A Tale of Then and Now

Part 2 – There’s More

Talk about the dark side of serendipity. With my visit to the cemetery over, it was time to go home. I was in a super good mood, finally having resolved my memorial issue, knowing my saying, “It was a great life” succinctly summed up what I wanted etched into my stone. It was time to move on. I waited and waited to get onto the highway, watching the cars stream by from both directions, idly wondering where the hell everyone was driving too; probably on their way home from work to family and loved ones, most of them were, I figured. My mind started wandering to tonight with Annie and celebrating my decision, and then to tomorrow with chores in the yard that needed to be done, and then to the next day going to my son’s house to take care of my grandkids… and I pulled it back, forcing myself to focus, eager to get back to my favorite place to be – the home Annie and had shared for so many years.

When a break in the traffic finally appeared, I pulled onto the highway, squinting against the glaring headlights coming at me, and accelerated my little Ford Fiesta down the long decline, shifting through the gears as I built up speed. The city lights of Long Lake shone in the distance, a mile away, reflecting off some low clouds that had moved in. I checked the clock on the dash panel:  8:47. Good, I thought to myself. I had plenty of time to get to store and buy some ice cream: a pint of licorice for Annie (her favorite) and a pint of salty caramel (my favorite) for me. The last thing I did was turn up the volume of the CD in the player. It was a local punk rock band the daughter of a friend played in. He’d given us a sample of a couple of songs they’d be recording next month and I loved them both – listening to them over and over again anytime I drove anywhere. Annie, loved them too. “I’m Still Stuck On You” was playing and I was enjoying his daughter’s lead guitar part – glad, in retrospect, it was the last sound I ever heard. Check that – the second to last sound.

As my speed increased down the hill my car was suddenly flooded from behind with light. My eyes flicked quickly to the review mirror. Way too fast, a huge bank of headlights was speeding at me, approaching full tilt like an out of control, fully loaded semi (which it was.) In a panic I jammed my accelerator to the floor. The engine revved to over six thousand rpm but nothing happened. My car seemed to float. Time went into slow motion. In an instant a wave of intense brightness overtook me, running right up and over me, blinding me and filling the inside of my car with exploding, brilliant light. The last sound I heard, drowning out the song, was a sustained air-horn blasting and blaring, filling my ears with unrelenting noise until my eardrums burst; then a cacophony of metal whining and twisting and crunching along with windows exploding and glass shattering as the huge semi ran right over my car, crushing it and me. Then there was merciful darkness.

A deep, endless void of nothingness.

For a long time.

The next awareness you have is that the darkness starts to swirl and take form, like some scientists think the earth came together back in the dawn of time. Then, out of that inky black night, white and gray clouds take shape, slowly floating and undulating. Then blinking flashes of light start to irregularly pulsate(kind of like heat lightening) before becoming more and more regular, persistent and intense. Eventually, out of the spinning, morphing, flashing ether, shapes begin taking form, irregular at first and indescribable. This goes on and on and on and you have no idea what’s happening. Now clue at all. In reality, though, it’s really a long preparation for what comes next – the next stage.

Eventually, the first scene comes into view. For me it was my granddaughter’s soccer game. She and her team were dressed in red and black jerseys and shorts and knee high socks and were playing on a lush, green grass field with yellow cones marking the boundaries. I could tell it was fall because the trees in the background were changing colors; the orange and red leaves were brilliant under a bright sun shining warmly in a robin’s egg blue sky. In the scene she looks to be six years old, a year after my car accident and death.

She must have been thinking of me. That’s how the memory recall works. It’s a give and take kind of thing. If she thinks of me I can appear to her in her memory. And the cool thing is that it really is me. Seriously. In the world I left behind, I always thought that my memory was just that – a recall of a loved one, person, place or whatever, and it’s really just an image in your mind. But I’m here to tell you that it’s much, much more than that. I’m out there all of the time (for eternity, actually) existing in a sort of dream like state. You know how sometimes you’re lying in bed half awake and half asleep? That’s how it is where I am now. When you think of me, I can almost materialize there beside you. Almost is the key word here. When you think you feel the presence of a loved one who has passed over (that’s what we say here, passed over) it’s a true fact because we are right there, but in a dimension just outside the reach of you guys. I know it sounds crazy, and you probably think I’m nuts, but it’s true. Believe me. Just read on before you chalk it all up to the ravings of a delusional nutcase.

