Donâ€™t believe it. You know, donâ€™t believe all the bright and shiny things about reincarnation. Iâ€™m not saying reincarnation ainâ€™t a fact â€“ it is. Itâ€™s a fact, and itâ€™s, as a rule, generally not so grand and celestial as you might imagine. Sure, things might have been great for Shirley Maclaine, the psychic down the street, your great aunt even, but for most of us schleps? Not so much.
Just take a look around, do you know that many exceptional human beings? Self-actualized uber-mensch sharing the staircase in your crumbling apartment block? Wise sages bagging your groceries? (If that kid was so wise, you think sheâ€™d mix put cans of tuna on top of my hothouse tomatoes?)
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Historyâ€™s all Napoleons and pharaohs? Fatidic dynamos in gold-threaded silk robes, eating dates and launching military campaigns? Oh yeah, lemme tell you, somebody build the pyramids, but it wasnâ€™t Ramses II slagging those rocks to the top.
It came to me a number of years ago â€“ Iâ€™m almost 11 years old. For some reason, Iâ€™m able to get into Kenneth Brannaghâ€™s â€œDead Againâ€ â€“ from what I remember a creepy little film with arty black and white flashbacks, Brannaghâ€™s pudgy Irish face, a pair of scissors that appear in the first act and snip in the third, like a Chekhovian revolver, and too-clever over-directing by about a factor of 4. (I was precocious). Thereâ€™s this convoluted plot â€“ Roman is Gracie is Mike is someone else, and Iâ€™m struck. Iâ€™m hit â€“ bold, clear, out of the clouds like lightning bolts flung by Zeus â€“ yep, thatâ€™s it, thatâ€™s what I got, I was someone else before. It explains so much. My parents, what I feel like, how different I am. Iâ€™m convinced, it eats me up. I spend whatever time I can quizzing my parents about anyone they might have seen in the hospital the day I was born â€“ bodies on a gurney, anything. I had that one strike, that one feeling, an unmistakable conviction that I was someone else before, that I have a real destiny, but after a while, I lose interest. Iâ€™m 11 years old, right? What can I do about this? Only in movies titled North do pink Bruce Willis-like bunnies come to help us find out our destiny, and besides, Iâ€™m in grade 6.
Forward a couple of years: Debbie, sheâ€™s 14, sheâ€™s older, sheâ€™s my neighbour and sheâ€™s got this massive goiter, about the size of a pickle. Itâ€™s on her neck, and itâ€™s skin is mottled and rough, like someone tried to sand it off at some point in the past, like her parents. Couldnâ€™t have been her â€“ she loved it, petted it in this nauseating circular manner everyday, I swore a couple of years later she took to moisturizing it and highlighting it with blush. Ugh.
Whatâ€™s in those things? Where do they come from? Is it lack of iodine? People worried about ozone depletion back then, but the prominence of Debbieâ€™s lumpy pickle in my life meant I was constantly fearing that one day there was gonna be iodine scarcity - weâ€™d all turn into misshapen lump peasant freaks, like escapees from some dank institution, just up the river from some sleepy Soviet resort town. (My grandmother, God bless her soul, kept potatoes in the folds of her voluminous dresses: I assume this was in case she had to run into the fields to escape some wild-eyed, leather-booted guy on a horse bearing down at her with a saber or something. This didnâ€™t seem much of a danger in my hometown, but hey, who knows? â€œSarnia, Granny? Sarnia?â€ â€œIt can happen anywhere, Sammy!â€)
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So Debbie, she tells me this yarn about her past life, she says sheâ€™s ROYALTY, sheâ€™s descended from a princess of astounding beauty, Madge Kennedy mixed with Grace Kelly, eyes deep and longing, poised: all that. I look at her, I ask her if thatâ€™s the case, she must have been involved in some real wicked stuff, torture, dungeons, chopping up step-sisters and vats of oil all over babies, â€˜cause sheâ€™s really paying for something now. Look at that goiter.
So then it comes back â€“ her inane yakking about Princess Shewanda brings back the spooky, spooky feeling Iâ€™ve been on this earth before. Iâ€™m reincarnated, I know it, and I donâ€™t like it. Deep inside of me, thereâ€™s this guy, heâ€™s not notable for anything, except he was the first to be divorced in his neighbourhood. Thatâ€™s his exceptional attribute â€“ he passes away early 1980, alone, in his underwear, eating one of the first TV dinners with veal in it, a small victory over the crushing monotony and blandness of his dull life. The guyâ€™s got a comb-over, pot-belly, ats most of his meals standing over the sink (no dishes that way). Every day I wake up, I look in the mirror, and I see Floyd or Harold or whatever his name is, creeping up through me â€“ his pitiful eyes, possibly the only expressive things the man ever owned other than loud ties heâ€™d wear around the holidays to try to erase the memory of the 50 other weeks of the year when heâ€™d frighten the secretaries with a vast emotional neediness, famished for any kind of contact.
And this is no media-saturated vision of divorcee hell â€“ no, itâ€™s a lot more brilliant than that, the details I see. Like eating over the sink, saves the dishes. But what heâ€™s eating? Heâ€™s mixed the can of tuna right into the remainder of the jar of mayonnaise, and heâ€™s not using a fork, canâ€™t even grab at that, and the spoon on the counter looks like it has dog-food residue on it â€“ no, heâ€™s using a table knife, and his fingers â€“ heâ€™s balancing a hybrid hunk of mayonnaise and tuna precariously between his finger and knife, trying to push it into his mouth before it falls all over his exposed belly, like that mustard sandwich last week, just before he passed out on the couch, the mustard hardening in the hair above his navel.
And him? Thatâ€™s who I was, thatâ€™s the haunting presence, the shadow at my back, creeping up, past life, so you get all hopped up and excited about reincarnation? Nah, not me, brother. Damn mystics.
Sammy Sandala lives in Toronto, Ontario and was Floyd or Harry or something.