Eleven years ago, on this very day, I was a freshman at Rice in Houston, 228 miles and an entire world away from my family home in Alexandria, Louisiana. That night, I drove my friends and I to the Macaroni Grill on Westheimer, forcing them, against their will, to listen to the Steve Miller Band along the way.
I pulled into a choice parking spot directly in front of the entrance to the restaurant, and at that moment, suddenly and unexpectedly, I became awash with anxiety. I put the car in park, took the keys out of the ignition, and opened the door.
“Hey, Lamar, do you want your cell phone?” my roommate Saaid asked. I’d left my phone in the car, in the cupholder between the driver and passenger seats.
In the years that followed that moment, I’ve learned about mystical experiences, astral projection, psychedelia, the collective unconscious, and glossolalia. I even earned a degree in Religious Studies. But there’s no substitution for sober intuition: It’s jarring, discombobulating, paranoiac.
“Yeah, I need my phone,” I said, and then I followed with a matter-of-fact statement I’ll always remember (pardon my French): “Something fucked up is happening to my family.”
Before I could even order dinner, my phone rang. It was my Aunt Jean.
“Where are you?” she asked. “Are you in public? Are you sitting down? Your mother needs to tell you something, but you need to be in the right place.”
“I’m leaving right now,” I told her. I grabbed the keys to my car and bolted out of the restaurant. I was wide-eyed and trembling. Until that moment, I’d never realized that the adjectives “shaken” and “heartache” referred to real physical reactions.
My roommate caught up with me in the parking lot. “You’re our ride,” he said. “Where are you going?”
“I’m sorry. I have to go. I think my father is dead.”
“Give me your keys,” he said. “I’ll drive you back.”
As it turns out, in retracing the timeline of events that night, my father died at the same time I pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, the same time I suddenly felt a surge of anxiety. And no, it’s not as if it was imminent or expected. My father was only 41 years old.
Still, if there is any moral or magic to this story, it is this: That maybe, just maybe, it is possible for us to forge human connections that transcend our understanding of the physical world, that maybe we can be deeply connected to our loved ones, that maybe synchroncity is real and possible.
And maybe, if we’re all lucky enough, as Etta James sang, “life is like a song.”