This story was inspired by the Brian Weiss book, “Only Love Is Real.”
Dying on a wet prison floor with a sharpened butter knife jammed in my chest, I figured the next step would be eternity in Hell for a person like me. How wrong I was.
Soon after crossing over I began to see possibilities for another life in body. A fresh start on a conveyor belt of mortal opportunities. Humans busily procreating on Earth eventually produce circumstances attractive to a soul in search of a life, but I was still haunted by my last life.
I’d do my time in Purgatory getting poked in the ass by devils if that’s what I deserved. I’d been a bad man by most standards, a bad father by any standard. Died gasping for breath while serving life for dealing drugs—piles and piles of drugs. But someone out there in the cosmos thought the pain and tragedy I’d already experienced were enough. Don’t get me wrong, no angels sat on clouds playing harps when I crossed over. Nothing like that, but surprisingly, not much different from regular life. I was still the same old me, just without a human body and accompanying pains and cares.
I might have resisted the beckoning of the million-color beautiful Light and turned into a ghost haunting the world of the living, if not for the Teacher who stood at the threshold. He spoke in complete thoughts, and what I heard was: “The decisions you made were sometimes unnecessarily painful, sometimes stupid, but they were yours to make and learn from, and you are forgiven if you forgive yourself. The Light loves you always.”
My sort of Teacher. I drifted away from my corpse on the prison floor, regretful but ready. Even the meanest Pit Bull eventually lets go of the leg and returns to the doghouse, broken and exhausted. I wanted rest.
The Light washed away all pain and suffering, but I couldn’t forget my daughter, Kara. I’d never really known her, having spent most of my life breaking the law, running from the law or caged by the law. Her mother had kept us as far apart as possible. Couldn’t blame my ex; I was bad news walking. Many nights while locked in a prison cell the thought crossed my mind: if only I’d been more involved in Kara’s life, I might have taken better care for my own. I’d been forgiven and all when I followed the Teacher into the Light, but I’d missed out on the best potential for my previous life. I’d missed out on love.
Too late to do anything about it, I entered the next life as a restless and troubled soul.
I’d been a hard person in life, colorful, intense. Looking back over many lifetimes, I saw a pattern: lives of turmoil, untouched by feeling, distant from my fellow beings. I needed to learn an important lesson or else my fate was another life repeating the same mistakes. Whatever you run from simply waits till you’re ready. There’s no escaping it.
My last life opened the door, but the next room—what my next life would be—was dark inside. For long stretches following my death I saw nothing but was aware of everything. Then a possibility for reincarnation presented itself, all of its potential recognized at once:
*Female, named Monique. Would die before her second birthday, drowned in bath water by the boyfriend of her drug-addled mother. He was destined to go into a fit of rage because he hadn’t had a fix that day, and poor Monique cried ceaselessly. No wonder she cries, I observed; the moron spends the food money on crack!
After Monique’s tragic death, he’d skip town in terror and soon be cut down in a bar fight started over whether Tupac was really alive. The mother would go to jail for child neglect and drug abuse and get clean. Whenever the crack devil beckoned thereafter, she’d remember her beautiful little girl Monique and resist, living the rest of her days with lingering guilt but also determination to make good. If she was fortunate she’d learn that indifference, especially toward a loved one like her own daughter, is worse than hate. The knowledge earned through hardship might eventually make her something of a
That was her potential, and I’d take the life of her child to help make it happen. The boyfriend would learn that rage stems from self-loathing and unfulfilled dreams that, when abandoned, abandon you. What’s left is a shell with a soul crying to get out. At least some good could come from Monique’s short life.
I saw a chance to pay off karma by inhabiting that body and putting my unique stamp on its life. Many lives had been ruined by the drugs I’d peddled. I just wasn’t ready to leave my isolation.
Before I got shanked with a butter knife and died, my daughter Kara visited me in prison. Her letter arrived out of the blue after a decade of complete silence, catching me off-guard.
