The Afterlife of Billy Fingers: How My Bad-Boy Brother Proved to Me There's Life After Death (4 page)

BOOK: The Afterlife of Billy Fingers: How My Bad-Boy Brother Proved to Me There's Life After Death
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What is bliss? Bliss is like being in love multiplied by a thousand, but it has nothing to do with anyone else. It's fulfilling in and of itself. On earth you usually need someone to give you a reason to feel love, and that feeling usually has its ups and downs. With bliss, there's no downside—and you don't need a reason for it. As your soul floats through this dimension, it's just natural to feel bliss.

The kind of bliss that exists here isn't compatible with the human body because bodies are subject to certain laws. I'm sure there are laws here too, but they seem very lenient, easygoing, inclined in your favor. There's a lot of freedom going on here that you don't have where you are. Earth, the conditions there, traps you in limitation. For me, there seems to be no limitation, only potential.

That's because God, or Spirit, or whatever you choose to call it, is undeniable where I am. As I drift through space, the light rays from the celestial bodies that sparkle all around me, well, those rays have a personality of
sorts—qualities, like wisdom, kindness, compassion, and intelligence. Sometimes I believe the light rays are actually the super-thoughts of a Supreme Being. Other times I think they are the Supreme Being itself. I can't really say.

Being in an earthly body and looking through physical eyes limits the way you perceive the light. Your eyes can't see the light directly, only the things it shines upon, so the light remains invisible, just like the soul does. That causes a good deal of suffering down there on your planet because it's hard to believe in what you can't see. The light here makes visible what is invisible on earth: the divine nature of all things.

The best cure for suffering? An enlightened experience of it all. What does that mean? It means finding the invisible within the visible. You are not only the person who walks the earth. You have a soul. And that's what the spiritual search is about.

And Princess, even though I disappointed you in the past, don't dwell on that. Disappointment is part of the pattern of earth. But things change. I know you've heard this a million times, but it is a secret. Things change. When you die, you realize how much and you realize there are immortal things, things you take with you, and they change too.

The Eastern concept of Maya, or illusion, what does this mean? It means temporary. It means our lives are temporary.

The next Wednesday night, writing group night, was cold and blustery. As I walked up the stone path
from my car to Tex's house with the red notebook in my bag, the floodlights seemed brighter, the moonlight more silvery, the bare trees more sculptural.

“The Billy effect,” I told myself. It was the first time I used that phrase.

Six of us settled into Tex's nubby gray couches and chairs. I was the first reader that night.

“I've started a new novel. It's a little quirky.” I took out the red notebook and read Billy's first two entries.

When I finished, I looked around the room and saw nods of approval. Maybe they were being kind; everyone knew my brother had just died.

Only one person—J.B.—hadn't looked at me. I knew he wouldn't be kind. J.B. was cool, distant, and unemotional. Also, we had an unspoken competition about who could find the most flaws in the other's work.

Tex just sat there, staring into her coffee cup, waiting.

Suddenly, I felt an irresistible pressure and couldn't keep quiet. “The truth is, I know it sounds crazy, but Billy's been talking to me. What I just read really came from him.”

“Then you have to write it like that,” said Tex.

“Writing a book with my dead brother? It's too weird.” I scrambled to explain my reluctance. “You guys already know me. But people are going to have a lot of opinions about this. They'll think I'm a spacedout ditz, or worse, a fraud.”

“Since when do you care what people think?” asked Tex.

“I don't care. I just don't want them to ruin it for me.”

“There's a Brazilian author,” J.B. said, “late nineteenth century, Machado de Assis. He wrote a great book called
The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas.
The main character is dead and he's speaking from the afterlife. So do what you did with us. Pretend it's a novel. No one ever has to know.”

I went to sleep that night hoping Billy would visit in the morning. But days passed without any further sign. Maybe I'd lost my spiritual experience by talking about it. Why had I listened to Tex instead of my meditation teacher?

This time I was the one who'd disappointed Billy, not the other way around.

