A Faint Pulse


The problem with dead people isn’t that they aren’t here, it’s that they’re everywhere. The truth in this wisdom, conveyed by an old friend, was the reason I had found myself a new therapist with Jungian tendencies. I was looking to put an end to the stretches of sleepless nights, the recurring feelings of déjà vu and unbearable migraines that had come out of seemingly nowhere.

It wasn’t my grief that I needed help with. That I had always handled on my own. Even in the hours following the car accident, after I was told my best friend Aaron wasn’t coming back, I had been strong. People told me so in the halls at school. They scribbled it in my yearbook at the end of senior year. Even fifteen years later, whenever I explained to strangers why I didn’t trust certain makes of cars, avoided certain roads and refused to drive in the snow, they reaffirmed it over and over again. I could do this on my own, they told me. I was strong. I was a rock, but the thing about rocks is that when they finally push their way to the surface and find there’s nothing there to hold them down, they crack.

What brought me to this new therapists office, with its shag rug and unintentionally trendy 1960s décor, was not that I was still missing Aaron. That, I assumed, I would do for the rest of my life. It wasn’t that I was having trouble accepting the fact that he would never, ever return. Deep down inside, I knew that too. It was because after fifteen years of missing him, right in the middle of an unexpected whirlwind of synchronicity and signs too obvious to ignore, he had come back.

His return wasn’t like it is on television. I didn’t wake one morning to see a transparent version of him hovering at the foot of my bed three inches off the floor. Nor did he knock on my front door and tell me about the witness relocation program he had spent the last fifteen years in. He came back full force in dreams and messages and through strange chance encounters with strangers from his life whom I had never met before. Because of this, because for so long I had taught myself to believe that the invisible umbilicus that connected us had been severed for good, I was losing my mind one uncanny incident at a time.

In little ways, I had always kept a part of Aaron with me at. Sometimes I dreamed of him, reveries so vivid I questioned whether or not they were dreams when I woke in the morning. On days that were significant to his life, little things would remind me of him in big ways, but I brushed them off as wishful thinking. I was afraid I was conjuring coincidences and finding meaning where there was none.

I liked my new therapist from the start. Maybe it was her loosely-fitted hemp clothing or the way she slipped her sandals off and tucked one ankle beneath her when she sat across from me, making it feel like we were old friends settling down for a chat. There was something calming about the wall lined with river stones behind her and the shelves flooded with books on both sides. She didn’t make small talk, and I was glad of that. Once I settled onto the couch, she clasped her hands, leaned back, and asked, “So, what brings you here?”

Slowly I explained the little things that had been happening more and more. Repeatedly finding pennies with my birth year and Aaron’s birth year and the year he passed away in strange places. Being sent to California on a work-related trip nearly fifteen years to the date after we promised each other we would go together. Randomly discovering I was sitting next to his mother’s best friend, a woman I had never even heard of or met on that same trip. Finding out that woman and I worked in buildings next to each other all the way back on the other side of the country. I was manifesting madness and miracles all at the same time, and it had me walking around in a perpetual fog of self-doubt.

After I was finished talking, I waited for her to take out a pen and prescription pad and diagnose me. I prepared my answer for the question I knew she was going to ask. “Why do you think you’re imagining all these things lately?”

Instead, she shifted just the slightest bit in her seat, smiled, and asked “So what is it about these messages that upsets you?”

It wasn’t what I was expecting. Maybe it was a trick, a game therapists played to gauge just how crazy the person sitting in front of them might be. But at the same time, her lack of judgment felt like my one chance at making sense of things, so I made the decision to be honest.

“Crazy people do this kind of stuff, don’t they? Hallucinate and see things that aren’t there. Find meaning where there isn’t any. I’m worried something’s wrong.”

“So you don’t think your friend is sending you messages?”

“Do you?” I asked.

