One sunny afternoon in the late '80s, my mother was sitting in her blue recliner in the living room of our ranch-style house in Mansfield watching General Hospital. I toddled out of my room, intent on asking that woman the question that had been on my mind all day:
"When will I go live with my real mommy?"
My mom, bless her heart, patiently explained to me that I was looking at "real mommy." This was as good as it was going to get. And to be fair, it was pretty good. My parents never complained about supporting my Barbie habit, even after that nasty incident in the backyard of the Dream House.
Fast forward to 2006. I'm gleefully filing my daily deluge of press releases into their various folders—"completely irrelevant," "load of crap" and "maybe"—when a sentence catches my eye: "How many times have you heard children insist...that their 'real' families were somewhere else?"
Hark! The spirit world contacteth me via a holy press release! I read on. 'Twas for a self-published book on reincarnation, Dinner With Da Vinci. The author, Leslie McClinton, is a science teacher in Everman. She's also John F. Kennedy reincarnate, she says, and there's photographic evidence to prove it. Dinner was obviously in order.
McClinton sent me an advance copy of her book, a 313-page paperback comprising mostly journal entries and interviews accumulated throughout her life. In the back, she compiled a handy guide to the 55 Laws of Rebirth. For example, No. 46: Animals and humans must alternate sexes. Die male, reborn female. Or No. 15: the law of recurrence. To master a skill, you'll have practiced it in multiple former lives.
We meet at a very crowded downtown Fort Worth P.F. Chang's. When our seating is delayed, Leslie prods the hostess for an explanation. Very presidential. Very demanding. We're escorted to a back booth, and I settle in for my dinner with JFK, a 50-something black woman with feathered hair and a bright pink T-shirt.
As a mostly Buddhist, she is vegetarian. Little-known fact: JFK apparently digs Asian fusion cooking. I smell a marketing opportunity for future Kennedy family members. Cookin' With JFK—The Asian Way. Food Network special to follow. Possible chance to expand the series into other cuisines with the final installment being, of course, Tex-Mex. Should be a real, um, hit.
After a crash course in her personal religious history—raised Catholic, explored interests in Sufism, Eastern religions and the Unity Church—we get down to business. McClinton got her first inklings of her past life while living in New Orleans. They came in what she calls "astral experiences." It's like sleeping, but on another, more conscious, level.
"I relived JFK's death," she explains. "But I had no idea what it was."
Visions came to her of a short man walking with a gun.
"I knew he was coming to kill me."
More dreams and research led her to JFK. A lifelong interest in Jackie Onassis could have misled her into believing she was the first lady, but she had a revelation: You don't see yourself in past lives, you see those around you. "If you're married to somebody, you're not watching yourself. You're watching someone else."
There is, of course, the small problem of birth-death overlap. McClinton was born in 1953, 10 years before Kennedy was assassinated. Until her 10th year, Leslie says she walked around "like a zombie." Then, something hit her "like a meteor."
Advanced souls such as JFK's, McClinton explains, have reached a peak called "apotheosis." It is almost a state of deification. JFK, she says, was a god with a small "g." He was partially empty during the last 10 years of his life, says McClinton, almost dying from back surgery and plagued by various health conditions. (He had a hormonal disorder called Addison's disease. I have a tangential theory that this must have inspired the city built just up the Tollway from Dallas, where hormones are frequently disordered because of an excess of alcohol and casual dining.)
Thus, JFK's soul was split and he slipped into McClinton, who then lived in Chicago, sometime in November 1963. Race and gender are totally fluid in the soul world, hence his incarnation in non-white, non-male McClinton. Now, he's back in North Texas. Victory lap! The deal is sealed when McClinton shows me a photo of JFK on the cover of a biography. He's sitting in a rocking chair, one leg crossed foot-to-knee, with a hand touching his ankle. Then, she pulls out a photo taken of herself years ago in nearly the same pose. Check, please!
McClinton has other past selves, including 19th-century religious theorist Helena Blavatsky. She's traced the past lives of many of her relatives. Where would I start, I asked, if I wanted to find out exactly what my eternal soul has been up to?
"It has to come through dreams or feelings," she tells me. Also, I should look into talents or interests. Immediately I am reminded of my lifelong, seemingly inexplicable love for England. Could this be a starting point? Her advice: "Wear it like clothes. Claim it and see where it takes you."
McClinton helps me narrow it down. I have a particular interest in Renaissance and early modern British history, with an emphasis on Queen Elizabeth I. Elementary school was spent writing report after report on Elizabeth and, when that got boring, people around her, such as famed English pirate Sir Francis Drake. These were, of course, all complete with frequent impersonations. It got to be such an obsession that my mother often prompted me to order in a faux English accent at restaurants as a child. Nerdy? Maybe, but Madonna totally does it, too, and she doesn't even have a good excuse like reincarnation.
My first inclination was Queen Elizabeth herself. But after the fifth or sixth sarcastic snort from friends who couldn't help but bring up her "Virgin Queen" nickname, I went back to consult McClinton's book on the subject of soul sexuality. I discovered that old queenie had already been claimed by a member of McClinton's family. Rats.
Next up: Shakespeare. Elizabethan Era and a writer. Maybe slightly presumptuous, but I wasn't about to claim historical underdog Ben Jonson. If I'm going to rock a past life, I'm going to rock it all the way to apotheosis. Foiled again: Another member of McClinton's clan is the Bard himself.
Headed off at every pass by pre-claimed souls, I decided to go with something McClinton calls "name pattern recognition." I wrote down my name on a piece of paper: Andrea Bradley Grimes. Nice, generic Western European name. Then, I scoured the Internet for members of the Virgin (yeah, right) Queen's court and struck soul gold: Anne Boleyn, Queen Elizabeth's mother.
I decided to lop off "Grimes" since "Bradley" is technically a last name in my family—my grandmother's. Both our names begin with "An" and "B," plus the "y" also appears in both surnames. McClinton's earlier explanation solves the queen problem: I fixate on Elizabeth because she is my daughter, just as she looked to Jackie because she was Jack.
Other bizarre parallels: Poor Anne was beheaded at around age 27 by evil husband King Henry VIII of multiple wives fame. I have chronic throat problems. I am also scared of old, fat men. Particularly those who attempt to have me killed.
One of McClinton's 55 Laws also says that spouses are reincarnated to marry or date past spouses. So sorry, ex-boyfriends. You're all sex-obsessed, possibly impotent, gluttonous kings who will die batshit crazy as a result of venereal disease. What is it they say about karma again?
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.