When I go to the scaffold, it’s always alone.
All the hearts I’ve collected and carry, all the angry faces around me fade into a blur. I can still feel the creaky wood steps beneath my threadbare shoes, the purpose in each heavy step. I know, I believe, each one takes me close to a better place, where my husband and mother and father wait. I pray for my children, pray that all the furor will end with my death and there will be no anger left to take out on them. I will never be free of the sound of the blade falling, a wooden sound is all I can say to describe it, and after that there is nothing. For all I can recall, my current life began the instant that one ended. We aren’t permitted to hold onto the in-between. It makes being in the body even lonelier.
What I recall most is the sun on the grass where I walk, the sun shining through the leaves which is lovelier than anything I’ve ever known. It still bewitches me, makes me remember being normal, as normal as anyone in that position could be. I can’t really understand this other me, who revels in crowds of friends, who had a romantic love that felt like it would last forever. I had a daughter I couldn’t understand either, a socially-awkward little girl who wasn’t always fond of me, who preferred things to people, who was solitary like her father. I wonder if I took on this life to understand her better. I am autistic, asexual, anxious, formerly agoraphobic, (rheumatoid) arthritic, a collector of As that purport to make up the body that’s now me. I am a poor shadow of the true, soul self I remember. I wish I didn’t remember.
It makes a kind of sense. We survive earthly death, I survived that guillotine, I am still with you, and what are the likely consequences of an end like that? A fear of people, of crowds, anxiety about how safe I am or am not? I have a theory that autism is a kind of PTSD we carry over from a previous life, and I think that’s what I have done. Before (I always think of that life as simply “before”), I felt at home with people similar to myself. I braved a long-unconsummated marriage by forming close friendships with the women around me, so close that my detractors called me a lesbian (I was not). I wept when these friends had to leave me. I had a sort of best friend in my husband after early years of tension, and we loved each other very much, though not romantically. For romance, I had someone else, though I can’t remember what it felt like. I just know that however much I love the uncomplicatedness of being asexual, I am missing out on something that once filled my heart near to bursting.
It’s very possible that I chose to be asexual in this life because that great love was secret and unsafe and sinful, or I didn’t believe I could ever love anyone else, or I just don’t want to suffer that loss again. I can’t have children in this life, and I’m glad of that too, because the love we have for our children is a kind of madness. I worry enough about my niece and nephews, love them so much I couldn’t love a child of mine more, and I reconnected with one of my former children and have him as part of my life again, and I can tell you, the tie between mother and child doesn’t end with death. He’s in a new body now, with a new name and new parents, but I still think of him as mine. My son still, the Grail I found after years of searching for, and I love him still.
I don’t know if anyone will read this, or believe any of it. I have no success with diaries, so maybe breathing this pain out into the world will be easier. As a rule, I don’t tell people about before, but now I shout it out into the void. I survived. We all survive. I promise, the body you have now is not your only chance. The people you’ve lost are not gone forever. The new things that seem familiar are not new. You are not stumbling through this world for the first or last time. And in time, you will walk into the light and the pain you carry will fall away like old clothes. What you pick up for your next life is up to you, though some scars linger in phobias and trace memories.
You may have been a pilot killed in war who now fears heights, or a small child who remembers other parents still living in a nearby village. You may visit a country and feel so inexplicably at home that you move there at once, or learn through hypnosis that that coworker you hate killed you in a previous life. You may have once been a famous queen, and she is in you still, but never still. My heart stretches across centuries, across time and space. How could I be this way, and without pain?