I clasped my hands in front of me like a good little boy and watched Not-Naughty-Librarian thumb through the book looking for something that seemed mighty important to her. I couldn’t tell you what she was so intent on finding that she couldn’t even spare me a passing glance seeing as how I was dead and hadn’t had orientation yet. All I knew was I didn’t seem to be in hell since there was a considerable lack of hellfire and brimstone.
I don’t remember the exact moment I died. Or, rather, I don’t know when my body died as my soul was sucked plum out without my permission. Did I live another few minutes? I have no idea. All I know is I was rushing through a beam of warm light, neither air nor liquid, but somehow seemingly both. I continued whooshing right past some sort of welcome committee. I saw my Granny Coral, her face so jubilant at first, confused as hell the next moment, but by then I was already long past her and whomever else was waiting there for me.
Zooming right by a blur of buildings, people, alien-looking creatures, beams of light; all wrapped snugly in a cocoon of bubbles, I didn’t have much time to process a thing. Looks a lot like a beehive, I thought, as my progression sped up until I found myself jolted to a stop and plopped right smack dab into a polished chair facing a young woman, hair in a loose bun, glasses perched on the end of a pert button nose, a humongous book taking up the space between us on the desk piled high with books of all shapes and sizes. Frankly, she looked like one of those “naughty librarians” I sometimes liked to watch, but I quickly erased the thought because, you know, I was dead, and Granny Coral taught me all about the Good Book and Judgement Day. I probably shouldn’t have been thinking of my sins right that moment lest I inadvertently invite some of that there fire and brimstone I noticed was fortunately not here.
In fact, this room was rather lovely. I took my first good look at the place. Seemed like I was in an ancient library. All stone and wood and stained glass windows, it appeared as if I was somehow in one of those fantasy movies my girlfriend sure loved to watch. I never really understood the appeal, but she said that’s to be expected when you’re a muzzle… er… muddle… uh.. muggle? Hell, I don’t know. I just know that’s the very second I started to tear up thinking about my sweet, perfect Penelope, my favorite nerd, my little angel baby who used to keep a smile on my face.
That’s precisely when Ms. Not-So-Naughty Librarian finally deigned to cast me a glance. “Oh, don’t you fret now, dearie. You’ll see her again before you know it. You’re from the same group, after all.”
I must have looked rather alarmed because she laughed a tinkling little laugh that sounded unlike any laugh I’d ever heard in my whole life. “Well, you’re not holding anything back, you realize. You don’t have to shout your thoughts at me, either.” Her face was sunshine and dandelions as she thrust her full attention on me. Maybe Judgement day wouldn’t be so bad, I mused.
“Oh, calm yourself, sweet soul. You’re still really new, only been here…” her eyes swept down on the page wedged in between her arms resting casually on the desk, “...oh, yes, you’ve only existed for a few lives. But don’t you worry one itty bitty bit. I’ll walk you through a few things and get you settled in to heal the gaps in your energy.”
All complacency left me as a flood of questions drenched my mind like a deluge worthy of Noah. I no sooner opened my mouth to start shooting them questions right out my mouth before she held up her petite hand and closed my mouth right quick.
“Right, then. First, you’ll need to quit calling me Not-So-Naughty Librarian. My name is Akasha. Secondly, my job here is not to judge you. You’ll find there’s none of that fear-mongering nonsense here. And thirdly, my job is Archivist. I document and organize every single life you’ll ever lead, and then I’ll help you in your studies to evaluate your actions and monitor your growth to enlightenment.”
She paused then, and the cutest little smile lit up her face. I presumed my embarrassment over the moniker I had gifted her was showing on my face. Could ghosts blush? Was I as red as my Mama’s homemade sangria that she made every summer?
“No, I’m just trying to figure out why you came straight to me instead of to meet your soul group, head to the The Healing Cavern, or see your guides for your Life Review before they brought you here to study. And you are not a ghost. Those poor souls get a little confused before we can coax them to come back home, but they all make their way back eventually.”
I watched the colors from the stained glass play across Akasha’s face, red and orange and yellow and colors I had no name for. The light should have been blinding, but no. I could feel it moving against my skin like a living thing, warm and cool all at once, before becoming me. Sounds crazy, when I think of it in human terms, but this lady here was busy explaining I am not a human, I am a soul who had a human experience. Huh, imagine that. I didn’t really believe Granny Coral or Pastor Hank. I mean, religion seemed so silly, no more reasonable than thinking a wolf swallowed a little girl in a cherry red cape before gobbling up her granny.
“There’s a reason you came to me first, so we’re going to figure that out together! Let’s take a look at the life you just led, shall we?”
