Sage had always been a very normal kid except for the stories. It wasn’t that they were disturbing or horrific; they were just unusual. Sometimes they seemed exactly like the kind of thing you’d expect from a little girl, but other times, I’d have to look at her and wonder how she came up with such things.
It started when she was four, shortly after her deadbeat dad split, leaving the two of us on our own.
I had just finished reading her a bedtime story and was tucking her in with a goodnight kiss when she yawned, smiled sleepily, and asked, “You’ll always be my mommy, right?”
“Of course,” I said.
“Good. I’d miss you if you weren’t. You’ve been my mommy for a long time.”
“Yup, your whole life,” I replied, smoothing her hair back.
“All my lifes,” she murmured into her pillow.
Her eyes had fluttered shut, her breathing deepened, and she fell asleep while I sat next to her, thinking that kids really do say the darndest things.
I didn’t dwell on it, though; it had just been an off-the-cuff remark by a child with a very active imagination. The same child who, a few weeks before, had told me that rainbows are unicorn slides and clouds are their trampolines. Sage didn’t even seem to remember saying it the next morning, or at least she didn’t mention it, which was pretty much the same thing as she had a tendency to say whatever popped into her head.
I had thought it was a one off thing until we were watching a show with princesses in poofy dresses.
“We used to dress like that,” Sage said casually.
“Oh yeah?” I asked with that indulgent parent tone used when a kid is about to tell a tall tale.
“Yup, yours was blue and mine was red and we wore them a lot.”
“We must have looked very pretty!”
“Yup, but I didn’t like mine ‘cos it was hot and you didn’t let me play in it,” she said. “You used to-used to be a lot meaner.”
“I was?” I played along and raised my brows in surprise.
“You didn’t let me do a lot of stuff.”
“But I’m better now?”
“Yeah,” she giggled, “you’re nicer now!”
“Well that’s a relief!”
It was certainly an odd conversation, but one I attributed to the TV show that was on; “mean” mom with lots of rules, daughter who was getting into trouble for bending them, a lot of the stuff she was claiming we had done. It was kind of cute, really.
But then it started to become a more frequent occurrence.
She’d see something or hear something and it would “remind” her of something we’d done together in a previous life. Foods she’d never tried, places she’d never even heard of, pictures of clothing and items she had no way of knowing about; she claimed to have memories of them all. I made up excuses in my head for it, convincing myself she must have heard about it on TV or at daycare. It was the only thing that made sense.
“Honey,” I said with a laugh after she asked if I remembered teaching her to use chopsticks back when we had black hair and lived in the mountains, “where do you come up with this stuff?”
She shrugged, “I just remember.”
“You’ve got some imagination.”
“Imagination is for not real stuff, though,” Sage said with a frown, “right?”
After a moment of thought, she shook her head, “It’s not imagination. I remember.”
She seemed a bit upset that I was doubting her, but I was starting to become unsure about encouraging her stories. I worried she might lose sight of the line between fact and fiction and start confusing herself. I also wondered if it was all some kind of coping mechanism to deal with her dad’s departure. While she had seemed fine when we first talked about it, maybe her stories were somehow a cry for attention or her attempt to make sense of things.
A few nights later, as we cuddled on the couch, I gently broached the subject and asked if she missed Daddy.
“No,” she said, “he never stays.”
“What?” I sat up a bit to glance at her face, which wore an impassive expression.
“Daddy always goes away, every time, and then it’s just me and you. I like it when it’s just me and you.”
“In all the lifes, Mommy,” she said with an exasperated huff.
I veered the topic away from all our previous “lifes” and we settled back down. Sage was soon absorbed in the movie we’d been watching again, but I was distracted and concerned. She seemed so convinced that these previous lives, which always mirrored our overall current one, just in different times and places, had actually happened. It didn’t seem healthy.
After I put her to bed, I turned to the internet for answers. It was hard to know where to start; my kid thinks she remembers past lives, young daughter has false memories, is something wrong with my child? I tried them all and, eventually, found other situations like mine. Sage was far from the only kid to claim to have these kinds of memories and, in most cases, it seemed completely harmless.
They’ll grow out of it, sites assured me. Children are just little sponges who soak up everything and process it in creative ways that adults don’t.
That made me feel better. It also supported my theory that Sage was just constantly taking in information, things I obviously missed, and incorporating it into her “memories”. I breathed a sigh of relief and slept a bit easier that night.
Still, I didn’t want to feed into such behaviors. It was my job to teach her what was real and what wasn’t and I was feeling like I let her down. Her fifth birthday was coming up, so I decided we should focus on that instead of her stories and, every time she tried to bring one up, I’d redirect her back to the present and to planning her party.
