Mixed Messages

photo-272I am a fraud. But I’m a fraud with a soul. Kind of like a hooker with a heart. Someone who does the wrong things but for the right reasons, so you can’t really persecute me. Can you? Besides my psychic abilities used to be legit when I was younger. I think I chased them away with my fears. It’s terrifying to be 14 years old and suddenly know not only precisely when the telephone will ring, but that it will be your grandmother singing happy birthday off key. And then there was that time I insisted my college boyfriend pull off the freeway because I had an intense bad feeling about an accident involving an 18-wheeler. He thought it was an excuse to make-out. But as our hypnotic hazards flashed from the shoulder lane, the all-traffic radio station warned of the five car fatality collision a mile ahead of us, involving a jack-knifed semi. Had we not stopped five minutes ago, it would have been six cars! Richard just stared at me in awe and said, “So, when do we hit Vegas, baby?”  Moments before any of these surreal incidents, my teeth would sort of buzz or vibrate. To this day, no dentist has ever been able to explain the origins of this sensation.

Today I am expecting a new client that a friend referred to me, a young mother Sally. Sally unnerves me because she mourns a young son and hopes I will make contact with the little boy on the other side. Even in the semi-psychic heyday of my youth, the most I ever did was help my best friend communicate with her pain-in-the-ass stepmother. And that witch was still very much alive.

I tried to explain this to my girlfriend – – that I don’t do that sort of thing.  I’m not, nor do I ever pretend to be, what is termed a “channeler,” but she told me anything I might do would really help the situation.  Sally hasn’t slept since her seven year old died. A fact that is quite apparent when Sally stumbles into the room, assisted by her chiseled cheeked young husband who limps behind her wearing a black medical boot.  “Skiing?” I say and point to his bad leg.

“Stairs,” he says and offers no more.  Off to a good start, I think chiding myself. Why would a grieving father be on the slopes having fun? I watch as he guides his wife firmly by the elbows to my gray velvet sofa. I’ve always decorated my office with soothing colors and fabrics (black and white would never do) because many of my clients are distraught when they first arrive. They want to know about cheating spouses, financial hardships or their unstable health. Even though I always cheer people up with my favorable predictions, it can’t hurt to also practice Feng Shui.

But Sally is different, I can tell. She scarcely notices me, let alone my calming environment. Her entire focus seems to be on the pea green stuffed frog she clutches to her chest. And that’s when I know. This is her trance object…something significant from her loved one that she expects me to touch or hold and is supposed to elicit vital communication. I have read up on this protocol prior to today so I can sincerely be of some help. See, that’s all I ever want to do  – – help. Never has there been a charlatan with such good intentions. I even practiced all of this free of charge until my husband was laid off his job. I used to lift his spirits too, no pun intended, telling him I strongly sensed his next employment opportunity was just around the corner. Once he realized his wife was nothing more than a humane hoax, he turned his attentions to Monster.com.  But now, looking at this well-worn stuffed animal gives me clear insight into a precocious little boy who obviously found reptiles cuddly, tracked in dirt on freshly swept floors, and probably played practical jokes involving spiders on his unsuspecting mother.

I have seven-year-old twin boys myself, so a convincing act will probably be far easier than I first thought, and besides, offering comfort to Sally will be meaningful for me as well.  I cannot begin to imagine being in her position. As I watch her dab her eyes with tissues, I mentally rattle off a list of ingredients to pick-up on the way home tonight so I can prepare my two little guys their favorite meal of homemade macaroni while we play a rousing game of Uno.  I’ve been relying far too much on Kraft lately and now I’m aware I haven’t spent enough time with them. Sally is a good wake-up call.

“Well?” the husband interrupts my thoughts. “I told my wife we should be spending our money on a good prescription for a sedative instead of this. But she insisted.” I observe his jaw tighten and a nervous tic in Sally’s sensible sandal begins to take hold.

“I see,” I say, and instantly regret that turn of a phrase because it makes it sound like amazing spirit visions have already popped into my head. “I’m sure our mutual friend Darcy told you that I don’t normally channel? My forte is in clairvoyancy, I can foretell your future.”

Without warning, Sally begins to bawl. Great, heaving guttural sobs that can only emanate from a mother who has just lost her beloved mischievous little frog collector. “No future. There is no future. I want our past,” she weeps her words.

Nearly uttering “I see” for the second time, I search for some other way to let her know that I do identify, that I relate and comprehend her tremendous heartache. Before I can restrain myself, out tumbles my feeble commiserating statement, “I had twins and one of them passed away also, right around the same age as yours,” I take a shallow breath and continue, “So I completely know what you are experiencing.”  Whoa, why did I just say that?  The only thing I can come up with is my tendency toward all or nothing. If I’m going to lie and say I’m a channeler, then why not go all the way and be a compassionate channeler who has total empathy as well as a dead son too!

Sally’s eyes immediately meet my own with newfound hope, her light irises look cloudy but her pupils are dilated as if she’s just come from the optometrist, attempting to see things more clearly. She has the type of face that would be enhanced by glasses and I toy with giving her a prediction about her failing vision but she speaks first.

“You’ve lost a son? Darcy didn’t mention that.  How did he die?” she tightens her grip on the frog. “If you don’t mind my asking.”