All of a sudden, images sprang up out of that big book she’d been studying and oozed all around, like I was watching my surroundings being painted over, a fresh new world in its place. And then I saw myself being born. I had no idea my Mama could scream like that! Hoo boy! I was going to send her the biggest bouquet of flowers just as soon as I was done here. It hit me again as soon as I thought it. I was dead. There weren’t going to be any more flowers sent to Mama or anyone else.
“No, no, no, just a little too far back. Let’s speed this up just a bit, shall we?”
The blobs of paint began to dance around me, and I watched myself growing up. There I was, spitting beets out all over my father’s face when he insisted I would love them even though I was only six months old, and no baby loves beets. The scene was painted anew as Mama’s laugh faded out. I was a few months older and taking my first steps. I was two and scared of a thunderstorm. I was three and lost my mother for a few minutes when I let go of her hand and chased a dragonfly. I was four and skinned my knees up so badly that I carried the scars for the rest of my life. Five and starting kindergarten, bravely not crying even though I really wanted to. Six, seven, eight, nine, ten; memories, but more. I felt everything all over again. The sting of my first heartbreak. The embarrassment of my first time with Lonnie in the backseat of the old car Dad and I spent a full year repairing, that first time ending before I could say “Oh, my God!”
My graduation, Helena - the first woman I ever really, truly loved. Thought I was gonna spend my whole life with that one. But then the baby, that perfect boy, arriving much too early and gone too fast. I watched Helena pack her things and drive away all over again. No Helena. No baby. Months of depression where my entire world turned grey and flavorless, leaving me lost within the ocean of myself, with no anchor to hold me in place. Then Olivia. Warmth returned to my bones then. Three years of carnivals, concerts, movies, getting snowed in during the nor’easter of ninety-four. Then she, too, was gone, but my world only dimmed a little that time.
I saw myself starting my own auto shop, and working with my hands was good and honest work that paid the bills. That’s what Dad said as he slipped away in the hospital bed in the living room. He was proud of me. The energetic and kind hospice nurse wiped my tears. “Thank you, Penelope,” I breathed into her hair. I could smell the strawberry scent of her shampoo all over again. She became my everything from then on out. Sunday dinners with Mama, camping under the stars, that trip to Disney World because Penelope said we never really have to grow up if we don’t want to. I watched it all again, the joy within me expanding until I felt it explode from me and meld with the images of my life.
And then I watched myself collapse, saw through my flesh and muscle to my heart, suddenly still, and the crowd that rushed in on aisle seven of the hardware store. I wasn’t going to finish that crib now. I wasn’t going to paint the nursery. I wasn’t going to see the little lima bean inside Penelope grow into someone I could teach to ride a bike.
The paint faded back into the book, and I sat on the polished chair, half the size I was before, folded in on myself. Penelope glided right through the desk and wrapped her arms around me, breathing fire back into my soul like warm honey, slowly seeping into each molecule.
“How are you here?” I croaked.
Akasha’s voice seemed to come from within me. “I can be any shape you need. So can you. We are limitless. We are everything.”
The doors burst open, and in rushed my father. If anyone ever tells you there are no tears in heaven, they’re a bald-faced liar, I can tell you that, yes sir! But he didn’t give me time to cry. No, sir! He grabbed my hand right up into his and began to pull me along at the speed of light. It could have been a minute, could have been a week, hell if I know, but we came to an abrupt halt right about where I came in and first saw Granny Coral. Souls were lined up and saying goodbye or hello, depending on which way they were heading.
And there was Granny Coral, just like that.
“I wanted to have more time with ya before I headed on down, but this will do.” Her smile was so much more beautiful than I remembered. “I’ll be popping back in here and there for a while, so we can get a slice of blackberry cobbler with ice cream and play catch-up as soon as I get a little work done. Humans are boring to be until they can start getting into trouble. I just wanted to let you know I’ll be taking care of Penelope for you now.”
“I’m your granny and your daughter, Pumpkin. Guess we really are Southern.” The raucous laughter that erupted from me at that moment almost drowned out her goodbye as she headed back through the gates. “We will get that cobbler, lickety split! Go get yourself patched up!”
I can’t describe what it’s like here; I can just let you know that you’re really gonna love it. There is no beginning, there is no end, there just is. Why I was flung halfway to Timbuktu when I arrived hasn't been made clear yet; however, I have a lot to learn over the course of innumerable lives to come. There's no rush. I'll be having a lot of human experiences, I reckon. How 'bout that? Having human experiences is great ‘n all, but being a soul sure takes the cake. Yeah, you're gonna love it here.