Dec 29, 2013

The final, final chapter to Hauntingly Familiar

Bobby's Homecoming
Bobby has crossed over and is okay.
The text blurred in front of my eyes. I wondered why for a moment until I realized I was crying.
But why would I cry after all these years, reacting so strongly to such a simple statement? And a text, at that!
Funny. I didn't even stop to wonder whether it was true; I simply knew it was.
I texted my friend back, asking for more.
I've  e-mailed you the details.
E-mail? Was this really happening? How odd this all seemed.
Thank you. I texted. Do you know when it occurred? I asked her. I had an idea of course, but needed confirmation. The day before, I'd arrived at work like normal, begun my day as I had so many times before, and then everything went haywire.
A strange apathy came over me, and although I had plenty to do, I found myself quite suddenly unable to focus my thoughts. A strange headache and rushing sound in my ears alarmed me so much that I worried I might have something medically wrong with me, so I left the office to get some fresh air, ate something, drank a coffee and talked with my co-workers. Still, the rushing continued, and an odd sense of detachment ensued. Nothing helped to ease the feeling that part of me was being pulled somewhere else. I'm usually quite good at describing things, but I couldn't seem to find the right words to explain it. Then, as suddenly as it had come over me, the feeling lifted. The whole thing probably only lasted a couple of hours, and I'd been at a loss to explain it. Could Bobby's crossing have something to do with that? The alternative was something I didn't want to contemplate.
My hand shook as I sent the text, but I had to know, either way.
It took nearly a half hour for my friend to text me back. I checked the screen obsessively until the notification came in.
Her answering text made my eyes swim all over again.
Yesterday. Around 11 o'clock.
I sat back in the office chair then, and tried to slow my racing thoughts. Placing the palms of my hands on the desk in front of me, I  concentrated on just breathing. Grab some meaning from your environment, I told myself. You're at work, and there are things you have to do, people you need to call and tasks you need to complete.
You can't take time out for silly things like this.
Only it wasn't silly. It was chillingly emotional, and my shaking body was reacting to thirty years of pent-up stress that was all breaking free at the same moment.
Somehow, after all these years, we were still connected.  
A week later, I was still trying to piece it together, to figure out what had happened, and how.
I knew I had to call the woman who went by the simple, unassuming name of Mary. I'd only spoken with her briefly, weeks earlier to give her Bobby's first name and had no idea what to expect.
At first, I decided to e-mail her. It seemed efficient and I was chicken, I admit.
After several days of no response, however, I laid aside my anxiety and called. In my haste to not sound crazy, I ended up leaving a voice mail message for Mary that sounded, well, crazy.
After a week of agonizing that I'd offended this person with my e-mail and disjointed voicemail message, Mary called. Her laid-back voice came through my hands-free device as I drove home from work, and my heart pounded with excitement. Here at last I would get some answers.
I could tell from the way she spoke that she was  a person very comfortable with her own energy.
"I don't really think of it that way," the Medium answered my initial question. Her tone was matter-of-fact. "It's just something I've always been able to do. I have helped a lot of people with my gift over the years, and I've learned to protect myself along the way so I can keep doing it."
"Wow," I breathed. "That's intense."
"I guess you might say so," she laughed. "Bobby was very shy at first. Wouldn't even look at me. He went and hid when I first tried to talk to him. It took quite a bit of coaxing to get him to come out."
"You saw him then?"
"Where was he hiding?" I asked. "Where were you?"
The question was designed to find out how this was possible. Had Mary taken a drive to my old house and sat outside? Or worse yet, gone to the front door and spoken to the current owners?  I had a deep desire to know whether or not to expect a sudden lawsuit. There were very specific reasons why I changed the names of some of the characters in Hauntingly Familiar and why I'd never given out the address of my childhood home.
Until now.
Mary's straight-forward statement had me a trifle worried.
But instead of telling me where she'd been during this experience, Mary surprised me. "It's a boxy kind of house. Like one big rectangle. No stairs, except for the front walk. It's charming, in a back country sort of way. Ooh, very '70's lay-out. I'm in the kitchen now. It's very narrow. I feel kind of boxed in, to be honest."
