I grew up surrounded by superstitious people. I don’t know if the foundation of their peculiar beliefs was steeped in old folktales, religious teachings or plain old fear. But I do know that I had many eye-rolling moments in my life. I’ve had to work hard to fight the knee jerk ideas that surged up in me over the years, uninvited but socked into me by repetition during my childhood. Basically I was taught to be aware of the absolute worst possible outcomes of virtually any act I might undertake. I often felt that this paranoid education was just a sneaky way my parents had of keeping me safe. As long as I stayed close to home, avoided any experiences that posed the slightest risk of danger, all would be right with the world. My dad’s fears were usually manifested in controlling behavior. For example, my older brother was allowed a driver’s license but neither my mother, nor me, nor my two sisters had one.
Once, early on a weekend morning, my brother snuck my older sister out for a driving lesson. She crashed my dad’s one and only brand-new car, a blue Chevy Bel-Air, straight into a viaduct. The Bel-Air wasn’t insured. What was ensured after that fiasco was no daughter was ever driving a car. I found that embarrassing and unfair. At age nineteen, home from college for the summer and license-less, I had the audacity to sneak out the back door, go down the stairs and steal my dad’s car to practice driving by myself, through the heavy traffic of Chicago. This did not go over well. Nor did the fact that when my boyfriend had an injured knee that kept him from driving, I accepted his offer of taking his metallic-blue Hornet home, so I could visit him at my leisure and skip the bus rides from work. No license and no insurance. My boyfriend didn’t know that but my parents did and they were apoplectic. I was a brave and foolhardy young woman. It wasn’t until I met Michael that I confessed my secret. He was the one who took me to get my license after buying me a $150 white 1964 Chevy Impala. If you had a car you needed a license, after all.
My mom’s superstitions were unique. They too were based both on actual fear and also intended to be fear-inducing, but she was also cosmic and a little witchy. She frequently claimed that she had preternatural feelings about events, that she￼ “knew” what was going to happen on a regular basis. She believed in her dreams and was constantly analyzing them for real world clues and portents of disasters or good things to come. When one of her “feelings” came true, it was hard to ignore her.
I think the worst thing she inflicted on me was during my first pregnancy. We had been trying to conceive for almost two years so when it finally happened I was thrilled and excited. As soon as I got past my first trimester, I started the happy activity of buying baby items – clothes, room furnishings, little rattles and stuffed toys. When I shared the fact that I was buying, she informed me with both anguish and solemnity that I’d cursed my baby. Her older brother Bill and his wife had ecstatically outfitted a room with￼￼ all the incumbent furnishings when they were preparing to welcome their first child. That baby was stillborn and my mom believed that too much preparation was the underlying cause of that tragic death. As rational as I was, that was hard to hear. Even as I pushed back and proceeded under my own terms, there was always this little nagging voice in my head, whispering about curses. Fortunately my daughter was born healthy. I can’t imagine what I’d have felt like if anything had gone wrong.
Ironically, as so often happens when people mature, I’ve found that I definitely have elements of both parents in me and most particularly, my mother. I’m definitely not superstitious. I don’t think my dreams are predictive of anything but rather a jumble of visual and emotional elements that my mind is sifting through in ways I generally can’t fathom. But I think what I called my mom’s witchy side is active in me in ways that I don’t exactly understand, but which are often demonstrated in my daily life. I think I have a highly developed emotional, intuitive side which allows me to rapidly establish deep connections and insights into people. Sometimes those connections are intense and brief. However, when the relationships are sustained over a long period of time, I can sense things about those people across space and time. What I sense is of course informed by what I actually have learned about those individuals in the course of sharing experiences together. Whatever the explanation, I sometimes feel that there’s a lot of traffic going on in my head. At times, I have trouble sorting out where the feelings are coming from and definitely, from whom.
