Chapter 4

LAURA’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY

A Boy and His Motorbike

It’s ridiculous what love does to you.  Does everyone get so entirely swept off their feet that they can’t think of anything else for months and are entirely unable to function without a steady supply of compliments and kisses – or was that just me?

And the amazing thing was that I knew him beforehand – I knew him for three or four weeks before I fell for him.  But it wasn’t a gradual thing, it wasn’t a case of getting to know someone, rather it was suddenly seeing them in a different context, suddenly getting hit like by a bolt of lightning with a new feeling, a realisation that this person wasn’t just another spotty student – he was the ultimate lust object and soul mate!

I went away to university, you see, to study physics.  Which of course meant that there were at least ten boys to every girl, and it was impossible not to get distracted from the start.  I thought they were all much of a muchness though, and so although I accepted the occasional invitation to go for a drink or a sandwich, and enjoyed the unexpected attention, in general I managed to stay focused on my studies, and was in fact more preoccupied with a private project – trying to work out which one of my physics tutors might possibly know something about my condition and be the best person to eventually approach to reveal my talent and discuss it.

I was half way through my first term, however, before I realised that out-of-body experiences were not in fact included in any part of the physics syllabus, and were unlikely to feature in my lectures, which to date had concentrated more on mathematics, engineering, and various other either more or less practical applications of the science.

I turned to private reading and, making best use of the extensive science library on campus, for the first time found some relevant books and came across terms such as ‘remote sensing’ and ‘astral projection’.  These topics were firmly grounded amongst ‘paranormal’ phenomena, and though I spent hours searching for and reading up on the scientific angle, I was in general disappointed by the lack of concrete experimental evidence – or rather proof and explanation, which was of course what I was really looking for.  For every vaguely relevant experiment, there were five learned papers pulling it to pieces and saying what rubbish it was, which I found disheartening and depressing.  What kept my spirits up was that fact that I knew something that the scientific community didn’t – namely, that these phenomena or something like them were, in my case at least, real and true.

My research on the topic led me to find out about a number of relevant conferences and events being organised, unfortunately mainly overseas.  There was one, however, coming up a few weeks away, in a town just thirty miles from campus, and so I decided to go, and made secret plans which involved organising train tickets and booking myself a cheap hotel room.  When the date came, I told no-one where I was going, but set off with a notepad and much optimism, only to find the event much smaller scale and more poorly organised than I had expected.

I sat in a shabby room with twenty or so others, listening to the alternately eccentric and dull lecturers with growing despondency and not much hope of finding answers.  The coffee break was more stimulating, as I tried to talk to as many of the delegates as possible to find out their interest in the subject matter, at the same time as explaining away my own enthusiasm for attending such an obscure meeting without of course disclosing my real reason for being there.

No-one in the audience had gone as far as claiming to be able to leave their own body at will, but one or two were adamant that they had had such an experience whilst in a hospital bed.  One of these was an elderly man who obviously took the matter very seriously, and it transpired he was to give an account of his experience on the platform.

“Oh yes,” I heard him say to a cluster of us, who had just competed for the last of the biscuits.  “I’m happy to speak about it, whenever I’m asked.  It’s so important to pass on these things, you know.  It might be important, it might be a window into what happens to us when we pass away.  It was the most amazing experience, really!”

I was to hear this sentiment expressed a number of times in the following half hour, and from my own perspective, was quite convinced by the old-timer’s story – until, that is, he started to get questions from the floor.

“Don’t you think,” said one, obviously sceptical, young man from a local newspaper, “that you might have dreamed the whole thing?”

The speaker nodded without hesitation.  “Yes, you’re right.  It could have been a dream of course.  I don’t see how I could possibly say with certainty that it wasn’t.”

I could almost feel the conference organisers squirming at this rather too candid admission.

“But it just didn’t feel like that,” the man continued.  “I wasn’t asleep, I was awake, I’m sure of it.  It was something different, something unexplained.”

Someone else from the audience piped up, in a voice laden with sarcasm, and I wondered why people had bothered to come if they were going to be so sceptical.

“So has this ever happened to you again, sir?  Or was it just that one time?”

“Yes, just once,” came the confident reply.  “Luckily I’ve only been quite so seriously ill that one time in my life – nearly dying once was quite enough!”