My mind frantically searched through the manuscript. Had she simply taken creative licence with the clues from the book? Had I talked about the layout of the kitchen? I might have. And what was up with framing it in the present tense? The house certainly didn't look like that now. With my thoughts a million miles away, Mary began her narrative again. "There's a box, within a box," she said.
"What?" I said suddenly. "A box within a box? I don't understand."
"Yes I know. I'm not explaining it well … oh I think I get it," she said. "It's a bedroom, right? Yes, there's the door. It has to be. It's in the middle of the house, though. There are no windows."
The breath whooshed out of my lungs and I silently cursed my choice to speak with her from my car.
Gripping the steering wheel, I concentrated hard.
"Bobby's hiding in some sort of long cupboard." Her voice took on a far-away sound, and I imagined her standing very still in the family room of my old home. "It's like a clothes closet, but there's no clothes in it. There are shelves inside, but still room for him to hide. There are two doors. I can see through them. There's a long table behind me … oh! It's a pool table. Now I see."
I stared at the dash of my car, my heart rate getting faster, wondering if my hands-free was acting up. It sounded like she was there. My old house. The rec room had double closet doors that did not contain clothes. The closet doors were in a style known as "louvred", meaning they were composed of short, horizontal slats of wood, making them "see-through". I had piled games onto those shelves myself, more times than I could count.
And in that rec room, sat the championship-sized billiards table. She described it as though she were looking right at it!
But that wasn't possible. Even if she'd been there, researched the place, or even read my book –which she promised she hadn't- I knew the house itself was different now. Our former neighbours still kept in touch with my parents. They confirmed that the whole place had undergone a huge renovation. Even the massive pool table that had been there when my family moved in was gone now. The house was quite different on the outside too. I'd driven past it many times in recent months and while the house was almost unrecognizable to me, the barn remained unchanged. Even the small windows of my dad's shop where I'd seen that chilling face were still there.
So how was this possible? Mary was describing my home, from 1979.
I wasn't sure of anything anymore.
My eyes watered, and I took that opportunity to pull over into a nearby gas station. There was no way I could continue to drive with this type of information coming at me. Manoeuvring the car into a less populated area, I pulled the e-brake and sank back into the seat, closing my eyes.
This woman claimed she had just ushered the spirit of a little boy who'd haunted my childhood into the great beyond as easily as I would help someone across the street.
It was more than I could readily cope with.
"Oh that sounds better," she said. "You still in your car though?"
"Yeah," I answered. "I pulled over so we can talk more easily, and I won't drive into the ditch." The joke was weak but Mary answered with a chuckle anyhow.
"Mary?" I ventured. "Did you see anything else in that room?"
"Oh sure. The pool table blocks whatever is on the far side of the room," she said. "But once you walk a few feet, there's couches at the end of the room and one of those old TV's in a wooden cabinet. My family had one like that too. There's a glass door to my right. I see a swimming pool out there, and a great climbing tree!"
My breath whooshed out in a long sigh. "How?" I squeaked.
"Bobby showed it to me. He's quite proud of his home."
"It sounds like you're still looking at it."
"No, I'm just telling it to you as I remember. I can usually recall details for a while after I've crossed someone, as long as there are no other spirits trying to get my attention, so I make lots of notes before the details skitter away."
"I'm grateful," I said simply.
Mary took up the narrative once more. "When I found out where he was hiding, I talked to him through the door. I told him about my son and how much he liked to play ball," Mary went on. "Bobby seemed to like that. I told him how many balls my son had. He told me he couldn't just play that way anymore, that it was different now. I could hear the sadness in his voice, so I said that if he wanted to come play with me, he could. His answer confirmed something I had already suspected. He said he wasn't supposed to."
"Why wasn’t he supposed to?" I asked. "Was someone stopping him?"
"Uh-huh," Mary said. "But if you ask a spirit a direct question, they don't usually answer. That's been my experience, anyways, and so I've learned not to be direct. Instead I asked him, Are you happy that I can talk to you?
He opened the door a bit and I could see him nodding and smiling, but still he refused to come out where I could see him clearly."
"Oh wow," I said. "Ohhh wow."
"You're not driving anymore?" Mary asked.
"No. I'm parked."
