by Hannah Pass
I was teaching a class. Last day. Hands went up. My students had brought their respective, reincarnated lovers.
We are a funny bunch, all sitting together with our Dead.
“In another life,” I ask, “would you want to be his or her lover once again?”
“Of course!” my students chime. They certainly would. They adore their reincarnates no matter what. They sit themselves upright, sleeves rolled and eager, jackets hooked on the wall, their objects placed before them on the round table.
A little breeze comes in through the window and rustles my hand-outs.
“But what if,” I say, “you’re not you? What if, instead, you’re a cat or a deer or a sheep? And your partner is a caterpillar? What then?”
I purposefully single out Olive, who cups her Mason Jar. Little green Henry curled inside on a leaf.
“I’d love this caterpillar,” Olive says. “Even if I were a deer.”
“You sure?” I say. “You say that now, but think of the logistics. You’re big, he’s small. Interests clash.” I hold my hands up, weighing the options.
“Sure I’d still love him,” Olive says. She adjusts her cat-eye glasses, puckers her red lipsticked mouth. She peers into her jar, pokes the glass. Henry inches against her finger to the shape of a stove-top coil. “Besides,” Olive says. “Henry was fuzzy as a human and I loved him then!”
I sip my coffee.
We all agree. It’s possible to love a caterpillar.
But these kids—they do not get the picture. Communicating with your reincarnated can be a cinch, yet some folks cannot let go. They draw their objects into bed at night, sleep for days. I call it “Infant Syndrome.” It’s the first obstacle in getting over your Dead.
“But why linger on one person?” I say. “There isn’t only one person for everyone.” I throw the idea out there, taking pleasure in their passion, their contemplative glares toward the ceiling fan. I’ve never lost a boyfriend to death, but breakups certainly feel similar. I lost an aunt once in my twenties, skipped the funeral. My mother never let that one go. But in all honesty, who cares? I didn’t know my aunt. My aunt didn’t know me. There is no one who really knows me.
I cast my eyes around the room. “Why not honor your lover and move on?”
“I’ve tried to move on,” Chris says. He’s in a button-up shirt. Plaid vest. A put together man with a side-part. He really is trying his darnedest. “I dated Karla for three months and it just wasn’t the same.”
“Should it be the same?” I glance at Fernando, the quiet one—smiling, cute, effortlessly. Then Olive raises her hand. Back in November Olive had a mild anxiety attack during our get-to-know-you activity: Two Truths and a Lie. She had second-guessed her “lie.” I think Olive and Chris would really hit it off. They have similar deep-set eyes, bushy brows. If it weren’t for the height difference they’d resemble twins. Chris’s wife, Megan, was reincarnated into a dove. He transports her around in a cat carrier.
“Yes, Olive?” I say, impatient, clutching my hair.
“I disagree,” she says.
“I think the passion should be pretty darn close!”
Twenty minutes in, I instruct my students on tone. Frequencies vary. Things can be easily misinterpreted between species, especially human to plant. I dim the lights, play my Yo Yo Ma vinyl, the flakes of static like a blizzard in my head.
By the time the song’s done, my students have relaxed into a deep meditation. And it’s great for me. Fernando looks incredibly handsome in a cozy daze. The better looking of the three—his red flannel compliments his stew-colored skin, his gelled hair has a zigzag of light. It’s a small class, but the suburbs never yield many woo-woo widows. I watch Fernando from behind, looming over his shoulder, wondering if his dear Sylvia still turned him on reincarnated as lichen.
Of all things.
I suppose I’m not one to discriminate. Me? I teach communication because I have to. It’s a good outlet for my supernatural gift. Plus, I live alone now and there’s rent. My last boyfriend snipped his toenails over carpet, talked cute. And in time I realized that if the little things bothered me in big ways, then the big things would eventually kill me.
“What if Henry doesn’t respond?” Olive says.
“Yes, Olive.” I clap my hands to shush her. “Resistance can happen. We may not get a response right away, but if we’re persistent, results will follow.” I walk over and pat her shoulder, cringing at her fruity perfume.
“What kind of results?” Chris asks. He obviously has disregarded the informational handouts.
“Acceptance and closure,” I say. On the chalkboard I write the words in large obvious letters:
After my students get reacquainted, I do some interpreting. Sylvia really is a beautiful scrap of lichen. The shape of Nevada. The color of frost. She spreads across her rock with delicate ambition. Yet, gazing at Fernando’s face I feel a bit bad. His is a very sorry story, involving a semi truck and a flock of sheep. Midnight, traveling home from Sylvia’s parents, his wife fell asleep at the wheel. She fell asleep, veered into oncoming lights, and flipped onto farmland. Then, following the funeral, Fernando found the lichen in the yard, on Sylvia’s favorite granite.