It was frustrating for both of us; she felt shut down, I felt like I was crushing her creative spirit, and for the first time, Sage wasn’t her normal, cheerful self.
The night before her birthday party, I was seated on the edge of her bed, trying to read her a story, but she was fussy and uninterested.
“What’s wrong, Sage?” I asked at last.
She just rolled over, her covers pulled up all the way to her chin.
“What is it, baby girl?”
“I don’t want a party,” she grumbled.
“Why not? I thought you were excited.”
“Why not?” I asked again.
“You never believe me,” she whispered, and it was like an icy knife to my heart.
I rubbed her back in small circles and told her to try me.
She peeked over her shoulder, her little face creased with uncertainty. When I smiled encouragingly, she turned a bit more towards me.
“I don’t wanna party ‘cos it’s always my last.”
“Your last party?”
“My last birthday.”
Chills trickled down the back of my neck while I assured her that wouldn’t be the case and that she would have lots more birthdays. She didn’t seem convinced.
Her party the next day went off without a hitch. She and her little friends ran around, laughing and squealing, and I was glad to see that she had been able to relax enough to enjoy herself.
Admittedly, I was able to enjoy myself, too. One of the kids had been brought by their single, handsome uncle, Taylor, who stuck around so that we could chat. He was funny and charming and helped me keep the children wrangled. By the time the cake was rolled out and the presents opened, we’d exchanged numbers.
It was the first time I’d even looked at a guy since Sage’s dad left.
After all the guests had gone and I had cleaned up a bit, I found Sage sitting under the kitchen table, despondently dragging a comb through her new doll’s hair.
“What’re you doing under there, birthday girl?” I crouched beside the table and grinned.
I was surprised to see tears in Sage’s eyes when she looked up at me.
“Hey, come here, what’s the matter?” I gathered her up in my lap and snuggled her close. “Did something happen at the party?”
“You met him,” she said. There was a note of resignation in her voice that seemed far too old for her.
“Met who? Mimi’s uncle?” I immediately thought I knew what was wrong; she had seen me talking to Taylor, was missing her dad, and was now worried Taylor might replace him. Wasn’t that every kid’s nightmare?
Sage just pulled away from me and stood up. “You never believe me,” she said sadly.
“You haven’t even told me what’s wrong.”
“I did, lots of times before, but you never listen.”
I watched her trudge off to her bedroom, more concerned than ever.
Sage remained distant and solemn for weeks. I tried talking to her, I tried taking her out to do fun things, I tried having meeting with her daycare providers, I was even careful to avoid talking about or to Taylor when she was around, but nothing seemed to lift her spirits.
“She just doesn’t want Mommy moving on,” Taylor said dismissively. “Kids are selfish like that. She’ll be fine.”
I wanted to believe him and tried to act like everything was normal with Sage, hoping she would perk up, but every time my phone went off, she’d glance at it with this resigned, knowing expression that unsettled me.
It was getting to the point that I thought I might have to consult with a child psychiatrist. I couldn’t really afford it, but I would have to manage if it was what my baby needed.
Before we went that route, though, I decided I would try to get her to open up to me one more time.
I called Sage out of her room after dinner one evening and had her sit beside me on the couch. She stared down at her lap, vacant and uninterested.
“You have to talk to me, honey,” the plea came out more desperately than I had intended, but I couldn’t stop it. “I can’t make things better if you don’t tell me what’s wrong.”
“You never believe me,” she whispered.
“Stop it, Sage! Stop saying that! I’m here, I’m listening! Help me understand!”
Her lower lip quivered, but she looked at me from beneath her lashes.
“He’s going to hurt us, Mommy. He always does.”
“Who?” I knelt on the floor in front of her and grabbed her hands between mine.
“Taylor,” she said.
“Baby, I barely know him! Right now, he’s just a…a sort of friend. Why would he hurt us?”
“Because he always does.”
According to Sage, we had been mother and daughter for a long time, in a lot of lives, in a lot of places, as a lot of different people, but it always ended the same. Mommy met a man and he was bad and he hurt us.
“Once he put a knife in me, here,” she pointed at her heart, “and then he did it to you, too, but more times.”
She told me how he had held her under water in a wash tub until her chest burned and everything went dark, how he had thrown her off a mountainside and she had screamed and screamed until she hit the ground. She had had her throat slit, been shot, been hung. She had hurt and she had cried and she had died.
And, every time, I died, too.
“I tried to tell you,” she said, her voice wavering, “but you never listened.”