"Good. That's probably best."
"Yes, I agreed. "I'm sure you're right. I feel …strange."
"That's only natural. This is new for you. It's hard to accept, even though you knew about it all along."
"Yes," I admitted to her, grateful she couldn't see my flaming face.
"Well, I knew I was going to have to work hard to get this little one to trust me, so I kept on talking to him, just being friendly and little bit mothering, but not too much. I could tell he missed his mom.
I would never harm you, I told him. Because I am a mom too, and I love kids. I love my son very much. I think he is a lot like you."
A sudden thought leaped into my head at that point, and I blurted it out, the words tumbling over each other.
"What was he wearing?"
Mary's voice was strong as she assured me that Bobby's clothing was unremarkable for a boy his age, living on a farm.
"Please, just tell me," I whispered.
"Okay, if you want. When I saw him, he had on a brown t-shirt, blue jeans and sneakers."
"Sneakers?" I asked.
"Sure. You know the kind that are black canvas, and the toes are white?"
Once again, I was grateful I'd had the presence of mind to put the car in park.
Had she really been there, talking with Bobby?
Was it was really him?
Or was she playing me? Somehow.
"I worked at convincing him to come out," Mary said. "That was the first step I needed him to take. Unless I had his cooperation it wasn't going to happen."
"It sounds like this took a long time," I ventured, barely trusting my own voice.
"Oh yeah, it usually does," came the matter-of-fact reply. "I told him, you don't need to hide. If you come out and let me see you, I could tell you stories. If you come out, we could play.
He was so reluctant. Several times I thought he was going to come out, but then he would back away, and just stare at me through the slats in the door. So I just stood there, wriggling my toes against the carpet while I waited and looked around. The emotional energy in that place was truly overwhelming. It tugged at my senses, but I stayed focused on him. He was the reason I had come and I wasn't about to give up on him. He was so small and so afraid, and he'd been stuck there for a long time. He needed me, but he didn't trust me.  Well, I waited and waited, not saying a word, and finally he did come out. He was small and earnest, but I think he was curious about me too."
"You could actually feel the carpet?" I asked in wonder. "I don't understand. I thought you didn't go there."
"I didn't. Not with my physical body. My physical body was still at my home, across the river."
"I don’t really … I can't …this is incredible," I breathed into the phone.
Mary seemed to bristle at that. "I have no reason to make any of this up," she said. "I was asked to help this little guy, so that's what I did."
"What? No! Of course not, please don't misunderstand me. It's just that it's incredible to be having this conversation with you. I guess I'm uncomfortable. Sorry."
"Yeah, well don't worry about it. It's okay," she replied, her tone neutral once more. "I get that a lot, I should be used to it. People are always uncomfortable with what I do. It's not the norm, right? To me, this is just a part of my life. This stuff happens more often that you can imagine, but other people always react like you, at first."
"I'm sorry, I'm trying to be open, but this is triggering some interesting feelings for me."
"Do you want to call me back when you're at home? Maybe it's not good for you to be talking now. We can talk later, or tomorrow."
"Oh no, I'm fine if you are. Please, I'd like to hear more if that's okay."
"Alright, if you're okay," Mary replied uncertainly.
"Yes, yes I'm fine." Taking a deep breath, I steeled myself to ask the question that was uppermost in my mind. "Did Bobby remember me?"
"I didn't ask him about you specifically," she said.
"Oh, I see." The disappointment in my voice was obvious to my own ears.
 Mary interrupted with an unexpected sentence.
"He told me there were many children after you. I gather you were just the first."
I was startled at that, but thinking about it later, I shouldn't have been.
"Many children? How many?"
"He was a child when he chose to stay behind, and as a child he sought the company of other children. It makes sense if you think about it. He's been doing that for a long time, now."
 "Yes, I guess it does," I admitted. Rubbing my eyes to erase the sudden tears that formed there, I tried to refocus. "So you were there, in the house where I grew up, seeing it the way it was then, in 1979, but only in your mind?"
"Yes. He showed me around his home," she said. "He felt a deep attachment to it."
"I'm getting to that. It's a bit difficult to explain."
"Okay," I said. " I'm sorry. Did he finally let you see him?"
