Randy Aalbregtse – Classmate & Neighbor

His name was Randy.   He was and still is, despite his far-too early death, a beloved classmate.  He was positivity personified, and he always had a smile for everyone.

From second grade through sixth grade, he was my neighbor.

However, we never spoke during that time.  Not once that I recall.  My brother was the same age as his younger brother, Kevin.  There were probably a total of a dozen of us kids in the immediate neighborhood and I would play hide-and-go-seek, baseball, climb trees, and ride bikes with all of them, but Randy never played with us.  Instead, he was always alone with his basketball: dribbling, spinning, jumping and sinking, or tossing from afar.

He would play for hours at a time.  By himself.  Once in a while, in the evening, he and his father, John, would play one-on-one.  There was always a lot of laughter then and John, who was far taller, appeared to block a good number of throws.  But Randy would find ways to skirt around his father and sink the ball with a layup.

I could see Randy playing from my bedroom window, when I was sitting in the yard reading, or when I was roller skating, usually by myself and on the only sidewalk in the neighborhood that ran across one long yard, located on the opposite side of Randy’s house.  It appeared he was as much a loner as I, if not more so.

When my family moved away from the neighborhood, as he and I were entering sixth grade or middle school as it was called then, I don’t recall seeing Randy again until high school.  By then, he was as tall as his father, a thinner version, and all arms and legs.  He played basketball and became one of the best players the school ever had.  Naturally, he hung out with other basketball players, all equally tall and equally enthusiastic about the sport.

I was quiet, never talking with others in the halls but always thinking about the next class, making sure I had my books, my homework, and such.  It wasn’t in my nature to talk to anyone unless they spoke to me first, and even though I would walk by this group of players every day, words were never exchanged.  Plus, I rarely attended extra-curriculum school events.  I was shy.  Extremely shy.

Time passed.  We graduated.  More time passed.  Our class held a few class reunions, some I helped organize, some I didn’t.  I moved away and then returned to the area.  I had become more outgoing and found it easier to start conversations with people, strangers or not.  It was during that time, that reunion, that I had a chance to chat with Randy and his first words seeing me, accompanied with that infectious grin of his, were, “Hi, neighbor.”

Every reunion thereafter, he greeted me the same way.  “Hi, neighbor.”

And then he became sick, but he never missed a reunion.  He attended one with a cane.  The next time was with crutches.  His smile never changed regardless of his declining health.

October 4, 2012

And then he died.  I saw the obituary and wasn’t able to attend his Celebration of Life that a number of our classmates attended, but I thought about him that entire weekend.

A few months passed.

As was my habit, I came home from work, had dinner, then came into my living room combination office, and turned the knob on my floor lamp, to turn it on.

The knob always required a hard twist, as it was stiff and didn’t turn easily.

This night, though, the knob turned easily, too easily.  In fact, the light wouldn’t stay on.  I puzzled over the problem.  No one had been in the apartment.  No one other than me was using the lamp, so what was different?

Carefully, I twisted the knob to on, finally getting the light to come on, and I started to step away.  The light went out.  Over and over, I tried to get the light to stay on.  And every time I had it on and would start to move away, it would go out.  The knob was so loose, it was difficult to find that small range where the light would even come on, as I could spin it back and forth easily trying to search that perfect on position, where the light would say on.

For several nights, this scenario played out.  After about ten minutes, my frustration got the better of me.  I started swearing.  I couldn’t get the light to stay on, no matter what I did.

And then I heard him.  His laugh.  And the word, “neighbor.”

“Randy?”

More laughter.

“You think this is funny, don’t you?”

I could feel his grin.  “Yes!” he responded.

“Okay, you can stay but stop playing with my lamp.”  I reached up to try to turn the light on and discovered that the hard familiar twist had returned.  I tested it several times.  On and off.  On and off.  Each time, I had to twist the knob hard.  (And ever since, the knob has never changed from this hard twist.)

“Thank you,” I told him, but he was gone.  I couldn’t sense him around anymore.  He’d had his fun and I sensed he was off to have fun with someone else, somewhere else.

Move ahead to July 2014—class reunion weekend

As typical of our reunions, we have both a Friday night casual get-together and a more formal reunion on Saturday night with dinner and a band.   For the first time, I attended the Friday night casual get-together.   I had a chance to chat with Roger, a great friend of Randy’s, along with being a former basketball player with him.  During previous reunions, if I saw Randy, Roger was always right there beside him.  On that night, I felt Randy was there, having a grand time seeing so many of the coaches and teachers who were in attendance.

