The day my best friend was murdered was the first time I’d experienced a truly psychic experience. I woke up that morning, ten years old, shaken and disturbed by a snippet of a dream, a black and white image of a gurney being loaded into an ambulance. The people doing the loading were resigned to their work, not in a hurry. There was no need to hurry. As they lifted the gurney up, the low front wheels thudded against the bumper. The passenger’s covering sheet shook and slid down. A small patch of dark, curly hair appeared and a lifeless arm slid out from under the sheet, dangling.
I went up to breakfast shaken. My mother asked what was wrong, and I asked her “Did anything tragic happen in the world today?” She had no idea how to answer. “There’s always bad things going on somewhere,” she said. “It’s an imperfect world.”
“Something that affects us?” I asked her. I told her about my bad feeling, about my vision.
“I can’t think of anything like that,” she said.
I walked to school alone. I waited for Scott – my friend, not my brother – but there was no one walking up the street from his house. Nor was he at school when I got there. He must be sick today, I thought. I remember he’d seemed fine when we walked home from school the day before. We had been chasing whirlwinds, which we imagined were portals into a place called “Happy World.” You could see them when the swirling winds over the sidewalk twirled autumn leaves in circles. Stepping in the center of one would, we had believed, transport us to a world where there was no school, no bed times, no annoying siblings, no chores. Only happiness.
We had done this hundreds of times, with no success. No success, that is, until Scott saw one begin to whip up behind us as I chased a dwindling one too far away. He called to me in a frenzied, almost panicked excitement, and I turned to see the leaves flitter around him up to his outstretched arms. I immediately moved to join him, but of course it was too late. His body had already broken the breeze, and the leaves were drifting back down again to skitter and lie and the concrete.
We stared at each other. We hadn’t prepared for this, for only one of us to reach the portal. Even though we knew this was just a game, there was an awkwardness between us now. Neither of us spoke. Scott had an otherworldly quality about him now, like a ghost. A phantom, staring at me from the other side. I lunged at every drift and gust in hopes that I might join him in Happy Land, and we could decide what that would even really would mean for us, but the strong winds that had blown as we’d begun our walk home had dissipated.
Tomorrow, I’d thought fiercely. I’ll get there tomorrow. But that day was still. Nothing moved. Nothing hung in the air except how displaced I felt from everything I’d been two days ago.
“Get Jason inside,” my Dad instructed my Mom later that evening. She all but dragged me by the arm up the steps and shooed me inside and closed the door. Still, I could hear their voices through the open window nearby. “There’s smoke coming out of Scott’s house. I’m going to go check it out.” I waited for him anxiously until he returned, grim-faced. He knew I knew, and held nothing back.
“There was a fire, but they said it was out now. I saw ambulances, but nobody would say if they were ok, or even if they were home.”
We sat in the basement and waited for the news to come on. I snacked on cheerios to calm my stomach. It was 1985. We only had one color TV and it was upstairs. In the basement was an older black and white model. The news led with the story we knew it would: a house fire in northwest Rochester. After hours and hours of waiting, it was almost brutal how quick and fierce the anchor delivered the verdict – the Collins family was dead. No survivors. I don’t remember the exact words. I was staring blankly at the screen, the black and white screen, that showed a pair of EMTs loading a gurney into an ambulance. I saw it strike the bumper. I saw the hair. I saw the arm. I saw Scott’s mother in the shape beneath the blanket, and she was dead.
At the time I cried myself to sleep, my friend had been the victim of a terrible accident. By the time I woke up the next day, he had become the victim of something far worse. Scott had been dead long before the fire. Scott had died during the night when his father smothered both he and his younger brother with a pillow. They would not have heard the screams as their father then went into the master bedroom and stabbed their mother over and over with a kitchen knife until she died.
The fire had been a pathetic attempt to cover it all up with flames. Mr. Collins set it just before he hung himself the following evening. It spread slowly, was detected quickly, and took less than ten gallons of water to put out. Nothing was hidden, not the suicide note shimmering on the computer monitor, not the crimes, not the emptiness of the bleak void left inside the house.
I remember not amazement at my revelation, but only bitterness. Just the previous week I had somehow become convinced that Scott and I had a psychic connection. I tried to prove it through a card test, with me in one room turning cards over one at a time, calling out the number (1 to 52) we were on, and trying to somehow focus my thoughts in a way that would transmit the color of the card from my mind to his. I couldn’t wait for the whole deck to finish, and stopped halfway through. I went into the living room of my house where Scott was to see him doodling on another sheet of paper. On his test sheet, he had already numbered to 52 and filled out the whole sheet with varied alternating appearances of “red” and “black.” I got angry with him because he wasn’t doing the test right. He was supposed to think about each card as I thought about each card. He shrugged and said he had gotten bored and wanted to see if he could predict the order instead. We argued about it, and he went home in a huff. This happened a lot, actually, these fights, and they were always better by morning.
So now here I was, with more evidence than I could have ever hoped for, and I didn’t care. Must visions always come true? Do they come from God? And if they can’t be changed, why show them to you? These are just some of the questions that would serve to shape many of the parameters of my religious identity for the rest of my life.