Pondering the Pavement

July 1, 2019

Self-Expression Mirrors Self-Reflection

Beautiful woman businesswoman in front of a mirror with a reflec

“Often we’re recreating what we think we’re supposed to be as human beings. What we’ve been told we’re supposed to be, instead of who we authentically are. The key about the creation of full self-expression is to be authentically who you are, to project that.”

– James Cromwell

 

* * *

 

I’ve never been a fan of astrology. It’s not that I don’t believe in the significance of it. I’m just not interested. It fries on the same back burner as UFOs, the Akashic Records, and salads. But I do have a legitimate interest in numerology. (Can a bastard can have a legitimate anything? Point to ponder…)

It’s weird that I would take a shining to numerology because I have always had a valid hate/hate relationship with math. If someone suggests I balance my checkbook, I get an uncontrollable urge to see how long I can perch it on the end of my nose. I’m convinced that algebra, like disco, is just a cruel, sick hoax that spiraled way outta control.

In the delightful world of numerology, I am a “six.” And being a “six” is all about self-expression. Nail meet head, right? I’ve never had a problem with expressing myself, much to the chagrin of some (that’s what makes it fun, don’cha know?). I’ve spewed my philosophies around all willy-nilly for the vast majority of my buy-in-bulk life. Since I speak fluent sarcasm, I’ve had no problem expressing myself verbally.

One of the top three compliments I’ve ever received (yes, I keep a running list of favorite things said about me…don’t you?), was when a longtime friend said, “Charles is completely capable of disemboweling you with his tongue and you’ll walk away laughing without even realizing you’re bleeding.” That quote is going on my headstone.

I also find a natural outlet on paper, both in drawing and writing. Sometimes, for the Woodsy Owl hoot, I’ll combine all three. I believe the phrase “the perfect storm” has been used a few times to accurately describe that delightful experience (anyone pick up on the sarcasm there?).

When my mother cashed in her chips a couple years ago, I was reminded of just how far back my flair for self-expression goes. She saved everything, from every grade school paper to receipts for furniture she purchased in the late 1940s (you never know when you’ll want to return a cedar chest).

When I flipped through the memories, I was reminded that I had a “habit” of drawing cartoons on all my mimeographed worksheets in elementary school. I’d rush through the test, turn the paper over, and start doodling. It was all pretty much the same theme: two jagged cliffs on either side of the paper. A bridge, now collapsed, had at one time connected the two precipices. There were jagged rocks and/or stalagmites jutting upward at the bottom of the great abyss. Once I had set the stage, I added countless hurling bodies falling to the rocks below. Then I’d cover the piece in multiple word balloons all screaming one word and one word only: HELP!

Self-expression that was, I assure you, totally ignored by the powers that be in the 1960s West-By-Gawd-Virginia Educational System. I enjoyed creating the scribbles (poor man’s therapy, I suppose). My teacher was annoyed with my perseverance of such a useless activity. Admittedly, her irritation was just a juicy cherry atop the whipped cream covered graphite sundae. I just drew what I felt needed to be drawn. And, in my mediumship, I say what needs to be said. I didn’t self-edit when I was a kid, and I certainly don’t do it now.

Show of hands… who’s shocked? Anyone?

One of my biggest belly-flops in the community pool of self-expression took place in 1976. I was a nerd who was fully immersed in Bicentennial Fever. (Woo Hoo! A timely Fourth of July theme!) I even managed to convince my family that we should travel to Philadelphia for our annual family vacation that summer. That’s the equivalent of starting your Christmas shopping around 9:30 p.m. on December 24th and expecting no one else to be at the mall.

CAF_BicentenialShirtI read any and all bicentennial themed literature I could get my hands on. I had t-shirts covered in images of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. I memorized the Presidents in order because I thought it would be “cool” (obviously, it wasn’t). If it had a 1776 theme then, by-gum-by-golly, I was interested in it. I was so unrelatable, the other nerds wouldn’t hang with me.

I thought I struck euphoric gold when Kellogg’s announced a bicentennial contest. They asked for drawings of any historic figure from the American Revolution eating a well-balanced breakfast. The meal, of course, had to include any of the sugary nuggets Kellogg’s offered at the time. If your drawing was selected, you would win a prize of — are you ready for this? — a $5 weekly allowance for a whole year! That’s right, I would get a whopping $260 over a 52-week period. I was stoked. How could I miss? This aspiring cartoonist was a friggin’ shoe-in!

I knew I had to think outside the box in order to get noticed. Everyone would be drawing the same historical figures: Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, et al. I had come up with someone more obscure. I needed a subject that would really show I had thought long and hard on the project. I racked my brain, stewing on it for days. Finally, as if clubbed over the head by the mallet of inspiration, I had it! A sure-fire attention grabber. Someone who would truly express my unique brand of creativity.

