“It’s not you, it’s me; it’s my job, family, health, last girlfriend”, was the gist of what I would ritually say to women after a few weeks of dating. Most of them bought it. They would hug me, crying, and wish me luck on my recovery, my promotion, my dead relatives or whatever other bogus excuse I’d made up as to why I could no longer date them. “Tim, I know you’ll find the right woman one day, I just wish it could have been me”, they would say over and over again. It was pathetic really. All of them desperate, all of them hopeful; all of them except Laura Ashford.
I met Laura at a house party in college while on a date with another woman. She was witty, and funny and very attractive. After “dating” her for a few weeks, I used my famous line on her and she let me have it. She called me a liar, a child and selfish bastard. She was right, but she gave me a chance five years later and when I ruined it, five years again after that. She finally gave me the pink slip in November and after reeling for a few months, I decided that was it, I was going to grow up and commit. I bought a ring and decided to go all 'story book big' on the ask, but an unfortunate texting incident made sure I would never make it.
I remember going in and out of consciousness; the white lights and chatter of doctors speculating on my well being incredibly close yet loudly far away. For a brief moment, I remember seeing Laura at my bedside, though I must have imagined it. When they called the time of death, I took a final deep breath ready for eternal sleep.
Except the beeping of the heart machine woke me up on the other side in an assembly line of other dead folks. Every two minutes another alarm would sound and a short little man named Jessups would put the frightened soul on the conveyer belt. The belt lead to various little rooms with signs that said “Debriefing”. In the debriefing room, I was met by Sanaa who informed me that I’d been a very naughty boy and was scheduled to return to earth to finish out my correction, yet again. I had two sets of parents I could pick and two separate life tracks that would culminate in the same old man death, which would hopefully be my last go around in this, the lowest of human levels. I was in shock and still processing that I was half naked and had arrived via some strange conveyer belt, but Sanaa was not particularly touchy feely or interested in my confusion. I’d been sent down six times already apparently and I consistently failed the ‘Laura Ashford’ test in its many incarnations. There were ten levels of human existence and typically people got one or two lives in each dimension; real sci fi type shit. Apparently, I had not made it past stage two with six incarnations to my name, therefore dragging poor Laura Ashford with me, who kept coming back to help me, though she had completed both stages on the first try.
I was assigned temporary living quarters as I prepared for what they called, “re-entry”. I was to be a little boy in Vietnam. When Laura was finished with her current life, she would find me and again, I would be tested. This was what Jessups told me as he explained the rules of re-entry to me. I had to be put in a deep sleep so my memories could be processed out, I had to set my intentions, blah blah blah. I wouldn’t have it; any of it. There had to be some other way I could be with Laura. He said it was impossible, besides, she had moved and was married to a man named Marshall Gil. I loathed him already. I begged for the chance to see her one last time and finally Jessups gave in and showed her to me on his iPad, thanks to Heaven’s latest tech addition, Steve Jobs. I was expecting to see her running or biking or any of her usual hobbies, but when he showed her to me, she didn’t appear happy at all. She was crying at the foot of someone’s bed; of Marshall Gil’s bed. Lighting bulb. I asked Jessups if there was anyway I could go back to Marshall’s body. Clearly he was in the hospital and not paying it much use. I on the other hand, could finish my correction with Laura if I only had the chance! He said no, vehemently; adamantly. He was not giving in, besides, dipshit Gil's soul was in “THE VIEWING ROOM” with all the other souls who were in temporary coma’s. They were scheduled to go back, but needed to reexamine their lives. It was a time out, if you will. Next to the viewing room was the “RE-ENTRY ROOM” the last names of coma patients above little shuttle like contraptions that presumably took you back to earth.
I couldn’t go back to earth as Vietnamese boy, Minh. I wouldn’t do it. I had to be with Laura and if it was at the expense of Marshall Gil, so be it.
I played Jessups like a fiddle as he gleefully showed me around the compound. Stealing his keys was easy, but running past him and security into the re-entry room proved tougher. Once inside I managed to keep the angry mob out and jump into the Gil re-entry pod. Outside the door they were all screaming upset, but I didn’t care, I had to get to Laura Ashford if it was the last thing I did.
