“For the first forty days a child
is given dreams of previous lives. Journeys, winding paths,
a hundred small lessons
and then the past is erased.”
~ Michael Ondaatje,
*Please note that names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.
In suburban Brisbane lives a little boy whom we will name Kevin. He has only just turned five.
About six months ago Kevin began screaming. It happened at night sometimes, when he would go to sleep happy and then wake from a nightmare. It happened whenever his mum or dad drove their family car into a tunnel. In fact, the first time they drove into the Clem 7 tunnel, Kevin reacted so strongly that he wet his pants and passed out. His distressed parents took him straight to hospital where he was cleared of any problems. But his odd behaviour continued to the point that they had to plan driving routes or public transport to avoid any kind of tunnel or low overpass. All of these situations triggered severe anxiety, panic attacks and screaming.
Their family doctor referred them to a child psychologist. Who eventually referred them to me.
The tunnel reaction wasn’t the only unusual thing about Kevin.
As a very small boy he rejected breakfast cereal, asking again and again for egg ‘n’ dippers. His mother eventually worked out that he wanted soft boiled eggs and toast soldiers, a meal she had never prepared for him, and that to her knowledge he had never eaten before. Kevin told her that his other mummy made him egg ‘n’ dippers because they were his favourite.
His other mummy back when his name was John.
Poor Kevin’s mother had no idea what her small son was talking about. She found it very disquietening. Soon she began to chastise him whenever he spoke about being John, or this ‘imaginary family’ he referred to, from his ‘other time’.
When Kevin and his mum turned up at my door early one afternoon, mum was at her wit’s end. Behaviour modification hadn’t worked. Sedatives hadn’t worked. It was a desperate move on her part, coming to see a psychic after being given my details by their family therapist who just happens to be a friend of mine.
Kevin was quite happy to sit at my dining room table, although he insisted in sitting beside me so that his mother might sit opposite me. He also asked me for a glass of milk just as soon as we’d sat down. After milk and a piece of cake he was ready to talk.
I spoke to Kevin at length while his mother listened quietly, a look of embarrassment on her face.
He told me his name used to be John. John Taylor. But no-one believed him. He liked being Kevin, and he loved his family and his new house. It was a very good life. But still, he remembered being John.
I told Kevin that I had met other boys and girls who remembered being someone else.
“Have you been someone else?” he asked me.
“Yes,” I replied. “And when I was little I used to dream about it all the time. It was very confusing. What do you remember about being John?”
A lot, apparently. Kevin told me his street address, and the number of his house, at a place called Islington. He used to live there with his mother and father, big brother, and little sister. He told me all about breakfast that was eggs ‘n’ dippers and a cup of tea. Sometimes bread with jam. Soft white bread. No butter though. They weren’t allowed.
He told me about the street where they would play.
Finally, I asked Kevin why he was afraid of being in a tunnel.
He became very agitated, and held my hand very tightly in his two small, sweaty ones.
Kevin said that when he was John, bad men were coming in their planes. They all had to leave their homes, all the people in the street, and go down into a tunnel to be safe. He never liked to go there. It was dark and scary and it smelled bad. One day the roof fell down and he got all broken and then he was dead.
“I’m so sorry that happened to you,” I said to him gently. “But you’re okay now. You have a lovely new life and a mummy and daddy who love you very much. There won’t be any more bombs. The tunnels here are perfectly safe. You don’t have to remember this any more if you don’t want to.”
Kevin looked at me, wide-eyed. “I miss them, though,” he said.
“I know,” I answered, “but they still love you too, and they are all okay. When you love someone that love can last forever.”
His lip began to tremble and he broke into tears. Sobbed and sobbed. It was awful to hear the anguish in his cries. His mum picked him up and held him close, but it took a long time to comfort him. Eventually he calmed down and fell asleep in her arms. She stood up, still holding him, and I opened the door and helped her take him down to her car. We hugged, but didn’t say anything else.
The next day Kevin’s mum called me. Kevin had slept all through the afternoon, and all through the night. While he slept she had gone online to research the things her son had said. To her surprise a little boy called John Taylor, along with his parents and siblings, a boy and girl, had been killed in the London Bombings of World War Two. They had lived at the street address Kevin had given us.
“He was telling the truth,” she said to me. “I don’t know how he knows all of this, but he couldn’t have made this up.”
When Kevin woke up after his long, long sleep he was hungry. She’d made him egg ‘n’ dippers for breakfast, hoping to bring him comfort.
“It’s okay, Mum,” he told her, pushing it away. “I can eat cereal now.”