I chose Nathan Hale. Yup. You read that right. That Nathan Hale. The guy the Brits hanged for spying.

I drew Hale standing on the gallows, noose secured around his neck. Naturally, he was eating a bowl of cereal. The hooded executioner was standing off to the side holding a tray of bacon, eggs, and a big ol’ glass of OJ. As Hale held a spoonful of cereal to his open mouth, he said, “I only regret that I can eat but one breakfast for my country.”

Yuh-huh. I really did. And I was convinced that I would win. I was sure no one even came close to what I had created (and I’m sure I was right on that assumption). This may come as a shock to you—because it certainly was to me at the time—my cartoon was not selected. I guess I was just too far ahead of my own time. Ahem.

Looking back, I can honestly say I was never upset or angry that my entry wasn’t chosen as a winner. I was perfectly comfortable knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that I did my very best (keep in mind that “my best” is usually wedged somewhere between someone else’s “deranged” and “twisted”). I was true to myself. I trusted my instinct. The judges just weren’t ready for me. Yet.

I must admit, though, that I’ve found myself often wondering about all those unsuspecting souls sorting through the contest submissions all those years ago. Did they find my cartoon funny in a Not Suitable For Work kind of way? Or did they join in a communal prayer circle, thanking God Almighty that they were a (realistically) safe distance from a very fucked up kid over 400 miles away in West Virginia.

My instincts, for lack of a better term, tend to work in my favor. Sure, they usually take me around Gobbler’s Knob as the crow flies to get me where I need to be, but still, they work. It’s said that the journey is as important as the destination. And my journey is a vast array of odd souvenir stands populated with items stamped with the standard WISH YOU WERE HERE sentiment. Mine, however, usually end with a question mark.

WishYouWereHere_SQ_NewsletterThe toughest uphill battles in remaining true to myself are always the ones I’m the most comfortable with completing. If it’s a pain in my tuckus, then By-God, it’s the right choice. At the forefront of this list of self-making choices is my choice of the style of my mediumship. If you’ve seen me work, you know I am anything but cut from the cloth of the norm. I am not soft-spoken and gentle in my delivery. I am blunt, direct and I shoot from the hip (often grazing an innocent bystander or two in the process). And, more than anything, it’s all interwoven tightly with long strands of humor that ties it all together.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been chastised more than once for my style over the years. The judgments have come from both audiences and fellow mediums alike. Hell, I even had a spirit coming through in a reading complain about me! But, according to the sitter, her grandmother’s dislike for me was very fitting with the late woman’s personality. I didn’t take offense to it (I can’t be offended—it’s scientifically impossible), but it took me a couple years and several readings to accept how it all works for / through me.

Then, within the cozy confines of a relatively innocent conversation, my POV was changed out for a much stronger, brighter bulb.

See, there was a fellow reader I had personally dubbed, “The Chameleon Medium.” He had a knack of taking on the mannerisms, catchphrases, and overall working style of others in the field. He would even start dressing like other mediums! Like Disney and all their “live action” remakes, it would have killed him to do something original.

One evening, I found myself at a large social brouhaha jam packed with a slew of those New Age sorts. I was blessed to spend some time with Peter Close, a charming medium from the UK. I was working the refreshment stand (what kind of unreliable psychics put the fat guy in charge of the food?). Peter commented that I must have been a tavern’s barkeep in a past life since it came so naturally to me. I shrugged it off, explaining it was my love of carbohydrates that drove me to do my best. As we chatted, the Chameleon walked by, attempting to impress anyone who was willing to listen and watch. Peter looked at me, grinning, his eyes twinkled, and said, “That’s just not you, is it?”

I shook my head, chuckling. “No, it’s not.”

“Charles,” Peter emphasized in a capitalization and italicized sort of way, “You know what I mean?”

Well, I certainly did. And there’s been no turning back. In the early days, I’d hold readings where I’d just do them the way I thought I was supposed to give them. Lots of reserved commentary, quiet nodding, the usual lack-luster shebang. But I just couldn’t find my stride. Then I finally tossed the reins aside like an unwanted side dish of kale and let myself shine through in my natural, garish light. Ya know what? I find more and more embrace my delivery service with great enthusiasm. Time and time again I will hear how my off-the-wall style actually puts them at ease—especially with those who have never, until then, experienced mediumship.

One even said, “I personally think your style is unique and a refreshing… I’m so tired of watching mediums that all sound alike and seem to be following a formula. We need more mediums like YOU out there working.” Far be it from me to argue with that logic! The way I see it, those who come to me are led here for a reason. Either all parties involved will benefit greatly from the experience, or they must learn living a life as an easily offended wuss is just not an option (I may be lightly paraphrasing, but you get the idea).