When I was younger, I spent a good deal of time trying to understand why this weird stuff happened with me on such a regular basis. But after awhile, I got used to myself. When I met Michael, we had an instantaneous connection and the reading of each other started immediately and lasted a lifetime. I still laugh when I remember him sending me emails asking me to be quiet because I was making so much racket in his head that he couldn’t focus on his work. And that kind of awareness was a two-way street. ￼Even now, two and a half years since his death, I still feel his presence and the depth of our relationship all the time.
This is hardly a surprise to me. My mother was talking about this kind of stuff to me all my life. She started by telling me that when she died, she’d never really leave but would always be nearby, hovering and trying to keep bad things from happening to me. I took these statements with the proverbial grain of salt. But I feel her presence all the time too. And the oddest thing is that her old room in my house, which has been converted to a parlor and holds nothing from the time she lived here, still smells just like her. As a reality check, my daughter recently entered that space and came out saying, “can someone please explain to me why that room still smells just like grandma?” I found that reassuring.
I also spent all twenty five years of my mom’s life after my dad’s death with her. She would frequently start a conversation by saying,”I know you won’t believe me, but your father was sitting on the edge of my bed last night.” I never said I didn’t believe her, but rather that I had no explanation for what she felt was truth. I can’t say that Michael has been sitting on our bed, but I CAN say that I’ve wakened in the night from dreams in which his nearness was so powerful that my body couldn’t stay asleep. I have no idea why that happens. If I could deliberately conjure him, I’d do it every night. But I can’t. So I’m left to wonder at the lovely surprise of it and then just move on.
My kids have gotten used to me and my pronouncements during their lives. My daughter seems to operate with me on our own particular wavelength. When she was younger, she’d frequently express surprise at how I’d just know things about her or how I’d pop up at opportune times. When I would ask both her and my son about what they thought was the worst thing about me, they both answered that my invasiveness drove them crazy and that my constant “trying to bore into their souls” was pretty annoying. I answered that with an, “oh well.” It’s just a piece of who I am, a piece that’s just in me, uninvited but ever-present.
In the past couple of weeks, there was an incident with each one that illustrates the strong connection I have with them. My daughter was handling a difficult time at work and I knew she didn’t have time to talk with me. I sent her a quick text and many hours ticked away. Later that night, she had a moment to￼ call me and tell me she was alright. All I wanted at that point was for her to get some sleep. But before we hung up she told me that she’d felt me with her all day. As well she should have because that’s where I was. The incident with my son was a bit more obtuse. He was at work before I was even awake. I called him to check in and say hi. When he picked up his phone, he said hello, a perfectly normal greeting. I, on the other hand, with no previous thought, said, “where it’s at, I’ve got two turntables and a microphone,” a line from a song by Beck. He quickly and rather suspiciously asked, “why did you just say that?” I told him I had no idea. He told me to put him on speaker and to look for a message containing a screenshot from his computer. A few seconds later that popped up on my phone. It was a list of songs including the very Beck song that I’d just quoted. I told him that I knew he thought that was odd but to me, it’s just part of the way things work.
I’ve got dozens of stories like these, with both family and friends. When I discuss this topic with people, responses range from skeptical to enthusiastic acceptance. Some people have had similar experiences. ￼Others look blank. I suspect that there’s some sort of genetic wiring that makes some individuals more prone to getting into spaces which have commonly been interpreted as being a sixth sense or ESP, extra-sensory perception. I can’t say what’s going on, except that for me, it’s been a part of my life for a very long time. My son-in-law, who is a chemistry professor and quite science-y, has engaged with me in very interesting conversations about what might be the source of my proclivities. We’ve discussed wavelengths and pheromones. He’s talked a lot about advances in technology that now allow for measurements and optics of things that were previously inaccessible. Who knows? Maybe one day, there will be a scientific explanation for the unusual connections that I feel. I’m not sure I’ll live long enough to see it. But I’ve grown comfortable with being outside the norm. I’m just myself and I’m good with that. There are those who would argue about this and perhaps say, “look, the sky is blue, so call it blue.” I expect I’d have to differ. Because for me, the sky is often pink.