(picture courtesy of freakingnews.com)
Many years ago, probably the oddest thing I’ve ever experienced occurred. I’ll tell you about it and you can draw your own conclusions. (And, yes, thank you, smart-ass, I do know the way to the local insane asylum.)
In the early 1980’s, I was attending SUNY Buffalo and sharing an apartment on Tonawanda Creek Road, about a twenty-minute drive from the Amherst campus. I had a decent car, a Pontiac Sunbird that I’d gotten a good deal on because it was pumpkin pie orange. I named it Ramone. It was a sturdy little work-horse of a vehicle and did well by me until the heating coil died right as winter was setting in.
A Buffalo winter.
My single source of employment at the time was work-study through the campus guidance office. That income and the grants I had been awarded provided me with enough cash for rent, groceries, and gas with nothing left over for auto repairs. Not having any male (or female) friends of the automotive persuasion and being too proud to ask my folks for money, I toughed it out, keeping a rag on the passenger seat to wipe the frost off the inside of the windshield and wrapping myself in so many layers of wool and down that you’d have thought I was heading off on an Arctic expedition. (I sort of looked like the younger brother, Randy, in “A Christmas Story.”)
(picture courtesy of costumzee.com)
Most of my classes took place morning or afternoon, but one course (a communications class in which I acted as assistant to Mike, the grad student instructor) began at 7 pm and didn’t get out until 10.
One night in early December, the class ran over time a bit. When the students had gone, Mike and I gathered up their papers, talked about what needed doing before next Wednesday, set a schedule of times for he and I to meet, and talked about the impending final exam. By the time I got into my little orange iceberg, it was nigh-on 11 pm and the snowy roads were all but deserted.
On a whim (a Rod Serling-esque sort of whim, but a whim nonetheless), I decided to go home via the back roads rather than take the main drag that went straight past my apartment. The night was clear and the moon extremely bright. The road I had chosen cut straight through a corn field heavy with dead stalks. At about the mid-point, I felt a cold breeze on my neck.
(Let me point something out: Yes, it was winter and yes the interior of my car was frigid, but I was bundled from my toes to my head. I had a hat on, a scarf around my neck, and a hood pulled up over all of it. There is no way — no way — a breeze could have gotten through all that.)
Okay, so I felt the breeze — and in that instant, I was no longer in my car, but standing on a dark hillside, calf-deep in snow. A man in the uniform of a Revolutionary War soldier stood not far away, staring down the hill at a ragged encampment of tents. He turned toward me (I was standing off some distance to his left), I saw his eyes register my presence — and then I was back in my car, driving down the road. In total, the entire experience couldn’t have taken more than a few seconds. I stopped the car, fumbled it into park, and just sat there staring through the windshield at the white cones of my headlights until I felt able to drive again.
I’ve no idea what happened that night. Was it a hallucination induced by hypothermia? (I was certainly warm enough inside my many layers, so that seems unlikely.) Past life memory intruding on the present? Did I slip briefly through some spacial wormhole to glimpse a moment far in the past? You’ve got me swinging. But I’ll tell you this — I’ve never forgotten that moment, and I never will. And if — IF — I someday find a portrait of that man on the hillside, I will know him at once.
It would be a relief to put a name to that face and learn his fate.
(photo courtesy flickr.com)