"Yes," she answered. "He stepped free of the closet and stood there, looking at me, so shy.
You're a mom? he asked me then. I smiled at his innocence.
That's what I've been telling you, I told him. Why are you so leery about talking to me or having me see you?
He told me then that the man said he was only supposed to talk to him and no one else.
I knew immediately who he meant, but I pretended not to. I had sensed another presence from the moment I'd entered the home.
I still asked him who the man was, but he ignored my question as though I hadn't spoken it."
As Mary said these words, I flashed back to the many times I'd tried to get information out of Bobby only to have him ignore my questions, too. A wave of electricity raced up and down my arms as I sat there clutching the steering wheel and staring at my phone.
"Bobby was so happy someone else could see him and talk to him," she said. "His smile was beautiful, so engaging and warm. It reminded me of my own son and I fed the love from that memory through to him in that instant. He was starting to trust me, and finally ended up telling me that the man said that other people wouldn't be able to see and talk to him, but if I could, then perhaps that meant others can, sometimes?
I told him yes, and he smiled that beautiful smile of his again, but a moment later, he looked behind him and the smile fell from his face.
Uh-oh, he told me. I got to go. He's coming.
 And just like that, Bobby was gone.
In his place stood a grizzled old man. The suddenness of it shocked me a little. Sometimes spirits appear like that on purpose to try and gain control and this was probably his intent. He faced me with arms folded, his legs planted firmly in a position of defiance and power, and his face was turning redder by the second as he pursed his lips and scowled at me.
I knew instantly that this man was the reason Bobby had such a hard time. He hadn't crossed over either! He had control over this little boy in a way that I had to figure out, if I wanted to take Bobby with me.
I can help you, I said to him.
His response was immediate: Don't need no help! Don't need no one! Just go away, leave us alone!
As he faced me, he repeated the words, growing angrier and angrier each time. I wondered who he was trying to convince, me or himself? I knew he was trying to get me to go away, but I stood my ground. I knew there was no way he could hurt me."
"What do you mean no way he could hurt you? He terrified me!" The phrase tumbled out of my mouth before I could stop it.
An empty silence ensued. Biting my lip, I stared with chagrin at the silent dashboard, then dove into my purse for my phone. Had the call gotten dropped? Was she still there?
Pressing the button to turn off the car, I heard the call transfer to the phone in my hand. "Mary? Mary, are you there?"
"Yes, yes I'm here. I know he frightened you, but you were a child. There's no need to worry now. Please, it's okay. It's alright now," her words were soothing, and I realized she understood far more than she was letting on.
"Thank you," I said simply, feeling my heart rate slow. The care in her words had an almost magical effect, erasing my self-doubt and anxiety.
"Weren't you scared?" I asked.
"No. Just startled at first, like I said. I felt sad for this angry, confused old man. You see, when his physical body died he stayed behind, and now all he had left was a boy he didn't even know, that he controlled with unreasonable fear. What a sad existence."
"I don't understand any of this," I told her.
"Neither did they, really. At first, they were quite startled by it, but as time went by, they didn't question it anymore. It just was. Imagine, all this man had ever known was fear and anger. His father and grandfather had been strict authoritarians, and he was raised that way. Suddenly, he found himself alone. He must have been frightened. Then, when little Bobby passed, and here was someone else who was just as confused as he had been, he took action. He had been alone for so long, he just wanted company. Bobby told me he was a cranky man, and I could see he had an 'old school' mentality, so it didn't occur to him to be any different than his father and grandfather had been.
"I wish I'd known" I said, sighing deeply. "I feel guilty for hating him, now. But he made me so afraid."
"Yes. He remembered you. He took great delight in frightening you that way."
Her words made me want to scream, cry and laugh all at the same time.
"Yes, but I didn't ask him much about that, because I knew it wasn't a good idea for him to focus there. The old man would only remember his feeling of power over you, and that would make him stronger. That wasn't going to work, if I wanted to take Bobby with me."
"So what did you do?" I asked.
"Just kept talking to him. I made sure that if he walked,  I followed. He tried everything to get me to leave him alone, yelling at me, cursing at me, throwing things. He was proud of the fact that he could throw things.