After I dropped off my high school best friend, I drove home thinking about the conversations, the people I had seen, many of whom wouldn’t be in attendance the next evening.

Then, I sensed a presence with me in the car.  I heard, “Tell him.”

“Randy?”

“Tell Roger, this and whitey.”

I couldn’t make out what the this word was, but I saw Randy’s fists together and then moving away from each other.  He kept repeating the motion, but I couldn’t understand what the word was.

Randy relayed a number to me, too, what sounded like 6 or 16.  I couldn’t tell which.  I wanted to look in our old yearbooks to see Randy’s basketball shirt had been numbered, but since I had destroyed my books years ago, my curiosity would have to wait.

“Tell him!  He’ll know that it’s me.  That I’m here.”

“Okay.”

A long time ago, not having given Kathy’s husband a message she wanted delivered, I had vowed never to not give someone a message being delivered from someone on the other side, no matter how silly or ridiculous it could make me appear.

The next night, Saturday, I saw Roger sitting at a table, alone at the moment, so I joined him.  I told him I had a message to give him, from another classmate, but I didn’t say who.

“I’m supposed to tell you this”—I started making the motion with my fists pulling away from each other and returning and being pulled away again, over and over—“and whitey.”  As I kept making the hand motions, I explained, “I can’t think of the word, what the word is supposed to be.”

Roger said, “Stretch?”

“Yes!” I said excitedly.  I knew without a doubt that stretch was the correct word.  It still didn’t make sense to me, but I knew it to be right.  I knew because I could feel Randy’s grin—big and broader than ever before.

“Who is this message coming from?” he asked.

“Randy.”

He looked at me, both puzzled and in wonderment.

“Why? What does stretch mean to you?”

“That was his nickname.  We called him Stretch.”

“So what does whitey mean?”

“That’s what they call me back at Madison, where I teach and coached basketball.”  We just looked at each other.

“He’s here.  He’s here with you,” I told him.  “The message was for you.”

We talked about the numbers, but Roger couldn’t remember what Randy’s jersey number had been back in high school.  He said he would look in his yearbooks, but I’ve not heard, nor could I pull up any pictures of Randy playing, where the jersey number is visible, at least visible enough to read.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever know what these numbers meant to Randy, to Roger, but at this point, it doesn’t matter.

I’d been given a message to transmit, and I had.  Roger admitted he hadn’t been much of a believer of the beyond, but now I’d given him a lot to think about.

Once I was driving home alone, I sensed Randy was with me.  Again, I could tell he was happy knowing that Roger knew that he, Randy, had attempted communication and that they were at the reunion, together again.

She Was Playing with My Computer

So, I was at work, realizing it was the second anniversary of my sister’s death.  Eileen always enjoyed a good joke, especially if she got to play them on someone else.

I saw that the slide show that had been played at her funeral had been reposted on Facebook, so I opened it.  It began with her favorite George Strait song, Amarillo By Morning, a song that now always reminds me of her, and I do have to say, it is a great song.

Anyway, I watched the slides with Strait’s song and then there was a pause for the next song to begin.  It was at this point that I saw an e-mail coming in and I wanted to check on it, while the slide show continued.

I moved my mouse to make the move and clicked.  Nothing happened.  Nothing.

I went to diminish the slide show so I could see the e-mail program, which was behind the slide screen.  Again, I clicked, and the slide-show screen, which had been in a half-screen mode, became full screen.  Now, some of you might be thinking that I’m clicking the wrong buttons, but I wasn’t.   This time when I tried to return to the half-screen mode and the mouse clicker refused to work.

I tried to click an icon down on the bottom ribbon and the mouse icon moved to the middle of the screen.

I clicked the diminish sign and nothing happened.  I clicked it again, and the volume went up.  That’s when I began to have my suspicions about what was really going on.

No matter what I did, the mouse clicker wasn’t working.  I even tried to use the escape key and got nothing.

I couldn’t get off the screen.  No. Matter.  What.  I. Tried.  Nothing.

The thing is, I needed to return to work.

So, I called our IT Department and reported the faulty mouse, telling them that I couldn’t send them an e-mail because the mouse wasn’t working.  He asked me if there were any other mice available.  There was.  In the meantime, he’d report the failure and David, our resident IT employee, would deal with it later.

So, I unhooked the mouse and went to a neighboring computer and took that mouse and plugged it in.  It worked.  I was able to shut down the slide show and return to work.

The next day, when David stopped at my desk, I explained to him how the mouse had stopped working, particularly the left clicker.  He took it, saying he’d try it out to make sure it wasn’t working before turning it in.

