This is a personal narrative. In an 8-week writing class, I was given the assignment: write about an experience that changed your life. I had countless options, but immediately knew what to choose. This is my story.
Though my best high school friends didn’t considered attending college far from our southern roots, I could hardly wait to break free and bounce to Indiana University. Now a 9 hour drive from South Carolina, all conversations and necessary news traveled via miles of phone lines. It was November 22, 1997. I was home watching TV while one of my roommates studied in her room. Since a house phone and answering machine were in my room, I was typically the first to answer. Like any other day, the phone rang in the same tone, giving no clue to the life altering words I was about to receive from from the other end. With frightened tears breaking through her words, I listened as Margaret, one of my best friends since age 12, barely managed to muffle the horrible news that our beloved bestie and partner in crime, Meredith, had has been found dead in her car that morning. I recall using my bed for support, screaming into the cordless phone, shaking with disbelief, crying from confusion and questioning what she was saying to me. Just weeks prior, I’d talked to Margaret to plan my trip home for Thanksgiving. Though it meant skipping class, I’d booked a flight to get back to Greenville a few days before the holiday, guaranteeing more friend time. I had no idea how precious those few extra days would be. As if my subconscious was one step ahead of my reality, I was back home in time to attend Meredith’s funeral.
Shortly after Meredith’s funeral, our best friend group gathered on Margaret’s kitchen floor, drinking bottles of red wine, and crying through our laughter as we story swapped. It’s crazy what’s discussed after one of your own, dies. Meredith’s hilarious drunk dance moves and the sweet way she stepped up to the plate for any one of us, anytime. Stuff we took for granted between us but now grasped onto, frightened to lose. But there was also the dark side, diving into a deep end we never imagined would ever be whispered. The make up painted on her open casketed face. Or the blue blazer draped over her upper body, though her favorite color, was red. The church like flowery music sound tracking the funeral service. No doubt she’d have picked Bone Thungs n Harmony, Crossroads, her spirit dancing along, waving her arms in the air, rallying us all to join.
At 20 year old, a “will” was the last thing on our minds. So, we took turns revealing our wishes of what we’d want, if we died. Margaret, who spent hours fixing her curly hair and make up to blend her freckles, insisted each of us promise to go to the mortuary to oversee her makeup application, laughing that no mortician would think to cover up the birthmark she loathed on her upper lip. She requested Sarah McLaughlin’s “I will remember you” as her song, and yellow roses her flowers. To make light of the “what if” I made Margaret promise I could have her GAP cargo pants and Banana Republic sweater I seemed to borrow on a weekly basis. These conversations brought us together and helped us heal.
Fast forward to July 26, 1998. Again, the phone rang. Only this time, it was Ryan calling. I’d given her the number of a friend I was spending at lot of time with that summer in case she ever needed to reach me and I wasn’t home. It was Sunday morning. I was hung over on the couch, watching TV when Matt handed me the cordless phone. I felt a jagged knife pierce through my already fragile world. “Carlyn, Margaret died this morning”. According to those who witnessed what happened next, I violently collapsed to the floor, screaming from a place of unimaginable sorrow, arguing with Ryan to stop with her nonsense, insisting her story was a lie. Hearing “Margaret is dead” could not be. Statistically speaking, I thought about the odds of 2 best friends dying, separately, within the same 10 month period. The probability of it being possible seems preposterous. But, it did. Margaret called to tell me Meredith died. Now, Margaret was dead, too.
I’ll always remember the day Marge and I met. It was the first day of 6th Grade at Greenville Middle. Both our elementary schools combined to filter into one new school, which meant new opportunities to make new friends. Since her last name was Stewart and mine Shaw, we were alphabetically assigned to the same Homeroom. Rocking a bright yellow skirt covered with colorful flowers, a red short sleeved t-shirt and brand new white KED sneakers, I thought I was cool. That is, until my eyes landed on the freckle faced girl to my right, wearing dangling gummy-like neon green fish earrings that danced as she turned her head to chat with the boys. And… I was in awe. She… was cool. After introducing myself to this girl, I quickly learned the neon fish had names, Fred and Ted. This is how our note swapping and friendship began.
