The Afterlife of Billy Fingers: How My Bad-Boy Brother Proved to Me There's Life After Death (14 page)

BOOK: The Afterlife of Billy Fingers: How My Bad-Boy Brother Proved to Me There's Life After Death
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This scripture lets me reap the rewards of my life. We all receive rewards from the life we lived. No matter how it seems on the surface, every single life is valuable in ways you cannot imagine or figure out while you're alive. Every single life is a gift. Notice I don't say “opportunity” because that means you can fail or succeed. Beyond the concept of failure or success, there's vibration.

Vibration can't be told in words. It's the language of music. Scientists exploring string theory are on to something. The Sacred Scripture of one's life is a symphonic streaming from the unseen light of the paradisiacal Source, if you get my drift
[laughs].

Each person is an instrument of the Divine, composing cosmic symphonies while on earth. Some of the music is melodic, some discordant, some bright and upbeat, some slow and melancholy. No matter. Each piece will be part of your own serenade in the afterlife. All your efforts, your ups and downs, will be a mystical tune you didn't realize you were humming. Maybe, sharing what happens to me here in this world will help you feel your music.

I meet Joseph inside a multi-colored dust cloud where stars are born. Astronomers studying the skies would never guess they're looking at places they will inhabit one day. They're not going to need telescopes or spacecraft or instruments, though. It will just happen naturally.

Joseph and I float side by side through the stardust, as waves of colored lights descend from above. And, Annie, there's no way to accurately express what happens next, but I will try.

As the lights touch me, they transform to melodies. These melodies are evocative; they bring something out from deep inside me. They bring out memories. Not earth-type memories. The music awakens a new kind of memory. The noise and static of the world are gone, and I remember only the soul of what took place while I was alive. I live inside the innocence and awe at the heart of life itself.

The everyday has become the miraculous; the ordinary, extraordinary. For example, waking up. I experience all the changes that take place in me as I shift from dream world to waking life. I don't think I ever really felt the grandeur of waking up or falling asleep or taking a breath or laughing, crying, singing, dancing, or making love.

These memories carry the fleeting glory, the sweet nectar that is now the Divine's gift to my soul. They explode in me with the purposeless purpose of creation, the longing of the invisible to become the fruit and the nectar. Inside this music I become the essence at the heart of bliss.

In my own state of earthly bliss, I just about made it to the mailbox. Inside was an envelope I'd been waiting for. After more than a year, the insurance company of the driver who hit Billy sent me ten thousand dollars for the accident that ended my brother's life. After settling his debts, I'd have a few thousand dollars left over. I thought I'd buy myself a ring to remind me of Billy. Billy, however, had other plans. When I took the check out of the envelope, he whispered,
Go to Jamaica.

Billy once lived in Jamaica and loved it there. As I contemplated feeling the sunshine and bathing in the warm blue water, an idea came to me. I could take Billy's ashes to Jamaica and scatter them at his favorite place in the world, Dunn's River Falls. Scattering his remains in the warm waters of the falls, where people enjoy themselves every day, seemed perfect, except for one detail.

Fifteen years ago, the only time I'd visited Jamaica, I'd gone to Dunn's River. It was a horrible trip. After a harrowing boat ride that included a conked-out motor and fear of being lost at sea, I arrived at the falls frazzled and exhausted, so shaky I could barely stand.

I had expected a gentle cascade falling into a limpid pool, surrounded by brilliant jungle flowers. Instead, I found myself at the bottom of a six-hundred-foot monster waterfall that smashed over steep, jagged, slippery rocks. I'm not particularly athletic, and climbing up those craggy rocks while water gushed over them seemed insane. I walked up the long wood and dirt staircase that ran alongside the waterfall, and as soon as I reached the top, I caught a cab back to the hotel.

The prospect of climbing the waterfall to give Billy a proper funeral was another matter altogether. No obstacle was too big to overcome. I would ascend the waterfall in his honor, and scatter his ashes on the way up.