What’s the moral of this story? Is there a moral? If I had to say so, it’s just a reminder that no matter how outlandish or seemingly ridiculous your self-expression may seem to others, you owe it to yourself to be true to it and to yourself.

Self-expression, like points of view or beliefs, change over time. Sometimes subtly, other times radically so. It’s all a part of living, growing, experiencing all that comes before you. One of the frequent messages I get from those on the other side are regrets that they didn’t allow themselves more flexibility in their own lives. Sorry that they remained so steadfast in beliefs that were nothing more than excuses to not trust their own heart, values, and instincts.

I was stoked about my Kellogg’s submission. However, now, I find it just bizarrely hysterical. Anyone who knows me would hear that story and immediately think, “Yup. That’s Charles.” And, despite the adoptee moniker, that’s who I’ve ever really tried to be: Charles.

My art and my writing are just like my mediumship: completely and totally mine. Just as your life should be built around being you. Be kind to yourself, and others. And be flexible. It’s OK to change and rearrange. Only make a point to be the one who instigates the change as well as the one who carries it out.

 

* * *

 

“OK, fine. But remember, “bee” yourself.”
– Genie (“Aladdin” 1992)

October 1, 2017

Giving Notice

“What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate.”
Strother Martin (The Captain in Cool Hand Luke)

 

34006400_sI STARED AT MY PHONE with the same look of disgust one has whenever they discover Great Aunt Belva’s bursitis has cleared up and she’d be attending Thanksgiving dinner after all. The warm glow of the screen was a direct contradiction to the coldness contained within the incoming text message. I grimaced and shook my head. “Well, shit,” was the best my college educated brain could muster. Southwest decided to cancel our outgoing flight to San Francisco. It wasn’t delayed. Oh, no. It was cancelled, killed off like an un-credited red shirt crew member on Star Trek. A tad over-dramatic, sure, but I tend to take cancellations personally.

For example, my family, with my 6 year old self in tow, were vacationing once upon a time. I honestly don’t remember where. I want to say Hershey, Pennsylvania, but I’m not sure if I’m right or my obsessive love of chocolate is in need of some self-serving attention. I may not recall the exact locale of this summer spree so long ago, but I DO recall it was quite popular. I know this because we drove from Motel to Motel to get a room with no success. Every place was booked. Just like in biblical times, there was no room at the Holiday Inn. I was devastated by this. I began crying uncontrollably (some of you have seen this same reaction when I’m told Pumpkin Cheesecake is out of season). “Nobody wants us!” I screamed. My mother & grandparents found my emotional state very amusing. They laughed and laughed at the time. They continued to hoot & cackle uproariously as this tale was retold over and over again through the years. I’d like to take a moment and point out they’re all dead. Hey! Who’s laughin’ NOW?

But I digress.

I clicked the link Southwest provided in order to better handle this situation. Of course, the link and my phone didn’t get along so that didn’t help. Technology is the Joker to My Batman, the Bluto to my Popeye, the Mrs. Wiggins to my Mr. Tudball. I was able to connect to their website and search for flights that would, unlike the unloving motel, want us aboard. There was one just after 9am but we’d have to go via Las Vegas on a 3 hour jaunt. And we ALL know how well 3 hour tours work out. The next, leaving at 9:20, was a direct flight, just as the first had been. Noting this as completely doable, I sent a text to my travel companion. I simply lamented, “Our flight has been CANCELLED!”

She promptly replied, “Yep, me too. Wanna take the 9:20?” Great minds, blah blah blah. “I’m on my way to the airport now,” she added.

I ran to the desk—OK, ‘ran’ isn’t exactly the verb for the situation. Anyone who knows me understands I only run when there is a sale on Hawaiian shirts or whenever I’m strolling downhill and gravity just takes over. Let’s just say I enthusiastically meandered to the ticket counter with great determination. I managed to change my ticket. However, I no longer had my precious “A” Boarding Pass. I was now a lowly “C”. Which meant I would not, by any stretch of the imagination, get my beloved window seat. SIGH. A big guy in a middle or aisle seat is just pushing against the laws of nature. Doesn’t your heart just ache for me? Or, at least, your lower lumbar?

I made my way back to where I had been sitting only to find someone, who does NOT make me the center of their Universe, had taken my seat. Well, La-Tee-Dah. After scanning the terminal, I realized there were no seats welcoming me and my mass (NOT a typo), so I plopped down on the floor, using the wall barrier of an overpriced airport eatery as a back support. In my mind’s eye, I resembled a fat cat having a sudden nap attack. No big whoop. I had things to do. I can sit pretty much anywhere. I pulled out my ever-present notepad (yes, I’m THAT old school) and glanced at the chicken-scratch scrawl splattered throughout a few pages. Website, Facebook, Twitter, several names (some decorated with asterisks) and numbers. I was convinced this list was missing something but I had no clue what it was. “Well, shit,” I muttered once more. Reminiscing of my old Alama Mater warms the cockles of my heart. Even at 7am.