"Yeah," I mumbled. "I remember that." As I sat in my car, enthralled, Mary described her encounter with the entity I'd nick-named "the nightmare man".
 "He screamed at me over and over, waving his arms in the air as his words attacked me.
Go away!! Get going, he told me. You don't belong here!!
I knew he expected me to back away, so I didn't. I took a step forward instead. As I did, he backed away from me. That told me all I needed to know.
Why did you stay behind? I asked him.
He shouted that he didn't have to answer my questions, that I should leave him and Bobby alone.
I asked him why he was doing this. I can help you, I told him.
His shouting only got louder. A man don't need no one!! Especially not you!! Go away and LEAVE US ALONE, YOU B-----!! His words were harsh but I've heard harsh words before and it didn't scare me. Instead, I told him, as calmly as I could: I'm taking Bobby with me.
 Well! That got him going. He started walking away from me, waving his arms, like he was in a huff and had no time for me. And yet, he only walked a short distance, then he walked back. All the while, he continued to answer my questions. I could see he was much too curious about me to leave entirely.
"Why did he stay behind?" I asked Mary, I realized I was gripping the steering wheel with both hands again, and I made an effort to relax, and roll my shoulders back against the seat.
"Oh, I asked him, but he didn't answer. Then I used his name and that got his attention. Tell me why you stayed so long, John."
Well John tried to cover the fact that he was surprised I knew his name so she just shrugged. I just wanted to, that's all, he told me. Wasn't ready to go. No one makes a man do what he don't wanna do. It don't bother me none, bein' alone. I'm good on my own.
You know, once I have Bobby, you're going to be alone again, I told him. Are you still okay with that? Controlling a little boy who doesn't even understand what you're doing, is not how a man does things. You ought to know better."
Mary sighed as she collected her thoughts and I pursed my lips to ensure I stayed quiet a she did so. I was blown away that she had known this man's name, too.
"Well, then he started shouting again," she continued. "Shut up! he told me. You don't know nothin'!
I know this, I told him in a careful, quiet voice. You're not a bad person, John. You only do this because you're lonely. You say you're okay being alone, and you act like you don't care, but you felt sorry for him, didn't you? He was just a boy, and he was all alone, so you let him see you. You've actually come to care for him, haven't you? I know you've been looking out for him. Maybe you do all this because you want to make up for having a little heart that you never showed to anyone while you were alive."
"Oh my," I said. "That was brave."
"Yeah, he was already pretty mad, but that pushed him over the top. His anger seemed to spill out everywhere, all at once. There was a picture that flew off the wall right next to me, and newspapers from a table on the other side of the room were strewn across the floor. I even heard the crash of dishes as they spilled out of cupboards that were suddenly flung open. The sliding glass door to my left slid open all the way with a bang, nearly jumping it's track. Oh he was quite PO'd at me!"
"And still you weren't afraid?" I asked. "He was very powerful."
"Oh I was startled, to be sure, and maybe a little afraid, but I know that I have the light on my side, and I'm alive. That life-energy gives me power that he can't hope to match. As powerful as he had become, he was still only a shadow of the man he was before. He used all his energy to throw papers and knock pictures off walls. After that, he had nothing left except bravado, and I wasn't going to let him use my energy, so I stayed calm and in control. Spirits only have the power we give them."
"That makes sense."
 "Yes, it does indeed," she said seriously. "So there I was, standing my ground. I noticed that even while all this was going on, he still didn't leave. He was curious about what I was there to do.
My decision to stay seemed to surprise him. He was obviously used to scaring people with that temper of his."
"Yes, I'm sure he was," I admitted, remembering those awful scenes only too well.
Mary continued. "I told him he could go to the light now, that it's not too late. The light is there for everyone.
I was watching him carefully and I could finally see signs that he was starting to listen. I decided I'd better keep at it and keep trying to convince him.
The light is love, not judgment, I told him. I also said I knew why he stayed. He simply stared at me, so I went on to tell him it was because of his fear, but that he could choose to leave that fear behind now and no one would think less of him. I knew his pride was important to him. I saw that he was considering my words at last, so I reminded him that if he stayed, he'd be all alone again. If he went into the light, he could be with people who loved him and wasn't that better? I faced him squarely and when we were eye to eye, I told him very firmly, "You know now that I'm taking Bobby with me, no matter what you do. Don't you?"