During my first stint in prison, which started before I turned 20 years old, I wrote to her once a week for a year. Hard letters not only because they were slow and tedious in the making, or because of
my eighth-grade education, or because I had to wait until late at night when everyone was asleep: because I didn’t know what to say. “Hi, this is the father you barely know, writing from the penitentiary. Last week I watched a man die with a smile cut across his throat. How you doin’ in school?”
Shame is tough for someone like me to admit. I could swing million-dollar deals, but when it came to the heart I was stone. My life had revolved around crime, violence and prison—not exactly conversation for a schoolgirl. After a year, her mother wrote back telling me to save the ink, Kara would never read the letters. So I stopped writing and tried to forget everything but the daily challenge of survival in the joint. Hard to do with so much time to think, but I did it. I was an enforcer in the White Brotherhood and our dirty deeds never ceased. Until Kara wrote and the door to my past blew wide open. At a bad time too: the white, black, and Mexican factions were at war, blood ready to spill. People were about to die, only a matter of time. And I was looking forward to dishing out the hurt.
* * *
Kara was prettier than I’d imagined she’d be as a grown woman: pointy chin, wavy chestnut hair and soft brown eyes, clean and polished presentation. Although a decade had passed, I recognized her immediately waiting for me in the prison visitor room, a large open space like a gymnasium interspersed with heavy steel tables and chairs bolted to the polished stone floor. A clean-cut young black man sat next to her, trying to appear comfortable. I figured he was at the wrong table, so I told him in no uncertain terms that he didn’t belong and should move along.
“Tyrone,” my daughter said, indicating the man-boy next to her, “is going to be my husband. We’re engaged.” That’s when I noticed their engagement rings.
Prisoners watched us on the sly, shifty eyes glancing sideways. I was well-known in the joint, a person of authority, and my daughter with a black wouldn’t play well. Race didn’t matter to me until locked
up for life in a zoo packed with vicious animals. Then it became a matter of survival. The Brotherhood that initiated me in return for my loyalty unto death didn’t just watch out for members’ bodies, but their lily white souls, too.
The young man fidgeted under my menace, though he looked determined. The reason for him tagging along with my daughter became apparent in the way he and Kara looked at each other: to help her get through seeing me. My respect for him grew a notch. Took balls to walk into such a situation. I had radar for when a man could be backed down, and this wasn’t the time to prove who is Alpha male. So I turned on her, saying, “Husband? You’re too young to get married. How old are you, 19?”
She replied that they loved each other, nothing could keep them apart, and even her mother had accepted their union. Little did I know then, some souls are made for each other. Kara and Tyrone had reached across a wide divide of time and culture to be reunited. Soul mates. All I saw at the time was my rosebud being deflowered by a black man. Wait till the Brotherhood sink their teeth into that bone….
Kara deftly switched subjects. She remembered the sweet letters her mom had read to her before bed as a kid, until they stopped coming. She had wanted to write back, but my ex-wife told her I was in “the bad place” where letters aren’t delivered and people are better off forgotten.
My daughter’s innocent remark set me off. All I could think was: her mother that fucking bitch lied to me! I would’ve strangled her right there and must have turned color because Kara’s brows furrowed over her concerned eyes and she asked if I was all right. I wasn’t. I choked on rage! The worthlessness of my life came into sharp focus, but at the time I didn’t know that the fire burning through my entire body was actually directed at myself, not my ex, for being in that stupid prison and not at home with my daughter, showing her the best of myself as a father.
Kara tentatively placed her hand on my tattooed forearm. A jolt shot through it. People were watching. The jackals sensed weakness, but it was no time to pay them much mind. Tenderness flowed from my precious daughter’s touch through my skin, up my nerves, and tried to penetrate my hardened heart.
No such luck. Kara’s unconditional love had the opposite effect of triggering a blind fury. I wasn’t ready to give up, and Kara’s touch asked me to go in a direction it was too late to go. I gave up what little hope I had for my life back when my daughter was taken from me.