We were heading off to San Francisco to attend a wedding of a friend of mine. Well, a friend AND client. I have read him, and the bulk of his inner-circle, for the better part of a decade. I’ve read him, his mom and step-dad, his sisters, college roommates, co-workers and virtually every woman he has ever dated. His fiancé has even sent clientele my way. Cousins, friends, random people at the supermarket, you name it. Since he’d finally found THE one (and since SHE has brought me work, too) I felt compelled to attend. Truth be told, my main reason for going was a chance to go to SF. We both adore it and grab any opportunity to spend time there. I’m not sure I would have attended if the wedding had taken place around the corner from my residence seeing as I am a bit of an antisocial sort. God, I hope Stu and Jess aren’t reading this…

LOVE YOU GUYS! WOULDN’T HAVE MISSED IT! (Good cover, Charles. Well played.)

You see, I was also using this trip as a way to relax after a pretty stressful few months. I had recently made a pretty big decision—one of great impact on not only myself but a few others, too. When I make these life altering choices, such as switching from Coke to RC, I tend to run away for awhile just to chill, to be at peace with the decision, and to wrap up anything I may have inadvertently overlooked. This wedding seemed like the ideal getaway. It gave me a chance to witness the beginning of something wonderful as I acknowledged the end of something else that, honestly, just wasn’t wonderful any more. At least not to me. After a surprisingly small amount of soul searching, I had made the decision to walk away from mediumship once and for all.

Truth be told, one cannot really quit being a medium. They’re still there tapping on your shoulder, poking your third eye. I was just finished with the two-way conversations. I’ve always said that once the ride stopped being fun then I was getting off of it. And I hadn’t had fun in quite some time. I’ve toyed with putting it on a back, cold burner in the past but never really brought myself to turn in my two week notice. Sometimes disgruntled frustration will rear it’s uckin’ fugly head and, honestly, that’s normal. It is a draining way to earn a living and, at times, it’s just overwhelming. But this instance was different. Something vital was truly missing.

The drive. The desire. The mindset. The… PASSION. They were all gone, absent from the roster.

* * *

In hindsight, major shifts usually come with a few warning signs. Collectively, we tend to miss them for the most part. Or, at best, we just refuse to add two & two. God knows numbers have never been my strong point. My idea of balancing my check book is to toss it to a trained seal and hope for the best. My “sign” was more like a pile of freeway markers hurled into one large pile of twisted metal highlighted with flickering glimpses of school bus yellow and interstate green. I found myself in a dilemma that I knew was coming but, God knows, I fought it off with great determination, devotion and denial.

My mother’s failing health hit a record low last December and I, as her one and only child, had to move back east to care for her. Five out of the following six months were spent chained to her hip in a town that holds nothing for me. I left when I was a young upstart of twenty assuming I knew everything. In all honestly, I knew only one thing: I wanted out of there. I could honestly feel parts of me dwindle away into nothingness whenever I would make my obligatory visits. Each and every time. It came to a point that I would get physically ill knowing I had to return. My only salvation was knowing the exact date and time I would get the hell out. I didn’t have that luxury this go around. I was stuck with an open-ended ticket. I felt like I was on standby for a seat on a crop-duster.

Life as I knew it completely changed within a few daze (again, NOT a typo). Work on all levels came to a crashing halt. No cartooning, no mediumship which translated into no income. 25 hours of my 24 hour day were, like my flight, cancelled and rerouted. My daily routine, as well as my scattered social circles, were obliterated. I plummeted into the ground like a railroad spike. I honestly do not recall the last time I was SO drilled into the physical. My root chakra was so overworked it joined a Union in order to demand time-and-a-half.

Mom was a demanding woman. Always had been. She was insanely OCD. Every household chore had to follow a VERY specific formula. Her process of doing laundry had more steps than an instructional manual for the Arthur Murray Dance Studio. I would explain it to you but, honestly, you’d either end up crying or you’d black out from the sheer inability to comprehend it. I grew up with her so I was used to some of it. But you never EVER fully understand it. I’m willing to wager that it would leave Stephen Hawking with a blank stare followed by an electronic WTF. It got worse as she got older. And it got worse still when she became too ill to follow her own guidelines. If her bizarre rules were not followed verbatim, if a single item was moved from one end of a table to another, she erupted, spewing molten insults over the villagers below. She continued to bark out orders from her hospital bed throne, gripping her cane like a scepter, until the last 52 hours of her life. Then she just went to sleep.

