I’m dead. I know I’m dead because it just happened and the memory is vivid.
I’m in my car driving east on Route 30 to the Planned Parenthood clinic. I have an appointment for a ‘procedure.’ Sometimes it’s a real bitch having a uterus.
It’s early. Too early! Another hour of sleep would have been good. Well…that’s what coffee is for. I lift the paper cup to my lips and take a sip.
Scalding hot! Damn you, Starbucks. Why is your coffee so fucking hot?
As I put the cup down, I feel some heat on my chest. I look down and see a coffee stain on my blouse. Damn it to hell! This is my favorite blouse. If I don’t soak it, that stain will never come out. Well, I’m not going back home. We’ll just have to add that to the cost of not using birth control.
It’s too cold. Waaay too cold! What’s the temp? Seventeen degrees! Glad the car’s got a good heater. Toasty warm.
Too much traffic. People driving too fast. There’s the gas station, my landmark to turn right. A yellow tractor trailer in the oncoming lane. Stupid to let eighteen-wheelers on this road. No median, lanes too narrow. And yellow is a stupid color to paint a truck!
What’s that? A fountain? No, the gas station’s sprinkler system is on. IN THE MIDDLE OF WINTER?! Sprinkler head broken. Looks like a geyser. Water all over the road. What a mess! Slow down to turn. I turn the wheel to the right but the car keeps going straight! ICE UNDER THE WATER! Brake. No effect. Car spinning to the right. Turn wheel to the left. No control. Sliding forward only the car is pointed backward. Spinning 360. Carnival ride from Hell. Look to the right. Where am I going? Damn! The truck! Jackknifing! Spinning into it. A wall of yellow heading towards me. Yank the wheel left. Gun the gas. No effect. The world turns yellow. Slow motion begins. The Yellow Wall hits the passenger door. Glass exploding. Tiny glass diamonds imbedding themselves into the right side of my face. Metal groaning as it folds like an accordion. The groaning of the metal is drowned out by the sound of bones being crushed on the right side of my body. My shoulder. Arm. Hip. Leg. Ribs. Pelvis. The cracking sounds stop when the Yellow Wall crushes my skull.
That’s how I know I’m dead. But, if I’m dead, why am I still here? And where is here? I still have a body. I look down and see the coffee stain on my blouse just above my baby bump. I’m wearing the same clothes I died in. No blood. No crushed bones. No pain.
I can feel the weight on the bottom of my feet but I can’t see what my feet are standing on. Everything is grey fog. In all directions. Even down. I stand still. There’s no point in walking when there’s no place to go.
It feels like I am being watched, as if there’s someone hiding in the fog. I concentrate on a part of the fog about twenty feet away. Then I see the fog take the shape of two people dressed in grey robes with hoods. They look like monks in a monastery. The hoods are obscuring their faces. They start talking to each other. I hear no words but they are gesturing to each other, as if arguing over something. Arguing over me? Or what to do with me?
Abruptly, the monks stop debating. They turn and look behind them. Then I see a taller robed figure come out of the fog. He stands with the monks and starts talking to them very quietly. The monks are attentive, nodding their heads. I get the impression he is higher up on the food chain. Maybe he’s the boss of whatever this place is.
The boss’s robe is more white than grey. The front of his robe, just below his chin, has an odd fold to it as it goes over his left shoulder making the robe look asymmetrical.
He raises his head, looks in my direction, pulls his hood down and looks straight at me. He has a full head of hair. It’s black with auburn highlights and somewhat unruly. A strong but kind face. Strong nose. Broad shoulders. Full beard and mustache. Olive colored skin. He looks Mediterranean or perhaps Middle Eastern. His eyes are piercing; an odd combination of grey, blue, and green.
It feels as if he is looking right through me. No, not through me, into me. Probing my mind (or my soul)? It’s over in a moment, then he goes back to talking to the monks. I don’t feel like my privacy has been violated but I do feel like he got whatever he was looking for.
He finishes his conversation with the monks and both of them nod their heads in his direction. Apparently, orders have been given and received. I get the feeling that my fate has been sealed. The boss turns, walks back into the fog and disappears. The monks are pointing their hoods in my direction. Then, they simply fade away.
I wait. Nothing happens. I am not transported anywhere; up or down. I am simply left to stand here. I ponder that for a while.
If this is Heaven, I’m not impressed. No Saint Peter sitting behind a giant podium with my Book of Life before him, going over my deeds and misdeeds. Maybe only the Christians get that. Maybe the agnostic ex-Catholics get to stand in a fog bank for the rest of eternity. Not quite Heaven, not quite Hell. What do they call it? Purgatory? I thought they got rid of Purgatory, or was it Limbo? I can’t remember. Maybe I should have paid more attention during my short stint in parochial school (the nuns and I didn’t get along).
I think I hear something. It’s so faint I’m not sure if I hear it or am imagining it. I close my eyes and cock my head to the side. I do hear something but can’t make out what it is. As I listen, it gets louder and louder. It’s a voice. A high-pitched voice but not speaking; more like screeching. Not an adult. It’s a child. It’s a baby. And it’s crying.