TWENTY-NINE
The Funeral

I
n March, I left the icy gray world of eastern Long Island and flew to Jamaica. As soon as I arrived at the airport in Montego Bay, the Billy effect kicked in. Billy and I were different when it came to traveling. He was outgoing and warm; I kept to myself. But this trip was different; as soon as my foot touched Jamaican soil, everyone seemed to love me and the feeling was mutual.

I unpacked and put the red silk purse that still held Billy's ashes in a tray on my hotel dresser. On the fourth morning of my trip, Billy woke me up.

Today is a good day for a funeral. I bless you as you do me. Your act of scattering my remains in Dunn's River Falls will bring me your love, especially since your last visit there didn't turn out so well
[laughs].

And even though you know how hard it will be, maybe impossible even, you're determined to put my ashes into those waters. I want you to know that when you put my remains into the waterfall, I will feel it, Annie. I will feel the love behind the gesture.

I know how much you want to do this, but I want you to know it's all right if you don't climb the falls. I
repeat. Climbing the falls isn't necessary. No pressure. Okay?

Today, during my funeral, there will be a sign. And after the funeral, you will receive a blessing. Enough said.

Billy had left me in a playful mood. For the first time ever I asked him for something specific. I was planning to hire a private guide to take me up the falls.

“Can you do something special with my guide? Maybe his name could be William in your honor.”

Billy said nothing. Then I asked him if I should leave my silver beaded bracelet at the hotel so I wouldn't lose it. I treasured that bracelet; it had belonged to my meditation teacher. I never took that bracelet off my wrist.

If the falls takes your bracelet, it will be a good thing
, is all Billy said.

I put the red silk purse in a small backpack and took a taxi to Dunn's River. The first thing I saw when I got there was a banyan tree about six stories high. Tex had written a story about a banyan tree, and I really wanted to see one some day.

“This must be the sign Billy was talking about,” I thought.

I rented special rubber climbing shoes, then followed the arrows to the hut where the private guides hung out. About a dozen men in red tee shirts sat around, eating, smoking, playing cards, waiting for jobs. One guide was sitting alone in the corner,
staring into the distance, looking downhearted. The woman in charge turned to him and said something I couldn't hear. The guide looked at her, shook his head, and turned away. In the brief glance I got of his face, something about him reminded me of Billy.

“Excuse me. Could you come here, please?”

The man came over, reluctantly. His name was printed in black letters on the front of his tee shirt. The name Willie was really close to “William.” And even though it was obvious that the guide wanted to be left alone, I said, “Willie, you're the one. I know it.”

I took him aside. “My brother died about a year ago and I'm giving him a funeral today. He loved Jamaica and he loved this waterfall. I want to put his ashes into the water and then climb the falls to honor him.”

That got his attention.

“I'm terrible at these kinds of things, probably the worst climber you've ever had. I'm scared I'll slip and kill myself. I need someone special to help me.”

A change came over Willie. “Don't worry, honey. I'll help you,” he said.

The climb is always made from the bottom of the falls to the top, so we took the stairs to the beach where the gigantic waterfall plunges into the Caribbean. I stared up at the water thundering over the steep rocks and said to Willie, “There's no way I can do this.”

Willie took my hand and started pulling me into the crashing water. He was going way too fast. He reminded me of Billy, all right—Billy and his reckless ways. I broke away from Willie's grip, and as he began
climbing the waterfall, I walked up the steps alongside it, watching.

When Willie got to the place where the falls formed its first pool, he stopped and waded in the water towards me. “Come on in, honey. Come on. Let's put the ashes here.”

I was terrified, but I took Willie's hand, drew on all my love for Billy, and waded into the pool. I pulled the ashes from my backpack and scattered them into the water my brother loved so much. I felt Billy in the sunshine beaming down. I cried. . .and smiled. . .and cried some more. Willie also shed a tear or two. Then Willie carried me to a rock where we both sat and let the water rush over us. I felt cleansed. I'd finally given Billy the funeral he wanted.

Willie took my hand, but this time it wasn't the hand of wild careless Billy; it was the hand of Billy the nature boy, who was sure-footed and steady, could jump from rock to rock with ease, and help you make the climb.

“If I climb, I'm going to slip, Willie,” I said. “I'll break my leg, or worse. I'll crack my head open.”