Minutes later he returned.  “It works just fine.”

I told him about Eileen, saying, “She was playing with me.”

He just looked at me, smiled, and said.  “Uh, huh”

I sensed Eileen laughing, totally enjoying the joke, covering up her mouth so she wouldn’t explode.

This wasn’t the first time a computer has acted up when there was someone’s favorite music playing or when I could smell someone’s favorite food, drink, or tobacco that alerts me to the fact that I’m not alone.  Spirits love anything electrical, and they let me know they’re around by playing with my TV, cable, lights, and computers.

Have I told you the story about a neighbor and classmate who played with my writing lamp?  And who later wanted me to give a message to another classmate, a best friend of his at our last class reunion?

Kathy and the Other Side

I could start in the beginning, but that would be boring.  Instead, let me begin where things got interesting.

Kathy and the Other Side

             Early September 1993 – Her hair gone, her skin was thin with a translucent milky-blue hue.  Huge eyes dominated her otherwise now sharply sculptured face.  She was just forty, with three young children.  It wasn’t fair that this once vibrant blonde beauty, who had sat beside me in the Florida State University football stadium in past eight years as we’d whoop our chants and cut the air with our “tomahawks” as the Seminoles carried the ball down the field against the Canes, the Tarheels, and so many other teams, had to suffer for two of those years with breast cancer.  And then, she was pregnant with her third child, excitedly so.  Successfully, she and her husband Jody welcomed their beautiful second son into their family.  And then, she discovered that the cancer had returned.

I remember the early coolish weather, the sun filtered through the pines and other trees in the yard.  In a room fixed up special for Kathy, my family and I took turns going in to say goodbye.  When it was my turn, I couldn’t help but notice how thin she’d become.  Huge glasses made her face look even more gaunt.  We hugged tightly, and she said goodbye.  Neither one of us spoke of the time two years earlier when she had begun her second battle with the cancer, when we had spent half a day together, sitting in her kitchen, bright with Tallahassee sunshine, talking about our extreme curiosity of life after death.  That was where we made a pact.

Two weeks later, Kathy was dead.

The pact: if she could, she would contact me after she died.

#

            I had moved to Tallahassee in the summer of 1988 and lived there for a year before moving to Cairo, located in the southwest corner of Georgia, about thirty-five miles from Florida’s state capital.  I got to meet and know Kathy and her husband, Jody, right away.  They were a fun couple, with two small children.

Not long after the move to Cairo, I began having premonitions and other events began happening.  I wondered if our home’s location had anything to do with the experiences.  I shared some of these happenings with Kathy, which is how we came to make our pact.

That was when Kathy died.

Time passed, about eight months.  I’d been a writer for sometime already, but now I was writing twelve hours a day, working on a book, coming out of my office only to get food and beverage or to sleep.  During the day, I was alone in the house with my husband at work and my two girls in school.  I was in my office as usual, at the computer finishing a book for a publisher’s deadline.  My fingers keyed letters into words and sentences . . .

A soft voice called out my name.

My fingers paused above the keyboard.  I looked at the door.  No one was there.

The clock told me the girls were still in school, my husband at work.  I listened.  Inside the house, the only sounds were the whirring overhead fan, circulating the air-conditioned air to offset the one-hundred-degree South summer heat and humidity that cloaked the house, the soft hum of the computer as it idled, and the steady tick of the wall clock.  Outside, the unmistakable buzz of the katydids—a sound I had come to love—became a backdrop to every other sound.  I could hear the buzz from inside.  Not hearing anything else, including a voice, I assumed my imagination was at work.

I returned to the keys, and was quickly engrossed in my story again.  I heard my name called again.  Only this time, it was said louder than before.  And the sound was distinct.

I froze.  Slowly, I rose from my chair, my heart racing, my mouth dry.  Cautiously, I moved to the door.  I half-expected one of the girls to jump out at me, screaming, “Boo!”  They delighted in hearing me scream or gasp with fright, a hand to my heart to steady the racing beat.  They didn’t jump out at me.  No one did.  There wasn’t anyone there.

Yet, ever so slowly, I stuck my head out the door, allowing peripheral vision to search either side of the door frame quickly.

I looked to the right.  No one was there.

I looked to the left.  The hall was empty.

My adrenalin high, my armpits sticky from fear, my breath trembled as I exhaled.

I’d been holding my breath.  For a few moments, I was rooted to the spot . . . waiting.  For what, I didn’t know.  I shook off the feeling and returned to the computer.