I hadn’t even dared to run the possibility by anyone else. That’s how crazy it sounded to me. Besides, I didn’t believe in that kind of stuff. Or maybe it wasn’t that I didn’t believe, but that I didn’t know about it, didn’t think about. Over the years, all my energy had gone into learning how to live without Aaron, not considering the fact that he had never left.
During the next session I told stories about Aaron, about how we used to slink down the hallways at school and tell stories to each other, about how he always found glory and wonder in everything he came across, even me.

By the third session, I had come to realize the following:

1. For whatever reason, this lady, my therapist, didn’t think I was crazy. At times, I wondered if that made her crazy too, but I liked her office, the sound of her voice. I liked telling her stories about Aaron once a week, so it really didn’t matter who was nuts.

2. My grief –the grief that I had disenfranchised and disregarded for so many years because I thought it made me a stronger person—was real. For over a decade I had obsessed over whether or not it was all in my head. Did Aaron care about me as much as he cared about others? If I had been the one who died, would he be sitting on some therapist’s couch years later talking about me?

3. After all I had been through, I still didn’t know what I believed when it came to the universe and anything bigger than myself. Each time I told my therapist of another synchronistic experience, I asked her opinion, only for her to turn it back to me in typical therapist fashion and ask, “What do you think?”

By the fourth session, I really felt we were making progress. She seemed to think so too. I could tell by the expectant look on her face when we sat down, but this time, it wasn’t me who spoke first.

“I’d like to try something different today, if that’s okay with you,” she said. This caught me off guard, but I agreed, and watched as she pulled a wicker basket out from beneath her seat.

This is about to get weird, isn’t it? I thought as I leaned over to see its contents. Inside was what looked like a pair of headphones with no form to them, a black cord that split into two egg-sized buds.

Had I accidentally been sending out some sort of weird vibe during the past few weeks? Was my therapist about to turn all The Prince of Tides on me? I shifted in my seat as she took the device out of the basket and held it up for me to see.

“Each side of this vibrates. I can control the speed and frequency of the vibrations using this switch here,” she said, pointing to a switch in the middle.

No way, I thought. No way in hell.

“And why would we want to do that?” I asked.

It’s part of something called EMDR therapy. It can be used as part of treatment for people dealing with trauma.”

“Am I traumatized?” I asked. Could I get a special parking placard for that?

“I’d like to use it to see if we can access some old memories of yours, take a look at some of your beliefs, but in a way that’s not as distressing as reliving the difficult parts directly.”

“I can do that.”

“Only if you’re comfortable with it,” she said.

This time, I didn’t even try to hide my nervous giggle. “Let’s do this,” I said.

Placing one bulb in each hand, she introduced the pulsing sensation I would feel in a minute. This made me laugh out loud, but when she asked me to think about my biggest fear, that I was crazy and making all this stuff about Aaron up in my head, my hands changed to fists.

“I don’t even know where to begin,” I said. The whole thing was nuts. Me. Aaron. These buzzing things in my hands.

“It’s ok. Whatever you come up with is ok. Get comfortable, and when you’re ready, I’m going to start.”

I closed my eyes and let out of a few more nervous giggles. After a deep breath, I started to let my mind wander and felt a slight tremor begin in one hand. It didn’t take long for the first image to appear, although it wasn’t as much of an image as a sound.

“Frogs. Peeping tree frogs. I’m sorry, that’s so lame,” I said.

“Not at all. Keep going,” I heard her say.

“I used to hear this sound at night all the time growing up. In the summer, I’d open my windows and fall asleep listening to them. I still love that sound. I can hear them, but I can’t see anything. Just dark.”

After I let myself relive the sound of the peepers, I felt a slight vibration in the other hand. The first thing that came to mind was my locker from high school.

“Now I’m at my locker. Like, from high school. This is where I’d meet Aaron every day. Our lockers are blue. I dream of this place often. In my dreams I know the combination, I really do. I know it by heart, but it’s always so hard to open. I hate that.”