I start walking but it’s hard to figure out what direction the crying is coming from. I move forward cocking my head left and right to see which ear is picking up the crying more loudly.
After a minute or so of navigating by sonar, I finally see something half-obscured by the fog. As I get closer, I see a table, a wicker basket, a blanket, wrapped around a baby, who’s crying its head off. My God, it’s so small! Could it be a newborn? Barely a hair on its head. Eyes closed. Arms reaching out in all directions. Tiny hands grasping for what is not there.
I put my left finger in its right hand. It grasps it solidly and stops crying.
“You’ve got a good grip little one.”
Little One starts sticking his tongue out between his tiny lips, making faint smacking sounds.
“I’m sorry Little One but I don’t have any milk to give you.”
Just then Little One kicks out with his right foot and hits something solid under the blanket. I feel around, grab it, and pull out a baby bottle full of milk!
“That’s strange. It’s even warm.”
I shake some of the milk/formula onto my forearm. The temperature seems okay, so I bring the nipple to Little One’s lips. He starts suckling, enthusiastically!
While LO is having his meal, he releases my finger. So, I start rooting around under the blanket with my free hand to see if there are any other surprises hidden there. I find nothing. No toys. No pacifier. No extra diapers.
While I’m here I might as well take a peek to see if we’ve got a boy or a girl. Surprise, you’re a girl! And Little One isn’t much of a name is it? We’ll have to give that some thought.
Ah, the bottle is empty already.
“Feeling better Little One?”
LO stretches out her limbs and let’s rip a healthy burp.
“Wow! That was impressive.”
LO looks like she is snuggling up for a good nap. I fluff up the blanket, cover up what needs to be covered, keeping the blanket away from her face.
“I could use some sleep myself.”
I stand up straight, stretch out my arms and back, and decide to take a look around. As I turn, my knees bump up against something solid.
“What the hell?”
I look down and see a queen-sized bed with a wooden headboard and footboard. It’s got a gorgeous quilt on it and frilly pillows.
“Wait a minute.”
I take a good look at the quilt. This is the quilt my maternal grandma made for my parents when they got married. Last time I saw it, it was all faded and threadbare. I felt sad that it looked so bad. But this one looks brand new!
And the bed looks familiar too. I step back a few feet and take a good look. I recognize it! I saw it in the furniture store. It was my favorite. I didn’t buy it because it was too expensive. I went with the cheaper model. I hate that bed because every time I get into it, I wish it was this bed.
I sit down on the side of the bed.
“What the hell is going on?”
I’m dead but I’m not dead. I wanted to feed a crying baby and a bottle appears. I wanted to get some sleep and the perfect bed with the perfect quilt appears out of nowhere.
Someone wants me to stay here. The Boss! This is his doing. But why? What’s the point? Is this a punishment? A reward? It doesn’t feel like either. It just doesn’t make any sense.
I lay down on the bed and, in an instant, fall asleep.
I wipe the schmutz from Sara’s face, turn the damp washcloth over and finish wiping off her face. Sara grimaces, pounds her hand down on the high-chair’s tray, to the tune of, “Da, Da, Da…”
“So, Da is the word for the day, huh?”
I distract her with rubbing noses as I detach the tray and put it on the kitchen table. She giggles and starts in with more “Da, Das.” I lift her up, and put her, butt down, on the kitchen floor next to the high-chair.
“It’s plaaay tiiime!”
I take Woody’s hat, which contains all of Sara’s favorite toys, and put it on the high-chair’s seat. I then walk about six feet away and plop my own butt down on the floor.
Sara looks at me with a quizzical expression, looks up a Woody’s hat, and then looks at me again.
“Don’t look at me,” I say. “They’re not my toys.”
Sara takes a long look at Woody’s hat, a short look back at me, then back to the hat.
I can see the wheels turning. Then she decides to Go For It!
She flips over on all fours. With her right hand, she grabs the leg of the high-chair, and with only a minimum of wobbling, manages to pull herself up to a fairly solid standing position. Woody’s hat is over her head but within reaching distance. She switches hands, holding on to the chair with her left hand and reaching up to the hat with her right hand. She tries to take the easy route by pulling on the rim of the hat (smart girl!). But the hat, being hard plastic, won’t fit through the metal brackets that hold up the armrest. Undaunted, she reaches over the rim of the hat and starts pulling out toys one by one and throwing them on the floor. She’s looking for her favorite; the one she calls the Cha-Cha.
Sara has removed all the toys from Woody’s hat but no Cha-Cha. She looks over to me.
“No Cha-Cha, Little One. Well, let’s see what I can do.”
I stand up, reach into the front pocket of my apron and pull out the Cha-Cha: Minnie-Mouse’s head, full of BBs, on the end of a short, wooden stick.
I hold Cha-Cha up for her to see. Sara’s eyes get big.
“If you want it, you’re gonna have to come and get it.”