While my entire life was being turned upside down as well as inside out, I sadly managed to forget something vital. My mother’s life was not only being uprooted like a tree in the path of a tornado, but it was also coming to an end… and she was scared.

During this five month mini-series, I continually turned down requests for readings. I was not in a frame of mind to tune a radio let alone tune into Spirit. They could have been standing around me with megaphones and I wasn’t in a state to hear them. The only Spirit Connection I had during that time was with my (late) grandmother. She kept making her presence known throughout my time served. She was opening doors, walking around the house at night, even coming to her daughter from time to time. I’ve been used to her hanging out in the house since she died when I was twelve, so this was nothing new to me. A door would pop open and I’d just wave. “Hey, Mamaw!” I’d exclaim without batting an eye.

Mom was questioning her own sanity whenever she would see her mother up and around the house. Frankly, I questioned her sanity when she first explained her laundry ritual to me, but that’s beside the point. (For the love of all that is Holy… she folded clothes before putting them in the dryer!) I explained that her mother’s baby girl was sick so, like any good parent, her mother was watching over her. While Mom did believe in my work as a medium, she never wanted anyone to know about it. She would be “SO embarrassed” if her friends found out. I made a point to mention it in her eulogy. Just sayin’.

Once she passed I had a realization: I hadn’t done a reading in nearly half a year and I did not miss it one iota. I was actually relieved that I wasn’t facing any readings. I was so immersed in the turmoil of the living chaos that the dead fell far beyond the wayside. It’s as if they slipped down between the front car seat and the gear console. You know it’s down there, wedged in with some stale french fries and a dime or two, but you just can’t reach it comfortably so to hell with it. Am I right (insert eye-roll here)? I told a friend and fellow medium of my sudden awareness on the matter. I added, “The only thing I DO miss is the income. If that’s all I miss then I shouldn’t be doing it.” Empty beer mug slammed on the table. I knew I was done.

In the immortal words of Sgt. Schulz, “I know NOTHING!”

KnowNothing

* * *

Kelsey arrived, with her long hair taking on a life of its own after wrestling with the wind and fury of running up an escalator. I instinctively grabbed her backpack as she headed toward the ticket counter. She, too, lost her “A” and had to trade it in for a “C”. She muttered, “Well, shit,” as she approached me and her backpack. Clearly we went to the same college. Her green eyes locked with my mood ring blues. “You know this means we won’t be there in time to have breakfast at Boudin.”

I just nodded. “Something inside of me just died.” I swear I could feel my eyes welling up.

We are creatures of habit, Kelsey and I. Traveling schedules are generally very well planned in painstaking detail. It is all laid out flawlessly in a heap of electronic paperwork. But when one of those strips of cyber paper gets yanked out as if in a game of Jenga, we tend to slightly topple over with little to no grace. Much to our combined chagrin, our second choice flight was delayed by he better part of an hour. Less time in SF is never acceptable to a couple of control freaks. We grieved the loss of our favorite breakfast. We mourned as our anally designed itinerary was methodically thrust in a wood chipper. The airline placed the blame for the delay on fog. We placed the blame on some yet unmasked super villain hell-bent on using our joy as a chew toy.

“We’re gonna be in the very back row,” I said matter-of-factly.

She just nodded. “Well, shit.” We really need to get matching school jerseys.

Well, my amazing psychic powers were not in force that day. We found ourselves wedged into the next to the last row. Yup. Good thing I’m getting outta this biz. Ahem. We spent the bulk of our barely 60 minute flight reshuffling as our TO-DO list became a TO-GO menu. Striking things off (so long Boudin and The Cartoon Museum), rearranging and reprioritizing others (Our Chinatown lunch knocked down from ‘Goal’ to ‘Sacrificial Lamb with Egg Roll’). Our New & Improved Plan 3.1 began with heading straight to the hotel to drop off our bags. Seems simple, right? It’s never simple, my friends. If I teach you anything let it be that simple twist of truth. We arrived in the lobby of the King George Hotel with equal amounts of dogged determination and debilitating defeat. We were yinging and yanging all over the friggin’ place. At first we were quite thrilled to see that there was only one person ahead of us at the front desk. Finally! Things were going to go smoothly! That sheet of hope was crumpled and chucked after 20 eternal minutes. Our fellow traveler before us was just not happy with ANYTHING. Add a malfunctioning computer into the equation and the only possible total is a negative number. Kelsey and I exchanged more glances than ugly Christmas sweaters at a Mid-Western K-Mart during any given holiday season. Absolutely NOTHING was going according to plan.

