I’m 13. Maybe 14. Driving across country with the fam. Sprawled on the backseat of our Dodge Caravan with my yellow Sony Walkman, listening to Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits, staring at the dome light. Wishing I was tan. Pretty. Better at math. Hoping Virginia doesn’t suck.
Really, this was the extent of my concerns.
But something was about to happen. Something 25 years later, I still can’t explain.
Don’t Ask Me Why came on.
I’m in a bright, upstairs room. The one with two large windows opposite the door. White wallpaper repeats a delicate pattern along clean walls and sunlight spills across the floor. I stare at the wooden rocking horse. It’s new. Barely used. And I feel sad. Simultaneously I sense a tall woman and the rapid passage of time.
What the —
I ripped out my ear phones.
My parents discussed travel routes. Pit stops. How long til Atlanta.
I sat up. Eyes wide. Whizzing past cars and trees.
We didn’t say WTF back then, but it certainly would’ve applied.
I wasn’t sleeping.
So what. Was that.
And why did I feel so very, very . . . melancholy.
Maybe it was my imagination. Maybe I was creating a really effective video to the song.
. . . but.
I’m still halfway there? In the tall-ceilinged room. The rocking horse. Is it mine? The lady. I don’t see her. But I know she’s tall and well-dressed. Mostly, WHY DOES THIS FEEL SO FAMILIAR?
I closed my eyes, trying to see more.
I’m not observing this room. I remember. It’s on the second floor of a grand house. The window panes are thick with rippled glass. Large, potted ferns decorate the periphery as well as —for some reason I know this— a landing on the carpeted stairs.
I don’t come up here often.
The song finished. And so did my vision —if that’s what it was.
I sat there stunned.
This wasn’t a daydream like closing my eyes, wanting to be somewhere else and imagining a beach, or whatever. And it wasn’t some astral projection where I transported behind closed eyes —not that I could’ve achieved that or, even knew what ‘astral projection’ was back then.
This was revisiting someplace I knew. But forgot.
And trying to recapture that feeling now? In this blog? Under scrutiny?
Please, allow me an analogy.
Imagine a great-grandmother, ravaged with dementia at the end of her long, full, vibrant life. The culmination of 98 years —childhood, parents, summer, tantrums, teddy bears, church, Christmas, school, fall, Roosevelt, university, snow, births, career, winter, marriage, pregnancies, spring, world war, telegrams, tears, laughs, friends, Easter, children, Eisenhower, deaths, Korea, Elvis, retirement, Beatles, Vietnam, grandchildren, Reagan, Disney, Thanksgiving, retirement, Grand Canyon, diagnosis, and a cancer that swallowed her husband whole —forgotten.
And now she’s dying.
Surrounded by weeping strangers. Calling her Mother. Desperate, one of them hands her a blanket. Within it, her firstborn’s smell somehow perfectly preserved. Confused, she pulls it to her face.
A century splashes over her.
Her babies. The popcorn they strung for Christmas. Her husband. The way he shaved left-handed and smiled sideways. The Key-Lime recipe she saved for her eldest daughter. The backdoor handle you lifted up instead of down. Her granddaughter’s deep dimples and chocolate smile. The P.G. Wodehouse novel she needed to finish and the iron —did she turn it off?
But she switches off again.
This isn’t about an old woman. Or dementia.
Not at all.
I’m asking YOU READING to consider the intimate impact of memory. The soft feelings of life and traumatic confusion in their sudden removal.
That moment right there.
That’s what I felt that day.
I was in 9th grade. Did I experience weirdness from time to time? Sure. But the majority of my psychic run-ins were still years away. I had zero foundation for this experience.
Maybe the song prompted it?
I stopped and rewound. Pushed play. Over and over. From Texas to Virginia. Trying to hold onto —and make sense of— that room.
The song starts again. A strummy little number about— well, I’m not sure what it’s about. But really, it’s irrelevant. My experience had nothing to do with the song. No cosmic connection between me and Billy Joel. Boo.
That upstairs room (and feelings therein) are raw and accessible, even now.
So what was it?
A past life?
Slip in the Matrix?
If so, what’s the significance? Why show me that little bit and nothing more?
These days, I describe metaphysical phenomona with clarity and opinion.
But not this.
I feel naked and splayed writing this because I
never told anyone can’t explain it. Still, I protect its integrity by not adding or assuming details. I’ve shared what I know.
And I know that room existed, once upon a time.
A room with dimension and warmth from large windows spreading sun on the dark wooden floor, polished beneath my feet.
I don’t know the people in this photo, nor its date.
This isn’t the room.
But it captures my feelings.
Please feel free to share yours.
If anything like this has ever happened to you, I’d love to hear about it.