“You’ve got to know that those aren’t real memories, Sage,” I said gently.
She just stared at me and there was such fear in her eyes, such sadness, that my breath caught in my throat.
“He’s gonna hurt us, Mommy,” she said. There was no conviction in her voice, just defeat.
“I won’t let him.”
“That’s what you always say.”
I don’t know if it was the weary, hollow expression or the weighted slump of her tiny shoulders, but as she slid off the couch to go back to her room, I found myself believing her. It was ridiculous and irrational and maybe even a little crazy, but I knew that, even if it made no sense, my daughter was telling me the truth.
When that stoney certainty in my gut didn’t fade after an hour of sitting and thinking, I texted Taylor and told him I couldn’t see him anymore.
I didn’t expect the barrage of calls and texts that I received in return. At first, he was curious and pleading, but it quickly turned to anger, to fury. He started calling me a terrible names and saying that women like me were the problem and he knew I’d regret being such a tease. I didn’t understand why he was lashing out so horribly, we hadn’t even gone out on a proper date!
I told him he had issues and blocked his number.
It could have been coincidence, his sudden and violent turn in personality, but even if it was, Sage had still seen something in him, recognized a darkness I hadn’t, and warned me against him. I was just grateful I’d listened.
I set my phone aside and curled up on the couch with a glass of wine. It had been a rough night to say the least and I needed some quiet time to process my thoughts and the strange, frightening things that Sage had told me about our past lives.
I let the sun fade completely, throwing the house into darkness, and didn’t bother turning on any lights. I found it almost peaceful to sit there alone, no noise, no interruptions, just me, my drink, and my thoughts, and I leaned back, letting my eyes drift closed.
From the foyer, I heard the soft rattle of my door knob.
My eyes popped open and I slowly turned towards the noise. It rattled again, the cautious sound of someone checking the lock. I set my wine glass aside and crept across the living room to peek around the corner to the door.
The knob rattled again, followed by faint clicking noises. Someone was trying to pick the lock, I realized, and my heart leapt. Goosepimples rose up across every inch of my skin and I pressed myself against the wall, biting fiercely down on my lip to keep from crying out.
I didn’t know how long the lock would hold, it was just an old junky thing my ex kept meaning to replace, and I doubted any of the doors in my house would do much to keep a determined prowler out of a room if he really wanted to get in.
For a split second, I thought about trying to make it back to my phone and calling the cops, and I had even half turned towards it, but then I thought of Sage. My little girl, scared, feeling alone, isolated, and convinced her fifth birthday was going to be her last.
Something awoke in my belly, a hot and furious and terrible creature that was far less afraid than it was angry. This person was trying to get into my house, they were threatening my baby?
Sage had told me that, in all my incarnations, I had never once listened to her. Well, I was listening now, and if a bad man, Taylor or otherwise, wanted to get to my child, they were going to have to get through me first. And I wasn’t going to make it easy.
My ex hadn’t been good for a lot of things; in fact, I think he only ever did two things right by me: Sage and the aluminum baseball bat he’d left in the front closet.
I don’t know what Taylor was expecting when he finally managed to unlock the front door; maybe that we’d already have gone to bed, maybe that he’d find two sleeping, defenseless targets for the knife he’d brought with him.
What I do know is that he wasn’t expecting me to be waiting for him just on the other side, bat raised above my head, and a complete willingness to use it.
Cops arrived to find him sprawled in a pool of his own blood in my foyer. He was still breathing, but barely, and he had to rushed to a nearby hospital. I let the officers take me outside for questioning while one of the policewomen sat with Sage, who had mercifully stayed in her room. I handed over the bat, gave my statement, and proceeded to vomit all over their shoes.
They were disgusted, but understanding.
I was advised to get a hotel for the rest of the night as the entryway to my house was now a crime scene. I didn’t argue; now that the Mama Bear within had gone back into hibernation, all the blood on my floor was almost enough to have me throwing up again.
I took Sage out the back and we found a cheap motel a few minutes away.
“You ok, baby?” I asked her as I tucked her in beside me in the bed.
“Yeah,” she said, laying her head on my shoulder.
I inhaled deeply, still shaken, and held her tight.
“Mommy?” She asked quietly.
“What happens now? I never got to this part before.”
I swallowed a tired sob that was half residual fear and half relief. “I don’t know, but it’s gonna be ok. We’re gonna be ok.”
She nodded, but still seemed unsure. “You’ll still always be my mommy, right?”
“Of course,” I said, kissing the top of her head and giving her a squeeze, “for all of your lives.”