Chapter One


Growing Up Normal



The first time I saw a dead body I was seven years old.


It was sprawled out on the beach, like a whale, in Acapulco, Mexico. A group of people had gathered around this immense object that had washed ashore.


I wiggled my way to the center of the crowd and there he was -- a naked man -- lying on his stomach -- three hundred pounds of solid flesh.


My dad quickly yanked me away.


It was an automatic reaction, an irrational fear of what might happen if I came too close, as if the man might suddenly wake up, as if that would be a bad thing.


I managed to break free from my father to get close enough to touch this man's flesh.


It felt like rubber.


Then, I heard it: the sound one hears when confronted with death -- a scream so loud, so piercing, more like a sick animal than a human voice.


It showed me this man wasn't just a spectacle. He was a father, a husband, a brother, a son. His entire family came running toward the shore, shrieking with pain, cursing at the sky, falling into one another's arms, collapsing with grief.


I became paralyzed.


I watched as his mother slapped his hands, yelling, demanding him to wake up!


When he didn't, she cursed God, cursed the voyeurs of her pain, and then she did the most awful thing I have ever seen -- she ripped off her shirt and went charging into the ocean shouting, "Take me, God! Take me now! Take me, you bastard!"


People didn't seem shocked when she ripped off her shirt, or when she ran toward the ocean, but when she called God a bastard, that shocked the hell out of them.


Not me.


I didn't recoil from this woman's uncontrollable display of grief.


I ran with her.


She looked at me, tears rolling down her cheeks, shaking her head at the unfairness of it all. I must have done something because the only thing I remember is her smile -- this slow smile that crept up the edges of her lips and spread outward. A smile filled with tenderness and pain.


"Your son won't leave you. He'll always be around."


I said these words without opening my mouth.


She nodded and smiled as her husband wrapped a towel around her.


Her eyes never left mine. Not as she hugged her family. Not as paramedics carted her son away. We stared at each other -- two souls who meet for only a moment and connect on a level that comes when we are fully present for another human being.


At age seven, I knew how to do this really well -- to be there for someone without having to stop their pain or put a lid on what they were feeling.


As I got older and more protective, I became less comfortable with being and more comfortable with doing. Then, when someone was in pain, I had to fix it.


So, at the ripe old age of nine, I made my new post in life official. I became the Dear Abby of my third grade class.


Every Friday, a group of girls would write down their problems and put them in my cubby at school. Over the weekend, I would ponder how to help Diane get over a crush on our teacher, or how to help Kerry deal with her parents.


At age ten, I fell in love for the first time with a boy named Jimmy Delmonte. His dark hair, almond eyes, and rugged body were enough to make me want to quit third grade and run off with him forever. Every Wednesday, he'd come to my house and we'd sneak down to my basement where, between eating oatmeal cookies and drinking chocolate milk, we'd tell each other scary stories and stare into each other's eyes.


On my birthday, Jimmy presented me with a heart pendant, told me he loved me, and promised we'd be together forever.


Forever lasted approximately sixty-four days.


"I need to be free to explore my options," I told him. "It's not about you, Jimmy. I've gotta get focused on what I want to do with my life." I was a serious kid with serious goals.


I told my dad: "When I'm older, I'm going to live in California on the beach, drive a Porsche 911, marry a man with brown hair, have a little boy, and leave a mark on the world bigger than Freud."


I knew about Sigmund Freud because my mom took me to enlightenment courses where people cried over stuff that happened to them when they were young.


The first seminar was called EST. It took place in a big room in New York City. I was thirteen.


All I knew was they didn't let you leave the room to pee. This bothered me because I had to pee a lot. Not every five minutes a lot, but being restricted felt like torture. We also couldn't snack between meals. Not a piece of gum. Not a soda. Not a sucking candy. Only water. Nothing else.


Oh, and once you committed to staying for the weekend, you couldn't leave. They didn't lock you in or anything, but you know how uncomfortable it feels when you get up in the middle of a lecture to leave? Well, add to that having the instructor shout what a loser and coward you are if you go.


"What are the benefits of doing this course?" I ask my mom.


"Happiness," she tells me. "Inner peace."


"You took the course, right, Mom?"


"You know I did."


"Does it only work on some people?"


"Don't be a smart ass."


"I'm serious. Are you a portrait of happiness and peace?"


"Happiness is a process, not a permanent state."


"How do you know?"


"Because I've never permanently experienced happiness. It comes and goes. The key is to make sure it comes more than it goes."


So there it was: The beginning of a belief system that claimed happiness was something outside of me; it came and went, just like the mailman, just like nice weather. Happiness was something to be found not created. It existed when everything was exactly the way I wanted it to be.


