You Talkin' to Me?

My dad used to tell people we were soul mates—a weird thing for a dad to say about his daughter, but he’d explain we shared too many genes. It was like we were the same model, just different years. He understood me like no other, and I was losing him. We didn’t know it was our last conversation when he said, “I know this is going to be hardest on you.”

“Only because I won’t be able to talk to you,” I cried.

“But you will be able to talk to me! I just don’t know if I’ll be able to talk back.”

To this day, I cannot believe we didn’t work out a code phrase like Harry Houdini and his wife. I just couldn’t go there. I was 27, and losing my best friend. Was I really supposed to utter the words, “So when you’re dead, I want you to give me this message, so I know it’s you, okay?” Maybe it wouldn’t have been such a strange conversation considering the sheer number of books we’d traded back and forth for years on near death experiences, life after death and the lives of mediums. We’d always shared an insatiable curiosity for all things supernatural, but I hated discussing his encroaching death. At 56, he was much braver than me. He said, “Well, I guess I’ll finally get to see if George Anderson was right.”

George Anderson was our favorite medium, I think because he’d been a shy, reluctant medium and he’d acquired his ability to receive messages from the other side when he survived a high fever as a child. It made sense, somehow.

The signs began the day Dad died, but I wouldn’t face them for years. The smoke detector would not stop beeping while we picked out the music for his funeral service, no matter how many times we changed the batteries. In the months that followed, televisions turned on and off by themselves right in front of us during intense family conversations. Light bulbs constantly needed replacing. An unplugged electronic dartboard emitted songs. We wanted to believe, but we didn’t want to feel like we were crazy either. So we mostly just gave each other puzzled looks, shook our heads and went on about our business.

Two years later, I was in Vegas about to marry Mr. Wrong. I begged Dad, “I promise I’ll never ask for another thing, but I think I’m about to make a huge mistake. If you agree, give me a sign.” When our cab pulled up to the chapel there was a news crew outside. The owners rushed up and told us not to worry, that they’d set us up in the chapel down the street. Confused, I looked at our Elvis impersonator and asked, “What happened?” I guess I needed the scoop straight from the king at a time like that. During the last couple’s ceremony, there had been an electrical fire inside the wall. The place was gutted. The fire trucks had just left. I was stunned. No one was hurt, but… you set the chapel on fire?!

We had two receptions planned in two different states. I did ask for a second to think, but not wanting to disappoint anyone, I married Mr. Wrong anyway. Thirteen months later we divorced.

By 2006, I was convinced everyone was experiencing signs daily. I wanted people to discuss them more openly. Dad had told me I was a writer long before I could even begin to believe it. I began writing a novel, thinking a work of fiction might give everyday folks a more comfortable way to broach the subject. I called the novel Swallowtail, like the butterfly. Since Dad’s death, I’d almost always seen a butterfly on my birthday, but then I’d been on the lookout for them too. At any rate, to me it had become a symbol for all of the signs we receive.

In 2010, I was about to move back to my hometown in Iowa to take care of my ailing grandmother and separate from yet another Mr. Wrong. I was so torn. I wanted to help Grandma and I needed a divorce, but I was leaving so many people I loved and needed in Chicago. I was at a crossroads in my life.

I’d never heard of medium, Jonathan Louis, but he was hosting an event near me the day before my big move. I’d never been to anything like that. Like my dad, I was still a skeptic at heart. No matter how many books I read or bizarre things I experienced, I knew I wouldn’t believe 100% until the day I died.

In the parking lot, I was nervous, excited and a little apprehensive. There was no guarantee I would receive any message at all. I walked into the Courtyard Marriott in Des Plaines, Illinois expecting to blend into a huge room full of people. Instead I was in a cozy meeting room with about forty others.

When Jonathan Louis entered the room and introduced himself, I was once again surprised. He was a former contractor dressed in jeans and a button-down shirt. He was normal, cute and friendly with a great sense of humor and a Long Island accent.

He explained how the whole medium thing worked for him, how he sees pictures and feels sensations and apologized in advance for speaking too fast, because he’s getting the messages very quickly and sometimes from more than one person at a time. Once everyone had arrived he just jumped right in.

I listened as he appeared to receive a flood of detailed messages. He seemed to have a feeling for what area of the room the messages were intended and would direct his questions toward those people. I was surprised by how specific most messages were, as well as how much more specific some people needed them to be. “Were you at the dentist today?” he asked an older woman. She shook her head. “You haven’t had any recent dental work?”

“Well, I had a tooth pulled yesterday,” she admitted as everyone chuckled.

