There are consequences to remembering a past life. I found this out the hard way when I was convinced that my nightly dreams of being a WWII nurse meant I should study nursing at college. I was drawn toward medicine and knew I wanted to help others.
I did well in school and had my pick of places to work when I finished getting my BSN. The only problem was that I hated working in hospitals. I didn’t like the doctors and honestly, couldn’t stand the smell of sickness. Call me despicable, but there it is.
A part of me recognized the problem. If indeed I had been a nurse in a past life, I was absolutely done with the profession in this one. In my youthful ignorance, I chose the path most remembered rather than the path of my heart.
It’s funny how life works out. My grandparents left me their 1940s house, complete with faded linoleum, wood paneling, and a crumbling pool. But it has a shed with an electrical outlet. Cans of turpentine line one shelf, old vanilla candles another, and strings of beat-up Christmas lights hang from the ceiling beams.
After my night shift ends I get a couple of blissful hours to sit in this shed clicking away at my laptop, pondering different worlds, new ways of describing love, and searching the Internet for the deadliest types of poison. My imagination runs free here, away from bright hospital lights and heart attacks.
Here, I can sip steaming mugs of the blackest coffee, watch the sky lighten to hazy purple, and pretend I’m the writer that I told my grandmother I’d be. Here, there are no limitations or guilt. I leave those at the door and fly into the unknown.
“There are those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”
Ever since I read this yesterday I’ve been contemplating its meaning- whether in the shower or watching Galaxy Quest with my son or even staring into the fridge wondering what I’m having for lunch.
Like the metaphorical eunuch, can I cut off my false dreams, painful thoughts, and delusional fantasies? Is this cutting off even possible? I’m intrigued. I’m scared. I’ve crushed some thoughts to my chest like an old rag doll – doesn’t matter if it’s coming apart at the seams. Doesn’t matter if it offers nothing in return for my devotion… I don’t want to let go.
Looking back, I see how loss was part of the journey and even sowed the seeds for future joy. Intellectually I get that. Emotionally, letting go can feel as if I am giving up on purpose. And yet there is something in me that dares to know the truth. Maybe the modern day eunuch questions his thinking and the thoughts release him. Maybe questioning is the fire that heats the blade. Maybe the eunuchs know.
It began the way most things do – with a stab to the heart. Dying that day wasn’t on my agenda. Not to say I wasn’t depressed. Of course I was… Yet, I’d somehow accepted that living small was safe. It was comfortable, familiar. It kept my disappointments to a minimum. If I cried sometimes, randomly, well, that was part of it. It was my life and I had no serious intentions of leaving it.
They said the attacker was lucky – a stab to the heart is hard to do. I knew that because I heard the conversation of the crowd that had gathered around my cooling body. Apparently, the ribs are a pretty good defense against things seeking to pierce the heart. Evolution or God… Our bodies seem to have a bit of wisdom when it comes to survival.
Floating above the circus of co-workers and rescue personnel, I noticed one individual who seemed calmer than the rest. Joyful. There was something soothing and grounded about him. I guess I glided over, because suddenly there he was, staring at me with piercing green eyes. Gray wisps of hair seemed to dance from his eyebrows and a crooked smile highlighted his somewhat crooked nose.
“Fergal O’Hara,” he said as he tipped a flat tweed hat. “Nice to meet you.”
Feeling a little off guard because in no way did my random after-death musings ever lead me to consider anything Irish, I gaped. “Are you here for me?”
“That’s right, my dear. Are you ready? We’ve got a nice warm body waiting. I wanted to give you a chance to get used to your new state, but…” He tilted his head. “You seem like a fast learner. Shall we go?”
Me a quick learner? The most I’d done since finishing community college was tread water in a job way below my abilities but that paid the rent. Barely. I was the 40-something living in McLoser Villas and sliding into Prozac and YouTube videos of rescued puppies.
As a medical receptionist at a podiatry office, I aspired to showing up. I had a quote from The Office TV show taped on the bottom of my stapler that pretty much summed up my feelings to a T. “I’ve always subscribed to the idea that if you really want to impress your boss, you go in there and you do mediocre work, halfheartedly.” Thanks, Jim. You get it.
In fact, the most exciting thing to happen at work was dying in front of it. Apparently, my employer’s wife thought I was “the tart” who was banging her husband, Dr. Donald Dong (his real name, I kid you not). My auburn hair was the one thing I had in common with Dr. Dong’s mistress according to a sobbing Mrs. Dong as they dragged her away from me. Her rage refused to see the other details that didn’t match and, well, there I lie on the cracked sidewalk in front of our office’s smudged glass doors.
“What do you mean you have a nice warm body waiting? I just left a perfectly functioning warm body… Don’t I attend some kind of after-death review? Or get bathed in healing crystal energy or something?” I’d watched enough B movies to figure that one out.