They Can't Take That Away from Me

wo weeks after I read his messages in class, it was Billy's birthday. I still hadn't heard from him and was feeling blue. When I woke up in the middle of the night, my whole body hurt.

Billy's probably upset with me, probably feels I've betrayed him, exposed our secret. Why hadn't I asked for his permission? Oh God, listen to me! I've become an airy-fairy weirdo who needs permission from her dead drug addict brother. I'd better get my feet back on the ground. Billy probably isn't even real.

Then, I heard Billy—singing.

No, No, they can't take that away from me . . .

Don't worry, Princess. Even though I left the earth, you haven't lost me, have you? I'm kind of your guardian now. I don't blame you for having doubts about all this. But if I'm not real, how come my singing makes you feel so much better? Especially since I still sing out of tune

It's an energy I bring you. It's love. Not earth love. Not dependent on what you do or how you look. Not
the kind of love where today I hate you and tomorrow I love you, although it's usually the other way around. It's usually more like yesterday I loved you, but today I hate you because you're not who you were the day before. I bring the kind of love that exists where I am.

How come? I guess it's being allowed. An exchange between us, between different dimensions. Why? Maybe because I want so much to give you something, and this is something you're able to take. You need another dimension in your life, Miss Garbo.

You're calling on me because it's my birthday, but I'm in deep learning and it's hard to talk even though you want me to—and I'm sorry about that. Why don't you bundle up and walk by the bay? The salty blue living water, the snow on your face. Turn to nature to pardon some of the difficulty you have to bear. Nature has more light than anything else on your planet. Then, instead of your usual meditation, think about the healing chamber I went through when I died. It's the part of the afterlife that touches your body at death, so it's not far from your world. I know when I described it you could feel it a little.

Got to go. Happy birthday to me.

When it got light outside, I put on my winter gear and headed for the bay. Just as I arrived, a light snow began falling. The water, the sky, the chanting of the gulls, and the gentle dance of the snowflakes all heightened my sense of exhilaration.

So Billy was my guardian now. My messed up big brother was leading the way. He knew things about
me he didn't know when he was alive. He knew I meditated. He probably also knew that I had stopped since his death.

When Billy died, I was too wrecked to sit on my yellow silk cushion in the corner of my bedroom. I tried to meditate while lying down, but all I felt was pain. Pain instead of light. For the first time in ten years, I'd close my eyes and nothing would happen. I couldn't find the light inside me.

The bitter wind coming off the bay got to me and I headed home. I lay down on my bed, closed my eyes, and tried to imagine being inside the healing chamber. Soon, I felt silvery light surround me like a spotlight. My cells began twinkling like tiny stars as the light pulled these stars upwards, out the top of my head and into itself.

When I got up, I felt as if I'd just showered in a waterfall of pure energy. Instead of feeling the light inside me, I was now inside the light. I remained in that state of bliss for hours, drinking tea, eating by the fire, composing at my keyboard. My eyes were open the whole time, eyes open.

After the chamber experience, I was able to meditate again. I'd sit on a cushion for hours in a darkened room, focused on the inner light. When you meditate for hours at a time, you hit walls, you get uncomfortable, your mind annoys you, and you're dying to stop. But you stay with it and break through.

Now, with Billy's help, I was also breaking through in a different way. My brother, my crazy,
unpredictable, charming big brother, was telling me the secrets of the cosmos. It was the most unexpected thing that had ever happened to me. I had no idea when Billy would visit again. There was no pattern, except he seemed to prefer sunrise.

Ain't No Sunshine Without the Sun

few days after Billy's birthday I received a call from the insurance company of the driver who ended Billy's life. The insurance guy told me that when the car hit my brother, his head went through the windshield, from the outside of the car, and that Billy had come face to face with the driver. Whatever he said after that was a blur. When we hung up, I put my head down on the desk and cried. Soon, Billy's soothing voice came through the ceiling. I grabbed the red notebook.

So you're having a bad morning and I'm sorry about that. My head going through the windshield was a detail you didn't need to know, Princess.

What an angel that driver was! What a saint! To go through all that to deliver me! I needed to be delivered, darling. I wish you could find that guy and give him a kiss for me.

