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Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2002 @ 11:32 pm

Listen: Donít put much stock in what the folks at the churches and labs are saying. You get to keep your body when you die.

Iím dead, but my name is Ernie Baxter. You keep the body, and you keep the name. But this much is clear: In heaven, thereís none of that interfering with the living nonsense. You can look down, through silver-lined clouds, and see things going on below with a fair amount of clarity, but no interaction. I was shocked as shit that the rumors about the clouds and their beautiful lining panned out, but there are no hauntings. No channeling through dogs and certainly no slumber party board game communications. Believe me, Iíve tried.

My name is Ernie Baxter, but my hands are tied. My history has passed to the memories and stories of my mother and ex-girlfriend.

Bosses and co-workers.

Bartenders and insurance agents.

Friends and gym teachers.

The day after the funeral, I was watching my mother, bless her lonely soul, cleaning the house. I wished with every ounce of my new, post-earth self (one side point about the spiritual body hereÖ to loose any excess weight carried to the grave, exercise, apparently, will still be necessary up here) that I could do the dishes, clean the wood floors, or switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer. I tried yelling: ďMom! Can you hear me? Mom, if I were there you wouldnít even have to ask one time for me to shake out the rugs.Ē

Nothing. She went about her business. I tried deep concentration, attempting to send some kind of kinetic waves into her head: ďI love you mom and maybe itís not cleaning that youíd want. How about this, mom: If I could, Iíd come down there right now and leave my socks and shoes all over the house. Something. Anything.Ē

Nothing. She started the dishwasher and wiped down the counters, whistling a hymn that was played at my funeral. She looked okay.

I tried to convince a cabinet door to swing open, some sign that I was with her, watching her. Nothing. And then back to yelling: ďMom, I made it to heaven! You did good, mom. I miss you.Ē Itís not easy to watch her from up here, silenced by what looks to be as many miles as a science teacher could write in zeros on the chalkboard. Thereís more crying in heaven then you might imagine. Iím here in a small crowd, all newcomers with dripping eyes, mourning the mourners. Sad that theyíre sad. Lonely in heaven.

During the funeral, I eavesdropped on conversations. It was, in fact, during the ceremony that I learned what has most certainly provedq to be my greatest limitation up here. I was able to focus my attention on only one conversation at a time. As I watched my mother talking to my high school buddies, I noticed that I was missing out on whatever my ex-girlfriend was saying to her husband. I couldnít hear what my cousins were mumbling into each otherís ears without missing out on something the preacher was saying. But regardless, out of every sentence uttered that day, Iíd wager that twenty-five percent of them were horribly flawed. Dates were wrong, opinions attributed to me were skewed. Some folks thought I was still working in an office when I died and had heard I was up for a big promotion. Others had some ďevidenceĒ that Iíd gotten really into exercise and were surprised that my health deteriorated so quickly. One man I didnít recognize was rattling on about an apparent girlfriend I had in Seattle. He was wrong. I died with my mother, and my mother alone. Iíd made some friends on the west coast, but not the type of friends that come to your deathbed, and certainly not the type of friends that fly to the Midwest for a funeral. I had zero representation for the past several years of my life, and history was suffering.

Imagine sitting in a theater, at the beginning of a movie, and suddenly you realize that youíre the star. Youíre the star, but you donít remember practicing your lines and all the time you were living your life, making progress, getting paid, falling in love, marking an ĎXí through another box on the calendarÖ All of it, to your total surprise, was one gigantic rehearsal.

The feeling is unsettling, of course, and it looks like this movie is going to last a long, long time. An eternity. Who would have thought? And who the hell is prepared? The lead role in the movie of your life is acted out based on the shady recollections of the ones you left behind. This takes some getting used to, and Iíd only had a few days.

You want to believe that memory is a strong thing, an asset to the dead. You tell stories in hopes that folks will remember what you said, the points you drove home. You do things, say things, in hopes that they will remain, floating in a space removed from speculation and locked safely away in memory, but itís not to be. Memory, in fact, might be the greatest liar of all time. The most deceptive of sinners. The real face of death.

Truth be told, I was always excited about the ďdeath takes allĒ idea. Dead, buried, and forgetting about it. When it was all said and done, I figured, Iíd kick back with the angels, find my dad somewhere in the crowd, and float around like everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

But the real deal is that itís never all said and done. From up here, itís clear that although I only walked the face of the earth for a handful of years, those years are going to stretch for some time. Stretched and twisted Ė the longevity of it.

Immediately upon arrival, my thoughts immediately went into overdrive with so much to process and sort out. But I donít want to misrepresent with confused statements and appraisals. There are some comforts that came to me quickly. The people are friendly, and heaven is, indeed, a beautiful place. The general overview and speculation you hear is reasonably accurate, but there are some flaws to the earthly descriptions. Iíve still got the body. The cancerís gone, but itís still arms, legs, feet, and hands. Iím not floating around, Iím walking. As it turns out, the streets are indeed made of gold, which is bitchiní, and the rivers are flowing clean, but Iíve yet to see anyone with a harp. There are certainly some aspects of the myth that can now officially be put to rest. Iím an authority now, and listen to me spewing it out. Up here, I could go on and on about my weighty revelations, but it only gives new ironic meaning to preaching to the choir. Watch these words fall quietly down, reaching the globe just as all sound, meaning, and importance fully disappears from them.

I died too early. Perhaps with more time, I could have solidified some of the stories, given them some personal stamp of approval and gone away content that history has been secured. Not so.

In heaven, you can spend too much time watching the people you miss remember you. The scientists, the preachers, and your mother beside your deathbed will tell you thereís no pain in heaven. Donít believe them.

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