*Featured Artwork by Mark Hurtubise
I never met anyone I thought was crazy.
Until the day I met myself.
I was lying on the couch nodding off into an afternoon nap when a young man’s face came into my mind like it had popped out of a bubble. Tufts of blond curls lapped over the tops of his ears pinned around a milky white face marked with crystal blue cat’s eyes the size of half dollar coins, all of which sat under a gray cap from the American Civil War.
He reappeared inside my head when I waited in the deli line at the Jim Thorpe Market the next day and he came again when I was driving to my son’s baseball game in Allentown two days later.
Then, one afternoon while I was sitting in a waiting room at my doctor’s office, he jumped back into my mind, this time carrying a rifle. He was walking up an open field through an avalanche of dead bodies and a rat a tat tat of gunfire interrupted by explosions of cannon shells.
Something incredibly frightening was happening to me. I wasn’t watching him from the chair in which I sat. He walked up the battlefield with my legs. He heard the sounds of war through my ears. He saw the carnage with my eyes.
That night I drank three Bacardi and Cokes trying to flush him out through my bladder. After the melt of the last ice cube, the daze inside my head cleared for a moment and I remembered a time when I took a dare from a friend to have a private session with an old lady psychic. The very first thing she told me was that I had been a Confederate soldier from Alabama in a previous life and I died during Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg.
I laughed at her and asked, “Was I also Kris Kringle? I did play Santa Claus one year at my sister’s Christmas Eve party.” The old lady scowled at my remark. She finished the session right then and asked me to leave.
Living a previous life as a disciple of Robert E. Lee made absolutely no sense to me, a 65-year-old man who grew up in New Jersey and had never been to the South unless you count two trips to Disney World with my kids. I didn’t know where to look for an authority on reincarnation to explain why I could be this dead man stepping out of his grave at Gettysburg.
“Hey George,” I said one night to my friend, not trying to send off an alarm. “I keep getting these visions of a Civil War kid in my head.”
The ultimate Re-In-Carno-Man, George once told me his cousin, Fred had been a 12 year old girl who was killed at the bombing of Berlin in 1945. George knew of Fred’s hypnotherapist specializing in past life progression. Against the teetering wall of my own sanity, I made the appointment.
One February morning, I entered a large office building in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. On the second floor, I walked past a psychiatrist’s office and I thought, “That’s where I might be going next.” Three doors down, I met Jerry.
Jerry was a big-bellied, full-time limo driver and a part-time hypnotherapist with no licenses or certifications framed on his walls. I excused myself to go to the men’s room down the hall. I turned toward the elevator to the first-floor exit, but then something made me say out loud, “What the hell? Let’s do this.”
“I’m no boardwalk biddy,” said Jerry, “and I ain’t gonna be swinging no watch in front of your face. I’m gonna get you relaxed for sure, but not asleep. You’ll be aware of your surroundings all during the session.” He put on some soft music and lit a candle. “Now you just sit back in the recliner and relax.”
He must have told me to relax fifty times. Twenty minutes into the session, I could only think that a Big Mac would stop my stomach from growling at me for food. Jerry stayed the course. Just about when I was going to open my eyes and call it quits, something began to happen.
“There’s a bright light spinning in my head,” I said. “It’s like a white tornado and now I see a large house floatin’ down from the middle of it and it’s settlin’ on the ground.”
“Whose house is it?” Jerry asked me.
“Mine,” I said matter-of-factly. “I’m goin’ inside.” My sudden Southern drawl startled me for a second.
“What do you see?”
“There’s a picture on the wall. It’s my mother wearin’ a white bonnet and a long dress standin’ alongside my pop. He’s posin’ with his hand on his hip. Oh, there’s a black man wavin’ from the other side of the room at me.”
“Who’s he?” Jerry asked.
“Joseph Charles. He’s looked after me since I was a little boy because my pop ain’t home much and mom’s always busy mindin’ the plantation.”
“How old are you now?”
“I’m about 18 or 19, I reckon. Let me go outside and take you to meet Ol’ Oakie.”
“Ol’ Oakie? What’s that?”
“He’s my oak tree out back at the top of the field.”
My brain was in a time machine mode and yet I could still feel my body pushing against the back of the recliner. I was distracted by a woman’s laughter outside the office door, but I paid it no more attention.