I tore away from her and stalked over to the barred gate leading back into the heart of the prison. Back to my cell. My hell. I wanted out, not in, but this was Hotel California and I could never leave. My sentence was life, no parole.
I grabbed the bars and heaved—snarling, thrashing wildly. Let me in! Let me out! Let me die! I couldn’t take it. A jackhammer split the stone in my chest.
Prisoners hooted. The intercom screeched for more guards. They couldn’t pry loose my hands. A cloud of Mace in my face and still I held on. Riot sticks impacted my ribs and kidneys. Guards yelled orders for me to stand down. Visitors were quickly cleared. I heard Kara above the clamor:
“Daddy? Daddy, please!”
Unable to cry or cry out, I collapsed and curled into a ball, beaten savagely into unconsciousness.
* * *
After crossing over, earthly life is supposed to wash away. All pain and care is left behind. The soul needs to digest what it’s learned and conserve energy before taking another whirl on the Wheel of Life and Death—called “Samsara” by Eastern cultures. But my body had been cut down before finishing its task, and I thought maybe I’d embraced death too eagerly. Even as my corpse lay rotting in a prison cemetery, I wanted to go back and rise from the dead. “Hi honey, I’m home!” The memories stirred life into buried bones.
I knew of souls making contact with the living. It could be done. All minds are, in the end, one mind made of infinite parts, each with its unique identity, and that gave me an idea: I pictured Kara and reached out. But soon I was lost and distracted among all those many minds and their petty concerns: “what’s for dinner; how are my stocks doing; that intern at work sure looks good; this weekend I’m going to buy that car I’ve had my eye on; I wonder if my friends really like me; I can’t believe my ex got married and blah blah blah.”
Life is slow death when the importance is missed. “Don’t you see,” I railed at the lost souls, “that you’re missing the point? Love! Love one another! The time is up before you know it, and all that’s going with you is what you learn. Ever seen a U-Haul pulled behind a hearse?”
I lost any chance of finding Kara in all that chatter. It was no use. And even if I did find her, what then, punch through the barrier between life and death like a poltergeist and probably scare her senseless?
“Doesn’t work that way,” I heard in reply, “though you’re learning to recognize what you missed, and those are the seeds of your next life.” The Teacher dropped by for a visit to my spiritual isolation chamber, where I accepted no company or contact from other souls. All I had to do was open myself and they were there—all of them—and able to be contacted telepathically. I couldn’t let them in so I kept them all out.
“Oh,” I thought, “you again. Thanks for nothing.”
The Teacher radiated patience but also sadness at my obstinate insistence on remaining alone. Like connecting with the rest of the wretched mass of creation would somehow help me. I felt admonished and railed back, “I could have held on if you wouldn’t have convinced me to give up! Now I have no chance of getting back to my Kara. To just sit in her presence…I’d gladly be a ghost for eternity to be near her again. …Don’t you have anything to say for yourself?”
Calm silence in answer to my rant. God it was aggravating.
“Then go away!”
The Teacher’s presence left me to marinate in regret over everything I’d lost.
* * *
Back in earthly life, the scene in the visitor room earned me a week in solitary confinement. The Hole. A week to talk to shadows and listen to the ravings of lunatics. I was empty once the rage subsided, just a shallow bowl of murky feelings. How could I show weakness in front of Kara during our only meeting? No pen and paper were allowed in solitary so I couldn’t write. I didn’t have her phone number even if I had a phone. I was impotent, and for a man like me at the time, that felt worse than defeat. At least in defeat I could go down fighting, could move on. Impotence is a three-legged horse on a circular track, hobbled and never getting anywhere except back to where it started.
