True love had always eluded me until I put my life in the hands of a hypnotist.
"Want to come with me to a hypnosis seminar for singles?" my friend asked. "The hypnotist specializes in past-life regression."
"Sure," I replied.
I didn't give the invite too much credence besides thinking that I'd add to my reservoir of blind date small talk — like how while hiking in Canada I once spotted a rare grizzly bear or that I was hired by a Jewish singles group for a summer job because I was "good at flirting" or how I once ended up on a Mardi Gras float in New Orleans throwing beaded necklaces to the crowd.
But the minute I took my seat in the auditorium among the throngs of jaded Manhattanites in their 20s and 30s, I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be.
The hypnotist said he wanted us to focus on a question about what was holding us back in our lives. He asked for a volunteer, so that he could demonstrate the healing power of a past life regression.
My hand shot up like a Bravo Housewife who had just had water thrown on her freshly-styled hair.
"I want to find out why I pick emotionally unavailable men who aren't worthy of me and why the thought of being in love makes me feel suffocated," I said. He motioned me to come on stage and sit on a chair.
"OK. Relax your body and close your eyes. We're going to go back in time," the hypnotist told me in a soothing timbre.
"Counting 10, 9, 8, 7, you're floating freely through time and space, and you're now going to land in the lifetime from which you will find the answer you've been seeking. When you're ready to land in 5, 4, 3, 2 1, you'll look down and see shoes. Please describe them to me."
I strained to see through the thick fog in my mind.
"I think I see clogs," I said. “But they aren't the clogs of today. They look different, sturdier.”
"Do you know where you are and the year?"
Into my faded vision came grainy scenes reminiscent of an ancient movie reel from a documentary. "Yes, I'm in Massachusetts. But not the Massachusetts of today. It's from Pilgrim times."
"Wonderful," he said. Now look up from your clogs and tell me what you see."
"Are you married?” he asked me.
"I was, but I lost my wife a few years ago to scarlet fever. She was eight months pregnant with our son. I’ve never gotten over it."
I couldn't believe what I was saying but those words felt real to me, as did Jonah.
"Now you're going to move forward in time to the last day of Jonah’s life. What are you feeling?"
"I'm an old man. I never told my sister-in-law that I was in love with her. I'm trying to tell her now, but I can only whisper. She doesn't want to hear it. I feel pressure on my chest. I'm dying of heart disease. I can't breathe. Please," I begged the hypnotist, gasping, "take me back to Estelle."
"Estelle, you're going back to your present self in 10, 9, 8, 7, 6. You'll remember the lessons you've learned in 5, 4, 3, 2, and will release the pain from your past life in 1. Now, open your eyes."
As I slowly opened my tear-drenched eyes, I touched the streaks of mascara running down my cheeks; my nose felt stuffy and swollen, my legs were crossed akimbo, masculine-style, with my right knee jutting out.
The audience was rapt; the lighting too bright. Many women had their mouths open in a frozen, astonished O. I felt like I had become the star attraction of a metaphysical circus carnival.
"Why is this relevant to your life now, Estelle?" the hypnotist asked.
"I've been afraid to let myself fall in love because I lost everything in that life, so I've chosen emotionally unavailable men to 'fix.' Jonah, in that past life, was too scared to show his feelings, so he had to shut down his heart to survive."
"You'll now let your heart be open to love. It's safe for you to love and be loved in this lifetime," he instructed.
After, I tried to hold on to my memory of Jonah, but eventually the fragments of his life receded from my mind, like salt sliding through a sieve.
And I started choosing better men, who were my equals. A while later, I met my husband. Though he was born on the other side of the world, he felt familiar, was available to love and be loved, and didn't need any fixing.
And I was finally ready to be vulnerable, because I knew that this time I wouldn't lose myself by giving away my heart.
Estelle Erasmus is an award-winning journalist who has been published on Redbook, Marie Claire, Brain, Child, The Washington Post, and more. She can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and on her blog Musings on Motherhood & Midlife.