Over the next 8 years we’d share countless sleepovers, the joy of puberty, first kisses and first heartbreaks, summertime poolside escapades, many late night house parties and memory making road trips. One of our favorites, the time we missed a mandatory Saturday school event because we slept in parking lot, post Pink Floyd Division Bell Tour in 1994. This was the same year right Margaret and I branched out Eastside High School to our rivalry, Riverside, where we met Ryan, Meredith and Nicole. Though our schools were 5 miles apart, the distance was no factor for our friendship. Pretty soon we began bringing our bigger groups of friends together. People knew us as inseparable. You saw one of us and another wasn’t too far away. By our Senior Year, friends joked Margaret and I actually changed schools. Since Ryan was on the yearbook committee, she actually sneaked pictures of us into their Senior Section. We loved our little gang.
The evidence of new green grass emerging from around Meredith’s freshly engraved head stone overlooking Margaret’s casket being lowered into the big hold to the right of her, captured the timeliness of their deaths. No one could argue the eerie coincidence, as if the one vacant cemetery plot seemed to be waiting for Margaret as a final resting place. Two best friends, still together. Yet, the similarities of their fatal accidents felt almost, poetic. Both were driving their own cars, with no additional passengers. Neither crash involved another vehicle. Both accidents occurred at the same early hour of 3 AM on a Sunday morning. Both were en route to their Mom’s house. Meredith, about an hour away, planned a last minute visit to attend the first Sunday Service at her newly renovated church. Margaret, only a few miles away, chose to leave a post wedding sleepover party, to get a head start on her studies for a summer school statistics exam she planned to ace the following day. Sadly, Meredith didn’t get the chance to attend the first church service at her church. But, she did have the honor of being the first funeral, one week later.
Standing on the step stool, I stretched my arms to the top shelf in my closet for the photo box containing random snippets from my life to hoisted down and do a little digging. At 28, I loved taking a trip down memory lane. Every time I rummaged and reminisced, I excavated the same artifacts as the time before, but it never got old. The faded picture of me rocking roller skates and pig tails, the mixed tapes from my summer camp friends, my Milli Vanilli and Garth Brooks ticket stubs, random hotel room keys from crazy times with friends I’m lucky my parents never found out about. However, this particular day, I came across a cassette tape I’d never seen before. Where did it come from? Who did it belong to? How did it get in here? Inserted in the cover was a pink business card with a woman’s name: TARRA.
It was 2007. My roommate and I were living in a two story condo, 3 blocks from the beach in sunny San Diego. This was the second address we she and I had shared in the last 3 years. I had been living in Dallas for a few years when Ellen called to let me there was a room available in her house to rent. This was all it took! I put a flower behind my ear and headed west to California. Now, years later, standing with the cassette in my hand, I hustled down the hall ways, yelling down the flight of stairs for Ellen. “Is this yours?” I shouted. As she came around the corner, Ellen’s jaw dropped as she with the surprise of what I’d stumbled upon, “Oh my god, I forgot about this! Where in the world did you find it?” Confused, I explain somehow the tape found its way into a box of my belongings I rarely open. Though dumbfounded, from the look on Ellen’s beaming face, I knew it was some sort of buried treasure she’d been missing. Little did I know I was holding a one-hour recorded reading Ellen had with a Psychic Medium in Sedona, Arizona. This small discovery would be the catalyst of a big change in my own world. Opening my box of memories opened pandora’s box, too.
After Margaret died, everything I believed to be normal felt ripped out from under. I wanted to talk about her but also noticed it made others uncomfortable. Of course I wasn’t the only one who lost a good friend, but in my world, I lost the other half of our stories. No one would understand our inside jokes. No one could replace her. In my attempt to grasp any morsel of comfort, night after night I sat at the desk top computer, learning to understand the internet while trying to understand, the afterlife. This was prior to Google so I had to get creative with the foreign topic of, death. I clung to any insight that curbed my chaos, to feel sane in the midst of insanity. I devoured stories of angels and their ability to commutate with loved ones – flickering lights, moved objects, dreams, I explored uncharted areas of Barnes & Nobles, tiptoeing to find books I never thought to read. I was only 20, best friends were not suppose to die this young.
Margaret and I talked a lot, most often while I drove. I was convinced she could hear me and, on occasion, I could feel her with me. Numerous times, after speaking her name or flashing back on a memory, the first beats of our song, “Boys of Summer” by Don Henley would start playing on the radio. You can imagine, riding solo, thinking about your dead best friend and your song instantly playing. It didn’t scare me. All I could do was smile and look at the empty passenger seat and know she was riding shotgun. My heart racing, I’d sing out loud. As crazy as it all felt, it actually gave me peace.
