The voice was familiar, but I was having trouble placing it. In past conversations that occurred in my head, the participants were deceased, but still chatty. There were talks with my husband, Tommy, and with my parents, Min and Irv. While all of these episodes were tinged with the sadness of loss, I relished my brain's ability to bring these characters back to life, even if briefly.
I was narrowing in on identifying my imagination's latest speaker: it was a woman's voice, young, and definitely not coming from the afterlife. When she continued talking, I felt as happy as if I were welcoming home a long-lost relative.
"I know that emotion you're feeling," she said. "It was the same one we experienced in other parts of our lives. Think back."
She was my 25-year-old self who had evidently decided to reappear at a critical juncture in my journey. How odd that a youngster like that felt it necessary to counsel the 76-year-old she had become. But, I was delighted to see her. I took a moment to bring her full force into my vision: her brunette hair, her pretty green eyes covered by dark-framed glasses, her sweetheart-shaped face, and her welcoming smile.
I patted the empty side of my bed, inviting young Elaine to take a comfy place next to me. She slid in and I sighed as I took note of the extra inches of height awarded to the younger me. "What brings you here?" I said.
"Well, I could see you struggling with your decision to leave Chicago for Los Angeles. I watched you tossing each night, and wrestling with second thoughts. It was painful for me to witness that, so I thought it wise to reappear and help you out."
"It's not really second thoughts," I told this cutie pie sharing my bed. "I know I want to be closer to my daughters, and it's important to do it now, when I'm untethered and in good health. But after I enjoyed lunches and dinners with close friends, I felt sad, and wondered how I'd get along without these people in my day-to-day life."
"Yeah, I saw that," she said, "and I felt your sadness. You may not remember, but you've experienced the same emotion several times over the years. It's called 'separation anxiety.'"
"Hmm," I said, "that's interesting. I thought it was the separation from my daughters that was pulling me towards the West Coast. Now you're telling me the same feeling is tugging me back?"
"Think 1963," she said, pausing a moment for me to envision calendar pages flipping to that year. "Your -- or should I say 'our' -- first husband was called up to serve in Fort Devens, Mass., and you accompanied him. Remember how you cried at the thought of leaving your mother behind? Separation, sweetheart, separation."
So that's why it was my 25-year-old self who had volunteered for this lecture. She was present. Married just three years earlier, leaving the home she shared with her widowed mother. No wonder she felt so vulnerable.
"I have another," I said, grateful I could contribute to our memory bank. "There was the time when he and I left our daughters behind with sitters and travelled to London. We were supposed to stay for two weeks, but I missed the girls so much, I insisted we return after one week."
"Separation," she repeated, "separation. You felt it with Faith and Jill when they were toddlers and you've continued to have a hard time with their absence. But the important thing to remember, dearest, is that these feelings are natural; they're what make us human. We love, and become attached to people, and we feel pain when we leave them."
"Another thing to keep in mind," said my guru "is that in those earlier experiences, you didn't lose the people you left behind. When you moved to Massachusetts, and said goodbye to your mother and best friend, you phoned them regularly. This time, along with calls, Skypes, email and Facebook, you can periodically fly back to Chicago for reunions with special pals."
"Thanks, sweetheart," I said, "You've really made me feel better. Is there anything I can do for you?"
Young Elaine contemplated my question, then said, "I do have one request." She grabbed my hand as if to insure my attention. "Don't let separation anxiety interrupt forward moves. I -- and all of your younger selves -- would be so bored if you suddenly decided to just stay put."
I gave our clasped hands a shake, kissed her adorable forehead, then turned over to sleep peacefully the rest of the night.