We understand our experiences by comparing them to the experiences we've known.
During a five year period of my life that began in 1994 and ended in 1999 my experience of life was celebrated. It wasn't celebrated for what it was. It was celebrated by comparison to the years before when my life was guided by fear, shame, loss and deep depression. It was a liberation and a personal salvation, but mostly it was a case of, "Hell, I can do anything now. I can do all the things I never could before. This is awesome."
My passage from years of depression and self-hate into a life where everything was amazingly light came through suicide and my experience with death. That was the catalyst, but what changed the nature of my life were the realizations that came out of that experience.
The person who emerged from his experience with death felt this sense of lightness in life. It gave life a joy like walking on clouds from one moment to the next. There was no real drive towards anything other than making the most of what I had and seizing upon the moments that added spice to life. Even things like my job as a mail carrier, which I had previously hated because I felt it was beneath what I was capable of and worthy of, became something I enjoyed. Before death I had rushed through my route, doing my job and getting done as quickly as I could so I could rush home and ruminate on my other failures. After death I became the goofball mailman who wore outrageous clothes and talked to everyone on his mail route. Relationships stopped being about total commitment and undying loyalty, they became about the passing of people through my life and my passing through theirs. The idea of working towards permanence in relationships of any kind became foreign to me.
The newfound sense of lightness and the drive towards nothing more than enjoying life and making the most out of moments was only part of the picture. The other side of the coin involved the experience of my death and what was basically a deal I agreed to in order to come back from death to rejoin my life in progress.
Go where there is no snow. You will know her when you see her. You will have no doubt and the sky will turn to gold. Follow the signs. They will all have the same name.
Whenever my light approach to life became too light, in the sense that I was so happy in the moment that I stopped thinking about that experience with death, I would have incredibly lucid dreams and experience visions. Those dreams and visions would remind me about what I had agreed to before turning around from death and rejoining life. I was living in New England. I hadn't even followed the first line of the deal, the prophesy, or whatever it was that kept repeating in dreams and visions. I was still in a place where there was a great deal of snow.
As a person who considered himself quite rational, I rejected the dreams and visions as being hallucinations and signs of an overactive imagination. I rejected the nature of my death experience as being nothing more than a failed suicide attempt, the final failure of my years of being a failure. This was a new era, one where I only experienced success, one where I was surrounded by good friends, good times and lots and lots of women who wanted to be close to me.
"You know, there is a price."
In 1995 I began a strange campaign. I vowed I would date fifty different women over the course of a year. Most were at a loss to understand what it was I was doing and why. The simple explanation was to avenge my former self, the shy and repressed person who was so often rejected by women. The real reason was more complicated.
The visions and dreams that insisted I needed to go where there was no snow also told me to follow signs to get to this place. So, I calculated, if I don't see these signs I won't have to follow them. How the signs would "all have the same name" didn't quite make sense until late in 1994 when I started meeting a series of women with the same name, all variations on the name Christine, who seemed to know about my experience and felt compelled to give me messages or instructions and sometimes help. It disturbed me and made it more difficult to continue my light and easy life, so I decided to hide from the trees by going into the forest. The more women I was surrounded by, the more difficult it would be for these Christines to stand out.
During the winter of 1996-1997 I met up for a drink in a hotel bar with a woman named Pam, not particularly notable for any reason other than I'd decided to stop having anything to do with anyone with That Name. We had every intention of having a few drinks and slipping up to a room and spending the night together. Pam was already there when I arrived. I had been slowed down by an unanticipated snowstorm. The snow had greatly irritated me because it threatened to cancel my plans and I was eager to meet up with Pam.
I was grumbling about the weather when the waitress came to take our orders. She looked at me and said, "Sounds like you need to go where there is no snow." She smiled. I looked up at her and then at the name on her uniform tag. "Kristina."
Pam and I had more than a couple drinks. We went up to the room. I couldn't go through with it. I couldn't think straight. That night I decided I was going to resolve this whole prophesy business and put an end to the dreams and hallucinations by proving they were hogwash. I would go where there was no snow and prove to whatever it was that put these things in my mind, and these reminders in my life, that nothing special would happen if I went to some place where there was no snow. After all, how could I possibly find a person, "You will know her when you see her," just by going to some place where there was no snow. There are many places where it never snows. She couldn't be in all of them and there was no way I'd pick exactly the place where this person was supposed to be.
I drove south. I stayed at the beach. I went to the desert. I walked around in the sand. Other than a curious voice in my head that went on like a game, "Warmer... colder... even colder... getting warmer again..." there was nothing.
"Let me make this very clear right now. I will never, ever sleep with you."
