Unable to cope with a deteriorating existence, Tess checks herself into a mental health facility. Inside she meets Tebor, another patient who claims to know her from a previous life.
Wondering if she can heal her present by making peace with her forgotten past, Tess becomes receptive to the idea of past-life regression. She is assisted in her journey by Mahiva, a nurse skilled in hypnosis and past-life regression and
her psychiatrist, Dr. Samuelson, who uncovers a family secret that may send Tess to a dark place where no healing
force can reach her.
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The only way to learn is to survive the lesson.
Tess is like you and me, and in the midst of one of the most trying episodes in her young life, something extraordinary is going to happen.
Like the rest of us, Tess has had no shortage of tough life lessons in her twenty seven years: as the only daughter to parents who had survived their youngest child’s suicide, and now, in her twenty seventh year; nurturing a six month old daughter, dealing with the reality that her husband has left her, and a newly acquired anxiety disorder, Tess enrolls
herself in a psychiatric hospital where she will discover secrets and explore an undiscovered past that may change her forever.
Can she stand up to the seemingly endless barrage of bad luck in the now to learn the lesson her past has been trying to teach her? Is it always darkest before the dawn? What strength exists in each of us to turn our lives around? Could you do what it takes? Will Tess? Could a past life or lives assist in understanding this life?
September 15th, 2:00 am
It wasn’t your fault. These are healing words; something Tess’s therapist had her write out a thousand times when she was twelve. It became her mantra, a reassurance that what had happened to her baby brother could in no way be her fault. Today, fifteen years after the suicide that had devastated her life and the lives of her parents, she finds power in those words once more.
“I’m sorry,” says Sam, her husband, who is standing stock still in front of her. All that separates them is the granite topped island situated in the middle of a kitchen under renovation. It is the only working surface available to lean on should he confirm her fears.
“Please,” she pleads. “Please just tell me it doesn’t mean anything. Tell me it was just the one time and I can forgive you.” She isn’t hopeful for this outcome, but can’t bear the thought of the consequences that follow such an act. To be a single mother amidst all the renovations and bills and contractors and sleepless nights; it’s overwhelmed her the past few days and her already pale complexion is rapidly fading to a sickly, almost translucent white.
His head drops slowly, his eyes studying the grout lines framing the new tile at his feet. His heart isn’t in this. He was far from ready to tell his wife of five years he’d met someone else; that since the last month of her pregnancy he’d been seeing another woman. That is a significant amount of time, Sam’s decided and he is very much committed to this new woman. But not at all ready to tell his wife.
“Tess.” He struggles with her name. His chin begins to tremble.
“Please, tell me it will be okay.” She begs. “Tell me that you love me.”
“I do love you, goddamn it,” he manages through clenched teeth. His fist falls with a weak thump on the black granite counter while his other hand finds his face, defending her from his diminishing façade. He jerks and cries into his shield, turning away from Tess.
“Then why?” Tess begs, slowly sinking to her knees, coming to rest on the dusty tile, her back landing against the cupboard of the island.
“I don’t know why.” He turns and slides down the opposite side of the island. “I don’t know.”
“Please don’t leave me with nothing,” she begs.
“If I had an answer I’d give it.”
“I don’t have an answer for you. I haven’t an answer for myself.”
Her voice cracks. “If you love me, be with me.”
“Don’t you think I want that? Don’t you think I want to be happy here?”
“You’re not happy?”
“You know I’m not.”
“I’m sorry if I haven’t had the time to put into you. We have a baby.”
“Jesus, I know we have a baby, and I love her, but I feel like the walls are closing in on me.”
Tess shifts uncomfortably, the thin fabric of her pajama pants offering little insulation from the cool tile. “It’s okay to feel trapped, but you need to talk to me.”
“It’s not you.”
“Me. It’s me.”
It’s not your fault. She tells herself. It’s not your fault.
October 15th, Monday
Tess is up with her daughter. It’s 3:30 in the morning. This is the second time tonight and she only put Emilia down at ten. At six months old Tess had hoped Emma would have gotten into a pattern of sleep that would take her through the night. Even if she wasn’t going to bed until later in the evening, at least sleeping through the night would be a blessing. But neither was happening, and now that she no longer has Sam to lean on, her days and nights seem to run together, one bleeding into the next.
Sitting in Emilia’s room, rocking gently to the soothing sounds of her daughter feeding at the bottle, Tess wonders, as she does every night at this time; what next? It has been a month since Sam left. Nearly that long since she’d heard from him too. He left her with everything including the bank account. She knows she could complete the renovations on their apartment and live comfortably for the remainder of the year if it came to that, but missed him endlessly; his presence in her bed, his turn with Emilia overnight, dinners, anticipating his return from work, adult conversation.