I opened my eyes and saw Laura’s beautiful face staring down at me. She cried as she saw me and put there hands to my face. “Laura” I tried to speak, but nothing came out. I figured it was a side effect of the quick body move,but then things go weird. Marshall Gil was looking down at me as well, his giant sweaty face looked like he’d been crying. He was genuinely happy to see me. It was very strange, but then things got weirder.
I tried to get out of bed, but I could only squirm. I reached out to Laura for help and there it was in front of me…a tiny baby hand. I was a goddamn baby. I screamed out in confusion and pangs I can only assume were hunger, as they cried tears of joy. Apparently Marshall had some sort surgery, something routine at the dentist! The dentist! He wasn't in a coma! I was, I mean, their daugther was in a comma! Stupid Marshall Gil had tripped at the hospital and chipped his tooth. Laura had been crying because she was a nervous nelly not because she was sad. This was a nightmare! But nothing could have prepared me for what came next. “She’s alive,” cried sad sap Marshall Gil, tears streaming down his giant chin. She? She was not a concept I was prepared for. She was not who I was meant to be and not how I was going to pass the ‘Laura Ashburn’ test and move on. Goddamn it! I wailed, giant baby wails which were only compounded by the sounds of their laughter and joy. I reached down my baby hand and there it was, my tiny baby vagina. My eyes rolled in the back of my head, the room started spinning and I passed out.
When I came to in the hospital, Laura was cooing at me. Her beautiful eyes, kind and loving. I knew those eyes. I’d seen them before. She told me how much she loved me and how happy she was I was alive. It’d been a rough birth apparently and her daughter, whose body I was somehow occupying, had been declared dead when I brought her back to life in the Re-Entry. What a mess. Then stupid Marshall Gil came in with his giant chin and hugged me tightly. His five o’clock shadow on my sensitive little face. I let out a wail. I couldn’t believe this was my life. Then the genius Marshall Gil decided that I might be hungry. Laura exposed her breast which made me feel very strange in this situation. Before I knew it I had a boob jammed in my mouth. I could barely breathe and swallow at the same time, my baby body not in charge of its faculties. I couldn’t understand how to make it work, breathing, sucking and swallowing. It’s challenging when you have to actively do those things at the same time and tell your body how to do them. The things you take for granted.
It was a long night trying to feed. She was frustrated and I was starving. We both cried most of the night until exhaustion won over hunger and we finally slept. Her boob no longer had the appeal it once had. I was broken. I hoped Sanaa or Jessup would find a way to fix my mess and kill this baby body. I know it sounded harsh, but Minh in Vietnam was sounding better and better. At least then, I wouldn’t have any memory of my previous life or have to endure the gross reality of watching Laura and Marshall Gil in all their baby bonding glory. I was going to have to take matters into my own tiny hands and at least break them or figure out how to kill either Marshall or myself, but something was going to have to give. There was not enough room for both of us.
For six painful weeks we endured. I finally got the hang of eating, but everything was hard. I couldn't hold my head up. I got gas for nearly every meal and holy hell was that painful. Bath time was especially hard, as Einstein Marshall Gil was somehow unaware that his version of luke warm was ice to my sensitive skin. But nothing could have prepared me for having to watch Laura and Marshall try to have sex while I was in my crib. I put a stop to that real quick. Having baby lungs proved to be pretty useful. Anytime they were getting into love dovey mumbo jumbo, I’d go into a frenzy. I was actually quite proud of myself and after three months of no sex, their relationship was starting to suffer. They were fighting pretty often and I was, dare I say, satisfied with my baby self. As I learned to roll, I also made sure to roll off the couch when a suitable pillow was available below or roll off my baby pillow anytime he was on his phone. I took special pleasure in coughing excessively during his feeding shifts. This successfully created a fight everytime, as I planted the seed in Laura’s head that Marshall Gil might be an unfit parent. Inception bitches.
What I didn’t count on was Laura going out of town on business and leaving me with bone head Marshall Gil. I tried my best to make his life hell. I threw tantrums in public, I pooped on him while he was changing me, even managing to projectile it into his mouth. Nothing could crack this guy, he was genuinely in love with me, well, with his daughter whose body I now inhibited.