Sara is reluctant to let go of the chair. Her record, so far, is three steps. I know she can do better. She just needs to gin up some courage. She looks down at the floor as if to say, “Crawling is safer.” But I shake Minnie’s head to distract her from that thought and hold it out as a prize for just a few baby steps.
“Come on. I know you can do it. You can do anything you put your mind to.”
Sara leans towards the Cha-Cha, releases her grip on the chair and launches herself forward.
“ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, FIVE, SIX, SEVEN.”
A stumble and a catch. I put her butt safely on the floor and put the prize in her hand.
“Cha-Cha-Cha,” says Sara in unison with poor Minnie’s brains rattling around inside her head.
“Cha-Cha-Cha…” she continues.
I chime in and start singing, “Shake, shake, shake…shake, shake, shake. Shake your booty, shake your booty. Shake, shake, shake…shake, shake, shake…” We continue rockin! It’s not K. C. and the Sunshine Band, but it’s music to my ears.
I’m driving Sara to her first day of Kindergarten. I’m not sure how she’s going to react. A few weeks ago, we drove to the school and did a walk around of the building and playground. She seemed excited about the playground, not so much about the building. I explained that this is a place where she can play with other kids and learn lots of new, cool stuff.
“Okay,” she said in a very noncommittal way. Didn’t quite know what to make of that, but I guess we’ll find out.
There’s a lot of activity in the parking lot. I pull into the first available space, get out, walk around and open Sara’s door.
“Are you ready for your first day of school?” I ask.
“I guess,” she says as she unhooks herself, hops out, grabs her backpack and slings it over her shoulder. I take her hand and we start walking toward the front door.
Well, so far, so good.
We walk in and go up to the front desk.
“Ms. Smith and daughter Sara,” I say. “It’s our first day.”
“Welcome to The Learning Experience Preschool,” says the nice lady as she types my name into the keyboard. “We have most of the information we need except telephone and email. And, if you would, please verify that the information we have is correct.”
She spins the monitor around so I can see it. As I lean forward to take a look, I let go of Sara’s hand. I verify the information and give her my telephone and email.
When done, I look down and see that Sara is gone. A spike of fear moves through my body but I tamp it down. I turn fully around and see a large room with about a dozen kids sitting, more or less, in a circle surrounding what looks like a large castle in the making. Several kids are adding more wooden blocks to the walls and turrets. Sara is standing close by, watching. I can see the wheels in her mind turning; evaluating the construction and assessing if she can enhance the design.
Then she walks over to a wooden box with an open lid and starts rummaging around inside it. She comes up with a bright yellow, wooden block in the shape of a cone. She then walks over to what looks like a spire at one of the corners of the castle and carefully places the cone on top. In my opinion, it seems to top it off quite nicely. But it’s not my opinion that counts. Some of the other kids look over at the cone, apparently deem it as being okay and go back to building up the walls.
“Ms. Smith?” I hear from behind me.
I turn back to the nice lady. She has a knowing smile on her face and says, “Sara’s going to be just fine.”
“I guess so,” I say as I turn back and watch my baby being ‘just fine’ without me and feeling an odd mixture of shock and wonder.
I’m not going to cry. I’m not going to cry. I’m not going to cry, I say to myself.
Sara and I are sitting at a Café in the airport and drinking coffee together. I look over at her. I still can’t believe that my baby girl has grown into this beautiful, independent, smart…I run out of adjectives…young woman. She knows I’m staring at her. She looks up from her cell phone and says, “Are you okay?”
I can’t tell her that I am not even close to being okay. So, I say, “I just can’t believe that my little baby girl is about to get on an airplane and go to college several states away.”
The waterworks start to roll down my cheeks.
“Mom, you promised.”
“I know,” I say, “I can’t help it.”
She reaches over and gives me a bear hug.
“I’ll be fine,” she says, “I’ll call you every Sunday and come home on breaks.”
“I know you’ll be alright,” I say.
“You’ll be alright too,” she says. “Between working at the church and running the quilt guild you’ll be too busy to be lonely.”
“Yes, I’ll have to keep myself busy. Shirley and I are doing a wedding tomorrow. That should perk me up!”
We break our bear hug. Sara looks at her phone and says, “It’s time.”
I walk with her all the way up to TSA and watch as she goes through. When she gets to the other side, she turns to me and waves. I wave back.
I take a deep breath, let it out slowly and start walking towards the exit closest to Short Term Parking.
I wake up and lie in bed for a while. I realize that this is the first time I have ever woken up in this house alone, without Sara. I try not to feel sorry for myself.
Get busy, I tell myself. So, I get up, take a shower, get dressed, put my face on and start the coffee maker.
Shirley should be here in about an hour. She’ll be helping me to get the sanctuary ready for the wedding this afternoon. Weddings are a lot of work, but I love them and always end up crying.
I hear a knock on the back door.
Wow, I think. Shirley’s really early.