Three times a day, a tray of crappy prison food slid through a little slot in the steel door of my cell in The Hole. On the second morning, a pair of narrow eyes peered at me and the raspy voice of a junior Brother got my attention with the announcement:
“The Brotherhood sends its greetings. Whole place is talking about you, man. Did that nigga boy really come here with your daughter? You never told us ’bout no daughter.”
Oh Kara, I’m so sorry, I said in my heart. My mind drifted aimlessly, my only desire silence, but the Brother had nothing better to do but keep blabbering. “She’s corrupting her blood with that piece of shit. Man, I woulda whipped out my fat white cock and pissed on him. The golden arch goes smack on that black face! Hahahahaha. Not much to say, eh? Save your energy. When you get outta da Hole, it’s party time. Time to show d’em monkeys who’s boss!”
And so the hours passed in a 6′ by 8′ metal box where nothing marks the days and nights except the routine of waking, eating, shitting and sleeping. When you know you’ll never be free again, one day is no different than all the rest. A dull fatigue settles into the bones. The blood pumps with less conviction. There’s no motivation. And a staggeringly numb feeling slowly closes the eyes of the soul. The body continues but the soul prepares for rest, sooner the better.
Some prisoners fight to wrestle every drop out of life, others hibernate, sleeping away the hours till merciful death. I tore in half, wanting life and wanting to leave it.
* * *
Another possibility for reincarnation presented itself after a long time of sweet nothingness in the afterlife. Circumstances built on Earth that appealed to some incomplete part of myself. My soul in that body had good potential.
*Iranian male, named Saeed. Would live a long and fruitful life and raise many children and grandchildren. His wife from an arranged marriage would treat him well. Life would compensate in small comforts for what it lacked in passion. The main lesson to be learned was that love can be found in little things, and so can God: a sunrise, a child’s laughter, a good meal, a cherished friend.
After what I’d been through in the last life, this possibility presented appealing easiness. No sudden violent deaths. Good health. Mostly pleasant days and nights surrounded by strong family, which brings out the best in just about everyone. Almost a century of good living, if I played my cards right, but something felt wrong. Some other soul should take that turn on the Wheel and work out its own potential. Plus, Iran is far from the U.S. west coast, where Kara lived, and it was my heart’s desire to be anywhere near her.
My soul had issues to resolve, still refusing any company in the afterlife and barely able
to tolerate my own.
Never think that death is the end, an escape. No, it is a continuation.
* * *
On the fifth day in The Hole, under constant assault from the howls and screams and gibberish of prisoners tortured by isolation, I broke down. I could see Kara squarely in my mind’s eye, tantalizingly near but quickly vanishing as my fingers reached out. Her last words echoed off the lonely walls:
It was driving me nuts! I stopped eating, slept in fits, dreamed of being chased by shadowy monsters, paced the steel box and stared vacantly at the walls. Only the regular meal deliveries and the wails of other inmates further ahead on the insanity spectrum reminded me where I really was.
I’d always been the coolest cat, untouchable by fear or feeling. Lesser men cracked, but I’d earned my tough exterior. Nothing got to me until Kara. Love finally touched my heart. And broke it.
Once in prison for life, I’d devoted myself to the Brotherhood. Everything revolved around white power and the struggle for racial purity. It all suddenly smelled like pig shit, unimportant, and worse: the sort of deception that involves personal complicity. Nothing mattered. Not my “rank” and status in the gang; not my “wares” (once a drug dealer…); not the respect I’d earned by taking the fall rather than ratting for a reduced sentence. Not even the Brotherhood mattered.
So on the morning of the last full day in The Hole, when my so-called Brother (that scab on the ass of humanity) stuck his snout through the food slot, I totally lost it. I’d questioned a lot of assumptions during my isolation, eyes opened at least partially, and cringed at the truth of what I’d become: Dead weight. Dead to myself, no longer fitting the world I knew behind bars that had shaped me into a human caricature of an Aryan warrior.