I imagined these people questioning me, doubting what I knew to be true, and resolved very firmly that I wouldn’t be putting myself in that position, no way!  Best to keep quiet and avoid scepticism and mockery.  Oh, but it would’ve been fun – part of me would love to have shocked everyone there with some sort of unequivocal demonstration!

As soon as the old man left the platform, he headed off out of the door, and I couldn’t resist it – I was so keen to find someone who might possibly have something in common with myself, that I crossed my arms, steadied my legs, and risked a quick out-of-body venture, to see what he was doing and whether he might perceive me.

He was in the gents toilets.  I lingered in front of his face (not looking down!) and wished that I could shout out, “Hey, hello!  Out-of-body person here, keen to meet you.  Can you see me?  Can you hear me?”  But there was no sign that he could, so I quickly slipped back into my body and the auditorium – but not before I had noticed someone that I recognised run into the restrooms.  A lad from university – Ian.  Soon to be my Ian!  Of course I never told him that I had first seen him that day as he hurried to relieve himself after being stuck on a train, though if he never had to suffer any embarrassment from that knowledge, I certainly did.  I have never enjoyed intruding on private moments, especially of the lavatorial variety!

Back in my body I turned round and saw him slip into the room, taking a seat by the door.  I sat through the next talk wondering what he would think of me being there and working out what I should say.  Just the fact of his being there had stirred my interest already.

Five minutes into the lunch break I looked up from a sandwich to see Ian making a beeline for me, a look of surprise and pleasure on his face, tinged with only a little trepidation.

“Hey, what are you doing here?  Laura, isn’t it?  I didn’t know you were into this stuff.  What do you think of it so far?”

I chatted to him easily, pleased not to be alone amongst strangers, to be honest, and tried to remember whether and when we’d spoken before.  I came to the conclusion I’d only ever seen him with his friends, when he’d come across as quiet and boring.  On his own, and rightly perceiving that we had a common interest, it seemed he shed his inhibitions, and came across reasonably self-assured.

The fact he was a hot blooded young lad (secretly looking for a girlfriend), and the fact that I was a reasonably attractive specimen of the opposite sex, and clearly on my own, probably helped give him confidence.

By the end of the lunch he had made clear he didn’t believe a word of ‘this out-of-body rubbish’, but was generally interested in things paranormal (in so far as whether they could be rationally explained, of course), and was in fact a bit of a science fiction geek (his word, but not remotely true).  We discovered we’d read several of the same books, both fiction and non-fiction, and not only that, liked the same type of music and had the same most-detested laboratory assistant!

“Oh God, that guy who keeps saying, ‘You must always treat a bunsen burner with respect’,” Ian laughed, “and wears a lab coat that’s way too small for him.”

“You should have seen him that day we did the expansion tests,” I added.  “He virtually squealed when that flask exploded!”  I had got the giggles, and it was more to do with my flirty mood than the foibles of the poor old technician.

By the time it came to resuming the afternoon sessions, I had rather lost interest in the subject matter of the conference, and could think of little else but the proximity of the young man now sitting beside me and occasionally whispering witty comments in my ear as I pretended to listen to the speakers.

My hormones had taken control of my brain, I suppose.  I was ‘all a-flutter’, as they say, quite swept away by this first exposure to sudden and intense interest in a potential mate.  Still, it’s these moments that we later look back on wistfully, and of which the best stuff of life is made.

The final session of the day was a pseudo experiment, when all the members of the panel and audience were invited to sit on opposite sides of the auditorium and meditate in silence for a while, to see whether any sort of supernatural phenomenon might present itself to anyone.  Distracted as I was, it was a perfect opportunity for me to unobtrusively have a little spatial wander, so I drifted round the room trying my best to look for signs of others genuinely doing the same, and wishing again that I had the power to say something or do something whilst in my spiritual form.

This might have been the first time it occurred to me that my out-of-body presence might not be detectable to anyone at all, even to another such presence.  For all I knew everyone in the room was wandering about just as I was, but none of us could see or perceive each other!  It was a lonely thought, made pleasingly less lonely, once I was back in my body and opening my eyes, by Ian’s amused and conspiratorial wink, and his even more welcome and endearing smile.

So it was that whilst I didn’t find any evidence of supernatural activity at that supernatural conference, I did find myself a boyfriend!  And over the next few months I was to discover the joys of the ‘natural’!