I go to the door and swing it open. It’s not Shirley. It’s a rather tall man dressed in a monk’s robe. His hood is down so I can see that he has a full head of hair; black with auburn highlights and somewhat unruly. A strong but kind face. Strong nose. Broad shoulders. Full beard and mustache. Olive colored skin. He looks Mediterranean or perhaps Middle Eastern. The front of his robe, just below his chin, has an odd fold to it going over his left shoulder making the robe look asymmetrical. He’s looking straight at me. His eyes are piercing; an odd combination of grey, blue, and green. His hands are folded in front of him. He doesn’t seem threatening. He’s making no effort to come into the house. We stare at each other for what seems like a long time.
“Hello,” he finally says. “It’s nice to see you again.”
“Do we know each other?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says. “But we were never formally introduced. And, for you, it’s been a long time.”
“How long?” I ask.
“About nineteen years, as you count time,” he says.
That feels like the truth but my mind has no recollection.
“I’m sorry,” I say, “I don’t remember that.”
“I know,” he says, “That’s the way it had to be in order to help you with The Choice.”
“And what choice would that be?” I ask.
“May I come in?” he asks.
It would be insane to let a man I do not know, dressed like this, into my home. But I sense no threat from him. In fact, just the opposite. I sense only peace. I invite him in.
“Would you like some coffee?” I hear myself ask.
“Yes, thank you,” he says.
“Why don’t you have a seat,” I say and wave him over to the kitchen table. I pour both of us some coffee, bring it over and sit down opposite him.
He takes a sip and holds the mug in front of him with both hands and looks into it for a long time. It looks very strange; almost like he’s praying. I decide to break the silence.
“You mentioned a choice I need to make.”
“Yes. Would you like to know what it is?”
“I don’t know…I suppose so…if it’s important.”
“It’s the most important choice a person can make,” he says. “It’s the choice between life and death.”
“I’m not thinking of suicide.”
“It’s not your life. It’s someone else’s life.”
“I’m not thinking of killing anyone.”
“You were. Nineteen years ago,” he says.
I look into this man’s eyes. He’s not kidding. But it doesn’t sound like an accusation either. It sounds like he is simply reciting a benign fact.
“I don’t remember that,” I say.
“I know,” he says.
I decide to play along.
“Okay then, who was I planning to kill?”
“Do you really want an answer to that question?”
“Is there a reason why I shouldn’t?” I ask.
“You should know that better than me,” he says.
That sounds like a challenge. Why? What is so important about a thought I had nineteen years ago? I’m getting a knot in the pit of my stomach. I stand up to get some more coffee. I pick up the carafe to pour the coffee and notice that my mug is full. I haven’t taken even one sip of coffee! I put the mug down on the counter. I don’t like the way this whole situation feels. I turn back to the monk and say, “I have decided that I have nothing to fear from a thought I had nineteen years ago.”
“Very well,” says the monk.
He puts his coffee mug down, stands up, walks over to me and stops in front of me about five feet away. We look at each other, eye to eye.
“Showing is better than telling,” he says.
Then my house disappears! Everything has disappeared. The monk is still here. I am still here. But everything else is gone. I look past the monk and see only fog. I look left, then right and see only fog.
“It may take a moment,” says the monk, “But the memory will return. Just clear your mind and let it come.”
This place looks familiar. Why? And if it’s all fog, then what am I standing on? I look down and notice that I am dressed in different clothes. And I have a baby bump. I’m pregnant!!! What the hell is going on?
“I can see that you don’t yet fully understand,” says the monk.
He looks to his left. And to his left a full-length mirror appears out of nowhere.
I look at myself in the mirror. I look closely at my face and body. It’s me, only I’m quite a bit younger. And the clothes…the clothes I’m wearing look familiar. That blouse! I remember it. It was my favorite long ago. What’s that? There’s a stain on it. It looks like a coffee stain.
Suddenly, the memories come flooding into my mind at the speed of light. I close my eyes and see a flashing kaleidoscope of images: driving to the clinic / the ice / the truck / the crash / the fog / two monks / the tall one with the asymmetric robe / the baby / the bottle / the bed / naming her Sara / learning to walk / first day of school / growing up / seeing her off to university / a monk at the back door / chatting over coffee about me thinking about killing someone / and finally standing here now, with eyes wide open, looking at…
“You’re The Boss!” I blurt out.
“Yes,” he says. “I am in charge of the Atonement.”
My mind is reeling, trying to make sense of it all. I have a thousand questions and don’t know which one to ask first. Maybe it doesn’t matter. I pick one.
“I’m younger and pregnant and wearing the clothes I died in nineteen years ago,” I say. Then I remember I was asking a question. “How can that be?”
“You have been given a great gift,” says The Boss. “A peek into one of your alternative futures.”
I think back. I died in a car crash. Found myself here. Found a baby here. Then things started to appear out of nowhere whenever I thought I needed them. That happened so much it became normal. It was normal here. But in real life things don’t just show up when you think you need them.
“So,” I say to The Boss, “You treated me to a nineteen-year long dream? Why? For your amusement?”
The Boss looks at me oddly and says, “It’s difficult to know if you are dreaming while you are inside the dream. But when you awaken, it becomes obvious that what you experienced was a dream. So, does it feel like your experience with Sara was a dream?”