Quick! Be quick with an answer, I command myself.  Any hesitation will be a dead giveaway, no pun intended.

“Well, It was actually a very freak playground accident at his school,” I say and try to hide the shocked expression even from myself. What am I doing?  Freak playground accident? How preposterous.  Why didn’t I say something more plausible like a drowning or a car accident?

“Here,” she says, “Take Mr. Froggy please.” She passes him closer but doesn’t release her hand. We both cling to this homely stuffed toad, whom I recognize as a cheap knock-off from Sesame Street’s Muppets. As my fingers stroke the nubby material, I realize it’s now my turn to come up with some smooth material – – utterly believable material!

“He went very quickly,” I launch in.

“He lingered for weeks with cancer,” her husband breaks in gruffly.

“I mean at the moment of his crossing over, it was fast and painless,” I say, trying to salvage something here. Anything. Sally nods through streaming tears.

I close my eyes, partly to shut out the image of a young, anguished mother and partly because I remember the mystical image I’m supposed to be projecting.

“He wants you to know he’s no longer in pain. He says he’s light and free now. From all the wires and tubes.” I peek through one cracked eyelid. Sally’s tightly lined face seems to slowly release itself as if someone runs an invisible iron over her wrinkles. She voluntarily relinquishes the froggy completely now and it almost seems to leap into my lap. As Sally sighs long and deep, there is an awkward silence and I feel the husband’s eyes sear into me even though my own lids are tightly shut once more.

“Now Sal, honey” he says, “Anyone would know to say that.”   Yes, be more specific, I admonish myself silently.

“Your son is directing me to tell you to remember all those times at the beach,” I say this with confidence. Hey, we live in Southern California. What mother hasn’t had fun times at the seashore with her child?

“How exactly is he “directing you?” Mr. Mistrust interrogates further, but I ignore him. Sally is crying again, but this time it’s different. The tears of a mother reunited.

“Aaron, oh Aaron,” she gasps. “It’s really you! Are you alone? Are you with Poppy or Nanna? Do you have someone to play with?”

“Stop giving her information!” the husband hisses.

I cock my head to one side as if listening intently before I speak.

“Oh, this is amazing,” I say and then pause to generate interest.

“What? What is it?” Aha. I’ve got the husband now too. I can tell his voice is closer to me, indicating his body is leaning forward with interest.

“Our boys are together. Your Aaron says he’s met up with my — with my Tommy,” I lightly sniffle for effect, but why didn’t I think up a made-up name, damn it. I hope I haven’t pushed it too far. I open my eyes and see a serene smile flicker Sally’s lips as she clasps her husband’s hand,

“Oh Herb,” she says, “Aaron’s made a friend.” It’s funny, I was about to guess the husband’s name to be Herb. Now I wish I would’ve vocalized my speculation earlier because it would’ve lent credibility to my act. But you can’t say after the fact, “Gosh, I just knew your name was Herb.” That just wouldn’t hold water. So now I look at Herb and what I see there delights me. His expression says, “I’m finally getting my wife back. Thank you,”

“You’re very welcome,” I say intently to Herb and he visibly startles.

Holding my breath, I decide to venture into more difficult territory.

“He’s with a family pet. A large yellow dog.” Golden retrievers are always a good bet for a family with young kids, I think as I cross my fingers. Please, please.

“Oh that’s wonderful. He had asthma and we could never have a pet. But that sounds like my mother’s dog, Scruff,” Sally fills in. I can tell that Herb has reached his tolerance level with this whole thing because he clenches his teeth and a vein in his forehead begins to pulsate.

“Look, this better be for real. Every word you utter better be 100 percent truth,” he says. “Or I swear to god, you’ll regret the day you ever laid eyes on us. Nobody plays with my wife’s emotions. Understand?” Sally pats his arm as if to say, settle down – – how could you alienate this woman now?  After all she’s the only bridge to our little boy.

I glance at the clock and realize technically our session should be finishing up but I want to give this woman, who by the grace of god, could be me, one final gift. I shudder thinking how I would crumble if I were in her place. What would I want to hear?

“Okay, now your boy is telling me that he’s not angry for all those times you put him in time-out. He says he deserved it, and you are the very best mommy. Ever.” I watch the peace creep into the corners of Sally’s tired eyes as she slumps her body in relief. She will rest easy tonight, plunging into deep slumber, I can see it in my mind’s eye. You might say it’s a premonition of sorts.

After we make our next appointment, Sally hugs me tightly, the green frog smooshed between our bosoms.  “The Kermit Connection,” I think with an amused smile as I gaze with satisfaction while they walk to the door, Herb glancing back several times. I can read his mind easily, “Remember my warning,” he transmits.

I sit at my gray granite desk with a sudden headache, but there’s something else too, a strange, specific sensation that conjures up memories for me. I realize that my entire jaw and my mouth, but mainly my teeth, are buzzing with a haunting, familiar vibration from long ago. Just then my intercom beeps and I press the button, transferring my outside receptionist onto my speaker phone.

“Forgive the interruption, but I’ve just had an emergency phone call from your twin’s elementary school.  It’s Tommy.  Oh, I’m so very sorry.  There’s been a freak playground accident.”

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