And of course today is the Ides of March; the anniversary of the day I went to jail for selling drugs. I was never a major league drug dealer. I wasn't even
in the minor leagues; I was just trying to make enough money to keep my own habit going. The life of an addict is not an easy one. It's a very particular road, but it was just part of my road.

Head through the windshield. Dealing drugs. Jail for a few years. Nothing you would be interested in, but it was interesting to me. How far out on the edge could I go before I would fall off?

I fell off, Annie, and it didn't feel that good. Not really. Not when I had just turned sixty and my charms were fading.

Remember all the women I was blessed to have love and care for me along the way? Women really like that particular combination, the bad-boy-saint. And that's kind of what I was, a pure-hearted spirit burning up in the fire of life, an undercover agent from the angel squad, a dark messenger of light.

I had that bad-boy-saint thing going on, and on top of that I needed saving. Women love “the redeeming your soul” thing. And okay, I was dark and goodlooking with a deep voice that was the icing on my particular cake. I had the right voice with the right words sifting through it because no matter what, I was always sincere.

How could I be so beautiful and so terrible at the same time? The truth is, I don't know!

And when you go to your writing class tonight, Annie, give J.B. a message. “There ain't no sunshine without the sun.” Say it where you read how I got hit by the car.

“You must be kidding. I'm not giving that message to J.B.,” I said out loud.

J.B. was the last person in the group who'd want to hear from my dead brother. I was already risking looking like a nut case, reading Billy's communications in class; now he wanted me to deliver a personal message to the most skeptical person in the group. I was sure J.B. had suggested I turn Billy's notes into fiction because he believed that's what they were— fiction.

“There ain't no sunshine without the sun?” Maybe Billy meant the lyrics “Ain't no sunshine when she's gone,” from the old Bill Withers song.

Ain't no sunshine without the sun
, Billy repeated out of nowhere.

“So you can read my mind. Big deal. I'm still not doing it!” I said back.

That night, to my surprise, after I finished reading about Billy going through the windshield, I turned to J.B. and said, “I know this sounds weird, but Billy wants me to give you a message: ‘There ain't no sunshine without the sun.’”

No one, including J.B., had much of a reaction.

Then it was J.B.'s turn to read. He was writing an autobiographical novel based on his time in France. Quite unexpectedly, while reading, J.B. choked up and began to cry as he described an event none of us knew about—his young son had been hit by a car and killed.

The room went silent. J.B. stopped for a minute, then started reading again. Like everyone else, I was
shocked and saddened. Then it hit me. It isn't S-u-n, it was s-o-n! There ain't no sunshine without the

When J.B. finished reading, no one said a word. He was the last reader of the night, and as soon as he finished, he quickly gathered his papers and left.

I stayed after class and Tex brought out the scotch.

“Did that really just happen?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” she said, smiling her fetching crooked smile. “It definitely did.”

“And Billy told me to say it right where he talked about his accident. Did anyone else get that? The car accident thing?”

“I don't know, Annie. I don't know about anyone else, but I was thinking there's no way Billy's message to J.B. could be a fluke. It was too specific, too dramatic. I wonder what J.B.'s thinking?”

“Maybe, in some strange way,” I said, “Billy was trying to let him know his son's soul still exists.”

I got into bed that night feeling excited and afraid, like a kid riding a roller coaster. My heart was pounding. Something important had happened, and the fact that there were witnesses to that something seemed to up the ante. Until now, some part of me was still doubtful that I was really talking to Billy. The skeptic in me wasn't sure that my subconscious wasn't just personifying my brother to help me cope with my grief. But what happened in class was too amazing to write off as pure coincidence.

When I woke up the next morning with a swollen face and an excruciating toothache, my excitement
from the previous night turned to pure fear. I never should have delivered that message to J.B. Was I transgressing some boundary between the living and the dead? Maybe my punishment was a toothache, a warning not to go any further.

BOOK: The Afterlife of Billy Fingers: How My Bad-Boy Brother Proved to Me There's Life After Death
11.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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