"Well, I don't think that guy had ever been spoken to like that before, and especially not by a woman. He didn't know where to look! Once again, I had to wait for him to calm down and stop yelling at me. It didn't take quite as long this time, and when he was once again ready to talk, the only thing he wanted to know was what would happen to Bobby.
I almost jumped for joy, because I realized he was finally ready to cross over!
I told him I'd take care of Bobby, so he didn't need to worry. You will see each other again, soon, I told him.
You know, it took a good 45 minutes of constant badgering to convince this guy, but I finally got him to go over to the other side."
"How did you know when he crossed?" I asked. "Did you see him go?"
"Sort of," she said. "While we were standing there together, a bewildered expression came over his face, and I got that familiar feeling I always get when a new presence comes through. It was stern and commanding and it walked right past me to stand at John's side. John turned and I knew he was staring at a man he hadn't seen in many years. I could tell from the way he acted that this was his dad. The two men were very similar in appearance, too. The father had been very controlling with John while he was alive, and as he came through, he used that same authority to convince his son to take the final step toward the light."
"So you could see John and his dad, clearly as you see anyone else?" I couldn't keep the wonder out of my voice.
"More or less," Mary replied. "It's always been like that for me. Confusing as heck when I was a kid! Anyways, I was bone-weary after that guy crossed, but I knew I couldn't rest yet. Bobby was going to be all alone now, and if I left him he would be too scared."
"I imagine you must have been exhausted," I said, trying to empathize.
"Well, yeah, but I still had work to do. Anyways, I wandered all through the house, looking for him. I had to call out to Bobby quite a lot, telling him that it was okay for him to talk to me again, that John wouldn't mind.
As I walked down the hallway leading to the bedroom at the end of the hall, Bobby peeked out from the bathroom doorway. He was still scared John would find him and stop him from talking to me.
Where's John? he asked me.
Gone. I told him. He's not coming back.
Bobby just stared. I started to wonder if I'd said the wrong thing. A moment later I had my answer. The little boy clenched both fists and burst out crying! Well crap, I thought. That didn't go over well at all!
I tried to tell him John had gone into the light, to a beautiful place, and he was okay, but Bobby couldn't hear me. He screamed and cried, great tears rolled down his little red face. I had no choice but to wait. His sadness was very deep, since John was the only being he could see and talk to. John was his security."
"He was only six."
"Yeah," she said. "Well, when his crying had quietened to hiccups, I tried again. Bobby, I told him.  It's ok. John is safe in the light. His daddy came to bring him home to a place where he can feel love again.
Bobby wasn't sure how to take that. He wanted to know if John's daddy was grumpy and mad like John had been.
I told him yeah, he was like that a little bit, but that was just for show. I told him that's how his dad expressed love. Bobby made a face at that."
A small chuckle rolled out of me then, as I pictured the face I would never forget and now infectious his laugh had always been.
"I asked him, how come he'd been there for so long? You know what his answer was? That his mom had always told him to listen to her. She'd said he'd be in big trouble if he didn't listen."
"And?" I prompted.
"And he was always supposed to be in her sight, or within yelling distance. It's for your own good, she always told him."
"I can understand that," I told her. "I've said that to my own kids."
"Yeah, but this little guy had incredible guilt for not listening to his mom. He went on the road, and you know what happened next …"
"Oh! Yes," I said. "I do know. It was very sudden and horrible."
"Well," Mary continued. "I told him we weren't going to talk about how he died. It's very difficult to keep spirits from showing you how they felt at the time they died, and by showing, I mean that they make you feel what they felt, so that can be really awful. When I first started doing this kind of work, I got migraines and all sorts of pains in my body because of it. Sometimes they lasted for days. After a while I realized that if I kept them from focusing on their own death, I wouldn't have to feel it with them. I already knew that Bobby had died suddenly in a truck accident and I really didn't want to feel that."
"Who told you that?" I asked.
Mary seemed to think that was funny and she laughed. "Whenever I'm in close proximity to a spirit, I just know. You know?"