Totally absorbed with Ian, and having a whale of a time doing all sorts of new and wonderful things with him (holding hands in lectures, romantic walks by the river, snogging at all-night parties), I put aside my secret talent and refrained from any further out-of-body adventures or experimentation.  I didn’t forget about it altogether, of course, in fact it was always there as an awareness, whatever I did, but I managed to bury it quite deep, ignore it for a while.  Decide it wasn’t as important as being in love, and enjoying the moment.

He made me feel happy, that was the important thing, and I didn’t want anything to get in the way of that.

I remember sitting with him in the sunshine, once, while he whispered sweet nothings in my ear.

“You’re so beautiful, Laura!”

“Thank you for saying so, darling, but I’m sure it’s not true.”

“No really, you’re not like the other girls.”

No, I’m not – I’m more unlike them than you could imagine!

“You’re special – really special!”

So I am, if only you knew!

After a few weeks of intimacy and a couple of ‘almost’ situations, we had sex.  Whilst I was in a female-only hall of residence, he was living in a bedsit in the town, so it was only a matter of waiting until his landlord was out and sneaking me into his small but more than adequate bedroom.

It was so much worse than sex can be at its best, but so much better than the disaster our inexperience might have made it, that I was perfectly happy.  I cuddled up to him afterwards, on an amazing high that I had lost my virginity and was therefore officially an adult, and quite overwhelmed with a youthful love that I believe he shared.

We got better at it, I started to ‘enjoy it’ (as they say unhelpfully in textbooks), and after only a short while we had done lots of the type of experimenting young lovers do without second thought or embarrassment.  There wasn’t much I didn’t like.

Sex became very significant to me from this point onwards in my life, not only for all the usual, common, human and well-understood reasons, but also in the context of my talent.  Because sexual pleasure – although the mind was of course involved – remained firmly centred in the body, and so every time I felt the rush of arousal and enjoyment I realised that this was something I definitely needed my body for!  Mental wandering might be interesting and exciting in some ways, but I would always want to be back in my body to experience such physical pleasures.  This knowledge helped me, at times long after this, never to be tempted to remain in my non-corporeal form, but always to come home, home to the flesh and blood that could enjoy a kiss, a caress, and more.

It also, sometimes, made me terrified.  That I would get stuck outside of my body and not be able to return.  This was always my secret fear and torment, though over time I learned to live with it; for however many times I returned successfully to my body, there was always the concern that there might come that one time when something changed, and I could not return – be locked out, a helpless spirit.

Only now, as I approach the uncertainty of old age, do I find in myself a sense of acceptance, that maybe indeed I will soon find myself wandering the world as a spirit or a ghost, with no physical body to console or protect me.  But it is too soon in my story to dwell on such matters.  At the time of this first, and perhaps sweetest, love, all was confidence and pleasure and promise, and I thought I had found a happiness that would last forever, and encompass and surpass all else.

Why did it start to go wrong?

It was because of that intensity, because of my childish certainty that Ian was the love of my life, that I began to think that of course at some point I would have to tell him what I could do.  And of course I feared his reaction, feared that what we had would end, or be tainted.

I waited, I delayed.

It was months, probably six months at least, before I even dared to try leaving my body again, so scared was I of anything changing.

But one night, when he lay in his glorious nakedness on top of me, and fell into a gentle and satisfied sleep on my breast, I found myself overcome with curiosity, and a sudden worry that I had neglected my talent and might now have lost it through lack of practice.  And so I slipped around to have a look at the back of him, inspected his long back and his buttocks from close up, delighted at seeing the image of myself so coupled with masculinity, at the same time as rejoicing that the process of leaving my body was as easy as ever and required merely a thought, my own decision, to make it happen.

But then I started to do it whilst we did the deed, out of a desire simply to observe our coupling from different angles – on reflection a video recorder would have served just as well!  And of course this sometimes meant that my body and my face appeared limp and vacant at the wrong moment.  At first he was concerned, then angry at what he took to be a sign of disinterest.  I told him once I had fainted from pleasure – he didn’t believe it for a moment, he thought I was mocking him.

I stopped doing it, but then another issue injected itself into our juvenile bliss.

As I had originally observed, he was a very different person on his own than when in the company of his friends.  He had got in with an unruly crowd, and when several of them dropped out of the university course, he followed suit, getting himself a job in a rather seedy nightclub, and abandoning all interest in anything academic.