Fergal rubbed his jaw. “That’s not the way it works. At least for you. You’ve got a different assignment that needs your immediate attention. Now my dear, shall we see what it’s all about?”
Suddenly I felt cold. “Is there no going back?” I turned towards my body. Sure it wasn’t perfect. There was a bit of a squishy middle, my roots were growing out (why couldn’t I have died with fresh highlights?!), and yeah, my love life was a work in progress (I had just signed up on Match.com. Kill me now. Oh wait…), but it was my life. I wasn’t done, not by a long shot.
Just the thought of starting over again was overwhelming. “I’m not ready for a new life! I’m just getting it together in this one!”
“Darlin,” he said as he leaned close to me, “You want the antidote to your life? A way to fill the hole gaping in your chest? Do you even see the metaphor of your death?”
He had me there. Even I had to admit that I’d lost my way and was going nowhere fast. Hence the depression and a freezer full of Chunky Monkey ice cream. When I was young, I had dreams. I wanted to study medicine. Or be an elementary school teacher. Or even a philosopher. Everything seemed so exciting. Instead, I somehow found myself working in a run-down office with posters of bunions, hammertoes, and ingrown toenails.
Yeah, I wasn’t setting the world on fire this go ‘round. “Okay, Fergal. I’m willing…”
“That’s all that’s required.” He gave me that crooked smile again and something in me relaxed. Death isn’t so bad I thought.
And then I felt a thousand volts coursing through my new body and the smell of ozone.
(This is part of a new novel idea, using the writing prompt from Sunday Scribblings, “antidote.”)
Getting shot in front of his realty office was not what Derrick Dunn expected that sunny Tuesday morning. As death hovered, the part of his mind not in shock was laughing hysterically. So, this is what you get for trying to turn your life around. Brilliant, he thought. You’re going to die after ending your affair with a hot twenty-something and before you’ve had a chance to drive your new $150k Tesla.
As Derrick’s cheek pressed into the damp earth, scenes from his past tripped across his mind—betraying his first partner to secure the listing on a beachfront luxury condo. Hiring, sleeping with, and firing real estate assistants in that order. His wife Celia’s red nails tapping on her Mercedes steering wheel. And more recently, his art studio with tubes of cadmium lemon, ultramarine blue, viridian green, and burnt umber.
Derrick was losing consciousness when he heard the clattering of high heels on the cement walkway. The scent of Coco Chanel told him his wife had arrived, likely wanting an increase in her checking account. After not finding him inside the small but exclusive real estate office, she walked out the door again. What made her look down and to the right, she’d never know, but there was her husband, on his side, blood pooling around his middle. She was so surprised to see her elegant husband lying among the hedges she gaped for a full 30 seconds. The lying, cheating, son of a bitch finally got what was coming. She didn’t want to feel sorry for him but found herself yanking off her Louboutin heels and stepping over to feel his neck. “What have you got yourself into now?” she muttered.
She quickly called 911 and wondered who pulled the trigger. That he had been cheating on her was a given. He was also into some speculative real estate and there had been strange characters calling their home late at night. Strangest of all was how he had been acting the last couple of weeks. For one thing, he was actually at home. He was also painting again rather than wheeling and dealing or taking out his annually upgraded real estate assistant. Derrick was acting more like the boy she knew when they were in high school together. The artistic kid with a gift for color and an even better knack for numbers.
Even back then she knew he was headed for success, but she made damn sure it wasn’t going to be in art. Raised in the state’s foster system, Celia Shaw kept her eyes on the prize and encouraged then shy Derrick to pursue a business degree. With her California tan and blue eyes, it was easy enough. One thing was for certain, Derrick Dunn was a cash cow and Celia wasn’t giving up her Mercedes lifestyle without a fight.
The wailing of the ambulance made Derrick’s eyes open. Blood frothed at his lips. “It’s over, Celia. Better start looking for husband number two.”
“You’re not dying until I know exactly how you changed your will.” She pinched Derrick’s check. “Don’t think I didn’t know about that. Now, pull yourself together, Derrick.” She looked at her shoes lying in the bushes. “And you owe me a new pair of heels.”
My theory has always been that at some point, something will arrive and reward my patience, my suffering.
At least that’s how I thought it worked. Except these days I’m feeling restless. I’m dreaming of mesas and blue sky. I’m wondering if I can choose differently. Deal myself a new hand.
The tickets to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico lay on my kitchen table. I bought them last week, knowing nothing about the area but intrigued by the name.
I walk to the sink and pour out my stale coffee. There’s a trembling in my body that I don’t recognize. Something did happen to me (or perhaps through me). My suffering isn’t gone but I don’t mind taking it with me.