Some messages were pretty funny. He kept going back to this one woman asking her about horses, which didn’t seem to make any sense to her. “You’re sure you’ve never been around horses, rode horses or cared for horses?” She’d shake her head and he’d shake his head. Jonathan kept taking a step back as if conferring with someone, then taking a step forward to try again. Exasperated, he finally said, “Okay, I’m just going to tell you what I’m seeing. I’m looking at the back of a horse. There’s the tail and…”

The woman burst out laughing and covered her face with her hands. “My son always used to tell me I was being a horse’s ass.”

He would be speaking with someone when some of the information coming through would begin to resonate with someone close by. He explained that people on the other side always seem to help each other come through in this way. We had been there close to four hours when messages for several people in front of me began to ring true and pile up. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to raise my hand and claim the messages.

It began at the far end of the row in front of me with Jonathan asking who’d hit a mailbox with his really nice truck. He stayed on this one for a long time with no one claiming it. “It’s not a work truck or a beater. It’s his special truck.” No one ever claimed that message, but I was suddenly hyper-alert as I thought about the time I’d been riding with Dad in his new Toyota 4x4, speeding down a gravel road when he took out a mailbox. Lots of people hit mailboxes. I kept quiet.

Then he asked who was divorced twice, “I’m getting two plus one. One was different,” Well, that applied to both myself and dad, but probably ten other people there as well, so I didn’t say a peep as the wave of messages sloshed closer. Then he asked who made the flagpole. No one answered. Dad had made a flagpole. He made lots of things. I let it go. Lots of people make lots of things.

He asked the man in front of me if the movie King Kong had any special significance. I blinked hard and held my breath.

“I’m talking specifically about the one starring Jessica Lange. I’m getting such a clear picture of it.” I gulped. The man shook his head and smiled. I bit my lip. I’d been carrying that movie around in my bag for the past two weeks for a friend’s film project. It was in my car. What were the odds? Yet I couldn’t bring myself to claim this either. God, how I wish I would’ve brought my bag in with me and been able to pull King Kong out at that moment.

Then he asked him who’d had gastric bypass. My sister had had that procedure seven months earlier, but so had plenty of people. Other than scribbling down the information in my planner, I didn’t move.

 We’d been there for about four hours. I couldn’t imagine anyone being capable of memorizing four hours worth of such goofy, random, personal information about forty different people. He had no assistants with him either. As this sunk in he asked, “Is there anyone who hasn’t received any messages?”

I was stunned. I hadn’t expected this and tentatively raised my hand along with about five other people.

“What would you like to ask?”

“I—I don’t know,” I stammered. “I don’t know what I’m allowed to ask.”

“Okay then, I’m just going to tell you what I’m seeing. Who’s the doctor?”

I was dumbfounded and shook my head.

“You don’t have any doctors or nurses in your family?”

“No,” I answered, “No one.”

“Well, there’s a huge red cross over your head. Now that can mean a lot of things. I mean weird things fall under this medical sign for me, like massage therapist and things like that.”

“Okay,” I said, still drawing a blank as he moved on.

“I’m getting lung cancer.”

“Yes,” I said, tears welling up, “my dad.”

“He’s showing me the lion from Narnia, and it’s not my sign for Leo. It’s about the movie itself. He was like the lion.”

It was so true. He was our patriarch, our protector, deeply loved and respected. He’d kept us all together and made us get along.

“It’s not just the lungs. I’m getting heart, chest and back,” he added.

“Yeah, he had several back surgeries and it was a heart attack that led to the discovery of his lung cancer.”

“I’m sorry, but does someone in your family have hair plugs?”

I laughed. “Not that I know of.” My mind went to my brother who’d lost his hair young like my dad and hated it so much he’d kept his head shaved for years. I couldn’t imagine him ever getting hair plugs.

“Who’s Beth?” he asked.

I shook my head. I didn’t know anyone named Beth.

He frowned. “I’m also seeing the Eiffel Tower. Does that have any significance for you? Did he ever go to Paris?”

“No, sorry.” My mind went to the pair of Eiffel Tower lamps I have and the fact that I’ve always wanted to travel abroad, but neither of us had ever discussed a desire to visit Paris. I’d taken French in high school, but even then I could’ve cared less about visiting Paris. I secretly hoped he was seeing a trip in my near future… ideally, a book tour.

He began to speak several times, but would frown and take a step back, shaking his head. This struggle went on for several minutes. Finally he threw his hands up and said, “All right. I don’t want to say this, but he says I have to. Every time I say it the room goes crazy, because everybody always thinks it’s a sign and frankly, most of the time it just is what it is.” He crossed his arms and said, “He’s insisting this means something different for you.” He closed his eyes and sighed. “What does it mean to you when I say butterfly?”

The whole room took a breath as I began to really cry. I tried to speak, but couldn’t. After a couple of gasps and false starts I was finally able to say, “I just finished writing my first novel. It’s called Swallowtail, like the butterfly. It’s about this—signs and messages.”