When someone tells you that as the very first thing they say to you when they meet you, there is usually something behind it. The woman in question who greeted me with those words was the sister of my roommate's girlfriend, a woman who did not particularly care for me. She had seen me with a lot of different women and saw me as a player who went through women like water and never kept any of them around very long. I was a philanderer and a heartbreaker, something I never saw myself as, but had been labelled as such by my roommate's girlfriend who passed along her observations and beliefs to her sister before she came to visit from Orlando, Florida.
I was amused by her statement. I had intended to avoid any sort of involvement with her and had actually planned to not meet her at all. Her name was Christine.
It was Saint Patrick's Day weekend and there was a parade and a party to follow, things that in those days I would never miss out on. It was the primary reason Christine had come to town, so I couldn't avoid her. Her opening statement was a relief. A Christine who would have nothing to do with me was a good thing. The problem was her statement also felt like a challenge, not in the sense of needing to conquer the self-professed unconquerable, but a challenge to show her I was not the person her sister made me out to be.
As the day and night progressed it became clear we were the only two people in our group of friends and relations who weren't getting fall down drunk. Being surrounded by drunks when you are sober gets boring after a while, especially after five or six hours. In what some romantics might consider a twist of fate, the party turned into thirty people passed out and asleep with only the two of us still conscious and alert.
"You want to get out of here?"
"Are you hitting on me now?"
"Maybe. I'm just hungry and want to get out of here. I'll buy you dinner, no strings attached, unless, of course, you want to stay here."
She took a look around the room at the people passed out in unflattering positions and their drinks spilled on the floor and sighed. "Yeah, why not."
At dinner I told her I never had any intention of trying to seduce her and carry her off, or whatever it was her sister told her I did with women. I told her I had every intention of avoiding her or at least ignoring her.
Let me make something clear here. A man should never tell a woman he has every intention of avoiding and ignoring her. You won't get out of this statement clean and unbloodied.
"Why? What's wrong with me?"
"Nothing at all." Looking at her I saw a woman suddenly wounded, and it didn't matter that she had started our entrance into each other's lives by trying to wound me first. I sat there for a moment, twirling linguine on my fork, looking into this beautiful woman's eyes, moved by the way her long blonde hair looked angelic as it caught the light from behind her, and simply said, "It's your name."
"You judge women based on their names? Wow." She was obviously deeply offended, and nothing I could say or do could correct my fumbles.
I took a deep breath. "Do you want to hear a crazy story?"
"Sure, why not."
We woke up next to each other the following morning. I'd told her everything, the details of my suicide, the dreams and visions I kept trying to shake, and every detail of every encounter with every Christine that had crossed my path in the almost three years since my death.
She didn't look at me like I was crazy. She took my hand, looked into my eyes and told me, "I think I'm supposed to bring you to Orlando."
When you tell someone a story you think is insane, you expect them to back up your belief that the story is insane. Christine did the opposite. It was like a light turned on in her head, or as she'd later say, "Suddenly everything made perfect sense to me. You're not the only one with a crazy story, you know."
"I'm going back home tomorrow. Come visit me and I think you'll find what you're looking for."
"There is no snow there, my name is Christine and we're supposed to give you the signs to follow to get where you need to be. If Orlando isn't where you're supposed to be, what do you have to lose? The worst thing that will happen is you'll get laid."
It would have been too simple if Christine had been the answer to "You will know her when you see her. You will have no doubt and the sky will turn to gold." I held onto the image of her in the restaurant, her long blonde hair illuminated by the lights behind her creating the golden glow around her. It wasn't the sky turning to gold, but it reminded me of that line in the instructions I'd been given. There was another problem, I doubted very strongly that she was the answer to the prophesy.
I went to Orlando. We would have a great time together there. Before I returned to New England I told her I would move to Orlando. I didn't tell her it wasn't to be with her. I simply told her my visit confirmed it was where I needed to be.
Christine took me out to dinner my first night visiting Orlando. When the waitress arrived I looked up at her and something so powerful, a feeling and a sense more powerful than any I've ever experienced, even that of death, struck me full on. The waitress was who I was supposed to find. It was something I simply knew from the first moment I saw her. "You will know her when you see her." I knew.
It took six months to prepare everything I needed and to leave my mail carrier job and move to Orlando. During that time my world became a curious case of temptations rising up at every opportunity trying to give me reason to stay in New England. Some of the reasons were good reasons and others were very tempting possibilities, but my sense of it all was that these were a series of temptations to draw me away from the path I needed to take. I needed to be in Orlando. I needed to understand who this waitress, whose name was Tina, was and why she had this profound effect on me.
Even the entrance into my life of a woman who was in every sense exactly the woman I would have built if asked to construct my perfect mate could not change my mind. The words of the prophesy, the instructions I received in death, were no longer just senseless mumbo-jumbo.
