BEFORE THE GAMBLE: In the months before she and Lewis agreed to divorce, Laura endeavored to come to terms with her life. "I was dying," she says now. "I needed to find out why and make the changes necessary to live long enough to see my children grow up -- which led me to the decision that to divorce is to live."
"Lewis and I," she said, "are having a semi-amicable parting of the ways."
Up until that moment, Laura had never said anything that would have led me to believe she was on the verge of ending her marriage. Despite all my questions and all my prying, she had remained discreet in regard to her relationship with Lewis.
In the weeks that followed, Laura told me what had gone wrong. She shared her longstanding feelings of isolation and alienation, her sense that she and Lewis had been been distant for many years, her nagging suspicion that she had devoted her life to the wrong man. Though she said it was a mutual decision, I sensed that the final call was more hers than his.
She said all of the things people say when they get divorced. She said that Lewis didn't understand her, that she felt he undermined her, that the two of them had been squabbling, that she was worried about the children, that she had no idea how to pay her bills. She had tried to stick it out and make it work, she said, but it never did.
"I believed that if I just loved him long enough and hard enough, that he would wake up," she said.
There was more. Laura said that Lewis did not support her channeling and other paranormal pursuits. She said he seemed to have changed in ways that startled her, to have become more cold and distant. She wondered, aloud, if the Lizzies had somehow replaced him or transformed him into one of the zombie-like creatures, as part of the campaign to keep track of her movements. It wasn't his fault, she told me.
"It's only because of his relationship with me," she said.
Lewis had moved out of the house and was gone. Though he stayed in contact with the children, I never saw him again. Later, though, I caught up with him by phone and talked with him about what had gone wrong. His version was not that different from Laura's. He said they had struggled financially over the years and eventually drifted apart. Despite their breakup, Lewis spoke respectfully of Laura. He said he believed that she is truly psychic and has the ability to channel conversations with entities. He tried to be supportive of her activities, but she had taken them to a point that clashed with his fundamentalist Christian beliefs.
"I tried to be tolerant," he said. "But it got kind of out of hand."
Lewis avoided criticizing Laura. He acknowledged that he had worried that some of the entities Laura was channeling might not be benevolent. He was not surprised to learn that Laura had wondered if the Lizzies were manipulating him; he had already heard as much. He didn't appreciate that she had suggested such a possibility. It hurt his feelings, he said.
I was not particularly surprised by Laura's suspicions that Lewis had been changed into some kind of zombie. Those were the terms under which she had come to see the world; that was her prism. In the past, I had heard born-again Christians who were having marital problems talk about how Satan had entered their spouses and was manipulating them. Was this so different? I took this to be simply Laura's way of saying that Lewis had become a stranger to her and that she no longer trusted him.
Still, Laura's decision was alarming. Not only was she getting a divorce, she was not asking for any child support. Lewis had recently lost his construction job, and she did not think he had any money to spare. What she wanted, and what she said Lewis had agreed to, was for her to take the house and the family van, both of which were paid for, plus her half of their savings.
I could not figure out how she would make it work. Laura had no job, outside her paranormal activities, and they paid almost nothing; also, she said that the family's savings were not substantial. How would she pay the bills? Also, what was to stop Lewis from trying to gain custody of the children? What if he stood before a judge and testified about him and the children living with his wife's exorcisms and spirit detachments and conversations with sixth-density beings?
At this point, Laura was 44. She was in the poorest physical condition I'd seen her; knowing what she was going through emotionally, this was not surprising. She had five kids, ranging in age from 6 to 17, with all the drama and complications that usually come with children. She had two dogs and a house badly in need of repair. She almost never got out of the house, except to buy groceries or run the children around. Usually, she spent her days and nights reading or typing away at her computer.
Laura's decision seemed foolhardy. When I looked down the road, I saw nothing good coming from the divorce. I saw Laura losing the house, possibly even losing the kids. I saw her winding up alone, bitter and disappointed.
I kept my concerns to myself. It was still her life, and I knew she was fighting for it the best she could.
* * *
The next few months were grim.
Laura went on with her research, her writing, the channeling sessions on Saturday nights. But her heart was obviously not in it. She admitted she was sleeping more than usual. She was gaining weight. When I called, she barely seemed to have the energy to hold the phone.