I close my eyes and remember the last time I saw Sara. At the airport, when she turned back to wave at me, I could see the hopeful expectations on her face. She was embarking on a new and wonderful adventure that was overflowing with potential. She was so happy and I was so happy for her. I was sad that she was leaving, but I was also content that I had done what a parent is supposed to do. Was it all a dream? And if it was, does it matter?
I open my eyes and look at The Boss, “I don’t know if it was a dream or not. All I know is that I love Sara. I want her to be safe. I want her to do well. And want her to be happy. Can you tell me if that will happen?”
“Whether she has the opportunity to be safe and to do well…is up to you,” says The Boss.
“I don’t understand,” I say.
“Okay,” says The Boss. “Let’s approach this another way. A moment ago, you were remembering how things worked the first time you were here. You thought, ‘Then things started to appear out of nowhere, whenever I needed them.’”
“Yes,” I say, “that’s what happened.”
“And what was the first thing that just showed up because you needed it?”
“A baby bottle,” I say. “It showed up because I needed to feed a hungry baby.”
“That was the second thing,” says The Boss. “What was the first thing?”
“The baby bottle was the first thing,” I say.
The Boss looks at me as if I am a high school student having trouble understanding that two plus two equals four.
“Okay,” says The Boss. “When you first came here you were pregnant. Right?”
“Yes. I remember looking down at my baby bump just below the coffee stain on my blouse.”
“So, when did you give birth?”
I think about that. Good question! I close my eyes and try to remember. I was pregnant when I first got here. Then I found a baby in a wicker basket. And after that I don’t remember having a baby bump. And I certainly don’t remember giving birth.
“I don’t remember giving birth,” I say.
“So,” says The Boss. “What happened to the baby bump?”
“How am I supposed to know?” I say. “Strange things were happening!”
The Boss looks as me strangely, then says, “You don’t want to know what happened to your baby?”
“I know I don’t like being interrogated,” I say.
“Okay,” says The Boss. “Then I will ask only one more question. Do you know why you don’t want to know?”
I put both of my hands on my baby bump and my emotions well up inside me. I remember what my life was like before Sara and compare that to what my life was like with Sara and I know the answer. Tears start streaming down my face.
“Because I am too selfish to consider the life growing inside me as having any value. I can only value what I can make of my life without her. I had to see her, touch her, smell her. She had to give herself to me before I could give myself to her. She had to fall in love with me before I could fall in love with her. I couldn’t give her those gifts until she gave them to me first. I am so ashamed of myself…”
The Boss steps closer to me and puts his hands on my shoulders.
“You are wrong about two things. You were too selfish. Your experience with Sara has changed that. And the only shame would come from not being changed by that experience.”
The Boss reaches into a pocket in his robe and hands me a soft cloth.
“Thanks,” I say as I try to dry my tears.
As I am drying my tears, a thought comes to me.
“Do you do this to every woman who is considering an abortion?” I ask.
“No. I do not,” says The Boss. “In fact, I had to get special permission to do it with you.”
The Boss closes his eyes and seems to be thinking unhappy thoughts. And with his eyes still closed he says, “Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.’ When I assess the degree of spiritual consciousness of the Human race…well…let’s just say it’s enough to make a stone cry.”
For a moment I wonder if I should give him back the soft cloth he gave me.
“May I ask a question?” I say.
“Of course,” says The Boss
“Yes,” says the Boss.
“Because you are Sara’s mom,” says The Boss.
“And what’s so special about Sara?”
“All souls have equal value in the eyes of God,” says The Boss. “But some are in the right place, at the right time, and do the right thing to move an entire civilization toward a higher spiritual consciousness: Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, and soon — in your timeline — Sara, if you make The Choice.”
That’s quite a group to put Sara in!
“I’ve always thought Sara was special,” I say. “I never doubted that she would do something wonderful with her talents. But then I thought, all parents think that!”
“Not all parents,” says The Boss. “Only the good ones.”
“Thanks,” I say. “But what makes Sara so special?”
“Predicting the future,” says The Boss, “is usually a fool’s errand. Every time someone makes a critical choice, their timeline changes. Which, of course, changes their future. Humans make a lot of critical choices. So, their future is always in a state of flux. But sometimes the choices a person makes synchronize in such a way as to enable one particular future to become highly probable. And sometimes it takes the choices of two persons to synchronize in order for this to happen. You and Sara are at that point of synchronicity now.
“Earlier you said you wanted Sara to be safe, to do well, and to be happy. Would you like me to tell you what Sara is likely to do with her education and training if you make The Choice?”
“Yes, I would,” I say.
“There is a very high probability that Sara will graduate with honors and earn dual degrees: one in medicine and a PhD in Psychology. For her dissertation Sara will invent a new treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that combines Imaginal Implosion Therapy with Directed Lucid Dreaming. She will conduct the first of many clinical trials at the Boston VA Medical Center. Her dissertation will become widely read and she will turn it into a book. Two books actually: one for the general public and a more technical version for clinical practitioners.
