All of the sounds, smells, and textures of the dock that night coalesced into one taste. Sitting there, on the spot my father had fallen down some hours earlier with a massive heart attack, I was offering myself to the night. I had passed tired some time ago, having driven over 500 miles to and from the island, our home in New Hampshire, and the hospital in Bangor. I excused myself from the strained faces of those comforting my mother later that evening, and drove down to the docks where I had always found peace from the busy world.
I was drifting along into a daze when I felt my body begin to sway in circular and angled patterns. It felt like a warm celestial hug, so I went with it, as the water lapped against the boats, and the Mark Island lighthouse provided the heartbeat between the sounds of fishing boats creaking at their moorings. The swaying seemed vaguely familiar, but my eyes were so heavy, and my mind so exhausted with the day’s events, that any intrigue was pushed away in favor of letting go of finding focus.
As sometimes happens in daydreams, the symphony rose abruptly in volume and screeched me into wakefulness. My body continued to move of its own accord to some rhythmic dance that was beginning to find its way to my consciousness, but before I could raise any concerns over the possession of my upper torso, a harbor seal’s head broke through the surface of the water. Even though having one’s body taken over by a strange force would seem to be a primary concern, I was absolutely transfixed on the seal.
“You’re not supposed to be here friend”, I told it dreamily. Harbor seals it was well known did not come into the harbor or dock areas after dark. It was slightly after midnight. He didn’t seem impressed with my observation, but slowly made his way towards me, keeping a steady stare on me. I began to chit chat with him, as if it were the normal thing to do, and finally became aware of my body’s odd gyrations. The moment I became conscious of it, it ceased.
Silence then enveloped me aside from the seal’s movements just below me as it inched ever closer. All other sounds and smells retreated to the background. “I don’t understand”, I told the seal sadly. Slowly I got up and walked back towards the car, looking to the side of me at the seal that was following my progress along the shoreline. “I don’t understand. I want to go to bed. I’m going back to the trailer and go to bed. I’m sorry.”
I had no earthly idea who I was speaking to, but the words came out of my mouth to someone…or something. The seal made a ruckus as it splashed away, and I drove back to the tiny trailer I was to sleep in for the next few days as we waited to find out my father’s fate. The doctor that was on the docks that day with his grandson fishing, held my mother’s hand when she arrived just after the ambulance, and told her that my father would not live 2 weeks, and that she needed to get prepared for it. His advice seemed sage, as my father passed 13 days later.
Another long day of running people back and forth from the island to Bangor to see my father in the hospital room. I did the only thing that I knew to do, which was be supportive, and run whenever someone needed a ride, or something from the cafeteria. My mother was in a slight state of shock, but as most women of her generation, she had witnessed enough tragedy to know the routine.
She seemed steadier than everyone around her, although we all were surprised to see my father, a robust and easygoing man lying in a hospital bed dying. He squeezed my hand the day before, and seemed to recognize me, but hadn’t shown any signs of consciousness since. The doctor said he was suffering a series of strokes and that there was nothing anyone could do, but pray for his peaceful departure. That said, and not wanting to be left alone with my thoughts, I made busy all day until the 4th of July fireworks display that evening in town.
I stayed off to myself that evening on the big town dock, not wanting to answer the thousand questions regarding my father’s condition. I watched the humble fireworks display with half interest, but had never missed a display for as long as I could remember. It was a far cry from the huge display I had made plans to attend in Haverhill, Massachusetts before all of the chaos set in over my father’s abrupt change in vacation plans. I stayed behind in New Hampshire to grieve over the end of the horse trip, while my folks went on their annual trip Downeast to visit my mother’s family.
My father’s “I love you” to me the night before their departure kept repeating itself in my mind. It had been the first time he had ever spoken those words. I was confounded over the timing…as if some part of him knew it would be our last shared words together. This was really too much coming right on the heals of the completion of a four-plus year horseback adventure that ended just as abruptly, and with just as much eerie timing a week earlier. I was not equipped to fathom what was happening to me. Every time the meeting with the seal the night before tried to slip into my mind, I pushed it away, feeling the space between my ears was at full capacity.
