Dr. Caldwell Nichols explained that after hypnotizing her, he'd instruct her subconscious mind to return through time to the moment that was disturbing her dreams. Then he'd take her back one day more and slowly work forward through the day until she was reliving the moment, although this time knowing she was safe and protected. Then he would ask her to describe it to them as a third party observer from the future. As if she were writing a story, he said, so she could relate not only what she said, but what she saw and what was done, what other's said and who else was involved. He'd then bring her back to the present and tell her to remember everything that had been said in the room.
When he told her to relax, she told him she didn't think she could be hypnotized because she was so stubborn and hard-headed. He told her to let him worry about that and repeated his instructions to relax. But it was only when Alec took her hand that she felt the tension start to leave her body. Soon, she heard him telling her to return in time until she felt the same way she did when she woke up.
She knew she was crying but the tears stopped instantly when he took her back one more day. A smile spread across her face and she heard his approval when he knew she'd reached the point in time just before the painful event that now plagued her sleep. He told her to slowly work her way forward in time to the start of the incident that was too painful to remember. Becky was surprised to realize she could hear someone speaking. She knew it was her voice, yet it wasn't her.
"She heard the screeching in the distance and the chaotic shouting coming from outside the operating room. But she paid no attention to it anymore, concentrating instead on the orders of the surgeon standing beside her. Handing him the instruments as he called for them, she hardly noticed when the loud explosions started getting nearer. She was so used to the call of 'Incoming!' that she barely reacted anymore. The groaning of the earth beneath the barrage of missile fire could be felt as tremors that caused the glass IV bottles in the cabinet to rattle. Sometimes, if one hit particularly close, it would even cause one or two to fall from their often precarious perch and crash onto the wooden floor below.
"The doctors in the crowded room carried on an incessant conversation. When they weren't batting insults back and forth, they were unleashing a string of obscenities that had long ago ceased to phase her. She even began using many of the words herself, always thinking afterwards that her mother would be rolling over in her grave at her daughter's language. Suddenly, the whole building shook and the windows rattled.
"'They're getting closer,' one doctor observed nonchalantly. 'Goddamn it, keep the wound irrigated! I can't see what the hell I'm doing!' he chastised the nurse at his side.
"'Don't they know we're a hospital?' a newly arrived nurse asked. 'They're not supposed to bomb hospitals.'
"The others in the room smiled knowingly. 'Neither are we. But that don't stop our boys,' a corpsman volunteered. 'Besides, the dinks don't play by the rules.'
"Minutes later, another explosion actually blew out several windows. The corpsman commandeered several sterile drapings and covered up the openings left by the shattered glass. The work on the tables continued uninterrupted.
"Suddenly, the world seemed to explode around her. She was picked up like a rag doll and thrown against what had been the wall moments before. It was now a pile of burning wood and she yelled in pain as her hand and arm were scorched. Rolling to one side, she felt a stabbing pain shoot through her entire body and looked down to see her tibia piercing the skin on the back of her leg. She starred at the bloody mess analytically, as if trying to determine if the wound was more life threatening than those of the people around her. She didn't really comprehend what had happened until she recognized the face of the surgeon who had been standing beside her. His body lay five feet from the open but unseeing eyes only inches from her feet.
"Screaming in horror, she jumped to her feet, forgetting her injuries, and tried to run in the direction she was facing. As soon as she put any weight on the broken limb, she collapsed, landing in a crater left by an attack months earlier. As the barrage continued, she was soon joined by others who dove for what little protection the crater offered. As bodies piled atop her, her face was pushed into the earth and she could taste and smell the mustiness that never seemed to leave during the rainy season.
"Unable to move under the weight of the bodies above her, and for the moment, numb to the pain in her leg, she tried to make sense of what was happening. She heard someone screaming, then realized it was her own voice shouting in terror. Forcing herself to calm down, she began listening for the telltale whine of the incoming shells, cringing in anticipation as seconds later it exploded with an ear-splitting boom, sending debris and dust and trees and dirt everywhere. Mercifully, the attack lasted only minutes. As people immediately began the job they were trained and expected to do— that of repairing the damage done to both people and property— she became aware of someone calling her name.
"'Tony! Tony!' she screamed back. 'I'm right here. I'm okay, babe! I'm okay!' she reassured him. She saw the relief on his face when he heard her voice and the love in his eyes when he finally saw her.
"She hadn't even heard the warning shriek of the last, lone mortar. Apparently neither did he since he did nothing to protect himself. It hit the supply depot behind him and threw him more than fifty feet through the air.
"'Tony!' she screamed, clawing her way from the crater. 'Tony!' Oblivious to the pain shooting through her body, she felt only the pain shooting through her heart.
"When she reached him, his lower body was covered with debris. He was barely conscious, but smiled as soon as he saw her.