Before, Laura had always worked on overdrive, operating with enough energy for three people. Now everything inside her seemed to be shutting down. She was moving in slow motion.
Laura said she did not regret her decision, that divorce was the right thing to do. Never once did she waver from this position. Still, she acknowledged that the whole thing had been gut-wrenching for everyone in her family. She worried about how to pay the bills and keep food in the refrigerator. She talked about how much the children were hurting and missing their father.
As the weeks passed, she seemed to be descending further and further. She was spinning increasingly savage pictures of the world around her.
"It seems to me," she said one day, "that there are two main types of people. There are predators, and there are prey."
She asked the Cs about why she felt so alone and frustrated. They told her that she was carrying anger about many things from the past, not just things related to Lewis, but to the Lizzies and her childhood abductions.
At one point, she went to see a psychiatrist. Afterward, she told me what had happened. She had given the psychiatrist her life history, told him about the face at window and the other disturbing childhood episodes. She said that he had suggested she consider the possibility that she was traumatized as a child. She did not agree; she said her recollections of the incidents were too vivid and real for her to have imagined them. Laura pressed the doctor for help. What should she do? How was she supposed to handle these memories that haunted her? He said she should try to stop thinking about them, learn to cordon off those areas of her mind. Laura didn't think it was possible. How could she cordon off something so important?
Laura went to see the psychiatrist only a few times. She said he'd told her she was healthy and did not need to come back.
The weeks passed, and her grief seemed to be growing. She wondered aloud if perhaps "dark forces" were punishing her for daring to see them and talk about them. She quoted ominous passages from the Bible, going on about Eve eating the apple from the tree of knowledge and her eyes filling with tears from "the bittersweet flood of knowing." And she was sending me e-mails that sounded like they came from the Bible, too.
Laura was writing about mountains erupting and seas boiling over and the skies lowering to sweep man away like so much dust. She was telling me how she had just been outside driving through New Port Richey and had crossed the Pithlachascotee River and seen its tranquil eddies and seen the canopy of oaks along the road and even seen a flowering jacaranda tree that had baptized her with blossoms -- these were her words -- that filtered from the clouds above to emerge into a benediction of sunlight. Yet none of these beautiful sights made her feel any better.
"Because, in all these things is death and decay," she wrote. "Everywhere you look, something is consuming something else."
Still, anyone who's been through a divorce would have understood exactly what she meant.
* * *
AN E-ROMANCE: In August 1996, Laura looks at a photo of Ark that he e-mailed to her from Poland.
She had met a man, she said. Well, not met him exactly. Not in person. But she had been talking to him, over the computer, and she was ecstatic.
The Cassiopaeans had pointed her toward this man, she said. She could hardly believe it herself, but it was true. The Cs had given her some instructions, and she had followed them, and they had taken her straight to him. Breathless, she told me all about him.
He was a physicist.
He lived in Poland.
They were in love.
* * *
It had begun, appropriately enough, with gravity.
Yes, gravity. The invisible force that draws two objects together. The attraction, expressed throughout the universe, between planets, stars and other celestial bodies.
One night a few weeks before, as Laura explained it to me, the Cs kept going on about gravity. She and Freddie were channeling with them, and she was trying to talk to them about some other things. But the Cs said they wanted to talk about "unstable gravity waves," whatever those were. They told her she needed to learn all about the subject.
"Okay," Laura replied. "Unstable gravity waves. I'll see what I can find."
The Cs weren't done with the subject. A few moments later, they told her:
"WE MEAN FOR YOU, LAURA, TO MEDITATE ABOUT UNSTABLE GRAVITY WAVES AS PART OF RESEARCH. UNSTABLE GRAVITY WAVES UNLOCK AS YET UNKNOWN SECRETS OF QUANTUM PHYSICS TO MAKE THE PICTURE CRYSTAL CLEAR."
In the weeks that followed, the Cs kept returning to the subject of gravity. Laura put together all the passages, along with some other sections related to physics, and posted it on the Internet, on a discussion list popular with UFO researchers, astronomers, other scientists. She wanted some help. Could anyone read this stuff and tell her what they thought it meant?
A few days later, she got an e-mail from a man who wanted to know some more about her research. He explained that he was a professor at the University of Wroclaw, in Poland, in the university's institute for theoretical physics. He said his name was Arkadiusz Jadczyk, but he told her to call him Ark.