“This here is our wheat field I walk through every day to get to Ol’ Oakie. I go there in the afternoon and sit with my back against his trunk and I wonder about things.”
“You wonder about things?”
“Yup, there’s spirits here that get me to imagine most anything. I can feel them when the wind blows the cool air against my face.”
“Tell me more about these spirits.”
“Oh, here comes Becky through the field! I can hear her callin,’ Joshua Park!”
“Who’s Becky? Is Joshua Park your name?”
“Becky’s my girl,” I said. “Her real name is Rebecca Willow, but I just call her Becky. She comes here to be with me every day and we climb up Ol’ Oakie and we sit on a big limb and stay there for hours kickin’ our feet and lookin’ across the field and talkin’ about things like life on the moon and when you die you get to pick out your own cloud to live on and ….
“Tell me more about Becky.”
“She … wait. Where’d she go?”
“What’s the matter?”
“I don’t see her comin’ through the field no more. Where’s Ol’ Oakie? Oh, no! I’m somewhere else now. I’m at some other field and I got a rifle in my hand! I’m walkin’ up this hill with men on both sides of me. Cannon shells exploding real close and gunshots firin.’ all around. I hear men screamin’ awful bad. There’s blood on the field! There’s a man lyin’ on the ground with his arm missin’! That’s Carter! He’s still alive. Who’s that lyin’ over there? Is that Jenkins? I can’t tell. His face is missin’. I gotta keep goin’ up this hill. I can’t see through all the smoke. My hands are shakin’. I’m tryin’ to load another bullet into my rifle, but there’s one already there. There’s a clearin’ in front of me. I can see the top of the hill and a cluster a trees. I think I see Becky standin’ there! That’s her! Wait for me Becky! I’m comin’. We’ll go home together! My eyes are tearin’ from all the smoke. I smell burnin’ flesh everywhere. Where are you now Becky? I can’t see you. I’m rubbin’ my eyes with the back of my hand. Now I see a soldier with dark eyes and a beard under a blue cavalry hat. He’s sitin’ his rifle right at me. I look down into my hands, but my gun’s not there. I must a dropped it, but where? Oh, there’s Becky again! She’s wavin’ at me to come to the top of the hill. I’m comin’ Becky! I’m comin’! There’s that Bluebelly again, right in front of me. He’s got his hand on the trigger!”
“Should we stop the session now?” Jerry asked.
“No! No! I’ve got to get to Becky, but I only see him now. I remember the Rebel Code of Honor. Never let a Yank shoot you in the back. I’m not turnin’ around and runnin’ away. I think I see Becky again! Wait right there, Becky! I’m comin’!”
The room went black. I groaned and my head fell back in the recliner. I grabbed my chest. I squeezed my hands over my heart and I winced in pain. I drew up my knees and curled into a fetal position. I heard Jerry hurrying somewhere and then he came back and wrapped a blanket around my body. I was so cold I was shivering. I opened my eyes and the pain was gone.
“Am I dead?” I asked him.
“Not in this life, you’re not,” he said.
“Did I make the whole thing up?”
“You were in an alpha state of consciousness,” he explained, “and that means you were fully in the moment you were describing. You were telling everything in the present tense in one long stream of consciousness and you even mentioned names of people you knew. The alpha taps into the truth. We can lie about everything at the surface level of our conscience but in the deep alpha state, we are incapable of imagining anything other than what we know as truth. The alpha never fails a lie detector test.”
I looked at him and he must have seen the disappointment in my eyes. “So, what am I supposed to do with all this?” I asked.
“That’s your problem, not mine,” he said with a laugh, “and there’s a psychiatrist down the hall if you think you need one to help you figure out why this Joshua Park chose you.”
I drove home thinking my next move was to call the psychiatrist, but I made a left turn before the road to my house to see George.
A week later, he drove me to the Gettysburg Battlefield where I stepped onto the exact spot where I was shot on that hot July afternoon in 1863. I felt a sharp pain in my chest again and I hustled off the field after seeing soldiers to my left lying on the blood red ground.