It would take fifteen years before a wise sage by the name of David Adams, age five, would answer a question that would forever change my life.


We'd be sitting together, waiting for his mom to pick him up from the karate school I would own.


I would turn to him and ask, "David, what is the meaning of life?"


He would look at me, shaking his little blond head with disgust, as if I'd just asked a question to which the answer is painfully obvious.


"To be happy," he'd say, raising his eyebrows.


Of course, finding that answer far too simplistic, I would repeat the question. "No, really, David, tell me. What is the meaning of life?"


He'd smack his tiny hand against his forehead, completely flabbergasted that we adults just didn't get it, and he'd repeat, slowly, as if comprehension were my problem. "The meaning of life is to BE happy. Just BE happy now, ya get it?"


I did get it, for glimpses at a time: When I was riding the train to New York City eating Chicken McNuggets and reading the latest Betty and Veronica comic book. When I entered acting class on Saturday morning and the students cheered because I was there. When my brother and I put Jell-O in our hair and made funky hairstyles, laughing hysterically in the mirror.


Happiness.


When it would come, I would try to hang on to it.


I thought happiness was elusive and fleeting, something to be captured and contained. I did not yet realize that happiness was in my control, that it was something I created inside myself and had access to no matter what life presented.


For too many years, I searched for happiness... in food, in men, in making sure my body looked perfect, in finding ways to stand out, be witty, smart, talented and beautiful. I thought people would cheer if I shone.


I thought my friends would be thrilled if the cutest guy asked me out or if I aced my exams. But instead of being thrilled, they were mean.


Vicious mean, the kind of mean that makes you remember details of your childhood you’d best forget. Like when Emily, Lauri, and Dina, came to my house and Emily and Dina were in my bedroom shoving my jewelry, clothing, and makeup in their purses while Lauri distracted me downstairs.


When they arrived at school the next day wearing my stuff, I learned the meaning of the word “betrayal”.


But I remained strong. Even when Marsha Snyder punched me on the playground, even when David Capella spit a hamburger on my head at Iris Barzvi's birthday party. These people, who were my best friends one week, my enemies the next, eventually drove me to my father in tears.


"Dad, what do I do when they push me?"


"You tell them you love their shoes."


"What do I say when they call me names?"


"You thank them."


The next day, Emily followed me home, taunting, "Lysa is a pussy girl! Lysa buys clothes at the Red Balloon. She's a big fat buffoon!"


"Emily, where did you get your shoes? I really love them."


"I'm not telling you, stupid idiot..."


I bit my lip. I really wanted to slug this girl. I remembered my father’s advice and repeated it, "Emily, it takes courage to speak your mind. Most people talk behind someone's back, but you’re nasty right to my face, and though what you're saying hurts, I do admire your boldness."


Emily never bothered me again.


Although talking to spirits wasn’t something I did as a child, looking back, there were things I knew that I had no way of knowing how I knew, like who was on the other end of the phone and what was going to happen before it happened.


As a kid, I played in my room a lot. My mom would knock on my door and ask, “What are you doing in there, Lysa?”


“Nothing, Mom.”


“Who are you talking to?”


"My friends."


She'd open the door and see me sitting on my bed.


Alone.


She must’ve thought I created invisible friends to keep me company and there was no harm in that. I felt surrounded by people who weren't there, at least not physically. I could describe them to you in detail. How they looked, how they acted, their style of dress, quirks, habits, families, even their names, which I sometimes took on.


"Lysa, it’s time for dinner!" my mom would yell from the bottom of the stairs.


I wouldn't answer.


She'd fling open my door. "Lysa, dinner."


"My name is Robin today."


"Okay, Robin, time for dinner."


I'd skip along behind her and always make sure to stop and say hello to my grandfather, who’d be sitting in his favorite black leather chair in our living room.


"Hello Grandpa, how are you feeling today?"


He wouldn't answer, of course.


He couldn't.


He was dead.


"Don't you see him?" I'd ask my mom.


"Sure, we see Grandpa," my older brother, David, would say rolling his eyes, "and the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy..."


I saw Grandpa, and that’s what counted. He knew a lot about me, especially how much I loved surprises, all kinds of surprises, until I learned the difference between a good surprise and a bad one.


A good surprise is when you enter your home to hear people cheering, "Happy Birthday!" A bad surprise is when you go out for dinner with your family and your whole world turns upside down.


I was seven and a half years old when I received the worst surprise of my life.


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The foregoing is excerpted from Psychic Diaries by Lysa Mateu Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins, 10 East 53 Street, NY, NY 10022 - Imprint: HarperEntertainment; ISBN: 0060559667; Format: Hardcover; Pages: 352; $24.95; $38.95(CAN)