Well, OUR plan anyway. It seemed that another driving force had everything already laid out. And, as usual, I was the very last to know.

* * *

Once we left our bags with a most apologetic concierge, we ventured into the Streets of San Francisco. I feel compelled to make a Karl Malden reference at this point but I’m doing my best to be mature and hold back. Aren’t you proud? One item from Kelsey’s list managed to still cling to life. She is quite enamored with her Scottish ancestry (while my dad was more bewitched by Scotch in a bottle). Within spitting distance of the hotel—don’t ask how we know this to be an accurate measurement—is a store devoted to all things Scottish. I must confess I was quite crushed to never hear any of the employees shout, “If it’s not Scottish, it’s CRAP!” I contemplated bribing one of them to say it but opted against it. Once again, maturity won out. I’m not sure if I’m impressed with myself or just creeped out.

We meandered a bit (translation: we were searching for food because our journeys are always about The Food). After stuffing our collective faces at a Chinese Restaurant boasting of New Management, we happened upon a Museum dedicated to the Deity known as Dr. Seuss. Well, needless to say, this cartoonist was elated beyond doodles and words. My love of cartooning as well as reading was greatly influenced by Theodore Geisel. Hop On Pop was the very first book I even checked out of a library. I’m not sure why something that seemingly trivial has always stuck with me. Passions tend to do that, don’t they? Revisiting a lifelong passion is always amazingly fulfilling. Reconnections like that remind us what life is all about, ya know?

Well, if I didn’t then, I sure as shit know now… but I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.

AngelHatAs our souls returned to the sidewalks, we found ourselves stumbling upon an impression of an Angel in the sidewalk. It was intentionally placed there. This was not a freak image like Elvis on a scorched waffle. The simple silhouette depicted an angelic figure holding something in its hand. A candle? A stick? A flashlight? A souvenir of the Washington Monument? I assumed it was a candle—fitting for an Angel—but the Washington Monument image was WAY funnier. I tossed my cap on the ground next to it and snapped the image you see before you. I turned around after retrieving my hat and my eye caught a glimpse of an awning jutting out from the building before us. I did a slight double-take as I read the lettering on the awning: Raphael House. “Cute,” I thought to myself. “An Angel reference.” I shrugged it off.

Kelsey suddenly said, “Raphael House?” She paused. “I guess that’s the Angel.”

“Oh, yea, drive it home Guys,” I thought to myself. Then I said aloud, “Yup. Mystery solved!” And we went on our merry way. With a few more blocks behind us, we wound up standing beneath a breathtaking mural encasing the side of an 8-story building. It was an illustration of a tiger, dissected, as it’s skeletal structure was separating from its exterior form. It was unusual, but very powerful. It was as if the inner being—the core strength—had a life force of its own. It needed to get out and make itself known. We both stood there, in the middle of the sidewalk, just gawking at it like a couple of tourists who had never seen anything taller than a two-story barn in their lives.

Kelsey brought me back to the present, as is her custom, by crying out, “Hey! Look over there!” I turned from the sprawling tiger, my gaze following her pointing finger. Across the street, on the corner, was a small store. A sign simply read, “Irish Castle Shop.” Before I could say anything, she said, “Let’s check it out!”

TigerMural“I thought you were Scottish, not Irish,” I pointlessly pointed out.

“I like to see how the less fortunate live!” she laughed as she dashed across the street. Great. Dashing. Thank God it was a ever-so-subtle downhill grade. As we entered, she said, “We’ll just look around for a few minutes.” I reminded her of that when we emerged 2 ½ hours later.

A dark-haired woman raised her head from behind a glass display case and welcomed us to the store. Her Irish brogue was quite apparent, as was the genuine warmth behind her smile. “I’m Gráinne,” she said. “Looking for anything in particular?” My response was simply thrusting a thumb in Kelsey’s direction.

“No,” Kelsey said. “We’re just looking!” Then she let out a squeal and practically ran to a display case containing some very ornate Champagne Flutes. Being well-versed in shopping with Kelsey, I knew just what to do: I found the nearest seat and made it my home away from home. Our hostess, sensing a sale, scurried to Kelsey with the keys toHappyBirthdayGift the display case being steamed up by Kelsey’s breath. I just laughed to myself, as is my custom in most situations, and leaned back on my newfound stool. This repose was short-lived. My eyes fell upon a wrapped gift on the counter before me. Attached to it was a card. Scrawled on the envelope were these simple, heartfelt words: “To Charlie. Happy Birthday!” I just shook my head as I muttered THE dumbest words in the Universe: “What a coincidence!”

Flippin’ idiot.