Then, one day, I stumbled onto an episode of John Edward’s TV show, Crossing Over. I witnessed him hearing voices from deceased loved ones from beyond and connecting the voices with grieving families in the audience, somehow knowing intimate details only those passed on would be able to relay. You could see the relief on their faces knowing the souls of their loved ones were safe. According to Ellen, Tarra, the woman from the tape, had the same gift as John. Not only could Tarra predict future events with her psychic abilities, but she spoke in the present with people no longer alive, sharing conversations with spirits. In learning this, finding Tarra’s contact information felt like a winning lotto ticket! This was exactly what I needed, a way to talk to them. If it was really was possible I knew Margaret and Meredith would jump at the chance to let me know they were together and OK. Why? Because that’s what best friends do.
Though I was a tad skeptic for a $350 hour-long psychic/medium reading, I believed every dollar was worth the gamble to prove their spiritual existence. Two years had passed since I initially found Tarra’s card and tape. But, my intuition was firing off spot on signs, nudging me to take action. It was October, 2008 and it was time to call her.
As it turned out, the nudge came two weeks prior to my six week Adventure to Peru, my own spiritual journey of sorts. I felt an ushering into the unknown. The phone rang. “Hello? Is this Tarra?” I heard the sweet, raspy voice. “Yes, who is calling?” “I’m Carlyn and I feel I was called to connect with you.” “They always are”. I hear the smile through her words. Though Tarra lived in Sedona, Arizona, it “just so happened” the following week she’d be in San Diego visiting a friend. She’d also blocked off a few days to offer face to face readings with her regular California clientele. Was this for real? Something had tugged at my heart and literally told me to call. If I’d waited a week, even a couple of days, to pick up the phone, chances are I’d have missed this opportunity. Tarra only had one hour, for one session, available. It happen to be the following Monday, which happen to be the first day of my upcoming sabbatical, my first day free from work, the first day of my new chapter. The stars aligned. I couldn’t believe the synchronicity. Everything felt right on time.
A roundish woman standing no more than 5 feet tall, with a faded New Jersey accent and a consistent cough that lingered from childhood pneumonia, Tarra, opened the front door, embracing me with a warm hug and inviting smile. With the ease of two friends meant to meet, we shared small talk about the gorgeous home of her longtime friend, the picturesque coastal day and the fact that I was noticeably nervous. “Breath, you have to remember to breath” she said as she guided me into the living room, pointing to the pair of comfy chairs. She then reached into her sweater pocket and handed me a small package of Kleenex. Staring at them I asked, “What are these for?” With a slight smirk, she assured me I’d need them soon. Next, she requested I hand over a small item I kept close to my person on a daily bases. I chose the black opal ring I’d worn every day since my three month adventure to Australia in 2005. She then put this ring on her own finger, closing her other hand around it, closed her eyes, and began taking in my energy. She asked if I’d brought pictures of loved ones I wanted to bring into our session. I pulled out my picture of the me, Margaret and Meredith, of us, at a pre party before our Senior Prom. Still slightly skeptical, I placed it upside down on the side table. In complete surrender to what was about to happen, I took a deep breath, settling into my seat, as Tarra began recited a welcoming prayer. She invited all sorts of spirits to join in support: my angel guides and ancestors, Jesus Christ and Kuan Yin, and Moses and Mother Mary. She even asked the dolphins and whales to offer guidance in the journey Dolphins and whales? I felt like I was being initiated into a spiritual world beyond my comprehension. I was excited. I felt safe.
I watched in wonder as the words from her mouth seemed to come from someplace other than her mind. She wasn’t thinking the messages, she spoke with a stream of consciousness, conveying information meant for me and only me. Watching her eyes dance from side to side as she received wisdom from some unknown source, I soaked up the specifics the second they left her lips. How did she know I’d left my job? How did she know I had MS? I had not breathed a word of my background before our meeting. It was as if she held a mirror up to my soul. She knew things beyond just, things. She knew the voice in my head. She looked at me, intently, locking in the present moment, as if giving me a command. Her eyes filled with compassion and kindness, she gently said, “there is nothing wrong with you and there never was”. And then, she repeated it again. And, again. She knew the voice in my head. She knew the words I shared with, no one.