“This therapeutic protocol will help thousands of combat veterans overcome their PTSD and eventually will become the standard of care for all those suffering from PTSD worldwide. Sara will mention you as the major guiding influence in her life when she gives her speech in Stockholm after she is awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
“Other clinicians will expand on Sara’s protocol for other psychological and even physical conditions. Then, it will be taken up as a form of entertainment.
“Eventually it will be discovered that there is a positive side-effect of this protocol. It will give people an expanded realization of the futility of trying to get what they want by using force. The idea that you can get what you want by using force was born in human beings before they invented primitive tools and has been the cause of most violence and wars.
“The widespread use of the Sara Protocol, as it comes to be known, will likely prevent the next Great War, will likely save millions of lives, and will likely lead planet Earth into thousands of years of peace.
“Once the people of Earth free up the resources they were using to wage war, those resources will likely be used in more productive ways. Such as solving poverty, preventing pandemics, clean and practical fusion power, faster-than-light space travel, and my favorite: a remarkable expanding of the human race’s social and spiritual consciousness which has consequences that are so profound — that if I were to detail them for you here, your mind could not contain them. The only one I will mention is that wholesale abortion is eventually recognized for what it is: a moral and spiritual failure on par with the Nazi Holocaust and is finally given up as just another a form of birth control.
“If you make The Choice, it is highly likely that a thousand years from now the invention of the Sara Protocol will come to be recognized as being as important to human civilization as learning how to make fire, the wheel, written languages, the printing press, electricity, the light bulb, and the internet.
“There are many planets in the universe with intelligent beings on them who have created functioning civilizations. All of them eventually face the challenge of surviving the weapons they have created to destroy their ‘enemies.’ A few of them survive this challenge. Sadly, most do not. If you make The Choice, it is likely that a few centuries from now human archeologists will sift the ashes of many of these failed civilizations through their fingers and try to discover the means of their demise. The answer is always the same. They all thought they could get what they wanted through the use of force. It’s a trap. It looks like it is working right up to the time it destroys them.
“The human race’s timeline is running short. Without the Sara Protocol, it won’t be human fingers sifting through the ashes of other planets’ failed civilizations, but alien fingers sifting through the ashes of Earth’s failed civilization.
“I have a special interest in the Human race. My last incarnation was on Earth a few thousand years ago. Humanity has so much unfulfilled potential; I would like to give it one last chance. This is why I was given permission to bend the rules.”
My mind is reeling. I can hardly put together a coherent thought. The Boss waits for me to collect myself. I open my mouth to talk but all that comes out is, “Wow!”
“I know,” says The Boss. “It’s a lot to digest.”
I gather my thoughts somewhat, “All this is fascinating, but there’s one thing I don’t understand. You have shown me a possible future, but in the present, Sara and I are dead (or at least our bodies are) crushed by a yellow truck.”
“Being in charge of the Atonement gives me control of time and space,” says The Boss. “We are giving you a choice. I can send you and Sara (along with your bodies) back to your car, just before the accident, and arrange time and space so the truck misses you. Or, both of you can reincarnate into entirely new bodies, at the moment of conception, into two different mothers. The choice is yours.”
My heart leaps: Sara and I can be together! But I wonder, “You know what my choice will be, so why bother giving me a choice?”
“I don’t know what your choice will be. Granted, I can make a good guess. But when God created you, God gave you free will. I cannot change that, nor would I if I could. Therefore, you must have a choice. But there is something you need to know: Regardless of which you choose, neither you nor Sara will have any memory of the future life you experienced together. Nor will you remember this conversation with me.”
“Why,” I say. “Sara and I experienced it, didn’t we?”
“Yes. But when I send you and Sara back into that timeline, that experience will be in your future. A future that does not yet exist. It is impossible for you to remember something that hasn’t happened yet. But there is another, more important reason. Having knowledge of the future would affect the choices you make in the present. Under those circumstances your choices would not be free. You MUST be free to choose.”
“I guess I can understand that,” I say, “But then, what’s the point of giving me a nineteen-year peek into the future?”
“Because all your experiences, even the ones you have in your future, become part of your knowing. Your knowing resides in your Soul, which transcends time and space. You communicate with your Soul, not with your thoughts, but with your feelings. Have you ever felt that something was the right thing to do, even though all logic tells you otherwise?”
“That was your knowing. Some people call it intuition.”
“Okay,” I say, “so, when you send us back, I’ll have freedom of choice. If that’s so, then what’s to stop me from ignoring my knowing and choosing to have an abortion?”
“Nothing. You are free to choose. Not even God can take that away from you.”
“But my knowing now tells me that that is the wrong choice. How can I ensure that this knowing will have enough influence on me to allow me to make the right choice?”
“There is no way to ensure that. To do so would interfere with your freedom of choice. However, since you have made a request, I can help you help your Self to play with the percentages.”
“I don’t understand,” I say.
“What would motivate a woman to have an abortion?”