Joshua left me alone for a while and I thought he was finally gone for good, but he wasn’t done with me yet. The time was 4am.The month was March. The year was 2017. I looked out the window from my house in Jim Thorpe at my backyard, frozen with layers of dirty old snow making me think spring and summer would never come again. I opened my laptop and stared down at a blank white screen. I placed the tips of my fingers on the keyboard and they started to type words that were not my own.
Joshua Park began to write his story. I realized once again that my mind had locked into his stream of alpha consciousness.
From the very first page of “Upon a Field of Gold,” he had me holding the rifle he pointed at a Yankee soldier during a skirmish in Winchester County, Virginia. I pulled the trigger that sent a bullet through the man’s knee. I saw the anguish in the bluebelly’s face as he reached his hand down to the blood spurting from his leg in a fountain of red. I couldn’t bring myself to put the man out of his misery so Carter, who was next to where I crouched, fired a shot into the soldier’s left eye. I stood up and dropped my rifle. I bent over, grabbed my knees with both hands and threw up all over my shoes.
I had met Becky three months earlier. She came through the wheat field like a wild horse, her mane of blond hair flying everywhere. Her grand entrance presented her to me as no Southern belle, that’s for sure. With a splotch of jam stuck to her chin, she wore a boy’s cotton shirt and overalls torn at both knees. When she stopped her run under Ol’ Oakie, I reckoned she was going to scream, “Fire!
I had a hankering for her right from the start. Our first kiss happened just when a big catfish grabbed a cornball and dragged my fishing pole down the river. On another hot summer afternoon, we sat near the very top of Ol’ Oakie talking about life and death. I put my arm around Becky, “I don’t reckon when yer dead, yer dead. Just look across this here field. Spirits move with the wind. They’re folks who lived and died here a hunderd year or so ago, or maybe someone was just passin’ through and sort a liked this place. They’re out there. You can feel ‘em driftin’ every time there’s a new breeze.”
Becky kissed me on the cheek and looked into my eyes. “I hope when we come to die our spirits stay right here and you and me can be together forever.”
The day before I was to leave for the Alabama 13th, a thunderstorm had raged across the field and Ol’ Oakie dropped tears of rain upon me when I came to tell him goodbye. Becky found me there and tried the best she could to talk me out of going to the war. I ran through the field to my back porch with her close behind. The sun peeked through the leftover storm clouds and our bodies found some way to come together for the first and the last time.
The very next day, the brigade waited for me on the low road and we exchanged letters. With tears rolling down her face, Becky shouted, “And don’t you ever die on me!” as I took my place in the line. I read her letter at camp later that night.
This letter will be all you have of me until you come home again. My heart misses a beat each time I think I may have to live my life without you. Since the day I met you sitting under Ol’ Oakie, I knew you were different, but different like me. Our minds thought of wonders that were invisible to our eyes. Our souls were driven together by the energy of the field. There is so much more I wish I could have said to you on the day you left, but I lacked the courage to do so. Now I will feel you close to me each time I hug Ol’ Oakie. I will listen for your voice when the wind sweeps across the field.
If we cannot have this lifetime together, I will wait a thousand years until we can have another.
Loving you forever,
I told her to read the letter I wrote only if I never returned.
My Dearest Rebecca,
You are reading this letter for the obvious reason. The sun will rise again tomorrow. Live your life, my sweet love and never should you lose your beautiful spirit that happened upon me the afternoon we met under Ol’ Oakie.
The brutality of the battlefield cannot kill what lies in our souls. Death is not final. It cannot destroy my will to be with you again.
This is my promise. I have begun my journey to return to you in another time when a new soul born from my essence will find a new soul born with your spirit.
Then once again, we will dance upon our field of gold.
Forever yours my love,
After I took the bullet that ended my life as Joshua Park, I was left puzzled with unanswered questions.
Why did he choose me? Why not a younger man who has more years of life in front of him?
My eyes keep coming back to words from his letter. “…when a new soul born from my essence will find a new soul born with your spirit.”
Is it possible that my son, born from my essence, will meet another Becky Willow? Will my daughter fall in love with a new Joshua Park?
I wonder how the spirits in the wind of a timeless universe can carry an old promise of love to its new destination. I wonder how many other Joshua Parks and Rebecca Willows have been given the second chance to dance upon fields of gold that began their love story long before they were born.
I look up into the sky above the top of a big old oak tree and I wonder.