, that Eli, and I am assured that he will keep his self hid when Pa’s tempers are flared.
“Johnston heard it from Quincy. Big bugs callin’ for action before first light tomorrow.” Chinchilla sits next to Seth, begins to clean his fingernails with his pig sticker. Seth looks up from his letter writing.
“For real?” He asks. Chinchilla itches his beard and I sees a flurry of lice crawling away from his finger.
“For reals. Bunch a dirty gray backs setting up lines just over the hill. Quince told Johnston he heard there was hunerds of them. Filthy gray backs.” He spits on the ground, just missing where I am sitting in the dirt.
“Jebus Chinchilla, watch your aim”. I stand up, and move away from him because all of a sudden I do not want to sit no more.
“First light?” I says. “Hmm”. Seth puts his letter aside into his haversack, real careful like. His face is all lit up like Christmas morning is a sudden coming.
“It’s grit time, boys” Seth jumps up and hoots so loud that a bunch of men look over our ways.
“Use your horse sense, Tubbs! Jebus! You see you Hark hollering and jumpin’? This ain’t been announced, so shut your trap and keep your wits.” Chinchilla storms off and Seth turns to me.
“Hark, it is finally come. Our day of reckoning and of glory. We get to kill us some Johnny!” I pretend that I am excited, but my guts twist. I do not have a good feeling of this at all.
I leave this moment and move ahead in time.
I am frozen in my spot. The line of men, armed and anticipating, filled with killer glee and fear frenzy, stands waiting. Seth is at my side, his eyes shining with it all. But it is beyond Seth that I see what has me frozen in my spot. I know then that my life will end today, one way or another. For behind my brother Seth I see running toward us my younger brother, Eli. Only 14 years old, yet he is dressed as a soldier in a blue uniform and he is carrying a weapon. He is whooping like a banshee, waving at me and hollerin’. Seth sees me staring and turns to look.
“Eli”. His voice is not raised, but I hear him over the sounds of the advancing army nevertheless. Eli is hugging Seth but before he has a chance to hug me all hell is unleashed upon us in a flurry of musket fire from beyond the blockade.
Explosions as rifles fire. Screams. Terror. The smells of ammunition and dank soil and releasing bowels.
I just raise my weapon, when I am hit with wild sprays of dark red blood as it gushes from the gaping hole in Seth’s head. He falls to the ground like an empty sack. I try to move but am locked, staring at my fallen brother. Blood sprays me, getting in my eyes and I lift my arm to clear my vision just in time to see the mini ball hit Eli. Young Eli, his neck torn apart falls on top of Seth, his head landing so that is lays nearly backwards, like an owl, looking over his shoulder. Their staring eyes look to me, through me. My weapon slips from my grasp and I vomit, the bile running down my chest. I try to turn away, but I cannot. Dead. Both brothers dead before me.
The mini ball that hits me seems to be suspended in air forever. I see it dangling before me and manage a small laugh. It rends my guts clean open. I see the gray slippery innerds slide from my cavity and I try to catch them. I sink to my knees. I stare at my dead brothers as I hold the last of my own life in my hands. I am comforted by the warmth of my intestines in my hands.
Sometime later I lay on the ground among a sea of the dead. My eyes are open watching the passing clouds. I know that I must be in pain, but I seem to rise above my body. A medic finds me in the tangle of bodies and I am carried to the hospital tent. Time passes. I wonder why I am not dead.
“I am killed. Can you write my Ma? She needs to know. We are all killed.” My throat is so dry that my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. I am not sure that the old Doc can understand me, but he nods. He calls over an aide and has him write out the information.
“I give you my word, Private Tubbs. Your Ma and Pa will hear how you and your brothers gave your lives in valiant service and glory for the Union Army.” I stare into his eyes. So blue and so kind and I know that I can believe him.
I feel the rush of wind and weighlessness as my spirit rises. I recognize this feeling though my human mind believes that it is the first time I’ve felt it. The top of my head tingles and I feel the quickening. Something catches my eye behind where the Doc sits beside me. There is a glimmering light in the corner of the room. The light grows bigger and I see Seth and Eli standing together, smiling big, beautiful smiles. The blood is gone and the horror and I am so relieved that they are whole. I feel myself begin to rise, and I smile.
Two guys walk into a bar….
Guy #1: Do you believe in reincarnation?
Guy #2: I don’t now, but I did when I was Napoleon.