Over the next few days, Laura and Ark e-mailed back and forth. At first they were talking mostly about physics. It turned out that Ark had a Web site that was devoted to, among other things, gravity waves. Laura called up the Web site, read through Ark's writings, began to get excited. They continued the e-mails, getting to know each other. Even over the computer, across the span of an ocean, Laura could feel an energy growing between them.
That was all it took. Within a few weeks, they were declaring their love for each other, sharing their life stories, comparing notes, flirting over the information superhighway. They almost couldn't believe it was happening.
"Laura, dear Laura," Ark wrote her in one e-mail. "You are real. You are not an imagination."
He was 52, he said. He was married, but the marriage had been dead for years. Furthermore, he was a physicist who had spent his life studying time and space, the nature of consciousness, the fabric of reality -- all the subjects that had consumed Laura since she was a girl.
They exchanged photos. Laura sent several from different points in her life; Ark sent a portrait that showed a slender man with delicate features and thin white hair. He also sent her tapes of him singing to her, in Polish. When she played one for me, I didn't understand any of it, except for one word that he kept singing softly, over and over.
"Laura . . . Laura . . . "
Soon she was talking about the two of them in eternal terms. She said they were conducting a "cosmic love affair." She was convinced that Ark was the man she'd dreamed about all those years before, the husband she'd seen killed by the Nazi soldiers in her vision. They were meant to be together, she said. She was sure of it.
Ark's e-mails made it clear that he felt exactly the same. The man had it bad.
"Look what has happened," he wrote Laura late that August, barely more than a month after they'd begun their exchanges. "Impossible has happened. What we did during these forty days is impossible indeed. Like an explosion, like a flood. Like a fusion -- but a controlled one."
I loved the fusion thing. The physicist, working it.
"You are right," he told her, still rolling. "Put it all in a book and nobody will believe it. WE would not believe it. If not the fact that the book is written by us . . . Somehow we manage to have no fear of dreaming. Somehow our dreams are finding a way to materialize. Somehow the words that we speak with faith but without reasons to believe -- somehow these words became true."
On and on he went.
"Each day is a new day. Each new day is awaited. We know how much yet is to be done. We know we have not even begun. And yet there is no return . . . "
Ark seemed perfect for Laura. In fact, he seemed almost too good to be true. So I checked.
I did not want to see Laura crushed into oblivion. I did not want to learn, six months down the line, that this soul mate of hers was actually a 14-year-old boy in Philadelphia, doing what any 14-year-old boy would be doing on the other end of the computer line. I asked one of the Times' researchers to see if Arkadiusz Jadczyk was real.
Indeed he was; in 1995, he had even won something called a Humboldt Award, which if I understood correctly, was a respectable achievement in the world of physics. Laura had already told me about the Humboldt Award. When I found out it was true, I kept it to myself. I didn't want to offend her, letting her know that I'd felt it necessary to check up on Ark.
Laura was the happiest I had ever seen her. Suddenly she was taking better care of herself. She was swimming every night in the pool, working out at the gym, watching what she ate. She was losing weight, fast.
But the transformation went deeper than that. Laura was feeling good about herself, her life, the future. She was laughing again, charging back into her work, playing the piano for the first time in months.
She told me that she and Ark were making plans for him to come to the United States as soon as possible. At first he would come to visit for just a few weeks, but then he would come back for good. Ark was going to find a teaching job somewhere over here. He and Laura were going to finalize their divorces.
They were getting married.
Up to this point, the two of them had only talked through the computer and over the phone. What would happen when they finally met in person? What if Ark was not all Laura believed him to be? What if Laura was not the person Ark expected? What if all of it -- the kids, the house, the channeling sessions -- was just too much for him?
Soon we would know.
* * *
Ark flew into Tampa International Airport on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 1997, one day before Laura's 45th birthday.
Cherie and I wanted to be there. We wanted to witness the precise moment when Ark and Laura laid eyes on each other for the first time, but Laura would have none of it. She would not disclose his flight number or his airline or even the day of his scheduled arrival. For the time being, she wanted Ark all to herself.
BATMAN STEPS IN: Laura is reunited with Ark at Tampa International Airport in October 1997. He was back to live permanently in the United States, and again he had on the Batman backpack he wore on his first visit to help Laura pick him out at the airport.