"'I didn't hear it,' he whispered. 'I didn't hear it.'
"'Neither did I,' she said. 'I love you, Tony. You're going to be all right, do you hear me? You're going to be all right.'
"'Careful what you say. You could get court-martialed,' he replied, accompanied by the grin she loved waking up to.
"'I could care less if I get court-martialed. I love you and I don't care who knows. I'm going to lift this off you to see if there's any bleeding I need to stop. Can you move your feet?'
"'I can't even feel my feet,' he said, his eyes closing.
"'Don't worry about it. It's probably just shock,' she reassured him. 'Stay with me, Tony. Don't go to sleep. Please. Don't leave me.' Gently lifting the piece of plywood that had been the door of the supply depot, she stared in mortified horror at where his legs should have been. All she saw was a bloody mass of intestines, pieces that had been neatly sliced by some piece of flying debris. Controlling the urge to scream only succeeded because she got sick at the same time.
"'So what's the damage?' he said weakly.
"Wiping her mouth on the back of her hand, she lay down beside him and gathered him into her arms.
"'You're going to be fine. It's just shock. I don't have anything to cover you with, so I'm going to hold you to keep you warm....I love you, Tony.'
"'I love you too, babe....I still can't feel my feet.'
"'Your body needs time to recover. It's still trying to figure out how it flew over here. Don't think about it and before you know it, it'll be over. Think about something pleasant. Remember that weekend in Da Nang?'
"'When you...you snuck down...for the night?'
"'And we made love on the beach as the ocean washed over us?'
"'That was the...the first time...I did it...underwater,' he smiled.
"'It better be the last time unless you do it again with me,' she teased. 'I love you so much. We're going back there as soon as you're better,' she said. 'And we'll walk on the beach again and make love as the sun goes down.' Tears streamed down her cheeks as she continued making plans for a day she knew would never come. When she finished and he didn't respond, she anxiously called his name.
"'What?' he replied, barely above a whisper.
"'I love you, Tony. I love you.'
"'I love...you too, babe....'m so tired.'
"'Then go to sleep, my love. Go to sleep.'
"'Don't leave me,' he slurred.
"'I won't. I won't leave you. I love you.'
"She knew he hadn't heard her. Without a backwards glance, she dragged herself away from his lifeless body."
Becky heard the talking stop.
After several minutes, Dr. Nichols asked, "What is today's date?"
"October seventeenth, nineteen sixty-eight."
"Where are you?"
"In a MASH unit outside Phu Loc."
"What is your name?"
Suddenly, Becky heard Alec start yelling.
"You told me I was going to be all right! I believed you! I trusted you, Rita! And when I woke up, I came to you. You ignored me. I tried to kiss you and you acted like you never even saw me!"
Dr. Nichols asked, "Rita, would you like to answer him?"
"What was I going to tell you, Tony? That you were going to die? I didn't want our last moments to be ones of fear or anger or frustration. I wanted to remember the love and magic we made when we were together."
"Love doesn't die, Rita. I didn't stop loving you simply because I stopped living. You hardly ever thought about me after that day. I'd start to worm myself into your thoughts and you'd slam the door on me. Why, Rita? Why?"
"I didn't want to think about a cold, stiff pile of dead flesh that used to be the warm, passionate man who made me feel so wonderfully alive. I didn't have you anymore, all I had were my memories. And I was afraid if I pulled them out too often, I'd lose them or they'd fade away. But I never stopped loving you, Tony. I just gave all the love I couldn't give you to our daughter."
"Then why wouldn't you tell her about me?"
"I told her about the past. About the love and the magic. I was afraid if I told her how you died, all kinds of things I didn't want to tell her would come out. I didn't tell her how much I hated you for leaving me. I didn't tell her how much I hated her for making me stay alive all those years without you. I didn't tell her how much I resented the way she smiled like you. The way she laughed like you. The same sparkle she had in her eyes when she made me laugh. I hurt all over again every time I looked at her. I felt like such a lousy mother and I blamed you. Then I'd hate myself for hating you and for hating her. Then I'd blame you for putting me in that position by dying. The only way I could stay sane was not to think about you."
Rita was sobbing, but Becky was listening with fascination.
"Do you still love me, Rita?" Tony asked after a while.
"You know I do, Tony. As much as you still love me."
"Then do you forgive me? For leaving you?"
"If you'll forgive me for hating you."
"I just didn't understand, Rita. Now I think I do. Don't worry about it. I love you, babe."
"I love you too."
Becky heard Alec saying, "That's enough! Wake her up. Now."
"Becky, come back to the present. Remember everything that was said today. But know the past can no longer hurt you now that you understand where the pain originated. When I count to three, you'll wake up feeling completely relaxed yet alert. One...two...three....Becky? How do you feel?"