Willie said, “I won't let you fall, honey. I promise.”

“I can't. I just can't do it.”

“You can,” he kept saying. “You can.”

I started climbing. I was scared to death. But little by little, with Willie's help I gained confidence. Where the rocks were especially slippery and steep, I held on to Willie so tightly he almost couldn't move. I was crying and thanking him the whole way up. After
more than an hour, we reached the last pool at the top and leaned back into the rocks.

“This is a very spiritual waterfall,” I told Willie. “And this was a very spiritual climb.”

“Yes, honey, very spiritual.”

When our adventure was over, Willie's sad face was now smiling. We embraced like old friends and I went to retrieve my shoes.

It was getting late and only the two women who worked at the shoe rental shop were still there. I couldn't contain my excitement. I told them about Billy, about how much he loved Jamaica, how he had lived there once, and how Dunn's River Falls was his favorite place on earth. I told them he had died in an accident a little more than a year ago, and that today I put his ashes in the falls. I told them Willie was the best guide in the world. I couldn't have made the climb without him.

They were silent. Then one of the women said, “Willie had a brother. He died about the same time as yours.”

“How?” I asked.

She hesitated. “He died in the waterfall.”

I changed my shoes and ran to find Willie.

“Oh my God, Willie. I just heard about your brother! Why didn't you tell me? What happened?”

“I didn't want to spoil it for you, honey. It was my day off and my family was having a picnic here. My younger brother, he had been drinking way too much. I was talking with my wife and all of sudden she has this upset look on her face. I turned around and saw
my brother out there on the rocks, dancing and fooling around, acting crazy. He had no business going into the falls drunk like that! The next thing I knew he slipped and hit his head. It happened near the bottom pool where we put the ashes.”

So this day had been a double funeral of sorts. How intense it must have been for Willie to hear me pleading with him not to let me slip.

“I saw it all. I watched him die. It still hurts so much,” Willie said.

I took the silver bracelet from my wrist and put it on Willie's. Then I led him to the banyan tree. We sat under it, as I held his hand and told him my story about Billy and how he'd been talking to me since he'd died.

“Thank you, honey. Thank you so much,” Willie said. “For the last couple of years I feel like death's been chasing me. My sister died a little while before my brother, and my father just died last week. But today was some kind of miracle. Thank you and thank your brother for me.”

Willie and I held hands as we walked through the trees and flowers. He looked about ten years younger than when we met. A flute player and a guitarist appeared out of nowhere and followed behind us. We were half dancing down the path like children.

“Goodbye, honey,” he said. “I'll never forget you, or Billy.”

I took a long last look at Willie, memorizing his face, put a wad of money in his hand, and got in a taxi.

When I returned to my hotel, I walked to the beach. The sea was strewn with tiny purple and white flowers for as far as I could see. There were no flowers on the sand, only in the water. There was no reasonable explanation for this phenomenon. As I swam through the petals, I felt I was floating through blessings from another realm. I kept seeing Willie's happy face and knew for certain my experiences with Billy were meant to be shared.

Part Three
From Soul to Spirit
THIRTY
The Death of Memories

A
fter I returned to New York, Billy told me to phone his ex-wife and tell her about my trip to Jamaica. I was reluctant, but Billy insisted. He said she had something for me.

I made the call. The conversation was pleasant. A few days later, a photo came in the mail. It was of Billy, smiling, standing in the rushing waters of Dunn's River Falls.

I framed the photo and put it next to my computer so I wouldn't forget what had happened at the waterfall. Willie's transformation was too perfect, too inspiring to be chance. The events at Dunn's River changed my desire to keep the Billy experience quiet.

Billy was gone for quite a while. By now, I was used to his comings and goings and looked forward to whatever was next on his agenda. On a slate-gray May morning, along with the patter of rain. . .

I'm still here, still talking to you from an unknowable, unutterable distance. I'm still here even though right after my funeral in Jamaica, I had another funeral of sorts. I went through the death of my memories.

BOOK: The Afterlife of Billy Fingers: How My Bad-Boy Brother Proved to Me There's Life After Death
10.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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