“You the man,” hissed the serpent on the other side of the food slot. “Got all the blacks talking. Mexicans too. They know who’s boss. Woulda been better to scrub your ass with that afro-turfed skull. Dude! Who does blackie think he is, trying to take the daughter of a real man?”
Oddly lucid, I replied, “I hope they have a whole tribe of little kids that take over your neighborhood and blare gangsta rap all night, drinking 40s in the street and living off your tax dollars. In fact, I hope your pathetic little soul comes back as a fat-ass African woman who eats fried chicken by the bucket and smacks her lips licking her fingers. You think I was mad because he’s black? I’m mad at myself, dig? And for being locked up the rest of my days with a bunch of idiots who don’t know their asses from a hole in the wall. I’m here while my daughter goes on to make a family without me. That’s why I went off in the visitor room,” my voice echoed down the corridor for all in solitary to hear. “And you’re a fucking idiot. Get out of my sight.”
“To think you were voted into the leadership while locked up in here,” spat the serpentine voice. “Unanimous too. The Brothers told me not to say nothing before you’re let back in population tomorrow. Supposed to be a surprise. Some surprise! A new vote is needed, I think the Brothers will agree. We were going to show the blacks our unity, but instead you just bought yourself a ticket to Hell…Brother!”
* * *
My soul’s regrets must have been causing ripples in the afterlife because the Teacher showed up again and sent a thought: “You want to see your daughter, here’s your chance. Each soul has its own tone, the frequency at which it vibrates. Listen for Kara. You’ll find her, but you can only observe. She’s dreaming earthly life and can’t be disturbed.”
I did as instructed and, after some practice at attuning, found Kara and Tyrone together. It was Christmas Eve. I hovered nearby, so close to want to touch her, but remembered the instruction to remain in the background. I wasn’t the only one. Many souls hung about for various reasons, mostly out of kindness and desire to help, some just to listen.
Tyrone, now her husband, sang the sweetest tune, with Kara harmonizing. I knew instinctively that he’d make a name for himself as a singer, it was just a matter of time. Good for him. Good for both of them!
She sat happily on the floor reclined between his legs. He placed a hand on her belly and smiled broadly while finishing a song about the birth of a blessed child long ago in Bethlehem. A new life grew in her womb, they’d just found out. Still early in the pregnancy, but a fetus lived within her, I sensed. Its destiny being written. Its lessons to be learned.
“If the baby is a boy, maybe he’ll look like my dad,” Kara said hopefully.
Tyrone quipped, “Oh yeah, with my spiky black hair to boot!”
They laughed together, clear and happy but with a touch of sadness. She still mourned the loss of the father she barely knew. She even blamed herself for setting in motion the circumstances of my death, a realization that tore me in half but I’d have to wait to settle that debt. Arranged with other family photos, they had a picture of me from before I’d done hard-time, when some happiness remained in my eyes and my skin wasn’t completely inked. It was the closure I needed, knowing that she remembered me. I could move on.
* * *
The door crashed open after the seventh day of solitary, leading from one steel box to a bigger one. A guard escorted me back to the ward. I normally would’ve bantered with him to establish future trust and maybe get a favor, but an old, dead layer had peeled away. A strange sort of clarity slowed down time. Every passing moment featured unusual vividness and clarity.
I might as well have been an astronaut walking on the moon. I said nothing to the guard, and he said nothing to me.
Everyone from the ward was at chow so I went to the dining hall, not really hungry in body but famished in soul. Hard looks shot my way when I entered, especially from the blacks. Hungry for the kill, their gleaming eyes said I was a marked man. I grabbed a tray, worked through the food line and came to the point of no return.
The Brothers were sitting together at their usual table, watching me like hyenas. If I sat down with them I could explain what I’d said in The Hole as a momentary lapse, not uncommon under the circumstances. I could turn it all around and accuse the jackass junior Brother from The Hole of trying to take me down. I’d take him down first, easily, dead before the end of the day. He sat right there at the table, fear hiding behind his sneer. I could go back to the old routine and maybe even run the Brotherhood one day if I played it right.