We were allowed an audience with Ark a few weeks later. We took him and Laura to dinner. Laura said he didn't eat much, so we chose a salad place on U.S. 19, Sweet Tomatoes, and stared at him over our lettuce.
Ark looked just like his picture, only more pale and slender. His white hair was striking; his accent was beautiful; he could not have weighed more than 140 pounds. He was sweet and gentle. He had a quiet but persistent sense of humor.
That night, and every time we saw Ark and Laura together afterward, it was obvious that the two of them adored each other. They held hands, kissed, smiled constantly. Furthermore, Ark was comfortable with Laura's children. He liked them, and they seemed to enjoy him.
As for Laura's channeling sessions, Ark relished them. If he thought there was anything strange about sitting around the spirit board, posing queries to disembodied entities, he showed no sign of it. He had many questions himself for the Cassiopaeans; he said he wanted their help with his research.
The first time he sat down before the spirit board, he asked the Cs about what lay ahead. He had read the transcripts and seen how they talked about him and Laura having a "predestined mission."
"My first question is," said Ark, "I want to understand what is this 'predestined mission,' what it consists of?"
"IT CONSISTS OF FOLLOWING THE PATH THAT HAS CONFRONTED YOU," came the reply. "WE DO NOT TELL YOU OF YOUR PREDESTINED MISSION, BECAUSE THEN IT IS NO LONGER 'PREDESTINED.' YOU LEARN BY EXPERIENCE, AND AS YOU SENSE, YOU ARE ON THE THRESHOLD OF A RATHER PROFOUND EXPERIENCE."
When Ark asked what they meant by a "profound experience," the Cs declined to get too specific, saying merely that he was at a turning point. Laura kept asking questions, too. She wanted to know more about her future with Ark.
" . . . I was just wondering," she said, "if our pathways are supposed to now be parallel or diverge."
"SEEMS TO US THAT YOUR PATHWAYS ARE INTERTWINING!"
"Well," said Laura, "I am tired, Ark is tired. So is there anything further you would like to tell us this evening?"
"COMBINE ENERGIES IN PURSUIT OF ANSWERS, AND THE REST FALLS INTO PLACE."
"You say 'Combine energies.' Is there any reason why this will facilitate the pursuit of answers?"
That was how Laura and Ark saw themselves, too. The two of them were building more than a life together, they said. When they had found each other, they had entered a whole new universe of possibilities.
A couple of months later, Laura put Ark on the plane back to Poland. He already was talking about his return. Ark had a special backpack that he had worn on the plane when he flew over. It was adorned with an image of Batman; he'd found it somewhere in Europe. That was how he'd told Laura to recognize him at the airport when he arrived that day. He would be the guy, he told her, wearing the Batman backpack.
Now he was leaving. But when he came back, he said, he would have the backpack on again.
Of course Ark was returning to Laura. He was crossing the Atlantic, again, with the assistance of the Caped Crusader.
Nothing could stop him.
* * *
"It's five after," said one of the guests, checking her watch. "It's time. It's time."
STARTING OVER: At the wedding ceremony, Ark washes Lauras feet. "I am the light that is over all things," the reading went. "Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Pick up a stone, and you will find me there."
It was the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 12, 1998. They were all gathered at the house in New Port Richey, waiting for the ceremony to get under way in the living room. Laura's mother and brother were there, as were all of the children except Aletheia, who had to work, and Freddie and a handful of longtime friends.
The bride wore an embroidered, mustard-colored dress made of India cloth and a pearl choker that her intended had brought her from Brussels. The groom wore a black shirt and black pants that set off his hair. Neither wore socks or shoes.
They began with Laura sitting in a chair and Ark crouching before her to wash her bare feet. When he was done, they switched places, and Laura washed his feet. The ritual symbolized the marriage between heaven and Earth. Then they stood and lit candles and listened as the woman who was presiding over the ceremony, a notary and a friend, gave a reading.
"I am the light that is over all things. I am all. . . . Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Pick up a stone, and you will find me there."
Then came the vows, and the confirmation of the vows, and the placement of the circles of gold upon their fingers.
"With this ring, I thee wed," said Laura, staring into Ark's solemn face. "In love and truth, and with all my worldly goods, I thee endow."
Then the kiss, and the applause, and Ark with his arms wrapped tightly around his bride and his eyes drowning with tears.
"Okay," said Laura, beaming afterward as they cut the cake. "What's next?"