The next time it happened was when there was a special dinner for my son’s promotion to regional manager for the company where he worked. His wife organized it and his family were all gathered in the dining room of their lovely new home with my granddaughter and grandson along with his wife’s mom and dad, brothers and sisters and their kids – it was a real party. Good food, high spirits, great times and lots of wonderful family camaraderie. The promotion was a very big deal for my son and I got to be right there with him (and his family, too) for the celebration because he was thinking of me at the time, wishing I was there to share it with him. He didn’t know it, but I was there. The way it works is that your thought or memory of me opens a door and lets me in. Because, like I said, I’m there anyway.

Let me tell you, this whole thing took some getting used to. I had no idea what ‘life after death’ would be like and, to be frank, didn’t really plan on anything thing happening at all. One day I’m here and the next day I’m gone was the rather cavalier attitude I took most of my life, and it certainly was the opinion I carried with me the night of my fatal crash. Boy was I ever wrong!

It works the other way too, just not as often because it’s something hard for me to do. (I’m still learning how to do it – it’s pretty complicated.) Sometimes I can interrupt (that’s what I call it) someone’s thoughts and move right in there to be with them. I have to be careful with this. I might want to see a loved one, say my wife, but it might not be convenient for her to see me (say she’s out to lunch with one or all of her sons. Interrupting her might take away from her time being with her boys, so I try to respect that.) The best time to come to her is when she’s home in her favorite chair, working on an embroidery project or doing some quiet reading. Her mind is free and open then. It’s a perfect time for us to be together. Or when she’s relaxing after she’s built a fire in the fireplace like we used to do, that’s a good time, too.

Here’s another example: Once, my son was at a crucial point interacting back and forth with a customer during an important sale, talking to the person, listening and responding to the client’s questions – those kinds of things. Well, I certainly wouldn’t want to interrupt him then, right? He might lose his concentration and miss out on making a sale. It might be better to wait until he’s driving home before I make my appearance. Then we can have time together that’s uninterrupted. (As long as he pays attention to his driving!). An even better time would be when he’s out for a long run by himself on a trail in the park near his home; that would work really well and be way less likely to cause an accident. Like I said, I’m still learning how to do this.

Another thing I’ve learned is that if you don’t use it, you lose it. I should probably explain. Again, I’m around all the time. If you think about me more, then I’m there with you more. It’s pretty simple, really. My wife, my kids, my grandkids and my brothers, even old friends, they’re all right up there on the top of my list of who I’m with the most. Other people, not so much. My best example is an past friend of mine who was planning on seeing me at my (our) fiftieth year high school class reunion. Well, by the time the reunion rolled around I’d been gone from this good earth for a nearly year, so…no Ronnie at the festivities, I’m afraid. As the years have gone by, I’ve haven’t popped up in his memory much, so…Sayonara old friend. Fade to black, as they say.

And this brings up a really good point, one that took me a long time to get a grip on: this afterlife is not linear at all. Not…at…all. Which is really pretty crazy and takes a lot of getting used to. One minute I might be hanging out with my brother as he hikes up to Table Top in the mountains of Arizona and remembers when we did that same hike together in the winter of 2016, and the next moment I’m with my youngest son when he’s remembering us riding our bikes together on a bicycle trip we took down to Le Sueur County when he was ten back in 1984. I can go from a birthday party for my grandson’s tenth birthday, to a walk with my wife around the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in the blink of an eye. I can be with someone in an old memory of us together in the past when I was still alive, or a new future memory when someone is thinking about me after I’ve been gone ‘X’ number of years.

The best example of this was me traveling with my wife and her sister to England three years after my death. It was a trip Annie and I had spent years putting all the pieces together for, and we were finally at the point where could actually get on an airplane and go. But I was killed before we could pull it off. Fortunately she was able to still fulfill that dream with her sister. They flew to England, landed in London and then took a train through the Cotswold’s where they dined in quaint little pubs, stayed in lovely little cottages and hiked on winding paths through woodlands, fields and hillsides. After twelve glorious days they took another train out to the Cornwall coast and to sightsee and visit the town where a favorite PBS show of ours was filmed. All of it unfolded just like we had planned. They were gone nearly three weeks, had loads of fun, and I was with them almost the whole time. It was a blast. (Thanks, for thinking of me, honey!).

So, even though you may think I’m not there, I am, as long as you take a moment and remember me. When you do, I get to be right there with you and it’s really pretty fun for me. The only negative thing is that the connection isn’t quite what I’d like it to be. I’m there, but I’m not. I see you, I know what is happening, but it’s all like watching a movie with the sound turned off. There are no voices. I can’t hear laughter, or music and anything. I can’t smell fresh air, or hear gulls squawking or birds singing or sandhill cranes calling. It takes some getting used to.

