I was nine years old when I died for the first time. I was nine years old when I learned how to relive my past. I was nine years old when I experienced my first glimpse into the future. Nine was a big year for me.
I’ve made a habit of living my life according to a handful of rules I’ve set over the years. So far, as long as I follow them, I stay alive, and my sanity prevails. Unfortunately, I also think this might be where I went wrong.
Rule Number 1: Never give away the future unless someone will die. Even then, maybe make a pros and cons list. It might come across as heartless, but everything is for your safety. Also, if it appears like it can’t possibly backfire, in my experience, it usually does.
Rule Number 2: Never acknowledge the ghosts. Don’t talk to them. They are endlessly annoying. While some of them may need help, most just want company and attention. All I’m saying is I warned you.
Rule Number 3: Never pry into someone’s head. It’s none of my business or yours what someone thinks of their husband’s new dildo fascination, that you like to pick your boogers and wipe them under your boss’s desk when he’s not looking, your incredibly creepy internet stalking habits, these are some of the things I just don’t want to know.
Please don’t beg me to read you. You need to understand, I have enough problems of my own, and I don’t need yours too. I’m not a party trick to show off to your friends. Maybe I helped you one day, against my better judgment. Or you learned something you shouldn’t know because I slipped up and told you. These are not open invitations for you to spill my secrets to the world.
Rule Number 4: Stay in your own body. If God forbid, it gets lost or misplaced; it can be a pain in the ass to track a body back. Not that I’ve ever done it. Okay, I haven’t done it recently, and that’s what counts.
Rule Number 5: Never get caught moving objects with your mind. It could mean certain death! Well, maybe not certain death. It hasn’t killed me yet, but people get scared. There is no way to tell what a fear-fueled human is capable of, this much, I’m sure. Plus, nobody likes a show-off.
My name is Faer. I’ve always thought my parents were laughing at my expense, naming me Faer, especially when all my siblings have relatively normal names. In grade school, children were ruthless. Someone thought it was oh-so-funny to point out I must be the “fairest of them all,” like I hadn’t heard that joke a hundred times in the boy’s locker-rooms. Eventually, it earned me the nickname Snow White. It was shortened to Whites by my buddies over time. As I grew older, I seemed to grow into Faer. Now, I even sort of like it most days.
Mom was pregnant for the first twelve years of my life, or so it seemed. Coming in at number four of eleven meant getting overlooked a lot. Battling for attention was a pointless cause. There wasn’t enough to go around. Besides, I found other ways to entertain myself, particularly after my ninth birthday.
IN THE WINTER of 1970, my family lived in Hood River, Oregon. Lumbering down at the streets below from atop a large hill was our uninviting blue Victorian. December was intensely nasty, and the snow-covered hillsides were a siren’s call to each of us. We didn’t often have enough money for a proper sled, but a garbage bag or a cardboard box always worked in a pinch.
One Friday after breakfast, my older siblings and I decided to journey the two blocks from our house to the local Tire and Rubber Company. The store manager and my father were drinking buddies, and I think he always had a soft spot for us kids. He wouldn’t mind us sledding behind his shop, as long as we didn’t leave our makeshift sleds behind.
There was a steep forty-foot hill behind the building. A wall of ivy lined the path down to the bottom, where a small construction site clustered. The rumor was they were building a new theater. Despite the construction site, we dubbed the area the perfect place for sledding.
All afternoon we slid down that hill. I would use the path my older brother laid in the snow to climb back up. I grabbed onto nearby ivy as a makeshift rope, only to slide back down as soon as I’d made it to the top. We were coming up with as many new and foolish ways to sled down the hill as we could: backward, in a sibling chain, on our bellies, and we even tried to stand up and surf the hill like a giant snow-crested wave.
When hours of fun passed, the sky lit with the vibrant pinks and purples of a cold northwest evening, and echoes of my father’s voice yelling from the house drifted in the air. It was dinnertime. This meant one thing to us Michelson children: get home pronto.
