It wasn’t as bad as you may think it could be. That one thing that every sane person is afraid of: dying. Of course, the lead up to your actual death could be very painful. Some people wilt away on medication for years, while some just get a surprise bullet to the head. I had a severe heart attack, which was no joyride, but it gave me time to have that all-important “life flash before your eyes” moment. I saw my childhood and my parents caring for me. I saw my music teacher showing me how to play the bassoon. I saw my 21st birthday party and all those people who somehow left my life after college.
Most importantly, I saw Maria. She was the love of my life, and from the moment we met to the moment she died nothing seemed to be wrong with the world. We never paid attention to the news, we only saw comedies in the theatres, we made love almost every night, our two children grew up to be successful and happy, and the last thing she heard in this world was “I love you” coming from my tear-soaked lips. Maria. I could still feel her hand in mine. Even after all those years, I could still feel her.
The moment came. My eyes closed and there was a sudden rush. Darkness intertwined with light shot past me. My whole being became free of my earthly weight. I was disoriented but I had no stomach to purge from. All of a sudden, I was seemingly back in my body, standing up straight and staring at a man sitting at a desk with a large book in front of him
Holy shit, it’s real!?
“Yes, it is real Andrew,” the man at the desk said, “and thoughts are the same as speaking around here so you mine as well just speak your mind.”
I was calm when he opened up the book.
“So it seems like you are one of the few who found their ‘soul mate’ during their time on Earth, a woman named Maria. That’s wonderful, how was that for you?”
I smiled widely. “It was the happiest fifteen years of my life.”
The man (or whatever he was) smiled as he listened to my response. “That’s just wonderful Andrew, simply wonderful.” He looked back down at the book and started to read. “What happened after she passed?” He raised his pointer finger sharpily. “And might I remind you, lying is a useless skill here.”
That calm flew away. “I mourned, sir. My life fell apart. She was my everything. I lost my way without her.”
“What about your kids…Stephen and Angela? How did they react after Maria passed?”
Words started to become harder to come by. “Well…their mother died, how do you think they took it?”
“OK, lets cut the bullshit Andrew. You are aware I am an all-knowing being, am I correct? You wouldn’t even be in front of me if you handled your shit after your woman left your world. So tell me: what happened?”
I was taken aback, but I realized I couldn’t move. He is hearing all of this anyway, why not just tell him. “I gave them to their mother’s sister. I was in no shape to take care of a five year old boy and a seven year old girl, and she wasn’t fertile so she was more than happy to take them. I felt like they deserved more than me. I have gotten back in contact with them, and they are living happy and successful lives. Stephen is a teacher and Angela is a lawyer.”
“Mhmm,” the man gestured. He was now writing in the book. “So you know where you are, right?”
“Purgatory?” I said, hoping I would be wrong but also silently hoping I was right.
“DING DING DING DING! Correct. And I know you haven’t been in a church since the day you were married, but do you remember what purpose Purgatory serves?”
“It’s where the lost souls go to prove their worthiness to go to heaven or hell?”
“Good Andrew, you’re on the right track.” He closed the book and looked right at me. “There is no hell. I know, this is sort of a shocker to most souls, but the big man would never forgive himself if he banished people to a fiery pit for all of eternity. But, regardless of that, there must be punishment for souls that are tarnished.” He moved from behind the desk and slowly walked up to me. “Your soul is tarnished, Andrew. Quite so. You know Maria would never want you to abandon your kids at such a young age. Did you even know Angela has HIV, which she contracted from her 32nd sexual partner out of, currently, 70? She infected 21 people after that, both male and female. She puts on a show for you, Andrew. She secretly hates you for leaving her and, in her words, ‘fucking up her life.’”
“How could I know that? How come she never said anything?” I would normally think these things but the gravity of the situation made me articulate them in my speech.
“And Stephen? When he was 16 he got a 14 year old girl pregnant. In order to cover up the pregnancy, he pushed her down the stairs so she would have a miscarriage. Something he saw in a movie during his years of zero-parental-guidance. Unfortunately, she broke her neck and died while he panicked, delaying the call to 911 while he decided what to do. He has not had a sexual partner since then and currently watches child pornography when he is not teaching 8th grade English.”
“Stop it! Why are you telling me this!” I started to cry, and for a moment I forgot I died and couldn’t help my children anymore.
“Maria wants you to know.” I looked at him through my swelling tears. “You and her were soul mates, there is no doubt about that. It says so in that big book over there, and two soul mates finding each other is really, really rare. When two souls who are meant to be together are actually together, they normally leave a path of beauty and wonder in the wake of their life. The world is always a better place when they leave than when they came. But you two…that has been the opposite. She has been haunted by what she’s been seeing up here, that’s for sure.”
“Maria is here? Can I please see her? Oh my God, she’s all I’ve ever wanted!”
“You still had Maria when she died. You had two of them actually, and you let them go. Not only did you break the bond of father to children, but also between two souls. Though you have felt anguish and pain after Maria passed, you never bothered to keep the fire of your love burning. Just because someone dies doesn’t mean they’re gone, that’s simply ridiculous logic!”
“What are you saying?”
“I am saying, you and Maria are no longer ‘soul mates’. I know, it’s confusing, but things work oddly between heaven and earth. That part of the book has been edited, citing your acts as the reason for the change from ‘soul mate’ to ‘intimate acquaintance’”
Whatever heart I had left disappeared. “So I can never see her again? And I damned my children to horrible lives after I left them? Is that what you’re fucking saying to me you fucking cocksucker?” His anger was articulated behind the waterworks of a tormented soul.
“Yes. And do not become aggressive with me. I am simply but a messenger. A lot of souls think that we secretly control them from up here. That would defeat the whole purpose of life. You see that book over there? New pages are written every second that passes with real people taking control of their real lives. We don’t write anything in there, you do. You have no one to blame but yourself for this. I wish I could say I’m sorry, but I’m really not.”
Anger, hatred, blame, guilt, sorrow. A flood of emotions funnelled through me. I looked at the man, whose face truly showed no remorse. He must do this all the time.
“Where do I go now?”
He smiled, as if thinking finally this motherfucker is leaving me. He gestured towards two doors at the far end of the room. “Honestly, we like to say door number 1 is Heaven and door number 2 is Purgatory, but really no matter what door you go through you’ll end up in the right spot.”
“Thank you…I guess.” I turned around, defeated. I wouldn’t be getting prodded in the ass with pitchforks for all of eternity, but I wouldn’t be dancing with Maria in a sea of rose petals either. It didn’t really matter what was behind that door, because if Maria was not there it would be a hell for me. And my children? How can I go about my afterlife knowing all of that? Maria is heartbroken but can’t wait to get them back in her arms. To protect them from me. Our tie was broken, and there was nothing I could do about it but hope that purgatory had some sort of silver-lining redemption.