After a few moments, I felt the pulse shift once again. Since my therapist wasn’t telling me to stop, I decided to babble until she cut me off.

“I’m somewhere different now. This isn’t my parent’s yard at home. Everything is black, black, black but I can hear the ocean waves below. Oh! I know now. I’m in Samoa. I know exactly where too.” I had traveled to Samoa in the year 2000 in an attempt to escape my grief. Surely it couldn’t follow me to the furthest edge of the earth, I thought. I was wrong. It could.

My words sped up as more thoughts kept flooding in. I wanted to get out as much as possible before the moment and the feeling that came with it faded.

“This was the night we walked to the other side of the island. We left the main island and rode by motorboat to another. There was no electricity there. Two others and I went for a walk. It was so dark we had to crawl on our hands and knees up this tiny dune. It was so dark I couldn’t tell what was up and what was down. I’ve never seen darkness like it. Sometimes, we held onto each other and pulled each other along, and when we finally got to the top and looked up, there were stars. Just stars, but like a million. Oh my God, those stars. I had never seen so many and we just stood there in awe. No one said a word, but we could feel each others’ presence.”

The image started to blur. The stars faded as quickly as they had come. I knew I was finished even though I didn’t know what I had done. I placed the buzzers to the side and opened my eyes. It was slightly disorienting, but I felt calm and relaxed.

“I’m sorry. That probably wasn’t what you were looking for,” I said as I rubbed my eyes.

“How was it?” she asked.

“Ok. Different, I guess.”

“Did anything surprise you?”

‘That night on the hill, by the ocean. It was so clear. I was so happy there.”

“Did you learn something from that night?”

“Not really.”

“What stood out?”

“Just how dark it was, I mean it was so dark that people were standing right beside me and I couldn’t even see them, even though I knew they were there.”

“That’s a lovely realization,” she said.

I shrugged. “I guess so.”

She gave me a minute to think about it while she put the machine back in the basket and slid it back under the chair. Then, she leaned back and tilted her head to the side.

“So, someone can be with you, even if you can’t see them?” she asked.

“Of course,” I said.

It took a minute, but like a Jacob’s Ladder, snippets from the past fifteen years unfolded in my mind, each one clacking against the next in a steady waterfall of realizations. The dreams, the coincidences, the signs. I had been fighting against them all, doubting for so long, pushing these thoughts out of my head in an attempt to make space for whatever memories of Aaron I could hold onto. In doing so, I had disregarded so many more.
I didn’t move. I didn’t speak. Just sat on the couch and waited for her to be the first to say something. It was time I learned to listen.

“How do you feel?” she asked?

My first instinct was to say fine. Ok. I’m good. But the truth was that there was still warmth beside me, a slight tingling at my left side. I had felt it many times before. A type of presence or cloud of static. I used to feel this way when Aaron was by my side, like electricity was in the air. I missed that feeling.

I could have left out this detail. I didn’t want to hear her when she told me that was just a side effect of the pulsars or that she too had felt a warm breeze come through the window, but for the first time, I made a conscious decision to say what came to mind.

“I feel like a warmth, right here,” I said, motioning to the space that filled the air beside me. I waited for an explanation from her, but none came. I waited for a question, but there wasn’t one. I waited until the feeling fizzled away, and then even longer to hear what she had to say.

“That’s just lovely,” were her only words.

I didn’t say anything, just nodded. I didn’t know what had happened with the electronic pulsars, or if it was even because of them at all, but I knew that I could finally accept that I was on the edge of something unimaginable. I had always been, and if I was finally being honest with myself, I would let myself embrace it.


Elizabeth Gittens is a writer and educator whose experience with disenfranchised grief and love of the written word has inspired her to create this resource for others. You can read more about Elizabeth here, or visit her on Facebook.

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  • Dan the Story Man

    Nice piece. Thoughtful. Thanks!