There are few things more intellectually embarrassing than having a rich history of paranormal experiences. “Oh really?” Your friends ask snarkily when ghosts pop into the conversation, because they already think you’re half-crazy. “What drugs were you on?”
Some people really sink their teeth into it and insist that there would be forms of “scientific proof” if such things existed, and cite the countless debunkings of spiritualism in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Houdini did people like me no favors. Some of the most outspoken anti-ghost jerks are people who have seen ghosts themselves and chalk up even their own experiences to a momentary psychotic lapse.
Nobody asks for ghosts to show up in their lives. They’re annoying, they’re kind of scary, they’re a pain in the metaphysical ass — and worst of all, you plummet in the esteem of everyone you discuss it with. Mentioning ghosts is the intellectual equivalent of drunk driving — widely frowned upon and suggestive that you’ve been drinking too much.
In my life, these things haven’t happened often, but they have happened with an undeniable bang.
My adventures in ghost world began on the island of Maui when I was 10. My family was staying on the campus of a sprawling pink pineapple plantation. I was sleeping on the couch of the custodian’s cottage. In the middle of the night, I was awakened by what I described the next morning as a “Coke bottle made of light” which woke me up and loomed weirdly before me, and freaked me out enough to make me turn the lights on and read National Geographics until the sun came up. “Oh! That was the ghost of Ethyl Baldwin!” My father said cheerfully over breakfast that morning, when I told him the story. He had seen her as well, and had chased her out of his bedroom with a broom. She had been the lady of the house, he explained — an artist and heiress who was so houseproud, she famously had never left the estate, even after death. Ours were but two of numerous sightings of Mrs. Baldwin over the years.
Ghosts being real was not something I wanted my father to confirm at age 10, having always been previously told they didn’t exist after watching Scooby Doo. I went into hysterics. My father consoled me by explaining that ghosts were just people without bodies and couldn’t do anything to me. It wasn’t a great consolation.
My family weren’t the only ones I knew who experienced these things. A couple of years later I went to a friend’s house - a large, sprawling old place which had been on TV for being the site of an array of hauntings. There was a weird diamond-backed mirror in which numerous people had seen other people standing behind them, strange cold spots in the hallways, and sightings of extra-worldly entities in specific parts of the home. The family — a very sane and professional Catholic clan - after having discounted the haunting initially, ended up springing for an entire house exorcism, involving a team of psychics.
For some reason, my friend Mo seemed to be the centerpiece of a lot of otherworldly experiences. One night in my twenties during a lunar eclipse, when Mo and I were roommates, I was perched on the top ladder of my loft-bed, and I thought I saw a fitful black cloud of malevolent energy just outside the window. I figured I was seeing things, since this was not part of my earthly experience, and went back to sleep. All that night, I had a terrible nightmare involving someone trying to stab me and my family. At breakfast, my roommate Mo, who was exhausted, described doing psychic battle with the same fitful black cloud I had seen, for hours. It wasn’t a ghost, Mo told me, but an “entity.” I don’t know what it was, but it was enough to turn me off of lunar eclipses to this day.
Once while sleeping in Los Angeles in the eccentric 1920’s mansion I was living in with a boyfriend, we were both awakened in the middle of the night by a stack of CDs being slapped abruptly to the floor — exploding out from where they were piled. We both woke up with a jolt and saw two hooded figures in the room - what looked like the ghosts of teen gang-bangers — then they immediately vaporized. My boyfriend, an atheist, was nonplused, especially since he couldn’t reasonably deny the experience — we both saw two hooded figures. The CDs had been sitting there for months; nothing else in the house had moved — the way they smashed to the floor was like they had been struck.
One of the most exciting events took place years later at Mo’s summer house, an old falling-down place in upstate New York. “Dude, I know you hate ghosts, so I just want to warn you - this place is severely haunted,” said Mo. “They’re a total nuisance.”
The ghost presence in their weekend home was such a regular occurrence, Mo and her roommate had just gotten used to the ghost of an old man and a middle-aged man in their house, the way you would a neighbor’s barking dog. Mo had even gone down to find the city records for the building, and had discovered that, indeed, an older man and his son had both died in the place — both had been alcoholics. The son, she gathered, was the one that regularly loitered in her bedroom at night, ogling her in her nightie. ( Unlike me, Mo took this in stride.)
Every night, including the night I was there, one could hear men’s footsteps running up and down Mo’s termite-ridden staircase. This was unmistakable: the loud footfalls of full-weight men in boots stomping up and down spongy stairs. “Ahh, shuddup already,” Mo and her roommate would holler toward the staircase, casually. It was a big joke to them.
I was losing my shit, after I heard this. Being an utter wimp, I did every witchy thing I could think of to make sure that the ghosts didn’t bother me that night. I moved a giant golden buddha from the living room into my bedroom, and put a circle of salt outside the doorway. I saturated the room with enough sage-smoke to choke a gorilla. I meditated fervently, trying to spread my aura beyond the salt line so the ghosts wouldn’t invade and give me the heebie-jeebies.
The next morning, I was well-rested, and proud to have gone wholly unmolested by the disembodied tenants. I joined Mo and her roommate at the breakfast table — an old farm table with wooden benches. Within a minute of sitting down at the corner of one bench, I felt the full weight of a man sit on my lap and slide over. I thought it was Mo’s roommate, who I then noticed was on the other side of the table. I shrieked and stood up. Mo and the roommate looked at me comically. “Haaa, get your own seat, Grampa!” Mo yelled at the air in the kitchen. This had apparently happened before, more than once, to people who had sat in Grampa’s seat. It had been the old man’s table, and he was apparently quite possessive of his place.
I thought of smashing down into my lap as a real feat for a man who had no physical body. It was no wonder they were able to make so much noise on the stairs — they may have been dead, but they were somehow as heavy as flesh itself.
(I already feel stupid, discussing this frankly and openly. I confess, it all sounds ridiculous, but I’m telling the truth, and the truth is often weird.)
Mo finally got tired of having the ghosts in her summer house. She found the men’s tombstones in the local graveyard, and gave them a serious, somewhat ceremonial talking-to. After that, they went away.
I have had many other strange experiences. On the more mundane end, I’ve had several uncanny card readings that predicted events I had no sense of being in my future. I ended up experiencing non-consensual trance-channeling a few times, where I was the unwitting conduit for dead relatives of my friends — one such time, my hands let off an electrical charge which frightened the hell out of my atheistic friend, whose dead father was channeling through me. I was a party to exorcisms where medicine-people spoke to me in voices that I recognized.
But the main thing is, subjectively speaking, there is no reasonable way I can deny the existence of the paranormal, no matter how buffoonish this makes me appear at dinner parties. The bottom line is, some people are prone to such things, and most people aren’t, which isn’t a good answer, but is the only answer. There is no explanation. These experiences were as real to me as a trip to the DMV — and about as enjoyable.
Keep your Ouija boards and your dream-catchers, your varieties of mystical quartz. You either see ghosts or you don’t. Talk to me about elves and I’ll bite your nose off.
Hire ME. CintraW@gmail.com.
Artwork: “Hinky,” oil on linen, Cintra Wilson 2022