Tess cries silently over the baby, now convulsing in an effort to repress this reaction to her life. Every feeding ends up like this now; Tess crying over her infant daughter, a myriad of what if’s tormenting her. It wasn’t your fault, she reminds herself. There is nothing you could have done to change the outcome. Emilia now sleeping, Tess lays her in the crib, and careful not to make a noise, sneaks out of her room.
It’s now that the exhaustion of the day, both physical and emotional, hits her. With the last feeding of the night over, so begins the long stretch of wakefulness until morning light. Tess has not been able to sleep past four in the morning since Sam left, and with the relentless barrage of scenarios attacking her at her most vulnerable; there is no point in trying. Even lying in bed is a challenge, reading a book a lost cause, nothing silences the onslaught of questions. So, like every morning before sunrise, Tess drags her weakened spirit across the bedroom and into the nearly finished kitchen to begin her day.
After she makes a pot of coffee Tess sits in front of a pile of bills she has had no time or inclination to pay. This spurs on another panic attack. The first had happened the night after she and Sam had confronted his decision to leave. The experience was frightening to say the least, and this was no different. It comes on without warning and starts in her left hand, then travels up her arm and attacks her shoulder. The feeling resembles so closely a description Tess had read on heart attacks that she immediately moves her right hand to her chest. Sure enough the pain enters her chest and Tess grips her left breast, willing the pain away.
Nothing can make you feel more certain that you’re having a heart attack than a substantial panic attack. Even a heart attack either takes you within seconds or goes mostly unnoticed. A panic attack on the other hand goes on and on and with each passing minute your heart fills with a dread that: this time it really is a heart attack!
Tess fumbles with her tablet and punches in a search for panic attack symptoms. This technique settled her nerves enough to allow the attack to subside three days earlier. Finding the page once more she scrolls down, reading hungrily in anticipation of the pins and needles sensation in her arms dissipating. Breathing in and out slowly also assists in alleviating the building panic. Each breathe in is an exercise in concentration.
After ten minutes the symptoms leave as suddenly as they‘d appeared. Feeling one hundred years older now, Tess sits, bent over the dining room table, head in folded arms. Then the baby cries.
It seems that she will be given no quarter today, and with the men coming to complete the kitchen in just a few short hours, Tess predicts a difficult day of electric drills and skill saws buzzing in her ear while she and Emilia shut themselves into her bedroom to watch cartoons.
As nine o’clock approaches the buzzer sounds and Tess lets the men in with all their noisy equipment. She’s happy to know the work will end after today, or so she’s been told, but the barrage of questions concerning the specifics of the job is more than she can handle. This is their sixth time at the house and Tess is well versed in how to make small talk. She points out the coffee maker with a full pot brewed on the counter and relays her plans with the baby for the day.
The foreman assures Tess they will be done today and out of her hair for good, barring any unforeseen difficulties. She nods and realizes she’s been staring at the man. He looks inquisitively at her and asks whether there was something else. Tess, embarrassed now shakes her head.
“Sorry. Just tired is all.”
“If I have any questions for you I’ll come knock on your door.” He smiles and turns to accept a coffee from his apprentice.
Tess turns around and walks quickly to her room with Emma on her hip. It has been a long time since she’s even considered the company of a man, but fixed in that gaze she felt a sudden yearning for the unshaven foreman dressed in a white tee, beige overalls and steel toed boots.
In her bedroom, Tess catches herself in the vanity mirror and stops. Studying her reflection, she chastises herself.
“Look at you, nobody would want you.” Her hair is in knots and her face blotchy from the embarrassment she felt breaking eye contact with the foreman. She had done nothing to fix her appearance since waking up in preparation for their arrival, never even considered it. How could she have let herself go like this, she wonders. Glancing over at the collage of wedding photos still adorning her wall, she sets the baby down on her bed and pulls them down, tossing them into the corner. The glass shatters on one of the frames and she again curses herself. She had thought leaving them in place served one of two purposes: Either Sam would return and everything would be as it was, or she was steeling herself against him. Nothing had changed, though. Not in the month since he had disappeared. He hadn’t returned to them, nor had she felt stoic against the black and white memories. She lives in a Mausoleum, she decides, a sad memorial to a marriage that didn’t work.
That afternoon the work is completed as promised and as the apprentice cleans up the foreman knocks on Tess’s door.
“All done,” he says. Tess opens the door and smiles at him. She’s made herself up; put on something more appropriate than the tights and loose sweater she’d been wearing to greet them and walks to the kitchen with Emilia again resting on her hip.
“Wow, that looks really nice,” she tells them. “I couldn’t imagine it finished for the longest time.”
