I pull my dark hair out from the long string around my neck and drop the cool jade at the end of the necklace from my Tante Kari under my shirt. It rests on my belly button; the external reminder of my first source of life. The jade warms quickly, blending into my skin and centering me in the present. My friend laughs and pokes my stomach.
“It’s your little belly button,” she says. I laugh too but remind her I’ve already got one of those.
“Yes, and this is your new one!” she says definitively. From beyond the branches of the tree we are playing under, a whistle blows. Students rush indoors. I feel better once the jade is tucked away; I know that I am safe.
~ At home, my dad tells me that my mom has left for work. “She’ll be back late at night,” he says. “You’ll see her in the morning.” My three-year-old heart stutters. I run to the living room window and climb up on the windowsill. My mom’s car turns the corner and disappears. Quickly, I take a deep breath in and close my eyes. Pleasepleasepleaseplease, I think. Guardian angels: keep my mommy and my family safe.
In that moment, I feel with a sudden enormity just how much I have to lose. It feels inevitable. My left fist clenches tight of its own accord, holding the safety of those I love within.
Years later, driving to college, I look over at my mom and hesitate.
“I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this,” I say, “but I’ve always felt like I lost something huge in a past life.” My mom reaches over and grabs my hand from the driver’s seat. She looks less surprised than I expected.
“Mmm, you told Tante Kari that when you were really little,” she says kindly. “Tell me about it.”
Sitting in a chair, I squirm. I itch at the edges; I feel too big and too small. I’m claustrophobic. My soul is too big for my body. I know this dance well. I throw a leg over the arm. I stretch and crack my back, and my shoulders, and my knees and ankles, and my neck and wrists and hips and collarbone. I turn to my stomach. I flip over upside down onto my back, with my legs up on the wall.
I settle with my chest on the floor, my butt and feet up behind me on the chair. My arms stretch out ahead. That’s better.
In the deep midwinter
Frosty wind made whole
Gazing fondly at my family bathed in the glow of Christmas lights, I mishear the lyrics of a favorite winter song. I know they aren’t correct, but I don’t care. I like my lyrics better.
My grampa sits at the piano, improvising a Dixieland jazz accompaniment to the choral CD. Nothing about this is religious; we never celebrate Easter and I don’t learn until I’m nineteen that Jesus’ last name isn’t Christ. It’s love, and it’s magic.
As the CD spins and the next song begins, my dad comes in from his sit and joins us. He’s calmer after meditating, happier.
“You know, this right here is a bit like Zen Buddhism,” he says. “Just sitting.”
“And snuggling!” my mom proclaims,and~I snuggle deeper into the family pile.
One month after I turn twenty, I wake up in my dorm room and everything feels different. Calm. I don’t feel lonely, but I am more alone. The incessant train of thoughts running through my head is silent. The claustrophobia is gone. For the first time in my life, I have enough space and time.
My abs are mysteriously sore.
It feels weird. The day is more real than any others that came before. I look at the leaves, notice how I walk, listen to people speak. Is this what everyone normally feels like? I’m sure I look confused all day.
I call Kari from my dorm room, lying on the floor. I don’t know what to believe, but her words have always felt right. Plus, she has a degree in biology; her identity as a scientist makes me want to trust her. When she picks up, she starts laughing almost immediately after saying hello.
“When your mom said you wanted to talk to me I was like, ohhh boy this is going to be interesting,” she says through her laughter. It’s contagious, and I start laughing too.
When I finish explaining, Kari seems to have an answer.
“I think you’ve had a soul re-negotiation,” she says. She thinks I’ve let go of the past, slightly changed my purpose in life. In these few hours, on the phone and into the evening, I decide to believe her completely. I suspend my disbelief.
We talk for a long time, and she asks my guardian angels about my past lives, about those feelings of great loss and claustrophobia. She tells me what she senses: an immense power in ancient, ancient Egypt. An entrapment, a lack of ability to move.
The age feels right; the power feels right. I don’t know what to think about Egypt.
Somehow mediums come up during lunch.
“Oh, my aunt is a medium,” I say, offhand. “And a scientist.” Intrigued, my friends pester me for more information.
“Do you believe any of it? Does she talk to dead people?” someone asks. I hesitate. “Ah, I don’t know.” I brush the question off. “She talks to angels.”
~ According to a 2016 study, 8.5% of college students identify as agnostic.
~ Raised with the choice to believe, my place of worship is the wind against a spotless blue sky, my worship music and dance. My religion is the known and unknown; I believe in the present moment, the love I feel and give, and the ground beneath my feet. I trust myself and the knowledge that the unknown is unknown.
But sometimes, I believe in angels.