And then, everything changed.
Tarra’s focus, as well as her body quickly shifted. She cleared her throat as if to announce a grand entrance. I sensed both her curiousity and a bit of frustration. “I know, I know, Ok, I will” I watched her giggle, to herself, like she was laughing, with an imaginary friend. Your M’s are here and they are begging me to talk to you. A Margaret and Meredith, do you know who I am referring to? Before I could nod my head yes, with a lighthearted laugh she then said, “I’m embarrassed to speak this way but one of them keeps cussing, saying ‘What the fuck happened, what the fuck!’. She insists she must talk through me this way because it’s how you will know it is her
I’m pretty sure all the color drained from my face at the same time my eyes filled with tears. It was her. Margaret was known for her sailor mouth to the point that after she visited me in college our Freshman Year, my guy friends reference on how such a pretty girl could drop the F Bomb so much. This was really happening. They were really with me. I instantly began to feel the floor drop from under me as my eyes filled with tears, now grateful for the tissues I’d unknowingly been clenching tightly in my hand.
In March of 1998, 9 months after Margaret died, while studying for a semester at Richmond College in London, England, I, along with 2 girlfriends, hopped on a plane for a quick 3 day trip to Dublin, Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Of course we had a blast. But I soon realized this getaway was more than just a reason to drink Guiness and wave our Irish flags in the massive parade. I couldn’t deny the overwhelming emotions. surfacing inside me as I walked the streets, wide eyed and loving life. For the first time since the death or Marge and Merry, I felt lucky. Somehow my awareness had shifted to realize that my decision to live life to the fullest and travel the world was a silver lining to their loss. I recognized in that moment had I not gone through all that I had, I wouldn’t have become depressed, that feeling of coasting through life. Out of my despair came my dream to do something I’d never dared before their death. Not to mention, I was in Ireland, on a all days, St. Patrick’s Day, literally surrounded by luck! I knew I’d found my pot of gold at the end of a faded rainbow. With this new perspective I immediately asked my friend if she would do me a favor. I needed her to come with me to get my first tattoo, something I had always wanted and now I felt the time was right. Permanent good luck inked to my body and honoring my best friends, defining this overwhelming silver-lining of loss and luck.
Fast forward 10 years later: here I was, sitting with a spiritual medium who would have no way of knowing that on the lower right side of my back I had tattooed a quarter sized four-leaved clover with the letter M. Thinking back on the day I spontaneously decided to get ink’d while in Ireland, I’d contemplated getting angel wings, but knew Margaret would consider it ‘cheesy’. Given the fact they shared the same first initial, an “M” seemed like the perfect way to honor them both. I purposely placed it lower than my jeans but high enough to seen on occasion However, I never anticipated how someone would respond if they did see iWithout fail, each time I’m asked, “what does the M stand for”, I smile, using the question as an invitation to talk about my best friends. I felt lucky to have them in their short life as well as I did. My tattoo made them my permanent good luck charms and granted their story permission to live on through me. My “M”s.
In a matter of minutes, Tarra flipped my world upside down. No longer could I discount what I could not see. No longer could I question whether or not my friends spirits still soared, their souls vibrant and full of life. My tears now streamed happiness knowing that their death was not final, that their spirits still flourished alongside my adventures. Tarra fed me information about their accident from their point of view, assuring me my friends passed quickly, no suffering, no pain. I knew Margaret’s brain took the blunt of the accident, causing her instant death when she lost control of her Mazda XR7 that collided into a 10 foot long brick entrance to a neighboring subdivision, crumbling the structure past the point of repair. Meredith’s case was different. A Semi Truck driver caught a glimpse of her car off the side of the road, calling the police to report he’d found her body, in what an autopsy would later confirm was many hours after she passed. To this day forensic evidence is unclear how or why Meredith’s car swerved off the road into a pasture of green grass, ultimately hitting a tread head on. We were told the story that she fell asleep driving alone late on a dark night. But Tarra gave the accident a new spin, suggesting a deer jumped out, startling Meredith, causing her to lose control of the wheel, and without breaking, crashing into the tree.