“And what overcomes fear?”
“And how does one gin up some courage?”
I think about that for a while but nothing comes to mind.
The Boss continues, “What would motivate a soldier to risk his life to save his fellow troops or to achieve a particular military goal?”
“Let me see…” I say, “a sense of loyalty. Responsibility to take care of each other. Commitment to a common cause. The sense that the cause for which you are fighting for is more important than your personal safety. The sense that the fight is morally correct; like fighting the Nazis during World War II. Love for God and country and all that.”
“And can you break all that down to one word?”
“Okay,” I say as I rack my brain for a while. No one word seems to fit. Then one just pops in.
“Love,” I say.
“Very good,” says The Boss. “One way to remember something is to make a slogan out of it. What’s Nike’s slogan?”
“Just do it.”
“See, you didn’t even have to think about that. It just popped into your head. So, create a catchy slogan to remind your Self to make what you consider to be the right choice at the right time.”
“Okay. Let me head-trip this. Love and making the right choice. Well, how about: When you want to make the right choice, choose love? No, not want: need. When you need to make the right choice, choose love. Not the right choice: a choice. When you need to make a choice, make a loving choice. Not a loving: most loving. When you need to make a choice, make the most loving choice. Not choice twice. When you need to make a choice, make the most loving option. Not make twice. When you need to make a choice, choose the most loving option. When you need to make a choice, choose the most loving option. Yeah, that sounds pretty good. What do you think?”
“If it works for you, it works for me.”
The Boss and I stare at each other for a moment.
“So,” says The Boss, “what’s your pleasure?”
I put both hands on my baby bump and say, “Carnival ride from Hell.”
The Boss smiles at that. It’s nice to know he has a sense of humor.
“Ready?” asks The Boss.
“Yes, but give me a few seconds to fix it in my brain.” I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. “When you need to make a choice, choose the most loving option. When you need to make a choice, choose the most loving option. When you need to make a choice, choose the most loving option.”
There’s the gas station. My landmark to turn right. A yellow tractor trailer in the oncoming lane. Stupid to let eighteen-wheelers on this road. No median. Lanes too narrow. And yellow is a stupid color to paint a truck!
What’s that? A fountain? No, the gas station’s sprinkler system is on. IN THE MIDDLE OF WINTER? Sprinkler head broken. Looks like a geyser. Water all over the road. What a mess! Slow down to turn.
I turn the wheel to the right but the car keeps going straight! ICE UNDER THE WATER! Brake. No effect. Car spinning to the right. Turn wheel to the left. No control. Sliding forward only the car is pointed backward. Spinning 360. Carnival ride from Hell. Look to the right — where am I going? Damn. The truck! Jackknifing. Spinning into it. A wall of yellow heading toward me. Grab the wheel. Yank it left. Gun the gas. No effect. The world turns yellow. Slow motion begins. I grab the wheel as hard as I can and brace for the impact. I see a flash of yellow light go from right to left across my tightly closed eyes as if it was a very bright yellow searchlight. My car comes to a stop with a jolt when the rear wheels hit a curb.
I look behind me and see that the yellow truck has knocked down an aluminum light pole. Somehow the truck missed me. Just dumb luck. It was certainly no skill on my part.
The intersection is a mess. I need to get out of the road. The car is still running. I am beyond the patch of ice and see a clear way into the gas station. So, I tap the gas, pull into the gas station and park. I sit in the parking space and my hands start to shake.
Get hold of yourself, I think. There is something you need to take care of.
The thought of going back home pops into my head.
And then what? Make another appointment and do this all over again? The clinic is just down the street. Get it over with. Then get on with your life.
That seems like the best thing to do. The clinic is practically next door to the gas station. There’s only an empty, wooded lot between us. It’s close enough for me to read their giant, two-sided billboard in front of the clinic, towering over the trees. I notice an exit from the gas station that isn’t frozen. So, I put the car in gear and navigate down the road.
I pull into the clinic’s parking lot. I’m the only one there. I grab my purse, get out of the car, and press the key fob to lock the door. It doesn’t beep and I don’t hear the locks go down.
Damn key fob! The battery is going bad.
I bring the key fob close to the door and press it again and the doors lock.
Thank you, God.
Something above the car catches my attention. I look up and see the billboard. It’s one of those giant LED billboards. On it is a picture of a young and pregnant Hispanic woman with the quote, “Planned Parenthood saved my life,” to the right of her image.
Yeah, it saved your life but…I shut that thought process down. What needs to be done, has to be done.
The billboard switches to a Coke ad, then a Hooters ad. It’s like a large screen TV, only no shows, just commercials.
I turn and walk towards the clinic.
There’s a woman at the front desk to greet me.
“I have an appointment,” I say.
The woman picks up a clipboard and hands it to me.
“All I need is your signature.”
It’s a release form. I sign it without reading it and hand it back to the women.
“Come with me,” she says.
I follow her down the hallway and into a room. It looks like a doctor’s office.
“Take off your clothes and put on this gown,” she says. “The nurse will be in shortly to prep you.”