"Not really," I admitted. "But that's why you're the Medium, not me."
"I wouldn't be too sure of that," she said mysteriously.
"What?" I asked, wondering if I'd heard her right.
But just like the spirits she talked to, Mary pretended she hadn't heard my question and took up the narrative once more.
"Right after he died, Bobby was quite confused. He couldn't make his mom hear him, he told me, and his Daddy couldn't seem to see or hear him either. He didn't know what to do. Then, after awhile, he couldn't see them either."
"All this time? That poor kid! I feel so bad that I've waited this long."
"Time is a sketchy thing in that plane of existence. It's not the same for him, as it is for us."
"Oh," was all I could think to say. This was mind blowing.
"He was really scared because he was in big trouble for not listening, and that was his main fear."
"Why didn't he go to the light then?" I asked.
"He wasn't about to leave the only place that his mother had told him was safe. He knew in his little mind that his mom was mad enough at him already, and she didn't need more to be angry about. He desperately missed her."
"Didn't he wonder what was happening when he couldn't see his mom anymore?"
"Yes, but he just waited there in the house for her to come back. He was very sad, and very lonely, but then this old man came along. Then, he forgot to be sad, and he got very excited, because this man could see him and talk to him! Bobby told me they were both a little surprised about that, at first."
"After that, what happened?"
"Well, from what I can gather, you and your family moved in. He didn't like that, because he was still waiting for his mother, but then he met you, and you could see him and talk to him, so that was okay. He knew it wasn't the same as before, but he was so lonely, he just liked being able to talk to someone, and he loved the fact that you could see him. After a while, he told me he couldn't see the little girl anymore, either, but the man was always there. He stayed with Bobby through it all. Sometimes he said he didn't like it, but usually he didn't mind that much. John was grumpy like a bear, sometimes. Bobby tried to compare John to his grandpa, but said John was very different."
"Did he ever go to see his grandparents? They lived, er … close."
"Yes he tried. They lived across the street, though, and he couldn't go there and still be a good boy for his mom. I asked him if he had two sets of grandparents. I was thinking that perhaps I could ask one of them to come from the other side to get him.
He said no, there was only one set and then grandpa, but he didn't see them anymore either."
"That's so sad."
"Yeah," Mary agreed. "I asked him: If you could go to a wonderful place where you could play all day and be loved, loved, loved, would you go? And do you know what he said? No."
"No? Just like that?" My tone was incredulous. "Why the heck not?"
"He told me he couldn't. He said his Mom would be so mad if he left the house. She told him to always stay there, that he'd be safe in the house."
Those words, spoken so seriously, were heart-breaking to me. No wonder he'd never left.
"I told him that his mom wouldn’t want him to stay there without her." Mary's voice was soft, but it had a note of steel to it. I could well imagine that no one argued with this woman for very long. I had the feeling she could be very compelling when she wanted to be.
"I told Bobby that if he really wanted to talk to his mom, he could, but he could only do that in the place I'd told him about. Only in the light."
"And did he believe you?"
"Not at first," she admitted. "So I talked some more about the fact that he could see his mom and dad in this place, and he could do that any time he wanted! The best part, I told him, was that his mom could feel his love for her and he could feel hers too."
"Is that true?" I asked, breathlessly.
"Of course it is," she said.
"How you do know this stuff?" I asked her.
"I've helped other boys like him," she said. "I simply convinced him, although it took a while, that he didn't need to stay there anymore, even though I could see he was afraid. He kept looking around him at the only home he'd ever known. You see, he drawn his memories around him so that he could always live inside of them. Now, here I come along and ask him to leave all of that, travelling to a place he knows nothing about! This is huge for any kid, nevermind one who's lost his family. The little sweetheart was so concerned with being in trouble, he just couldn't seem to get past it.
My mom is mad, he told me. I'm already in a lot of trouble. That's why I can't see her, isn't it, Mary?"
"Wow!" I said, wiping my eyes with the back of one hand. "Poor little guy."
"I know," Mary replied. "I told him, no honey, that's not why. The truck accident ended your life here in the physical world. Your mom and your dad couldn't see you anymore when that happened. They left this house because their sadness was too big. They missed you too much."