As the men clear out of the apartment, tools in tow, the foreman hangs back a moment to collect his check. Tess places Emma on the floor in front of the TV and writes out the remainder of what’s owed him on the island counter. She pauses, wondering whether she could ask him out for a drink some time. She feels she needs to recover from the verbal beating she gave herself earlier in the day. A date would do that.
“Say, Remy, right?” She keeps her eyes on the check while she addresses him.
“Yes. Tess, right?”
“Yes, um, I was wondering, if you wanted to, I mean, maybe you’d like to get a drink some time?” Tess feels her face flush. Her gaze remains on the counter.
“Oh, uh, I can’t, but I would like to.” He pulls a ring from his pocket and places it back on his finger. “I, uh, I take it off when I’m working.”
Tess glances over and sees that his ring finger now wears a gold band. She stands up straight and hands his check to him, red faced. “I’m so sorry. I mean for me, not that you’re married. I loved being married.” She smiles awkwardly and walks to the door. “Listen, I’ll, um, give you good references if you need them. Great work. Thanks again.” She can’t stop talking now, wishing the moment away.
“Hey, I’m honored, really.” He tells her from the hall, quickly studying her own decorated ring finger.
“Oh, you don’t have to say that. I’m okay, I understand.” She runs a hand up and down her arm nervously.
“Well, you take care and enjoy your new kitchen.” He bows out and heads towards the elevator where his apprentice is waiting. Tess closes the door and sinks to the floor, humiliated.
Tuesday, 3:00 am
That night Tess wakes with a start. Her heart is pounding and she feels a chill on her back as she sits up. She’s soaked through her night shirt and her hair is matted to one side of her face. She peels her shirt off and ties her hair back, lifting it off her neck. Looking at the alarm clock she sees it’s nearly time for Emilia to wake for her feeding. It’s not particularly hot in the house, in fact it’s quite cool, so why all the sweat? Bad dreams, she faintly recalls.
Tess moves to the other side of the bed, avoiding the large damp circle and lies down again. Pathetic, she thinks, that she still practices sleeping on her side of the bed, while his remains vacant. Then the dream which woke her reveals itself in sporadic scenes, flashes of memory dance behind her eye lids.
There was a war going on outside her home. Not her current home, but her home all the same. It was dark save one electric light flickering with each vibration. Plaster fell on her each time a sound more threatening than thunder exploded overhead. The last thing she remembers of the dream was searching helplessly through the rubble of her home for her children, crying out to them, panic-stricken, wishing her husband were there.
I can’t even escape into my dreams anymore, she tells herself, placing both hands over her face. The idea that she may find no peace in sleep now devastates her. She surrenders to the anxiety and turns to sob into the pillow, a pillow which still carries Sam’s scent.
On this night Emilia does not wake for her 4am feeding, and Tess manages to collapse back into sleep after an exhausting hour of crying. At 7am she rolls over to look at the time. The house is silent. Tess is suddenly overcome by fear. How could Emilia not be awake if she hadn’t eaten in the night? She hurries out of bed and rounds the hallway to her daughter’s bedroom. She rushes in and finds Emilia on her stomach, in her crib. She is still. Tess is afraid to touch her. She’s afraid to know. She’s heard of crib death in infants, she’s heard of all kinds of awful ways a child might die.
Emilia coughs and Tess’s heart leaps. She reaches down and pulls Emilia up to her chest. The baby is blurry-eyed and begins to cry. Tess savors the moment, hugging her and tearing up.
“Oh, Emma,” she says over and over. “I love you, I love you, I love you.”
Emilia settles down and Tess walks her to the kitchen, opens the fridge and retrieves a bottle of formula. She had tried to breast feed early on but after a month of aggressive pumping she became discouraged and made the decision to go with formula. This did nothing to encourage her that she was a good mother, and she berated herself each time thereafter she prepared a bottle of store-bought baby formula.
Once the bottle is warmed Tess sits on the couch and thumbs at the television converter for a children’s show. Emilia is happily feeding on the bottle when the phone rings.
“Hello,” she answers, more enthusiastically than she’d meant to.
The other end is silent, and so she repeats herself, this time with a hint of irritation in her voice.
Still nothing from the caller. Tess listens a little more attentively, furrowing her brow as she leans into the ear piece. The other person hasn’t hung up. They haven’t done anything. Emilia lets out a satisfied burp and goes back to feeding.
“Sam?” She waits for some response. “Sam, is that you?” The phone drops at the other end. Tess jerks back from the receiver and hangs up. She looks down at her daughter.
“Your Daddy says hi.” She smiles painfully and brushes her thin fingers through Emilia’s short blonde hair.
The phone rings again and this time Tess checks the call display. Unknown number. Well, maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. She would take some comfort in believing it was Sam and lets it ring.