Also, it’s kind of lonely. I see the person who has remembered me, but I can’t touch them or talk to them or have any physical contact. Like I said, I’m just there. Which is good, in and of itself, and way, way better than the alternative, which is endless nothingness. And it’s also a start. I’ve witnessed firsthand others who have learned how to interact between our world in this dimension we’re in and with people in the physical world we left behind. It’s pretty amazing, when you think about it, and hard to explain. But I will tell you something: it’s not like phenomena experienced with people who call themselves ‘spiritualists’ at all. It’s way more complicated than that. But it’s something to aspire to, that’s for sure; something I’m currently working on. In fact, I have to tell you, there’s a lot to this afterlife thing that is still unknown to me that I’m continually learning about. Hopefully, I can keep you posted on my progress.

Another totally unexpected experience is probably one of the most fantastic things of all – I can actually be with my loved ones who have already passed on. I knew people when I was alive in the previous life who believed that this would happen, but I really never did. I was very skeptical and, I guess, had too much of the rational scientist in me. Boy was I ever wrong. I’m here to tell you that it’s true, which is, frankly…what? Amazing? Wonderful? I don’t know. Nothing can adequately describe the experience, really. I certainly can’t find the words. But it’s a fact. I can be with Mom, Dad, my grandparents, my beloved Aunt and Uncle and others –  anyone previously close to me who is now gone. Notice I say ‘Be with’. That’s the key couple of words here. I can’t talk to them, can’t hug them or anything like that, just be with them. But, I’ll tell you, that’s…just…fine…with…me.

A really good example is with my dad. When I was alive, I had wonderful memories of visiting him and walking with him on his favorite ocean beach off the Olympic Peninsula in northwest Washington State. We had only a few years of doing this before he died. I found my first sand dollar walking there with him. Those times were very special to me. When I was alive, I often thought back to when we would sit together in a cove of windswept sand as we talked and talked, something we didn’t do too often when he and Mom were married – back when he lived with me and my brothers in Minnesota. But we sure talked during those times, on that ocean beach, while gulls circled above calling and soaring on the wind, and sandpipers ran along the shore, dodging the waves that crashed nearby. He was relaxed and happy and so was I, and it was times like those I really treasured. After he died and was gone, all I had were those memories, which were good, believe me, and I certainly made the most of them because they were all I had. Now, though, we can get together and walk on that beach and see the ocean and be with each other and it’s fun. I’m never lonely, then. We can’t talk, of course, but being together with him is just as good as it was back when we were both alive. It’s excellent, in fact.

Which brings me to something  else. You may be wondering how people look ‘on the other side’. Would it surprise you if I told you they look exactly like they look in your memory of them? Well, they do. When I’m with my mom, let’s say, riding horses at the ranch in Montana we used to go to on family vacations, Mom is like she was then, happy, healthy and vibrant. Fifty years later, when she’s at the cafe where my brother and I used to play guitars and sing, she’s like she was at that time, older, of course, and grayer, but smiling and still happy. It’s pretty nice, actually, and I’ve learned to appreciate that no matter what the age is of the loved one or friend you are with, the thing is that you are there, together. It’s the most important thing, actually.

I think what I was most happy about, when I figured out how to ‘come back’, if that’s the way to put it, was that I could see how my family and loved ones were doing with their lives – how they were getting on after I was gone. I’ve been able to see my sons grow into fatherhood, find good jobs and become wonderful parents as well as loving husbands and partners. I’ve been able to see my grandkids grow up and become happy and successful in their own unique ways. I’ve been with my brothers as they have lived out their very full lives. I’ve been with my wife for the amazingly creative final chapter of her life and even seen her publish two books: one on having to do with childhood memories of her grandmother called, “Winters On the Prairie,” and another about an unsolved murder that took place on a farm down in Martin County in the 1900’s called, “The Drainage Ditch Murders.” (It was one we were both interested in.) Check them out sometime if you get a chance.

I couldn’t ask for anything more, and it’s way beyond what I could ever have expected.

Oh, I almost forgot. You’re probably wondering how I could write this if I’m gone from your physical world. I have to say that it’s a really good question, and I wish I had an answer for you. But I don’t. It’s a mystery to me, but I’m glad I can do it, though, aren’t you? I will say that I’m awfully new at this; it’s the first time I’ve attempted connecting like this with the life I left behind. I think it’s worked out pretty well. I might write more in the future. In fact, I’m pretty sure I will, so look for more to come, Ok?