"He still couldn't understand how his mom could leave after telling him not to."
"You bet," she agreed. "Inwardly, I heaved a big sigh. He was six, after all, and reasoning with a six year old isn't easy, as I'm sure you know."
"That I do."
"Well, it took some time and patience, but I was finally able to explain to him that his house was no longer the place where he needed to be. "There's a place you can go to, where your mom will feel you and you can talk to her and see her. In this place she will NOT be mad at you. You wouldn't have to go looking for other kids and animals to play with." I told him. "They will be right there. Your mom would be very happy for you, and you would feel nothing but love, love, love and be so very happy." He seemed a little better after I said all that."
"So then he crossed?" I asked.
"No, not yet. He was still so stuck on this idea that his mom was mad at him. Remember that this is the central fact that has kept him from entering the light for all this time."
"Yeah, I'm not likely to forget that part," I said.
"Exactly," Mary agreed. "Well, I talked to him as a mom then, and I told him I would never send him to a place if I didn't think his mom would be ok with it."
"That's genius," I said.
"Thanks," Mary replied. "I was trying everything to get this kid to cross. What a tough time he had! Finally, I told him I would check in and if I saw his mom, I would tell her where he was. I also said, very firmly that I knew she would NOT be mad at him and he would NOT be in trouble. I said I knew that she would be happy that she can feel his love again. I told him that I would feel this way if it was my son, for sure.
He smiled at that, and I watched him lift his chin and square his little shoulders. He took a few deep breaths and then he said something they all say: "You can come too, right?"
"Oh no," I cried. "What did you say to that?"
"It's okay," Mary replied. "I'm used to this. I just smiled –the little darlin'- and then I shook my head and told him I couldn't go, but I have a few friends who would help him, and he didn't have to worry at all. He squinted his eyes at me and shook his head, so I kept talking.
I told him, one of these friends is the greatest mother of all time. She is mother to everyone on earth, and her name is Mary just like me."
"Oh, good thinking!" I said.
"It's the truth," she said, her tone serious once more. "This got him smiling again, but he still wanted to know, will Mary be mad at me for being lost and not listening? I just wanted to wrap him in a big hug, but instead I just said, "Oh no, no, no! She will hug you and give you love, love, love."
Bobby laughed when I said that. He said he missed his mother very much and wanted to see her and get hugs, but he was still worried about John being gone. He was biting his lip and kicking at the carpet with the toe of one shoe, and I could sense that his resolve was slipping. He kept asking if John was coming back."
"Oh no," I said. "Not after all the work you did to convince him otherwise?"
"Exactly. Well, I just smiled gently at him because I knew he was feeling guilty for leaving the man who'd been his only friend for a long time. Sometimes it takes a long time for a spirit to accept things. I told him that John was in a good place now, and he wasn't coming back. I told him he would be all alone here if he stayed behind again."
"Yes, but I'm not alone," he told me. "I have you."
"Wow," I breathed. "What did you say?"
"I told him, sorry honey, but I can't stay. I only came to help you not be lost anymore."
I sniffled loudly at that point and the phone went quiet again. We were both thinking of this tiny boy who'd been locked in a world of make-believe for over thirty years.
"You know what he said then?" Mary asked suddenly.
"What took you so long then?"
"Oh wow."
"The last time I saw Bobby," Mary continued. "He was skipping down a long gravel path on his way to the other side. Imagine that. Skipping!" Mary chuckled into the phone. "Just before I couldn't see him anymore, I heard him say one last thing: "I'm gonna tell my mom about you, Mary."

It felt like a really long drive home, but that might have had more to do with the fact that I took all the back roads, so I could drive slowly and not tick anyone off. I was still shaking by the time I pulled into my own driveway and shut off the car. It was one of the longest evenings of my life, but I wouldn't have traded it for anything.
Whether I could really wrap my head around all the things Mary had said or not, Bobby had impacted my life. This is a reality I have lived with for a long time.
I realized as I sat there in my car, that I was suddenly faced with a choice. Would I go on as though nothing had happened, or would I believe that now, Bobby and John were finally at peace?
After careful consideration, I have chosen the latter.

This is one experience I will never forget.