As the gals chatted and chattered on about All Things Irish, I just scanned the wall before me. It’s sort of like going through someone’s medicine cabinet but without leaving fingerprints. On the very top shelf I spotted a framed photo of a man. Next to the photograph was a simple sign reading, “Rest In Peace Gabriel. You Will Be Missed.”

Gabriel? Oh, come on, SERIOUSLY? As if my personal connection to the name wasn’t enough, it has to be two of the four Arch Angels that I call in whenever I prepare for a reading? They were bullying me around one last time. My Guides were politely (yea, right) poking me, antagonizing me just once more. “Don’t waste your time,” I thought to myself. My mind was made up… and so was theirs, obviously. I assumed Gabriel had been an employee or perhaps a loyal customer. I offered a soft blessing to him and those left behind and that was that. Uh-huh. Sure it was.

At this point, Kelsey and Gráinne returned to the counter in front of me. Gráinne carried the flutes with tenderness while Kelsey clutched her credit card with a grip guaranteed to obliterate circulation. Gráinne pointed at me and said, “You’re a very patient man! That’s a beautiful trait!”

I just said, “This isn’t my first rodeo with her shopping.” We laughed. Hardeeharhar.

Then she said, “You remind me of my son, Michael.”

Michael, too? Three outta four. Jeez, just drop it, Guys…

“He’s a good son, my boy,” she continued. “I’m sure you are, too.”

“On the advice of my attorney I refuse to comment,” I said.

“I’ve had to rely on him quite a bit since my husband died,” she said as she carefully wrapped the flutes in tissue paper. She looked up and gestured at the framed photo atop the bookcase. “I do miss my Gabriel, so.” She paused for a moment, a subtle smile easing across her lips. Then she said, “But I know he’s still here with me.”

GabrielPhotoWithout missing a beat, I quipped, “There’s no doubt in my mind.”

She added, “We really don’t die, you know?”

Kelsey shot me a cursory glance which I opted to semi-ignore. “I agree,” was all I could muster.

Gráinne finished with her wrapping. She looked up at me, gesturing to her head, and said, “What is a ‘Ghost Host’?”

I removed my well-worn cap and turned it around so she could see the logo for The Haunted Mansion embroidered on the back. “It’s from Disneyland. One of my favorite rides.”

“Oh!” she half-laughed. “I thought maybe you were REALLY a ‘Ghost Host’!”

I thought, “Oh, what the hell?” So I said very matter-of-factly, “Technically, I am. I’m a Medium.”

Her eyes widened, her jaw slacked a tinge, as she put her chubby hands on her hips. “Are you, now?”

Before I could even inhale, Kelsey’s head began bobbing up and down as if her neck muscles had snapped lose. “Oh, yea, he IS!” She really emphasized the present tense. Clever girl.

Gráinne leaned on the counter. Her voice softened, the gregariousness was gone. She asked the question I have heard, in all probability, the most during my career: “Is Gabriel OK?”

I smiled. “Of course he is. There’s no pain of any kind. He is surrounded by, and always emits, pure unconditional love.” Her eyes began to well up so I added, “For what it’s worth, I’ve never had anyone come through and say, ‘Man, this just sucks!’”

She let out a genuine laugh which erased her tension almost immediately. “It’s funny you worded it that way. About his giving off unconditional love…” She wiped away a bit of a tear but her smile was steadfast. “That describes my Gabriel perfectly.” She tilted her head a bit. “Is he here now?”

“I’m sure he is. I’m not really tuned in at the moment. But I’m sure he’s watching over you.” Sort of the canned mediumship answer. But that certainly doesn’t make it any less true. I honestly believe our deceased loved ones are just within a law or two of being branded stalkers.

Our brief chat seemed to ease her and, I admit, that made me happy. As she began to find a bag large enough to cradle the crystal glasses, I made my way to the restroom. Good exit strategy on my part. Or so I thought. As I was washing my hands I put it out to that Wacky Universe of Ours that if Gabriel had any messages for his wife then I would be happy to help. You know, sort of my Swan Song. Oh, Sweet Tea Jesus… when will I learn? I was immediately hit by this intensely insistent presence. Be careful of what you ask for… Clearly, the lesson of The Monkey’s Paw had eluded me.

When I returned, I found the Irish Lass and the Irish Lass Wannabe, looking over some children’s books in yet another display case. My stool still stood alone, I’m sure dreading the return of my mass (not a typo). I plopped back down only to find my attention drawn to a rack of custom made greeting cards to my left. One card in particular bore the image of what looked like a policeman’s badge. I could not, no matter how much I tried, tear my gaze from it. I just gave in and allowed it to happen…

“Was Gabriel a Police Officer? Or was his role that of being a Peace Keeper?”

The Lassies looked up in unison. “Peace Keeper,” Gráinne said.