In retrospect, there was a strange juxtaposition of concepts at play. Victoria was my dream girl in every normal sense of the term. I would have written her exactly as she was if I were to write my perfect companion. Tina was a different kind of dream girl. She came out of the dreams I did not control or construct, at least on a conscious level. When I met Tina it was as if I'd known her all my life or for the full duration of my existence. When I met Victoria it was as if I'd known her all my life simply because she was just as I would have drawn her.
Which left Christine somewhere in the middle of two dreams, which was quite probably the worst position I've ever put another human being in. She never knew about Tina, although she told me after the dinner where Tina waited on us that it really bothered her that the waitress ignored her and kept looking at me like she knew me. She did know about Victoria, mostly courtesy of her sister.
After a profanity laced letter in which Christine told me I was in every way the bastard her sister said I was, I called her. It was an absurd part of my sense of my personal reality in 1997 that I took many things people said at face value while trying to accelerate my plans to pull up all roots and move to Florida. When people said they were fine with my leaving, I believed them. When people told me I was foolish to move because of this thing or that thing I never realized they were actually telling me they didn't want me to leave. I was fixated on a goal. Now that I had found truth in the words of my death experience and had found the path I'd had voices in my head telling me to find for years, everything was about following that path.
Christine became a casualty of my callousness. I could not resist discovering Victoria and making the most her brief time in my life. I could not stop thinking about Tina and how she was the reason I was moving to Orlando, while outwardly I would only say that I was moving "where there is no snow... because snow sucks." Not a lie, but not the whole truth. When Christine told me she wanted to have no romantic attachments to me and to only reopen and explore those possibilities after I moved, I did not realize it was because she was afraid I would back out of the move at the last minute, not because she did not want those attachments, or for that matter feel those attachments already.
Christine stopped talking to me until just before my date to move came up. She called me and asked what day I was coming and what time I expected to arrive. I was driving so it was difficult to predict.
"Why do you want to know? I thought you didn't want to have anything to do with me now."
"I'm going to help you move in, you moron."
I got to Orlando at four o'clock in the morning on a weekday. It was a work day for Christine, but she drove out to my new apartment and helped me move all my furniture and boxes into the apartment. She slept on my bed for two hours and went to work. She called me the next day and said she was coming by to take me shopping. We went to the grocery store and to get things I needed for the apartment. She was happy and pleasant throughout, then gave me a hug to say goodbye.
"Thanks for everything," I told her. "Can I buy you dinner or at least a drink?"
"No, you can't. I hope you find everything you're looking for here in Orlando, and I think you will. Have a good life."
She turned to go. I stopped her.
"There isn't anyone else any longer and I'm here now. Why don't we get together this weekend?"
"Because I'm in love with you, you asshole. Why the fuck did you do that to me? I never wanted to fall in love with you." I tried to stop her. She pulled away and ran down the stairs. "I was supposed to get you to Orlando and here you are. Mission accomplished, right? That's all I am to you."
"That isn't all you are to me. You're wrong."
She was right. I cared very deeply about Christine but I wasn't in love with her. I loved her for having brought me to Orlando and for showing me the world she lived in, which became the world I lived in. I couldn't give her what she wanted from me, to be her dream man, or as she used to put it, "My own personal X-File."
Months later I would try contacting her again, and then a year later, and again a year after that. Each time she would tell me the same thing. "I can't see you ever again. You don't know what it does to me to be close to you. I can't bear it and you have no idea why."
She went on to explain the real reason I was a bastard was because I didn't seduce women in order to bed them and then discard them. The deeper cruelty of my character was that I seduced women to make them fall in love with me and then I discarded them. She was walking away before I could.
A year after I moved to Florida I found myself sitting at the bar at the restaurant Christine had taken me to my first night in Orlando. I was talking to Tina, who was now a bartender there and studying to become a nurse, and another waitress, Christina was standing next to me giving me a hard time about how I was too fixated on Tina as the answer to the riddle of my prophesy. I paid my tab, walked outside, put on my sunglasses and stared up at the street sign next to the restaurant. "Golden Sky Lane."
"That's all I am to you."
The words ring out from the place behind memories. I learned more than a few lessons along the path of my journey. The most powerful came from Tina. Those who knew me believed I was disappointed. On the surface our relationship never progressed beyond that of waitress and customer. There was something else, something deeper that was created out of our coming into each other's lives. It is something difficult to explain. It is something maybe only the two of us can understand. She kept me at arms length for a reason. It wasn't because she wanted to be rid of me.
I could have paid my tab, turned to Tina and said something about this being all I was to her. The person I was before my experience with death would have made demands. He would have insisted. "I came all this way to find you, because you came to me in dreams and demanded I find you, and you can't even go out on a date with me?"
That wasn't what it was about, just as falling in love and living together happily ever after wasn't what it was about between Christine and me.
"I can't see you ever again. You have no idea what it feels like for me to be close to you."
It probably felt a lot like it feels like for me to never see her again. Sometimes I wonder if she knew that.