My dad was the kind of man every child feared. The Cherokee passed down through his grandmother showed prominently in his cheekbones, and, on the off chance, he graced you with it, his broad smile. He was gruff and frequently unshaven. His deep voice caused every adolescent to remember there were consequences for unruly children. No one crossed, Dad. He had a number of painful belts that reminded us how to behave, should we forget. In his mind, children were seen but never meant to be heard.
My oldest brother, Patrick Junior, was fourteen, five years my senior. He was always the one left in charge. While his big blue eyes got him out of trouble with teachers, he often took the brunt of punishments from Dad when things went wrong with my siblings.
Being Mr. Responsible, Patrick repeated the call of Dad. “If you dawdle, Dad will be pissed. You gonna pick your switch tonight, Faer? Cus Dad’s going to color your ass bruised.”
“Yea, I know,” I said.
As my three siblings started to head home, I turned back around to the hill. I wanted to go down one more time, and impulse got the best of me.
“Whites, you better get your butt back to the house. I’m not going to save you,” Patrick said. He gave me the bossy older brother look. You know the one.
“Just one more time,” I said.
“Your life, dude. If dad asks, I’m telling him you wouldn’t listen,” Patrick said. He turned and left without a second thought.
I curved back around with a renewed rush of excitement. I took out my plastic bag and sat down at the edge of the hill. I inhaled a deep breath of icy air and pushed myself over one last time—the wind in my face and the smell of crisp snow lingering on a plume of fog, my arms outstretched; it was exhilarating.
It was also short-lived.
When I got to the bottom, I started thinking about what Patrick said. I didn’t want to make dad mad. I’d had a minor lapse in judgment. One more turn down the hill seemed worth it at the time, but I started to rethink my choice. If I hurried, I might still be able to catch up with my brother and sisters.
I latched onto the vines and started up the hill—one foot at a time. I was sure to climb into the pre-existing path Patrick made. I neared the top when I heard a loud snap.
My head was down. I was too busy watching my feet and didn’t lookup. The ivy broke, and I fell backward down the slope, feet overhead. I lost control of my body, unable to grab anything to brace myself or slow down. I reached out, but my fingers slipped through the snow. I kept tumbling down the hill until I lost consciousness.
WHEN I CAME to, I wasn’t outside in the snow anymore, but I was somewhere else–vast, yet empty. Had I been moved? I stood in a large open area I’d never experienced before (because an experience was the only way to describe where I was).
It was too quiet, no noise at all—no rustling of trees, no chirping of birds, not even the sound of my heartbeat. My surroundings were opaque but still too bright. Although the natural temperature was a relief, somewhere in the logical part of my brain, I knew I should be scared. Except, I felt more at home than I ever had in my real home for a reason I couldn’t put words to.
I blinked and found a woman standing over me. Had she been there the whole time, or did she just arrive? As I moved to sit up and assess my surroundings, she stepped back, giving me the space to move. She watched me take in the view with a look of, dare I say, admiration?
I wish I could describe her in accurate detail. I don’t think even if a scale reached one million, I could tell you exactly how I felt when I was near her. The number I was living in hasn’t been discovered.
At every angle, the woman’s hair was a vivid new color. It held the complexity of a rainbow only a thousand times over. It was as if I saw what color was for the first time. Would my heart leave my chest if I touched her? I didn’t know who she was, but if there is a God, he’s got nothing on her.
At the time, I took it all in, gobbling up her every word. Now though, I don’t recall everything that transpired. It felt as though we talked for hours or days, although it could have been weeks. When I was with her, time had no meaning. Everything she said captivated me, and I had so many questions. I remember she answered each of my inquiries with exceptional care. There was no hunger. I never got tired or cold. I was only nine, but I’d never felt healthier or filled with more energy. Finally, after what could have been a century, she looked at me directly. Her eyes filled with the intensity of sky, stars, and the vastness of the cosmos above.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“It’s time,” she said.
“Time for what?” I asked.
“Time to go home, Faer.”
Concern and nerves made adrenalin pulse in my veins. “I don’t want to go. Why can’t I stay here with you?”