My eyes were still locked on the card. “He has a strong sense of justice, what is right.”

“Oh, yes,” she replied. She slowly straightened up and made her way around to my side of the room.

“The numbers two and five are both significant for him.”

“He was known as Two Feather to everyone,” she said in a chocked voice. “And he died on January 5th.” She moved behind the counter and stood beneath her beloved’s picture. Gabriel was both literally and figuratively watching over her.

“I don’t understand this,” I said. “And I’m not supposed to… but he takes partial responsibility for his passing. He says, though, that he didn’t TAKE his own life. But he admits to it being a case of circumstance, being in the wrong place at the wrong time… but his death makes sense in a strange way…” I scratched my head. “I don’t get that at all.”

His wife, however, completely understood. You see, Gabriel the Peace Keeper, had been murdered—stabbed—as he stepped forward to protect another person. That revelation silenced the showroom. We gazed at one another in silence for a moment. “He was always taking care of everyone else,” she whispered. He would see a woman sitting alone at a bus stop at night and he’d just sit with her, just to make sure she was safe.”

I sighed, “He tells me that while he was a large man it is YOU who fills the room, with your personality, your love of life…”

She smiled and nodded, “He could intimidate people just because of his size.” She raised her arms as if to mimic his form. Then she jutted a thumb at herself, “But I ran the roost!” Then she just laughed. She dropped her head for a moment. Then she looked up at me, with her smiling Irish eyes. “He’s my heart,” is all she said but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a more powerful statement. “Is he really OK?”

I smiled. “Yes, he is. And he credits your love for him—WITH him—for that. You keep saying he saved you but it is you who saved him.”

She began to cry uncontrollably as she leaned onto the countertop. Instinctively, I placed both of my hands over her right hand and Kelsey, who looked like a raccoon at this point, held onto Gráinne’s left. “I miss him so!” Gráinne cried. “I want him back! I want him home!”

I squeezed her hand tightly, holding back my own tears, and said, “Honey, he IS home.”

She stopped crying almost immediately. She gently bit her lower lip. “I have a friend who does what you do,” she quietly admitted. “And she told me the exact same thing.” I could sense Gabriel’s strong hands on her shoulders as she began to smile—truly smile—once more. “He really is alright.” It wasn’t a question this time. It was a statement of incontestable fact. “Thank you,” she quietly whispered.

“My pleasure, my honor,” I replied.

As we prepared to leave, Gráinne gave us both a massive bear hug. “I was blessed to have both of you walk in here today,” she said. “Thank you. Thank you both! I just know Gabriel sent you to me!”

“After encountering him,” I said, “I don’t doubt you a single bit! That man could move mountains!”

“Because he was one!” she laughed.

We bid our goodbyes as Kelsey retrieved all three of her packages. As we stepped out into the street I instinctively reached for one of her bags. “Let me take that,” I said.

Her grip tightened as she shook her head. “I need to hold onto something,” she said as mascara trails decorated her cheeks. “That was…just…wow.”

I nodded as we walked in silence for a couple blocks. Then I said, “None of this would have happened if our flight hadn’t been cancelled.”

“I was thinking the same thing.” There wasn’t a shred of doubt in her voice.

“I’d forgotten,” I said to no one in particular. It’s a good thing Kelsey was with me or it would have seemed like I was one of those people who walk the streets talking to themselves.

“Forgotten what?”

“I’d forgotten WHY I do this. God forgive me, but I really forgot.” I took off my cap, ran my fingers through my already tousled hair, then slipped it back on. A nervous reaction equivalent to digging a hole and filling it back up. “I was so caught up in all of my crap, and Mom’s, that I’d forgotten. I never thought that would happen.” We continued to walk. I just shook my head, “I can’t quit, can I?” I’m not sure if I was asking Kelsey, myself or The Universe. It doesn’t really matter since Kelsey was the one who answered first.

“No,” she said. “No, you can’t. It wouldn’t be fair.”

I stopped and looked at her with a puzzled look on my face. My facial expression was very similar to the one I give when I’m told, “There’s no more whipped cream!”

“It wouldn’t be fair to Gráinne or Gabriel or anyone, I guess,” she said.

I gave her a quick hug and said the only thing I could say, “Well, shit.” We began walking back to our hotel, assuming everything was finally going to get back to normal. I’d like to point out that ‘normalcy’ is something I instinctively evade, much in the same way I steer a wide clearance of salad at an All You Can Eat Buffet. To better understand this epic saga, you need to keep in mind that this was only the first day of our journey. Hell, the sun hadn’t even set! yet! There were two more days ahead. As The Carpenter’s remind us, “We’ve only just begun…”

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TO BE CONTINUED…

 

Copyright © 2017, Charles A. Filius

 

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