“He helps you,” he said softly with a smile.

I nodded, trying to get the waterworks under control.

“Who’s the bartender?” he asked.

“I haven’t tended bar for years,” I answered.

“I’m not sure if it’s a bar or a liquor store, but I’m seeing rows of liquor bottles.”

I shrugged and scribbled it down in my planner. I was starting to feel a little embarrassed he was spending so much time with me.

“Who’s Nikki?”

“My niece, his granddaughter.”

“He’s laughing. Your husband doesn’t like to go to the movies with you.”

“No, he doesn’t.” I smiled thinking my dad was someone who would really understand how opposite we were and how hard it is to end a marriage, no matter how miserable it makes you. He’d lived that too.

“You dream about him.”

“Yeah, sometimes.”

“But there was one that was different, very real.”

“Yes,” I nodded, tearing up again.

“He’s asking if you found the money. I don’t mean some big insurance policy or anything like that.”

“I think so,” I answered, remembering the Euro I’d found in the trunk of my limo the day before. I’ve always taken coins as signs, and I’d never seen a Euro before. I’d felt like it was something special when I found it, something I was supposed to find.

“Who’s Shelly?” he asked.

“I’m Sheri,” I offered.

“Same thing. They speak very fast.”

“He says he’s going to be around more. He wants you to go with your passion. He says you get really off track when you think too much, that you’re much better off when you follow your passion. He says this is very important.”

“Okay,” I said nodding.

“Who’s Louie? He’s with him.”

“His best friend from our days on the farm; he died of cancer, too.”

“Who’s Toto?”

I laughed. “His mother-in-law is Dorothy and her dog was Toto. They were really close.”

Everyone in the room laughed with me.

“You had a cat you didn’t want to give away. It was hard for you.”

“Yes,” I said, crying again.

“He was there when that happened. He’s in a really good place, a really good place. He wants you to know that, and that he’s glad you’re leaving your boring job.”

“Yeah, I am. I’m moving tomorrow. I’m a chauffeur. It gave me time to write, but it’s killing me.”

“Go with your passion.”

“Thank you,” I said.

Then he answered a couple of other peoples’ questions.

I raised my hand again and asked if hypnotherapist would fall under his red cross symbol.

“Yes, definitely.”

“I used to be a hypnotherapist, but I don’t practice anymore. The name Beth, is it the middle sound you go by? Could it be Jess, another niece?”

“No I get the first letter first. It’s definitely Beth.”

“Okay, thank you.”

He announced he had to get going and everyone stood up and clapped and thanked him.

I looked at my watch as I walked out of the room. It was 10:36pm, too late to call my sister in Iowa. I waited until the next morning and called my niece. I told her everything I’d written down. She told me both her alarm clock and my nephew’s had gone off at 10:38 the night before, for no apparent reason. I think this struck me more than anything else. It was like he was including them. I would’ve been walking out of the hotel at that time. I couldn’t believe it.

Then my sister got on the phone and I shared everything with her. When I asked her if she knew anyone named Beth, she laughed.

“Yes, our lives have revolved around Beth for the past week. That’s my fiance’s ex-wife.” She told me she had discussed hair plugs with my brother more than once, though he would later deny it and call this all “a bunch of voodoo bullshit”. She also confessed that she’d been thinking about accepting a bartending job, but decided against it since she felt she’d been drinking too much since her gastric bypass.

My niece, Nikki, was deeply affected by his asking about her. She had been going through a very difficult time and would later say this gave her something to hold on to. She told me she visits my dad’s grave fairly often and just lies in the grass and talks to him.

I didn’t want my belief to fade, but it does. I try to remember to follow my passion and not think so much—a constant battle. Jonathan had begun by telling us to go with our gut—that thinking was the number one killer of spirituality. I feel the hardcore skeptics smirking, and that’s okay. I still question all of it and I know I will until I die, but I will always be glad that I went.  

I recently planned my first trip abroad. I’m going to London. A friend had sent me an article on marrying one’s self—building a new foundation for healthy relationships by making a commitment to yourself first.

I’ve been married in some really lovely places—a cheesy Vegas chapel, Chicago City Hall and a rundown courthouse. I told my roommate we should marry ourselves while we were in London. A friend pointed out that Paris was just a few more hours by train. I decided then and there I was going to marry myself at the Eiffel Tower. It wasn’t until a week later, I remembered Jonathan Louis mentioning the Eiffel Tower and asking if Dad or I had ever been to Paris. It was the only thing he’d said that had never made sense. Three years had passed. I hadn’t thought about it since then. I’d felt no connection, no feelings one way or the other for Paris until now. It’s not like I won a trip to Paris. I planned this trip. Was my subconscious hard at work all this time or was Dad already seeing my special day?

Something tells me I will have my answer when I reach the Eiffel Tower.


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