Photo by Alicia Pilar Mogollon
It wasn’t an easy death. She didn’t get to simply fall asleep one night and not get up the next morning. She didn’t sleep much at all for the last two or three months of her life. Constant pain only partially mitigated by opioids.The wouldn’t give her enough to really take away the pain. They were afraid, they said, that she might overdose and die, accidentally or deliberately. She would have, too. Given the opportunity, she would have chosen oblivion over the torture of clinging to a razor-sharp thread of life.
Oblivion. That’s what she had expected. Just the end. No angels (or devils). No light at the end of a tunnel. No reincarnation. Just nothingness. That wasn’t what she got.
At first, she thought it was a dream. One of those vivid hallucinations that came when a stab of pain ripped the veil off of her drug-induced slumber. This was different, though. Most notably, there was no pain, a sensation, or lack thereof, so alien in recent months that she almost didn’t notice it. Then, unlike the often jumbled and disjointed dreamtime world, the place she found herself was solid and real.
She was in an auditorium at the university, where she had given her last lecture before the cancer hit her like a battle axe, cutting her from her life. She was standing just offstage, which was odd, since she remembered entering down the stairs through the class. Someone was at the podium, speaking. Wait, that was her younger healthier self. In that moment she realized she was dead. Haunting not the present, but her own past.
As soon as the realization struck, the scene around her shifted. She found herself on the slopes of Sugarloaf, standing somehow on top of 48 inches of powder, watching her 43 year old self slalom gleefully past with her children.
Flash again, this time to her grad school dissertation, given in front of a panel of professors, one of whom was her future husband.
And again, back to her first year of college, seeing herself as an innocent, the world opening up before her, so many avenues to choose from.
This couldn’t go on forever, she had to come to a place where she could find rest. This wasn’t it, though, and neither was her next stop, as an angst-ridden 15 year old with dyed black hair, black lipstick, black everything. She wished she could step in to her adolescent self’s world and tell her it was OK, that the world wasn’t an evil place.
But no, she couldn’t quite connect to that past reality. Two more shifts; her first, halting romance, when a kiss was the most magical thing she had ever experienced, then, a painful memory, the day she lost her father to a train accident as he commuted to the city.
The next jump felt different, her landing more solid. She was in a dimly lit room by the window. Her 6 year old self came in, approaching the upright piano against the wall tentatively. This was it. This was where she could stop. She slipped into the little body of her child self, settled on the edge of the piano stool, stretching for the pedals, and began to play.