At the same time an uncle of his died and left him a bit of money, just enough to buy – of all things – a motorbike, which suddenly emerged as a hitherto unacknowledged dream possession.

He bragged about it and showed off on it.  It gave him status with his friends, and seemed to take him over and turn him into something other than the gentle young man I thought I had known.

I was reluctant to ride on the thing, being particularly concerned to keep my physical body safe and in one piece (well, for all I knew my fragile self was unique to science!), and this disappointed him.

He also started experimenting with drugs, which disappointed me!  There was no way I was going to risk taking any chemical which might have some unforeseen effect on my mind and my ability – the thought of what might happen if I found myself out of control turned me cold.  There was also the possibility that it might damage something and I would lose my skill altogether.  This was much too big a risk to take.  I refused to try anything, even once, and we had several huge arguments about it.

And the annoying thing was that I still loved him, and had been so close to telling him my secret!  I rehearsed to myself all the time what I would say, how I would prove it to him.

I reminded myself that he was interested in the paranormal – that was how we had met.  I tried to steer conversations back around to related matters.  I pointed out articles in magazines, I mentioned documentaries I had seen on television.

But he began to see it all as something ridiculous and childish, and got embarrassed and annoyed when I raised it.

“I thought you were into this stuff?” I challenged him once, when he had dismissed my recounting of a paranormal story I had read as utter rubbish (well, he used a stronger word).

“I’ve moved on, Babe,” was his depressing reply.  “I’m only interested in the real world and having a good time.”

When I rejected his advances that evening, he couldn’t have understood my reasons for being objectionable.  He had disappointed me in an even bigger way now.  It was clear we were growing apart, and I was sad and furious that he was no longer the sort of person to whom I wanted to confide my astonishing secret – and with whom I wanted to share my life.

Just over two years we were together, and the first half of that time was wonderful.  But after the motorbike and the drugs, I was uncertain, and was reconciling myself to the possibility of it ending.

I still went to all my physics and biology lectures and didn’t lose sight of researching relevant topics in the hope of finding some insight into the higher workings of the human brain.  I studied anatomy and wrote essays on neurology.  One evening, exhausted after doing some difficult dissections in the laboratory and hoping for some warm words and physical comfort, I went around to his new flat (he’d gone up in the world from the bedsit) and found him stoned on the sofa, looking a mess.

And that’s when I first noticed it – the smell of another woman’s perfume lingering around his clothes.

Saving my tears for later that night, I made us some food and tried to have a decent evening with him.  But somehow, suddenly, I was so sure that he was seeing someone else that the scales fell from my eyes, and my love peeled away with them.

And because of the hurt, because of the sadness, I abandoned my previously robust moral stance on the topic of mental snooping, and decided I would jolly well spy on him for all I was worth, and catch him out in his lies and his cheating.

I’m ashamed of those few weeks now.

Physically, I lay in bed alone for hours at a time; mentally, I followed him about relentlessly.

I watched him drinking with his friends in a pub, joking about how he had deliberately stood me up for a lunch date, the previous day.

I watched him put the phone down from having been speaking to me (keeping me sweet with assurances of commitment), to immediately dialling another girl’s number, and asking her to come over and see him.

I watched him make love to her in the same bed he still did with me.  I inspected her tall, shapely body with jealousy and disdain.

I watched him drive around town on his bike, with her sitting behind him, clutching tightly to his waist and laughing excitedly.

I saw him chatting up another girl in the nightclub, and took dismal satisfaction from the fact that the motorbike girl was being cheated on as well.

I saw him taking cocaine in a toilet, and believe me, it wasn’t a pretty sight.

You see – it’s not all fun, having an extra sense.  It’s just one more way the world can hurt you.

Even during this time, I still fantasised about revealing my secret to him in some spectacular way, and thereby winning him back.  Except that he probably still wouldn’t believe, or worse, would see me as a freak and run a mile.  Or maybe he just wouldn’t care.

Through my own true eyes, I watched my dear Ian lie to me a little longer – scanning his face for signs of deceit, trying to teach myself what it looked like, so that I might protect myself from it in future.  And then, after one reasonably pleasant evening which only I knew would be our last, I dumped him by letter, saying simply that I wanted to concentrate on my studies.

His lack of objection, or even response, convinced me that I’d made the right decision.

But oh, the tears!

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