All of this information was enough evidence to confirm I not only got my money worth only what happened next was a true game changer. Tarra claimed Margaret had a message for me, about something that was going to happen in my future. Her words from Tarra, “due to you tendency to overreact, I need you to know, in regards to a future flight, your arrival time will be late, but everything is happening as it should” I looked at Tarra, bewildered. Having mentioned nothing about my upcoming 6 week excursion to Peru, Tarra brought up the fact I had 3 flights I’d be taking in my near future. She knew I was going out of the country. In fact, my flights booked would carry me from LA to El Salvador to Lima to Cusco. Somehow she knew I had 3 flights and needed to relay a message from my my dead best friend’s spirit that not only would one of my flights delay the arrival time to my final destination, but I was not to worry, as all would be happening as it should. Was she kidding? I didn’t know whether to worry about my trip or think all of it was crazy. It was one thing to provide messages of their safety from beyond the grave, but to insinuate a mess with my flight itinerary was a whole different ball game!
Two weeks later, I took the tip seriously and chose to resend a copy of my flight info to the Valerie, the friend I planned to meet in Lima, Peru, at the airport, giving her the details of my reading in the off chance I might actually, be late. I also shared the possible flight mishap with my friend driving me to LAX late Sunday night for my 2 AM morning flight. I believed I was doing all I could to be one step ahead. A few days later, the day before my trip, as I was leaving CVS Pharmacy with my last minute toiletries as my cell phone began to ring with a +51 number, the country code for Peru. Unsure of who in the world could be calling me, I answered assuming it had to be someone from the language school I’d be attending within the week. Carlyn, where are you? I can’t find you anywhere, exclaimed Valerie, excited that I still had my phone turned on. “What are you talking about, I’m in the CVS parking lot in San Diego, where are you?”
After a brief moment of silence I began to hear her laughter roar from Lima, Peru to confused ear, â€œAre you kidding? Your flight landed an hour ago, you missed your flight… you actually missed your flight!'” I froze and in an instant all the color drained from my face as my blood drained to my toes. “What? What are you talking about”, as I was completely confused! Was she suggesting I was in fact the reason my arrival time was delayed, rather than it be the fault of the airlines? Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be the cause of my delay, I naturally assumed I’d miss a connection or a flight would be grounded for maintenance. And then it hit me. Oh. My. God. My 2 AM flight did not leave on what I perceived late Sunday night but rather early Sunday morning! Somehow, my friend and I both managed to overlook the fact that in order for me to arrive on a Sunday afternoon, Iâ€™d have to leave late Saturday, which was really 2 AM Sunday, not 2 AM Monday, which felt like Sunday night. Frantically, I hung up with Valerie and promised her I’d email her once I found out my new options. Then I sat in my car. In the parking lot. Shocked yet at the same time giddy about the fact that what Tarra said that Margaret said was true! It was real! She was real. All of this was crazy but real. Just like Margaret predicted, there was no way I’d arrive in Lima on time. And just like she predicted, if I had not been given this insight ahead of time, like usual, I’d have read into the circumstances, easily convincing myself I was not meant for the journey. However, having this insight, I knew what I had to do. I simply had to make new decisions needed to get me to where I was meant to be. I immediately called the airlines, only to find out not only did I need to repurchase a new outbound flight, but that there was only one seat left on the flight.Â Trusting that all was happening as it should, I gave her my credit card number as if the new $500 charge was the punch line to a bad joke. But, I was safe. I would arrive a day later. On top of all this, the rest of my travel plans became obsolete in the moment as I realized I’d no longer be staying with Valerie my first night in Lima and additionally needed a new flight from Lima to Cusco, I then bought a second new flight. Everything was upside down but right side up at the same time. Margaret was right. It all worked out as it should- even better than originally planned.
As a result of all that transpired from finding the cassette tape, my heart and mind were blown wide open to all possibilities. I could never “not know” what I now knew as real. Never again could I dismiss an idea, simply because I could not see it. From this point on, anything was possible. I look back in awe of the way it all played out, but also convinced each synchronicity of every circumstance was simply a puzzle piece to the bigger picture. What could possibly be was just as probable, if not more of an option of what I knew to be. I was meant to find the tape,Â from what I believe to be part of a divine plan, the tipping point that ignited my curiosity as well as my spirituality, in a way that truly is hard to put to words. Over a decade later I’m still pinching myself. And the best part is knowing that no matter how much time has passed, Margaret and Meredith will always my good luck charm guides. Why? Because why not, thatâ€™s what best friends do.