Years ago, I wrote a book that explored the popular practice of regressive hypnosis. I researched for more than a year before creating a trio of characters, reincarnated after a grisly long-ago trauma and reunited in the novel. I thought I knew something about death and the afterlife. But I was wrong.
This has been a year of terrible loss. And I’m not even counting David Bowie and Leonard Nimoy. I lost a sister. My older sister. Until recently, I’d never lived a day, or an hour, without her. As the shock of her death begins to ebb, I find myself wondering. Where is she?
My grandmother died just a few months after my grandfather, and everyone said that she died out of love for him. She was a nag, forever hounding him (hocking, is what my father called it) to stand up straight, take out the trash, lower the volume on the television — like that. When my grandmother died, I said to my father, “Grandpa will be so happy to see her,” to which he replied, “The poor man can’t get a break!”
When my father died, I comforted myself with visions of him playing bad golf with my uncle and basking in the adoration of his parents. When my sister died, I imagined she was with my father, feeling once again the comfort of his embrace. But really. How can I know?
Well, now I know. Thanks to a holiday gift, I went to a healing hands masseuse who told me everything I’d ever want to know about the afterlife. As it turns out, all these dead people are in my hair.
My masseuse was named Brandy, which, to me, sounded better suited to a pole dancer than a masseuse but I let that go in the spirit of the free gift. She assembled my body on the warmed massage table, face up, and placed a warm towel over my eyes. Another warm towel slid behind my neck, a third was wedged under my ankles. I felt better immediately.
She put her fingers in my hair, pulling gently at the crown. “Let it go,” she said, purring.
I had an itch on my foot, in between the arch and the big toe. I was considering how to resolve this issue when Brandy pressed strong fingers against my temples. “Concentrate,” she said, “on the now.”
She massaged my forehead and rubbed at the commas etched between my brows. “Try and focus,” she said. “Be very quiet, and focus on the pressure of my touch.” She wound her fingers in my hair and pulled until the follicles puckered. “Let it go,” she whispered.
I focused. I breathed on command. I even forgot about the itch.
“You have so many followers,” she said, wrangling her fingers through the tangles. “Your hair is dense with spirit.”
Spirit? Is that like dandruff? I must have frowned because she rubbed her fingers over my brow, smoothing the creases like a spatula over frosting. “Don’t think,” she said. “Just feel.”
I felt her fingers working my scalp toward the back of my head. She removed the now-cold towel and put both of her strong hands under my cranium. She pulled. “Let it go,” she coaxed.
I tried. Really I did. But I was entirely distracted by images of the spirits dallying in my hair. Was it my father? My sister? Robin Williams?
I dropped the weight of my head into her hands and let her pull my head this way and that, stretching my neck. What if she snaps my neck? Don’t think about that, I told myself. Just relax and focus.
Her voice was close, I sensed her lips near my ear. “Fly away, spirit,” she said.
No! Wait! I wanted to hear my father’s voice, to see my sister smiling again. I fought for them, fighting to keep their images in my mind. I concentrated so hard I swear heat rose in cartoon squiggles from my eye lids. I didn’t hear the masseuse when she said: “Time’s up!” She removed the towel from my eyes and asked, “How do you feel?”
I felt wonderful. My neck felt supple, my face was soft. I glanced at my reflection in the mirror behind the masseuse. Oil-sticky hair stuck out at weird angles above my face, twisting like a mass of uprooted seaweed. Who was hiding in that mess? I smiled at myself, and then at Brandy who accepted the tip with a little bow. “I’ll never shampoo again,” I said.