A few weeks later, I heard my name called again, then a rattling in the hall closet that was closest to my office.  It was a closet that I used as a pantry for canned goods.  I ignored the noise.

Minutes later, it happened again, but this time the added ping of the doorbell sounded for no apparent reason.  I say no apparent reason because frequent brown-outs, as I called them, occurred on a weekly basis, a hick-up in the power where the lights would blink, the computer’s battery backup would buzz, the fans would slow down due to no power, the VCRs turning off and then back on, the clocks blinking requiring a reset, and the doorbell would ping.

This time, however, the only sound had been the doorbell.  The computer battery didn’t buzz.  The VCRs were silent.  The lights and fans remained on, steadily doing their jobs.  There had been no brown-out.

As before, I went to the office door and looked down the hall.  This time, I moved toward the pantry/closet door where I thought I had heard the rattle.  Almost at the closet door, I went through a cold spot.

Goose bumps ran up and down my body.

I had heard about cold spots and how they depicted a sign that you were walking through a dead person’s soul or presence.  But I shook off the thought.  It was nearly 100 degrees outside.  There’d been no cold spot, I tried to tell myself.  But deep down, I knew it’d been a cold spot.  Extremely cold.

I opened the closet door.  Nothing.  I shut the door.

I shivered.

I heard my name again, only this time the sound was nearby, almost a whisper in my ear, as if someone was speaking to me, standing behind me.

“Kathy?”  I whispered.  “Is that you?”

“Yes,” she replied, softly.

I smiled and felt her smile back.  “We had it all wrong,” she gushed.  “Our image of God, our souls, our purpose.  Everyone has it wrong, everyone.”  Kathy was a devote Catholic, so I was curious how it was wrong, so I asked.

“What’s it like?”

Her voice was filled with joy.  “I can’t describe it, but it’s all about joy, love, and awareness of what we’ve done, who we are.  It’s about knowing.  Having all knowledge.  It’s wonderful!!!  The church has it so wrong.  So wrong.”  I asked her what she meant by that, but she didn’t answer me.  Instead, she repeated how much love there was.  And then she left.  My questions of wanting specifics went unanswered.  Kathy would not be the one to provide me with those answers, but she had provided a window into the unknown for me.

I was ecstatic that she had made contact and that our questions about death were being answered.  I was strangely comforted knowing she was around.  At that time, I didn’t tell anyone.  I didn’t want anyone to think that I had gone nuts.  I wondered if anyone would understand, including my family.  Up until that time, I’d been experiencing various small adventures of mysticism, but I couldn’t explain what was happening, so I kept my experiences to myself.  How in the world would I be able to explain this experience with credibility?

Interesting enough, several months later, I decided to share with my family what I’d experienced and Kathy’s visit.  Lo and behold as I talked about the odd ping of the doorbell, my youngest daughter, said, “And then it sounds like cans moving in the closet?”

I stared at her.  “And when you walk in the hall–”

“There’s a cold spot,” she announced.

“That’s Kathy,” I said.

The two girls looked at each other, both talking at the same time.  “Don’t tell me anymore,”  and “I don’t want to hear it.”  They walked away believing but also in denial.  It scared them too much.

A couple of weeks later, Kathy contacted me again.  Like the time before, I was working in my office and heard my name called.

“Kathy?”

“Call, Jody (her husband) and tell him to tell Deirdre (their oldest child) no.”

I hesitated.  What if Jody laughed at me?  Would anyone be able to understand what was happening to me?  Did I understand it?  Kathy prodded me and I argued with myself.  I suspect she heard my arguing with myself, because a short time later, she was gone.  She had given up.

How in the world would I call Jody and explain to him that his dead wife had contacted me with a message to give to him.  I couldn’t make the call without feeling foolish.  And yet, I wanted to call.  I decided to think about it.  From time-to-time, the request weighed heavily on me but then some task would present itself and the thought would be gone again.

Six months later, I ran into Jody.  He looked frazzled as any man who had lost his wife and was left with three young children to raise on his own would look.  I asked if six months earlier he’d had a problem with any of the kids.

“Yes, with Deirdre,” he said, shaking his head remembering.  “I had to make the first biggest decision regarding the kids since Kathy died.”

“What happened?”  I held my breath.  I wasn’t interested in knowing the details, or even what the problem was.  All I wanted to know if his answer had been yes or no.

“I told her yes, and I have been regretting it ever since.”

Then and there, I vowed that if in the future anyone who had died asked me to deliver a message to the living, I would do it, regardless of how awkward it might be for me.  Little was I to know that years later, I’d be asked to deliver a difficult message . . . or two.