Now, standing beside Fernando and Sylvia I feel a strong sensation, a tingling rising up through my chest.
“Sylvia’s just connected,” I announce. “She’s just said, Hello. She’s just said, Good evening.”
“Hello Sylvia!” we sing.
I wouldn’t call what I do lying. It’s communication through intuition. I decode the message and translate. “Go ahead, Fernando,” I say. “Tell Sylvia how you feel.”
Fernando twiddles his thumbs. “I don’t know. I suppose I really miss her. I miss you, Sylvia.”
I put my hand on Fernando, the other on the rock. “She misses you, too,” I say.
“I thought I would have to wait a lifetime for this.”
“Well, you don’t,” I say. “Not today. This is your moment, Fernando.”
“Ask Sylvia if she still loves me.”
I ask in my gentlest voice.
I allow myself a minute to look into Fernando’s eyes, just to see what it feels like. What it’s like to be Sylvia—not me. This is my favorite part about interpreting, stepping outside of myself for a moment. From Sylvia’s perspective, I love how she loves. I love the shape of Fernando’s face. I love the way his eyelids slant gradually downward from his nose. Most eyelids do this, but I love Fernando’s slant, Fernando’s nose.
I close my eyes. Open. The duration, intense, like staring long at the sun. I wonder, could I be Fernando’s live-in interpreter? Could I wake up every morning to his burritos and eggs?
“What’d she say?” Fernando asks.
“She says you smell nice, like grass.”
“Well I just mowed the lawn.”
I picture Fernando, shirt off, sweat glistening. Day one of our session, he smelled like firewood. Day two, beer. From then on, I looked forward to his masculine whiffs.
“Do you still love her?” I say.
“My feelings for Sylvia are enormous.”
“My feelings for you are enormous.”
From across the table, Chris pokes Olive’s arm. Together they blush, their own little world.
“Do you remember that one time in Miami?” I interpret, feeling the sensation, Sylvia’s energy dancing with mine.
“Of course,” Fernando says. “How could I forget? The sunburn the shape of a piano.”
“You asked me to marry you,” I say.
“I was so nervous!”
“I’m glad you did. I’d been waiting all week.”
“I was afraid you’d say no.”
“You kidding? I dressed for the occasion. The blue dress with the classic sweetheart neckline.”
“I love you, Sylvia,” Fernando says.
“Hmm, interesting,” I say.
“Sylvia feels both embarrased and at ease.”
“Was that too much?” he says. “Should I back off?”
“Maybe try it one more time,” I say. “Just to reiterate.”
“I love you,” Fernando says.
“A tad louder,” I say. I don’t know what comes over me.
“I love you,” he says, and takes my hand.
“I love you, too.” I whisper, shocked, the one thing I’ve ever longed to say.
Then, almost instantaneously, Fernando begins sobbing. He buries his face in my lap and I move his hair around until he sits up and all of his gelled strands hang like icicles. I focus on his quivering throat, the wetness of his lips. I generally get a few weepers but never a full on pour. Chris slides his water glass across the table. I hold it up to Fernando and he sips. It’s a tender moment—me, dabbing his cheek with my sleeve.
Then my phone alarm beeps, the hour up, and suddenly time is a factor.
“I hope to see you all next fall,” I say, scrambling to wrap up the session.
But Olive and Chris have already packed up and are out the door, blurting their thank-yous.
“Don’t forget your registration sheets!” I call after.
Oftentimes you believe things are impossible until they happen. It’s like witnessing a bank robbery, or running into an old friend you dreamt of early that morning. Now alone in the room, I take Fernando in my arms. He is vulnerable. He is weak. His shoulders feel like the shoulders of bears.
His eyes slant downward.
I kiss his shoulder. I kiss it again. His eyes wash over. He doesn’t flinch, but instead, picks me up and places me on the table next to Sylvia like a vase of flowers.
I am Sylvia, I think.
I am flowers.
The tingling sensation runs throughout my body.
Fernando kisses my mouth. He kisses like an old flame. Open jaw. Slack tongue. A sort of déjà vu happens. He does this thing where he pinches my nipple a little.
“It’s okay,” I say, placing my hand on top his.
Then, carefully, Fernando unbuttons my pants, slides them off. He pulls the crotch of my underwear aside. I push Sylvia to the edge of the table with a light scrape against wood. I close my eyes and Fernando kisses the lids and I try to imagine us in a technicolor dream. Me in Sylvia’s blue dress, and Fernando in a tie. Yet, I have trouble picturing his face. His features all look faint and ghostly. I can no longer distinguish—he has the look of an ex-love, but they all look the same.