James: What I Know So Far

For those who don’t want to wade through a lot of other material, here’s what I know so far about James.

James was probably born in England around 1810 because I remember being a young man at the time of Queen Victoria’s coronation.  Rochester is a good match for where he lived as a young man in the 1830s.

He served in the military and I suspect he spent time in India (much like Jack did about 60 years later).  The name “Chundaree” rattles around in my mind (I checked it out, there was some significant action there during James’ day) but specific memories elude me.  If the dream I had a while ago is correct, he was discharged dishonorably.  This dream gave me both the name “James” and an accurate memory of a 19th century military barracks.

I have a vague memory of having punched someone so hard they died.  This may have figured into James’ decision to become a sailor.

He made port in the northeastern US.  New York is highly likely.  Boston perhaps.  The detail that clued me into a northeastern port was a dream I had about a floating sailor’s chapel of a type that was common in that region in those days.  I don’t think he was involved with blockade running during the Civil War and remember nothing of southern ports.  I do remember a stop in Argentina, but only the faintest flicker of a gaucho’s boots of a style I traced to the mid-19th century. From there he sailed round the horn on a sailing ship.

The rest is a blank until San Francisco.  I remembered traipsing around Chinatown specifically (probably up to no good).  Then there was another memory from further up the coast, of having survived a shipwreck and staring down at a paddle steamer lying on its side in the surf below the cliffs of Marin or Sonoma County.  I confirmed that this stretch of water was indeed a bit of a graveyard for paddle steamers in those days.

I suspect I may have made it to Portland but I have no specific memory, only a nagging familiarity from old photographs of the ramshackle construction down by the old riverfront, long before they built all that nice park land.  If I did come here all those years ago, strange that I should settle here.

Then somehow, I remember being in France during the Paris Commune.  Exactly why or how I got there is a mystery.  All I know is that there were a number of Englishmen there at the time, all of whom survived the collapse of the commune as far as I’m aware.

The last clear memories are of working as a stagehand in a small opera house, the location of which I haven’t been able to pin down.  It was an old building even then.  Watching a production of “The Magic Flute” performed with costumes and staging based on the traditional interpretations of that opera brought back a flood of sense and sight memories, including the flare of a limelight, starting orange and then glowing bright and starlike; I confirmed this.  Verdi’s “Nabucco” is another opera I remember being performed there.  I was excited to confirm that it was common in those days for sailors to become stagehands.  This was probably the birth of my love of opera, which has stayed with me across several lifetimes.

The death I saw under regression was rather pointless.  It involved getting drunk at a party for the crew after finishing a production and taking a tumble into a canal.  This would have been before 1877 since Jack was born circa June of that year; for the sake of argument, let’s say circa 1875.  James was in his 60s at the time and to date this is the life where I probably lived the longest out of all the lives I’ve remembered.

I had suspected for a while that maybe he’d been hanged, since I have an extremely strong feeling that at least one of my lives ended that way; however, I can find no reference to anyone who sounds quite enough like our James having been hanged in England between 1860 and 1880.  If he killed a man, he got away with it.  It makes the end of my subsequent life- blown to bits on the Western Front- seem that much more tragically fitting; perhaps we do pay for all our crimes one way or another.