But she didn't answer him. Staring at Alec, she left her chair and walked over to him, kneeling in front of him. Smiling with the deep love she felt for him, she curled up contentedly in his lap. It was soon evident he didn't feel the same way she did— he sat stiffly in her embrace.
"What's wrong, Alec?"
"What do you mean, 'what's wrong'? Don't you realize what happened today?"
"We found out we've been in love before. Can you imagine how deep that love must be to stretch across time like this?"
"I'm not Tony," he said. "I don't want to be loved because you think I'm some long-lost love from the past.... Damn it, Becky! Can't you see that this makes our entire relationship just some closing act of a play written a long time ago."
"I don't see it that way, Alec. I see it as simply a new scene."
"But it's not me you love! It's Tony!"
"What's the difference? 'A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.' Isn't that the way it goes? So you have a different name. It's still you I love."
"You can't be sure of that. Just because I felt the way Tony felt back then doesn't mean that I'm Tony. Maybe I'm just possessed by his spirit and you're possessed by Rita's spirit. Maybe now that they've worked out their differences and resolved their past, you and I won't feel the same about each other."
"Alec, I love you. And knowing I've loved you before only makes it that much more comforting. To know the depth of that love is nothing short of awe-inspiring. But you're right in a way— I'll never feel the same way about you. I didn't think it was possible, but I love you so much more now than this morning. And I know that love will grow even deeper as time goes on. It's been growing for more than a hundred and fifty years— yet it's still so new and exciting. When I look at you now, I know I'm looking at the man I've loved since the mid-twentieth century at least. And if we go back even further, I'm sure we've loved before. Tony and Rita couldn't have developed such a strong love in such a short period of time. Soldiers only served a year in Vietnam if I remember my history right."
"If what you're saying is true, then we've been reincarnated. But there's no proof reincarnation exists!"
"Did you ever think maybe we're the proof? Look at all the seemingly strange coincidences that eventually led to our meeting. And look at how strong our love was from that first moment. How else can you explain it?"
"I can't! But I can't accept reincarnation either. It goes against everything I believe."
"Why? You said you're waiting for the return of the Messiah. Isn't that reincarnation?"
"He's God! If he wants to come back, he certainly can!"
"But doesn't it make more sense to have reincarnation? To tell you the truth, I found it difficult to believe in a God who would arbitrarily make one person's life a living hell and the next one's life a walk through a rose garden. But maybe our walk through hell is just punishment for something we did in a past life."
"So where's the responsibility? If I can pay for a life of crime in another life, what should stop me from taking what I want and damn the consequences?"
"Because you'll know you eventually have to pay for it."
"I'll put if off until next life. Or the life after. When do I have to pay for it? Why do I have to pay for it? I'll just keep putting it off. Reincarnation is like handing someone an unlimited charge account and sticking him in his favorite store. There's no accountability! When the bill comes due, just change addresses."
"The e-mail always catches up with you....God, this changes so much!"
"You got that right," Alec said dejectedly.
"Not about us, Alec. But now I don't have to feel guilty for hurting Will like I did. Someday I'll have the chance to make it up to him. And there's no need to fear dying anymore. If I were to lose you tomorrow, I'd know it was only a temporary thing. Our love would survive and we'd meet again someday."
"Excuse me," Dr. Nichols interjected, "but you two obviously have different feelings about what happened here today. If your relationship is going to work you need to come to some compromise. Some middle ground you both find acceptable. I'd like to make a few suggestions that may help." After outlining his ideas, he arranged for them to meet with him in the weeks to follow then wished them luck during the next week. He told Becky to call him if the nightmares returned.
Becky and Alec followed Dr. Nichols advice— they didn't talk about the events of the preceding week. But they did record their thoughts and fears whenever the subject came to mind. They met individually with him to listen to and discuss the other's recording. This was immediately followed by a joint session in which each tried to ease the other's concerns. Although they didn't solve all the problems in one day, they had a better idea of how the revelations of Becky's dreams had changed their outlook on life.
Their biggest task was now to determine if those changes would allow their relationship to continue. Both of them realized it would never be the same, but where Alec saw this as a negative side effect, Becky saw its positive side. Their sessions with Dr. Nichols continued but after the first few weeks, they really didn't make any progress. Things finally came to a head one evening as they were preparing dinner.
Becky shoved a piece of raw potato into her mouth and crunched loudly as she started peeling another one. "My mother always asked me where I learned to like raw potatoes since we only had real potatoes once or maybe twice a year. I wonder if Rita liked them."
"God, I am so sick and tired of hearing about Rita! You're not Rita, damn it! You're Becky Eyler and you're the woman I love. I don't love Rita! I don't want her in my house. I don't want her part of my life. I don't want to even hear her name ever again!"
"But I am Rita. And Becky too. We're the same person. I can't understand why that is so hard for you to accept."
"I don't love Rita! I don't know Rita!"
"You didn't know me when you knew you loved me!"