This time she looked at me, love and understanding reflected, “You will remember some of this visit, Faer,” she said. “The important things will come back to you when you need the information. When everything has come to pass, then you can and will come back to me.” Her smile was soft, and my heartfelt at ease, “For now, you have to go home. Your family will become worried about you.”
The word family barely escaped her mouth before she was gone.
WHEN I OPENED my eyes again, it was dark. The sun had set, and I was alone. I seemed to be back, although from where I couldn’t say.
I was lying on the hard ground, covered in more than two inches of snow. I sat up too quickly, and my head started to swim. I was at the bottom of the hill once more, but I was covered in blood this time.
In 1992, several Doctors diagnosed me with hyperthymestic syndrome. Just call me the memorious. Okay, I’m kidding, don’t call me that. I’m one of thirteen people in the whole world who has a genuinely autobiographical memory, although my gifts go beyond my ability to remember. For example, I remember what I had for lunch on April 12th, 1982. In case you were wondering, it was two slices shy of a large pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut, four breadsticks, and a large root beer.
The upside: I can remember every part of my past. The downside: I don’t always have control over what or when I’m remembering. It’s like losing the TV remote; you watch whatever’s on—jewelry shopping network again, hurray! Can you feel the joy pulsing off me? No? That’s because it’s sarcasm.
I have more control over my symptoms than others. It’s not always a constant stream of consciousness I’ve read about in some of the other documented cases. I just have to think about a memory, and I’m there as if it were the first time. It does sneak up on me once in a while, and there’s always a nasty bout of nausea.
Here’s the thing. I can’t change the past. No matter how real it feels, what’s done is done. I can’t save my father. I can’t even make peace with him. My therapist suggests trying to let it all go, something I haven’t figured out how to do. I’ve relived the same memories a hundred times before. If I’m candid, most of the time, I feel cursed and bored with my life. It’s only the good memories that keep my attention, but even they have run their course on most days.
I PATTED MYSELF down and counted all my limbs twice. Nothing was missing, and nothing hurt. I felt okay. I felt better than okay. But then, where did all the blood originate? I paused. A slow, warm trickle ran down my neck. I reached for it. My hand made contact with a hot tangle of hair and something that felt almost sticky. I wasn’t reassured.
While nothing hurt, there was blood everywhere. I sat up slowly and shook the snow off my cold and faintly blue body. Why didn’t I own a heavier jacket? At the ivy-lined path, I looked for a vine. Then, checking to make sure it would hold my weight, I started up the hill again. It never occurred to me to walk the long way around. Instead, I made my way up the snow-covered mound, two blocks down the street, and up the relatively short but steep flight of stairs home.
I opened the back door to our pink tiled kitchen, expecting to see the bustle of dinner. Perhaps I’d get a dirty look from Patrick. But when I got home, there was no one in the kitchen. It was void of all life. Even the dishes were washed with only a single foil-wrapped plate, cold, on the counter.
In the living room, I found my family sitting around the television. Dad’s feet propped up, relaxing on the ottoman. No one even noticed I was missing. I watched them for a good sixty seconds before I caught anyone’s attention. Dad looked away from the receiver, trademark coffee in hand. He sat up straight, feet hitting the floor, and before he finished processing what he saw, he yelled, “Where in the goddamned hell have you been, boy?”
“I don’t know,” I said, averting my eyes. “I went for one more slide and then….”
“What is that all over your shirt? Have you been painting? You better not have tracked that inside my house. Dammit, Faer,” Dad’s voice grew.
Painting, as if we owned paints.
Looking at myself in proper light was frightening. I grabbed my shirt, peeling it away from my skin. It was nearly soaked. I started to finger the wet sticky mess.
“Nope, it’s blood,” I said.
Dad footballed me into his chest. Then, he ran outside and tossed me in the backseat of our shit brown station wagon.
He yelled at me for bleeding on the floor but didn’t think to lay a towel down first? Figures. I was struggling to keep up. The logical part of my brain knew blood equated to bad.