Instead, if I walked away and sat down at another table, I would be known instantly as a dead man. The Brotherhood is a lifetime commitment. Most of them weren’t going anywhere except under the dirt of the prison cemetery.
I approached the table with food tray in hand. My seat was open but I didn’t sit, instead stared at them thinking: had I really learned anything? Temptation is a bitch that never goes away. Even knowing the siren’s call, the water beckons. Finally, the head of the Brotherhood, mountainous and covered in green tattoos and battle scars, said, “Explain yourself. I hear you’re losing faith.”
Words echoed in my mind: “faith,” “explain.” The scene appeared so totally unreal I almost laughed, as if my mind detached from my body and remembered the scene like something ridiculous that happened long ago.
“What do you know of faith?” I snorted. “Explaining myself to you means I give a shit what you think.”
I wanted to say more, tell them that their Brotherhood is a child’s game for adults and their ideology a cover for fear. But I knew it would only give them a reason to hate me and justify away the symbolism of what I was about to do. I could have the most impact by just walking away. Which I did, feeling like a free man.
I ate alone under the stares of the whites, blacks, and Mexicans, fiddling with my food until the dining hall closed. The loudspeaker announced roll call in five minutes. Time to get back to my cell. I took my tray to the dish window and tossed the silverware into a bin of blue sudsy water. A guard lackadaisically watched me to make sure I’d returned everything that could be used as a weapon, and I exited the dining hall. Last one out.
“Roll call in three minutes. Move it ladies!” blared the loudspeaker.
I didn’t care if I was late. What could they do to me? More time in The Hole would be a blessing.
I passed a group of blacks on work detail in the corridor outside the dining hall. The floor was wet and shiny from their mopping, reflecting sunlight streaming through high, barred windows. I normally would’ve strutted right down the middle while dragging my feet, but instead walked to the edge, respecting their work.
I didn’t see the shank or who shoved it expertly up under my ribs and left it. Didn’t even really feel the blade. A sharp bite and I fell on the shiny floor, alone, diaphragm frozen, heart racing, each attempt at breathing causing a hot rip near my sternum. I thought, “Relax, you can live through this. Someone will notice.” But suddenly I didn’t want to delay the inevitable. Death seemed better.
It didn’t take long. My soul saw the Light, felt the presence of the Teacher, popped out of that body and escaped the place I could never leave alive.
* * *
The Teacher was silent and so was I. I didn’t mind his presence. The haunting restlessness finally settled. We reviewed my life and discovered that even the harshest moments served a purpose. I could be forgiven for the way I adapted to my environment and decisions I made—even for the lives I harmed. But I still longed for my Kara. As little as I’d really known her, the potential for love was real. Our souls possess a special chemistry, like two voices joined perfectly, to learn and laugh and grow and love together. We’d lived many past lives together as siblings, parent/child, friends, lovers, even enemies.
Said the Teacher, “A child will soon be born and live for 19 good years before suddenly returning home. The parents are loving. Their son will be cherished and bring great joy to their lives.”
That got my interest. “Sounds promising. Tell me more about them.”
“You already know.”
And I did know, suddenly, all about that new life and its potential. The parents are Kara and Tyrone. She would soon give birth. I’d assumed that a better soul had reserved the opportunity to be her son, but then realized there is no better or worse, just incomplete.
“Who’s to say I’m right for them?” I asked.
“The soul chooses the parents based on how they resonate and the possibilities for learning and growth. This new life is an opportunity to know unconditional love. Plus, being the son of Tyrone will teach you to look at race differently, and in fact you will have to endure the same sort of racial bias you believed in your last life. You will balance your karma and heal a fractured part of yourself. You are ready to know great love and this is your opportunity. Now let go of who you were and get ready to be someone new.”
I hesitated but the decision was already made. The Wheel turned and time had come to jump back on for another ride.
Time to come full circle.