The last thing I want to mention is this: You know that inscription on my memorial stone? That’s how this whole thing started, remember, and I was killed on the way home before I got a chance to tell Annie what I wanted, right? Well, after I was able to come back and be with my loved ones, I was with Annie one day when she went to Lakeview Cemetery. I remember it well. She got a ride from a friend who left her in the parking lot alone so she could have some time to herself. Remember how I had picked out a spot?  Well, talk about mental telepathy or whatever you want to call it, but Annie picked out a spot for my stone right in the same area. Not exactly where I had lain in the grass that October evening and relived my life through my memories, but close enough. She had it engraved and placed in the ground just a few weeks after I died.

On that particular day it was spring and seven months after my death, the day of my birthday, in fact. The sky was bright blue, and there was a nice breeze out of the south. The trees were just starting to bud out and Long Lake was clear of ice. There were still small patches of snow in protected areas but birds were returning from wintering in warmer climates and you could tell a change was on its way; a song sparrow was perched on a branch, joyfully pointing its head to the sun, early wildflowers were blooming blue and white, and a loon floated on the lake, occasionally diving and playing in the fresh, clean water. Winter was over. The day had a look of fresh, new rebirth, just the kind of day Annie would love. And she did. She made her way from the parking area to my stone and paused looking at it, remembering… She lay a bouquet of colorful tulips on the ground, reading the stone as she did. It was then I saw what she had come up with (probably with input from my sons) for the inscription. Remember what I had decided? It was a great life. Well she went in a completely different direction. I read with her, He was a good man. Well, that was sure a wonderful testimonial, don’t you think? It never once dawned on me to use something like that when I was alive. I have to admit, I kind of liked it. It was really quite sweet, all things considered, and thoughtful, too. Thanks, Annie and thanks also to my boys. It works for me.

Oh, Ok, wait a minute… I hate to cut this short, but I’ve got to get going. One of my sons is at a youth hockey game with his boy. The game is about to begin and my son is up in the stands getting ready to watch. He’s thinking of me and that’s all I need to be right there with him. I haven’t watched a hockey game for a long time so thanks for remembering me, buddy. I’m right here beside you.

I have to tell you that this is what I live for now, if that’s the right way to put it – the chance to still be with my family and loved ones and share their lives with them. Remember when I said the more you remember me, the more I’m with you? Well being at the hockey game now is one of those times and this is going to be fun. Could it be better? Sure. I wish I was really right there. I wish I could touch my son and laugh out loud and cheer when my grandson scores a goal, smell the leather of the skates and feel the cold air of the arena. In short, interact with life. But I can’t. I’m there in one sense but not in another. But at least I’m am with him. It’s better than nothing and that’s good enough for me. It really is.

So this is it and I promise I’m going now. When I was alive I never thought much about what happens after a person was gone. I really had no reason to, other than idle speculation mostly for the heck of it. But now I have plenty of time and I’m kind of into it. Figuring out how things work here is a great experience. And I’m still learning. There’s a lot to find out about, I know that for sure. But I do know one thing: there’s a whole other world out here beyond what I used to think of as the physical world. It’s taking me some time to get used to it, to understand it, and, I guess this is the way to put it – to live in it. But, hey, I’ve got eternity (as we say) to figure it out and that’s just fine with me. So remember – when you’re finding yourself missing me, just think of me and don’t worry about a thing. I’ll be there, right beside you. There’s no place I’d rather be. You can bet your life on it. I sure do.

Until next time, then…

I’ll see you around.

 

Published by Jim Bates

Here are Jim's publications: Resilience, a collection of twenty-seven short stories, was published through Bridge House Publishing in February of 2021. Periodic Stories, a collection of thirty-one stories, was published in March of 2021 by Impspired. Periodic Stories Volume Two, a collection of twenty-six stories, was published in July 2021 by Impspired. Short Stuff, a collection of thirty-two flash fiction and drabbles, was published July 2021, through Chapeltown Books. Something Better, a dystopian adventure novella, was published in July 2021, by Dark Myth Publications. Dreamers, a collection of thirty-six short stories was published in March 2022, by Clarendon House Publishing. Periodic Stories Volume Three - A Novel was published in May 2022, by Impspired. All of his publications are available on Amazon or through the respective publisher.

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