I do as I am instructed and sit on the exam table. I sit for a while and get bored. No magazines to read. There’s a heavy drape on the wall next to the exam table. I wonder what’s behind it. I reach over and peek through. It’s a window. It looks out onto the parking lot. I see my car and the billboard. I watch the billboard scroll through the same ads I saw before. Then watch them again. It’s better than staring at the wall, but I quickly get bored.
Then I get a goofy idea. I pretend to have a remote control in my hand. I point the pretend remote at the billboard and press the pretend button to change the pretend channel. The billboard goes blank. White. Nothing but white. I stare at the billboard.
Wait a minute. It’s not blank. There’s something moving. It looks like a dense whiteish-grayish fog is rolling across the screen. I feel there is something in the fog. I try to pierce the fog by squinting my eyes and concentrating. The fog condenses itself into a shape. It’s a picture of a man wearing a robe: A head and shoulders shot. He has a full head of hair. It’s black with auburn highlights and somewhat unruly. A strong but kind face. Strong nose. Broad shoulders. Full beard and mustache. Olive colored skin. He looks Mediterranean or perhaps Middle Eastern. The front of his robe, just below his chin, has an odd fold to it going over his left shoulder making the robe look asymmetrical. His eyes are piercing; an odd combination of grey, blue, and green. He’s looking straight at me.
I know this man. He looks so familiar. I know I’ve met him somewhere, sometime. But where? When? Why can’t I remember?
Then to the right of his picture: a word appears.
“When you need to make a choice, choose the most loving option.”
That looks familiar, too. But why can’t I remember who said it?
Just then the name of the person being quoted pops in.
The man on the billboard…the man I know but can’t remember…is Jesus?! That makes no sense! Why would I know what Jesus looks like? Do I even believe in Jesus?
Then I feel the kick. It startles me so much I nearly fall off the table. I put both hands on my baby bump and then…feel another kick! Strong!
Then it wells up in me…
GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!
I grab my clothes, shoes, and purse and run through the hallway and out the door. I fumble through my purse, find the car keys, get in and drive off. The farther away I get from the clinic the better I feel. As I approach the gas station, I see the flashing lights of emergency vehicles. I pull into the gas station and park. I consciously try to control my breathing in order to calm myself down.
What the hell is going on? Where did THAT come from?
A memory pops into my head. Last year Greg and I visited Yellowstone Park. We were driving down a road when traffic came to a halt. Wondering why, I stuck my head out the passenger window and saw a bear cub on the side of the road several cars ahead of us. Greg looked out the driver’s side and saw an adult bear. Eventually the cub caught up to the adult (momma?) bear on the left side.
Then we saw a guy with a camera get out of his car and start snapping pictures. Apparently, he thought he was too far away to get good pics so he started following the bears, snapping pictures as he went. Momma bear must have thought he got too close because she turned around and mauled him. We were close enough to see the Momma Bear’s face. I saw the terrible fierceness in her eyes. They took the man away in an ambulance. Found out later that he didn’t die but will have to live with the consequences for the rest of his life. I remember thinking he must have learned a valuable lesson: DON’T MESS WITH MOMMA BEAR!
A flashing light reflecting off my rearview mirror catches my attention. I look up at the mirror. It has been repositioned so all I can see is my own face. I reach up to readjust it but hesitate. I look at my face in the mirror. It seems different. I look closer. It’s my eyes! I see a fierceness in them I have never seen before. Then it hits me: MOMMA BEAR!
I put both my hands on my baby bump. The fear I felt wasn’t for my own safety, it was for the safety of my cub.
I am overcome with a giant wave of shame. I was going to let someone kill my baby because she interrupted my well-thought-out plans for my life!
Just then I realize that I am naked, wearing nothing but a hospital gown. I begin putting on my clothes. Once done, I am left with the gown. I’m sure as hell not going to bring it back. I get out of the car and stuff it in a trash can by the gas pumps. As I am walking back to the car the wave of shame comes back. I notice the clinic’s billboard flip over to a new ad. It’s the Jesus guy again! And again, words start popping in:
“The only shame would come from not being changed by that experience.”
Okay, so I can wallow in shame, or I can move forward and craft a new plan for my life that includes me being a mom.
With that in my head, I get back in the car and start driving home.
No, not back home, to Mom’s church. If I’m not mistaken, Mom is filling in at the church’s day care center because someone quit without giving notice. She’ll be happy I decided to keep my baby. Don’t know about Greg though. Doesn’t matter. Momma Bear can handle it.
Hey! You’re gonna need a name. What’s a good boy’s name? Hmmm…no names are popping in. How about a girl’s name? My maternal grandma’s face pops into my head.
“Yeah, that’s a great name. If it’s a girl, I will name her Sara.”
Ellis Cornwainer Byrd wrote many short stories and had two published in national magazines during his reckless youth. He also wrote screenplays, teleplays, stage plays, and even a radio play but none were produced. Then, he took the advice of his mother and got a ‘real’ job. Ellis is now retired and writing again. Beware!