One spring morning, many decades ago, my Mom had handed me an edition of our local newspaper neatly folded to “frame” an obituary. She’d been wondering if the deceased had been a college buddy of mine.
The deceased’s name certainly was common enough so it could’ve been someone else… but… as I began to read, I could sense my eyes widening and jaw dropping. As surreal as this all was, the in-print particulars had left no “i” undotted; no “t” uncrossed.
Indeed, this was the same guy… we had been enrolled in the same broadcasting courses, worked together in the recording studio and eventually earned our degrees. And now… there I was reading the two paragraph final chapter to his all too short life. Short story even shorter… while my 27-year-young photographer friend was on a photo shoot assignment up in Canada, he had suffered a fatal heart attack.
Six torn off calendar pages later… in the days leading up to Halloween no less… there I was browsing, from A to Z, through a mall record store’s vinyl LP bins near closing time… so completely engrossed in reading liner notes I had barely noticed in my peripheral vision that someone was approaching me.
As it turned out, he was far from being just another nameless customer. His cheerful “Hi Tom!” amply proved that.
OMG… that oh so familiar, distinctive voice. It hadn’t been all that long ago when I had routinely heard it in my studio headphones. There was no denying who had just spoken, YET, all my sensibilities told me this could not possibly be happening. Cautiously glancing upward and leftward there, right before my very eyes, stood my reported dead friend… in the flesh?
Under the circumstances, the one and only thing I could possibly blurt out was, “You’re supposed to be dead!”
For a fleeting moment, I had wondered if I might’ve just joined him “on the other side”. I had read of near-death experience survivors who’ve unfailingly reported…
Stage One: Floating upward, out of body experiences.
Stage Two: Seeing a brilliant, white light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.
Stage Three: Glorious, out of this world, Heavenly family/friend reunions.
Yet, my brief downward glance confirmed that my feet were still firmly grounded; that no EMTs were frantically trying to resuscitate my sprawled out on the carpet, lifeless body. No tunnel vision, either. Even the ambient lighting had never gone beyond that provided by the overhead, fluorescent fixtures. So, if I had, indeed, just died… just how, pray tell, had I managed to skip over the preliminaries… to arrive at Stage Three?
I could sense the puzzled, still startled look, frozen on my own face. My friend almost seemed to be enjoying how he was spooking me out… could not begin to contain his wide grin and chuckling. But this had been so typical of his sense of humor and, on this occasion, he still had his comedic sense of timing down pat. Well, eventually, he realized it was time to tell me all about how he had “died”.
Indeed… there had been a heart attack… BUT… the person who had actually suffered it was the guy who had stolen his wallet. Since New York driver’s licenses of that era had been issued sans photo, the Canadian authorities only had a minimal physical description… so generic it could’ve easily described tens of thousands of men. The discovery that he was still alive had come far too late to “kill” his death notice.
As we parted company that evening, it had been our warm, 98.6-degree, firm handshake, which, ultimately, had proven that no ghostly apparition was he!
As I drove home… alternately glancing between the the nearly deserted road and crescent moon breaking through the clouds on the western horizon… I could not help but mull over all that had happened at the mall. I knew it would take some time for me to more fully shake those still lingering, unsettled feelings.
Well, the good part of this near death experience was neither my friend nor I had to even come close to dying to experience it… and while he hadn’t actually tricked his way out of death, he did get the treat of reading his own obituary.