Honestly, I had no idea what to expect. I was there to research a play I am working on, where the plot turns around the use of “planchette,” a nineteenth-century prototype for a Ouija board. Frankly, I was a pretty solid skeptic.
So here’s how it went: At seven o’clock, the guests at the B and B came downstairs and settled around the fire on sofas and easy chairs. The medium was already set up with a vase of white roses, a candle with a skull on it, and a huge Dunkin Donuts glass of iced coffee. She put us all immediately at ease, explaining the protocols and how she worked. She advised us of the difference between ghosts and spirits. As best I understand it, ghosts have not quite made it over to the “other side” yet, but are still hanging around and haunting specific places associated with their lives. In other words, they are not evolved. Spirits, on the other hand, represent those who have successfully crossed over.
I sensed some relief from the more paranormally literate that we would only be dealing with spirits. Myself, I was up for either.
The medium began to sense someone attempting to “come through.” She pointed to a section of the audience and told us that she thought it was attempting to reach someone seated in that corner. She began to describe a woman in her forties who died a somewhat slow death from cancer. One of the women seated in that section raised her hand to indicate that this spirit might be someone she knew. The medium began to relate more and more details, asking questions like “Do you understand the month of October?” Which meant, “Does October ring a bell?” And then the audience member would nod and say, “Yes, that was when we held the memorial service.” It was interesting, somewhat specific, and the message was one of gratitude to the friend for the quality of care she had offered through the end-of-life ordeal.
Well… okay. One down. Jury still out. About two hours left to go.
She’s going on. He is a father figure. Okay… He was a disciplinarian with his family… or, at least, that’s how he saw himself. Well, maybe. “Sadist” and “control freak” would have been more apt, but of course, he wouldn’t say that. Still not raising my hand.
And then she said something that really struck me. She said that he did not know how to exist outside a specific paradigm. That lit up the board for me. He was a judge, totally… on and off the bench. In fact, my brother and I had called him “the Judge” years before he actually became one. He was infallible like the Pope. He never made mistakes, was never wrong. Ever. I would not say that he lied. It was more like he corrected discrepancies in the record.
This is why I’m not raising my hand. It feels like another stalking. But she’s saying something…
She says he’s very religious. He goes to church every Sunday. Yep. He did that. Taught Sunday School, was a “lay reader,” donated buckets of money to the church. It was his cover.
And then she said “family dinner.” That’s when my hand goes up. I can’t help it. The family dinners. Where I learned it was unsafe to eat. Where he would sit nightly at the head of the table and begin to interrogate my learning-disabled brother, emotionally battering and humiliating him for his difficulties in school. Then he would turn his attention to my mother, sometimes hurling the plates against the wall. I have no memory of what he would say to me. The family dinners. A daily, dreaded torture ritual.
The medium is looking at me. She must be feeling that I am being invited to dialogue. I look at her, intensely uncomfortable. There is a long silence. Finally, I say in a very low voice, “He was violent.” The room freezes.
At this point, I don’t know what I believe, but I am lost in the past. Someone I do not want to speak with ever again in my life appears to be attempting to contact me in a room full of my sister lesbians. And he is attempting to frame me as the one who is being unreasonable and hostile. Just as he did in real life. I am again the ungrateful hippie daughter, the brainwashed therapy patient with “False Memory Syndrome.” Or, as he put it in his will, the daughter who chose to estrange from both parents for no reason.
The spirit wants to acknowledge that my brother attempted to appease him. I am remembering a conversation I had with my brother when I was about twenty. I had left home by then and was living half a continent away. We were discussing the abuses of our childhood, and I told him my strategy was to get as far away as possible. He told me that his strategy was the opposite. My father was a very wealthy man, and my brother felt that sticking around to get the money was the best form of revenge.
Why is this spirit wanting me to know that he understands my brother was appeasing him, and not really agreeing with him, all those years? Could he really have been so narcissitic as not to have noticed? I am not interested in anything he appears to be communicating. And I am, as I have noted, intensely uncomfortable. I am extremely unwilling to be doing this in front of a room full of strangers, and my sense of violation is palpable to everyone in the room.
The medium appears to be at a loss. She asks me if I understand, which is her way of asking if the message is consistent with my experience of the dead person. I mumble, “Sounds like more of his usual BS.” There is another awkward silence. I feel that every women’s stomach is as knotted as mine.
Mercifully, the medium moves on to a lighter spirit.
As I sit there I try to figure out what just happened. One thing is unmistakeable: She absolutely described my father and she also modeled the language and perspective that was representative of my last interaction with him, which was thirty years ago.
But, I am a dramatist and what struck me the most was how frozen in time these voices were. The spirits coming through were like screenshots from the last interaction with every person being contacted. There had been no growth, no changes, no surprises, no new information.
I had a sudden thought: This woman is a psychic. She’s picking up on images and memories and mental vibrations of the women in this room, not voices from entities from “the other side.”
And I am terrified at the thought of releasing either of us. It reminds me of those moments in comedies about the Wild West, when the two opponents draw on each other at the same time, and then they stand there, afraid to shoot and afraid to put down the gun. How much energy must that take, to freeze in that posture?
So, in short, I got my money’s worth. Whether or not the spirit of my father came through, there is no mistaking the fact that I met the ghost of myself. Emily Dickinson says it better than I:
One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Far safer, of a midnight meeting
Than an interior confronting
That whiter host.
Far safer through an Abbey gallop,
The stones achase,
Than, moonless, one’s own self encounter
In lonesome place.
Ourself, behind ourself concealed,
Should startle most;
Assassin, hid in our apartment,
Be horror’s least.
The prudent carries a revolver,
He bolts the door,
O’erlooking a superior spectre