After three days of living with this bozo who put my diapers on way too tight and dressed me in too much pink, I woke up feeling like shit. I couldn’t stop pooping, my head was pounding, and I was cold like I had never experienced. I couldn’t stop crying. Marshal Gil, man. Boy did he show up. For the next 48 hours he nursed me back to health with just the right combination of pumped milk and pediasure. He stayed up down and sideways with me until I felt better. This baby body was weighing me down, but I’d be lying if I said I’d have made it without Marshall. As I was getting better we actually watched football, he started reading me books, none of that baby shit, and he even started loosening my diapers a little bit. I eventually even got used to the pink shirts.
By the time we made it to my four month check up, Marshall wasn’t that bad. We were actually getting along and Laura would be back in just a few days where I could use all the intel I’d gathered on Marshall against him. I felt bad, but I could’t loose sight of mission, no matter how much I’d grown to…lets just say, not fully dislike Marshall. At my fourth month check up Dr. Sagi ordered a bunch more tests. Marshall protected me like a defensive line man. He wanted to know what each test was for and it had to meet his standards of necessity before he let them poke me or swab me too much. He was making this harder and harder.
By the time Laura got back, she’d been gone a month. She wanted to breast feed me, but we were over that. She was frustrated and upset that we’d missed time together. I was frustrated that I couldn’t find a way back. I mean how was this going to work? Was I going to grow up with the knowledge that I’d known Laura…my mother…biblically? I mean, that was some real oedipal shit right there. But I did love Laura and I wanted her to be happy. I didn’t know how to work this out. Maybe the right answer was that I somehow kill my baby self and she can start over, with Marshall. He was a half decent guy. They deserved to be happy without me butting in the way, but loosing their kid would kill them. Maybe I had to live for them. Maybe I had to just get over it. It felt like a no win situation. I prayed for the first time, for a way out.
Laura was bottle feeding me when it happened. I started shaking all over, my tiny baby mouth was foaming. I couldn’t breathe. Marshall held my hand the entire time as we made it to the hospital. I was heavily sedated but I could make out a few words. Seizure. Heart issue. Not enough oxygen. There would need to be a surgery. Now.
I wore the tiniest baby gown they had and Marshall made sure my diaper wasn’t on too tight. He held my hand the entire way to the operating room until they wouldn’t let him anymore. He told them he was my father and wasn’t leaving my side until I fell asleep. He meant it too. When I was Tim Taylor, my dad barely called me every other birthday. That was not the kind of father Marshall Gil was. He was the kind of guy who made sure his infant daughter wasn’t afraid. He was the kind of guy who showed up. He was a much better father than I would have ever been.
Once they put me under I was sucked over to the other side where Sanaa slapped me across the face, hard. What was I thinking? She had seen everything and had no shortage of choice words for me. She was going to recommend I spend two additional lifetimes without Laura, unable to do my correction, as a street dog. I didn’t fight it. I concurred with them that I deserved it and that my only wish was for Laura and Marshall to be happy. I begged that they not take their little girl away from Marshall as it would crush him. There had to be some other kid that needed a home that could be granted re-entry into the loving home of Laura and Marshall Gil. He or she would truly be a loved baby. The sentence was pretty harsh, but old man Jessups intervened. He said he’d never seen such a recovery and that my heart had been opened and ready for change. I had passed my test. THIS was my Laura Ashford test. I had to learn to share with her, to love her unconditionally, to love the man that loved her and thank him everyday for making her happy. Jessups made such a convincing case that Sanaa reluctantly agreed and even allowed me to return with no memory of the past. All I would know were my parents Laura and Marshall Gil because the soul is only light, molded to the body we need to achieve our correction, our lesson, to pay our debt. I knew that I would know more love,more kindness and more self awareness in this new life, than Tim Taylor ever would have. I was ready to go home, I was ready to see my parents. Sanaa touched my forehead and all of my previous memories of Laura were sucked out of me. My only remaining memories of the past four months, of my parents feeding me, or holding me, of nursing me back to health.
When Ms. Sanaa took her hand off my forehead, I stood there, five year old Amy Gil. I couldn’t believe how big I was. I looked down at my parents from Mr. Jessup’s special magic notebook. I could see my parents sitting above my baby body, waiting for me to go home. “Ready Amy?” Ms. Sanaa said? I nodded excitedly, ready to go home.
When I awoke, my mom and dad were there, my chest a little sore. “Don’t worry, Amy, mommy and daddy are here,” my dad said. He held my baby hand and kissed my head. I didn’t worry. I knew it was going to be okay.