"I want you to love me, Becky, not Tony. I want you to love me because you want to, not because Tony and Rita have some unfinished business. How will I ever know who it is you're making love to?"
"I see no difference between you and Tony. It's like Tony is just another name for you. Like a nickname. I answer to Becky, Rebecca, Beck, Becca...hell, I've even answered to Reba. That doesn't change who I am inside. I love you, Alec. Today. Now. Tony and Rita were part of our past, just like the first time we made love is now part of our past. It's a beautiful memory, but it's still just a memory. And the time we spend together today will be tomorrow's memories. Please don't ever doubt my desire to keep creating those memories with you."
"But I can't be Tony, Becky. It goes against everything I believe to accept that I've lived before. And if I destroy the memories of Tony, do I also destroy my chance to create memories with you?"
"No, you won't....Alec, I'm not trying to put down what you believe. But just look at what believing that is doing to you! It's tearing you apart inside. Which of us is happy with life as it stands right now and which of us is miserable? Reincarnation— as crazy and improbable as it sounds— makes more sense to me than a God who's supposed to be all-forgiving, yet tells us that many are called and few are chosen. I'm sorry, but I can't accept that God is going to condemn everyone who isn't Christian to hell simply for not believing in Jesus! You can live a so-called Christian life without believing that Jesus is the son of God. And some who call themselves Christian can be pretty damn judgmental at times— is that a Christian attitude? With reincarnation, we can make up for all our mistakes. We can learn from our past. Life seems fairer when you throw reincarnation into the picture. Tragedy is less tragic— the love lost will be found again some day. Death isn't something to fear anymore. It's like taking a long nap. All the regrets about things I should have done or wanted to do but never did— why regret it? I'll do it the next time around. If I've hurt someone and can't make it up to them in this life, I'll do it in the next one....I'm not afraid of anything anymore, Alec. Have you noticed I don't even wake up during thunderstorms anymore? Even this— with the prospect of losing you growing more probable every day— even that doesn't scare me. I don't want to lose you and I'd miss you like hell. But I know the love we share is too strong and too deep not to draw us back together again someday."
"And what if you're wrong, Becky? What if this is our one chance to get it right? What if God does condemn you to hell for not accepting Jesus as your savior? What am I going to do then? When I stand before my maker and he asks me why I forsook him, what am I supposed to say? What if this is a test of my faith and I'm not supposed to be happy right now?"
"Then you and I believe in completely different Gods. My God is love— he doesn't test people's faith, he strengthens it. He doesn't tempt people, that's the 'devil's' job. He doesn't condemn, he forgives. He has no ego that needs to be worshipped— what value does praise from someone who feels they have no choice but to praise you have anyway? God gave us free will, Alec. If there's only one way back to God, then we don't really have a choice and our free will is just a farce. My God wants me to be happy because he loves me. We're all God's children and when a child attempts something and gets it wrong, the parent sends him back out to try again. That's all reincarnation is, Alec. A second chance. Or maybe a twenty-second. It doesn't really matter since God never gives up on us. He has unending patience and unending wisdom. All he asks is that we give it our best with what we know at the time. Maybe next time, be it this life or another, we'll know a little more and can do a little better. I love my God. I respect him. And out of respect— not fear— I do my best to follow the guidelines he set up for us. I don't fear him because you usually hate someone you fear. I'm grateful for everything he's given me. Including another chance to love you. There's no doubt in my heart. I'm at peace with myself and with my God. I wish I could give you a taste of that peace. Of the feeling of complete security. The closest thing I've ever experienced was walking into your arms that first time. There was no apparent logical reason to believe it would last, but I knew it would. I still believe it will. But it takes both of us believing the same thing to make it come true for us. Even if I do lose you, God forbid, I know my love for you will still be there. As strong and as real as it's been for God knows how long. And next time, maybe things will be different."
She waited several minutes, but he said nothing.
"Do you want me to move out?" she asked quietly.
"No, but it would probably be best if you did."
Putting down the potato she had been peeling, she immediately left the kitchen and went to their room. He found her throwing clothes into a small suitcase as tears rolled down her cheeks.
"I made reservations for you at the Lincoln in Chicago."
She nodded and continued packing.
"Will you please stop for a minute? There's some things I need to say and it would be easier if you weren't flying all around the room."
"I can't, Alec. If I stop, I'm going to fall apart and it'll take me a while to pick up the pieces."
"I thought you said you didn't fear losing me."
"I don't. We'll love again. Of that I have no doubt. But I never said it wouldn't hurt like hell."
Latching the suitcase, she left the room without even saying good-bye. He followed her to the basement where she called for a private car then paced back and forth waiting for it to come. As she climbed into the small vehicle, Alec told her to call him when she arrived at the hotel. She nodded as the door slid close between them, then she fell to pieces all over the seat.