Please don't let me die where the bodies are buried...
When I first started working with Vanessa, I asked her about Michael. Was he ok? Could I communicate with him and, did he really do all the things I suspected, to push me down this new path?
We spoke about many things that first day, but our conversation surrounding Michael held an unexpected intensity. We talked about his passing and how he was, now that he'd been released from his cancer riddled body. She shared that he left his body very quickly and how he wasn't "alone" when he passed. Interesting since neither Michael, nor his husband, believed in life after death while he was alive. Now, it seemed Michael had indeed been "enlightened." Hearing this information fostered an unexpected sense of urgency inside me and I felt I had to make sure Michael's husband knew he was ok and that he was indeed still present. I called to let him know I wanted to meet up on my next trip to LA.
Though I loved Paul dearly, my friendship had always been more with Michael. I was prepared for him to be reluctant to see me, especially without Michael as a buffer. So, it came as no surprise when he called to say, "it wasn't good for him to come down." Years before, they had left LA and moved north. Even with good traffic flow, it was still about an hour to get up there, so I understood his reluctance to deal with LA traffic, even if it was all going the other way... But, I could feel it again, that pushing up against my back the way Michael used to do. I knew it was him...
Apparently, I was going to Palmdale, braving the hordes of SUVs heading out of the city, in my tiny rental car. Heading north at the end of a day from LA is a lot like the stampede scene from the movie City Slickers. It's a mob, stay close to the guy in front of you, but not too close and, just try to keep moving so you don't get run over! We met for dinner at a crowded restaurant near the highway and I knew Michael was there making sure he showed up. I had never seen Paul look so uncomfortable to see me but, over appetizers, I told him about Vanessa, how she'd told me Michael was safe, he wasn't alone when he passed, and that his loved ones on the other side were indeed with him when he transitioned. A moment passed, and Paul just looked at me...
"Yeah, I know... You drove all the way up here just to tell me that?" Um... yeah...
Why would Michael push and shove me, making me feel so uncomfortable that I'd be compelled to schlep my ass all the way up here for, "yeah, I know..."?! Clearly, I was missing something.
I grabbed my phone and pulled up the recording of my session with Vanessa. I cued it up to where we were talking about Michael and handed over my headphones.
He listened... I waited... and suddenly, he burst into tears. His reaction immediately confirmed that there really had been more Michael wanted him to know and, even though I had listened to the recording umpteen times, I still wasn't sure which part would have set him off. But, seeing my friend in such pain tore at my heart. Knowing how much I missed Michael, I couldn't even imagine his loss, having said good-bye to his partner of more than 30 years...
He was there... I felt Michael over my right shoulder the whole time, as we sat and cried together for long moments until he was finally ready to speak.
We talked for what seemed like a very long time, especially for him, neither of us having much of an appetite any longer. Michael's illness had taken him away so fast. Paul shared with me more of what that time had been like, the fear, the anger and sadness, and the strength and courage that held them all together when they knew the odds were so starkly stacked against them. It was barely six weeks from diagnosis to funeral and it left too many unanswered questions.
Had they done the right things? Did they do all they could in the time they had, and most importantly, had Michael agreed with the choices they'd made? Paul knew the answers to some of the questions, but that last one had been holding his heart in a vice grip ever since Michael passed. Finally, he knew. Michael was indeed at peace.
I'd been carrying my own armloads of guilt for not being there while he was alive but, Michael had told me not to come. I did as he asked, though had he answered otherwise, I would have been on the next plane. As Paul shared that listening to the recording helped him finally be able to release his feelings of uncertainty and guilt, mine fell away as well. And I sat there, stunned at how my dear departed friend had manipulated and used me. He used my ability to feel him and hear him to bring something so important to his beloved partner. It had been more than two years and now finally.
Paul had been freed from his feelings of guilt and uncertainty, perhaps now he would be able to move forward.
I felt small. I felt humbled and honored to be used in such a way yet still shocked that my friend had manipulated so many aspects of my life since his transition... My head was still spinning as I got in the car to head back down the mountain. My relationship with Paul had been permanently altered and my mind shifted in a way I never expected. I was still all up in my head, thinking of all the things Michael had done to bring me to this point, so I would be able to do this for him, and for Paul, when I realized I hadn't taken the highway back to the city. I was on the winding mountain road that went through the Angeles National Forest; the one with zero lights and zero cell service. And then... the "low fuel" light came on in my rental car.
I'm not really one to panic, I know that most cars have about 30 miles once that little light goes on, and I have been known to push those limits on more than one occasion... But a sick feeling crept into my belly because I knew that while the car might have 25 or 30 miles of gas left, it was close to 40 miles from Palmdale down to Santa Clarita, with nowhere to stop and no way to call for help when I inevitably ran out of gas. That's why they bury the bodies up there... I swear, every time a woman went missing in LA, there was a better than average chance her body would turn up in the Angeles forest! And now here I was, about to be out of gas, rolling down a mountain I'd only come up because of Michael. I was going to be so pissed off if he got me killed up there!
And then, there was calm. A voice in my right ear told me not to worry and the knots in my stomach faded away, seemingly without my involvement.
"I'm here, just put the car neutral and roll down the hill. It will be ok, I promise..." Michael... I'll never forget that feeling as I coasted down the mountain and right into a gas station.