I returned to the trailer exhausted at ten o’clock that evening. My plan to stay full throttle to keep the world crashing in on me, at bay, seemed to be working, so I settled into another hopefully deep night of sleep. I was just about there, when my right arm shot up out from underneath the covers from the elbow to the fingers. I was too exhausted to do anything about it, except slightly register to my fading consciousness that it had happened. Several cold fingers pressed on my index finger, and lifted, and pointed it skyward.
Then my pointing finger began to make swaying movements and gyrations in the air above the bed. As it was keeping me from that last step into unconsciousness, I finally awoke enough to say to whoever was playing with my hand, “knock it off!” My eyes opened slightly when I realized my first attempt didn’t work. My finger was being guided around in all sorts of odd movements by the person tormenting me. Eyes half open I began to let the intruder know that I wasn’t amused, when I registered the fact that I was the only person in the tiny trailer.
The light was dim, but by the outdoor flood lights from my sister’s home I could easily make out the fact no one was playing with my hand. The problem was that I could feel fingers gripping my pointing finger, and it was moving around as a result of whatever was doing the gripping. Every hair on me neck stood up, and my body immediately covered with goosebumps. Before I could run screaming out of the trailer into the night, a powerful force washed over me, and suddenly I found myself very calm, and completely devoid of fear.
In this state of calm, I focused in on the movements of my pointing finger, and after some thought, recognized it as the same type of movements my upper body had been making the night before sitting on the docks, chatting with the seal. I was about to go off on a tangent in my mind about how weird my life was becoming, when clear as day I knew what the movements were, and the air sucked audibly into my lungs. “Oh shit, they are letters. It is spelling out words!”
“Hello?” I asked ever so squeakily into the night air. The movements of my flying finger stopped on a dime, and with the force of chalk to a blackboard my finger wrote out plain as can be “Hello.” What do I do? I had a thousand things racing through my mind, none of which helped to explain the phenomena I was experiencing. I was an atheist after all. These sort of things only happen to religious nuts!
“Umm…Who are you?” I asked with a little more volume than was necessary. “James” wrote out the reply. “James who?” I asked more intrigued now, thinking at least it wasn’t an alien or something.
“James Mahoney”, wrote out the force gripping my writing finger. “Who are you” I asked, thinking the name sounded oddly familiar. “Your great-great-great grandfather” wrote my finger. Ahhh, that was it! My mother’s mother was a Mahoney. It was a family name I had nearly forgotten, as my grandmother had been dead decades before I came along.
“What do you want?” I asked, thinking there really wasn’t much to this once you got the hang of it, and didn’t freak out, realizing how screwy it would appear to anyone who happened to look into the trailer from outside. “I have a message for you” it scribbled out in its matter of fact way. “From who?” I asked the air. “From Pops” it replied with my finger.
The tears let go with the nickname that everyone used for my father. I hadn’t realized the impact of his closing in on death for me until that moment. Through sobs and flowing tears I managed “What is it?”. James wrote out “Four things when you are ready.” I pulled myself together out of fear of missing out on this strange communication with this ethereal interpreter linking me with my father’s near dead body ninety miles away in a lonely hospital room. “OK, I’m ready” I said gently, and tried to keep up with James’ pace and script.
“I am not in any pain.” Pause. “I am going to die.” Pause. “This is supposed to happen.” Pause. “This is so you can begin your work.” I had just enough time for the messages to sink in, and was about to ask questions, when my arm dropped back down to the bed. “Hello?” I ventured to the night. “Hello?!!? James? Pops?!!?” Nothing. I had a million questions that needed answering, and was left with the faint sound of Mark Island lighthouse bleating out its reliable blast in the distance. The heartbeat of the island. I can hear it faintly now as I type this eight and a half years later (2004), keeping its measure of my evolving Self awareness.
~ DC Vision