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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Ghosts, Parkinson's Hallucinations, and the Adventures of a Supernatural Kid

This is a continuation of the story of feeling my grandmother come to me prior to her 100th birthday this year. That was a powerful moment, and you can re-read about it HERE.

After writing about the feelings gained from the moment of connection to my Gram, this brings me back to real life. Here, I remain willing to believe in an afterlife (religious or ghostly), cryptids, aliens, and evil forces, but I need reason to believe, and I don't believe in every situation down the pike. Even those in my own house, which I will describe experiences of, I need objective or empirical proof. Just like Fox Muldur on the X-Files (which was a great show until the last 2 seasons of its resurrection, though truth be told, I didn’t watch the last season before its death), I am also skeptical because that's what any research requires.

As I wrote in the story of my Gram, I felt a strong feeling she was communicating with me to see her to talk about the family and me. I feel, just like my wife said, that her Alzheimer’s is connecting her to protect me in my days of Parkinson’s.
That said, I can’t deny that fluctuating dopamine levels in a Parkinson’s person create hallucinations as well as our crazy dreams, which I write about both in non-fiction and fiction. Like Jodie Foster in Contact, I must concede this. 
If you'd like to read a great, really accessible article on experiences with this, see Perky Parkie at this link.

However, something in me wants to believe in the same way that I want to believe that the ghost torching I filmed at Chadd’s Ford was also real (though my students, even the paranormal believers, have given me reason to be skeptical).

So what’s the deal? What is real and true? I’d like to say I know my truth, but I’m not sure. I know that later in my house’s history, we had more weird things come back after we thought we had fixed them (more about the earlier things later). My wife experienced these, and we feel that it could have been her mom. However, on her moment's command, we also brought a friend’s husband at the time in so that he could sage the place. It worked since we’ve had nothing since then. We were thankful, and they got dinner for their trouble.

But what of my other experiences?

On November 5, 2009, my Heather and I were given the keys to our new house. While we wouldn’t sign the papers for it until the following Tuesday, we were able to start moving stuff in on that day. That day, we transferred our things into the house in an attempt to make the house our own. However, it wasn’t until the following weekend that we were able to sleep in the bed overnight. That night, Friday the 13th, we went to bed knowing that paying $150,000 plus interest would make the house our own – or so we thought. Instead, the blind on the bedroom window right beside us flew up into the air at 2am.
            We both woke up startled; however, we went back to bed.
            The next day, Heather looked at the blind and found nothing wrong with it, but she threw it away all the same.
            If it was broken, we didn’t need a scare like this again.
            If it was ghosts, then we just needed to play dumb to whatever he or she or they were trying to do to our stay in this house on Park Avenue.

            A few months later, Heather had been redoing large sections of the house. I had been working a lot, so this was her project to keep busy. For those who don’t know, renovation is something that is said to stir up the memories of a house. By this time, she had reworked 1 bathroom, the room that became my office, and the laundry room downstairs. We were also in the process of tearing down the wallpaper in the dining room and the hallway up through to the second floor as well as the wrap around hallway that exists in the upstairs. Unlike actual home repairs that take skill, we found that I was pretty OK at tearing down wallpaper, so that became my job.
            Let me just say, it was some God awful wallpaper.
Together, we had also begun to tear out the wallpaper in the upstairs bedroom as well, so it’s clear that we definitely were in a major house renovation mode. Maybe it was the painting and the fumes (another scientific conclusion), but one night in early February, I woke up half awake / half asleep and thought I saw ghost cats on her pillow. When I told Heather about it at our early Valentine’s Day hibachi dinner a few nights later, she had confessed that she thought she saw someone standing over on the same night.
            There was now a very real fear that something was going on in the house. We commenced to praying for our safety and a peaceful night’s sleep each night. Maybe this finding God in the midst of conflict seems like the last refuge of a scoundrel (as Lisa Simpson would say), but there was something unsettling in whatever was going on. As a result, we prayed for our happy lives from that moment forward. Whether it started out of desperation or true faith, we have never stopped praying since we began this act over 2 years ago, so it’s now a ritual and an important part of our lives in that it has brought us to be in a place that is more spiritual and right with the universe.
            That said, we weren’t going to chance that it was just paint fumes affecting us. We were completely acknowledging the reality that this could be a very real ghost that was choosing to live with us. That said, we did try to ventilate the house a little better, even though it was winter, to ensure no fumes might hurt us.
            It’s important to go scientific when possible.
            Nevertheless, we also responded by writing a Bible verse to bless this house on one of the walls we were about to paint over. While we heard creaking noises in the house since then, it is an old house, it was a long time before we had any incidents.

            From my time as a kid, I have always been interested in certain science fiction, monster, and hero movies. For this, it’s no surprise that I traverse the line of believing in ghosts to being skeptical of what I see. In my top 5 movies, I would place Carl Sagan’s Contact in the same way I would declare his Demon Haunted World and its “Baloney Detection Kit” one of my favorite works of literature, which I excerpt in part here (his work is in red).

            My parents died years ago. I was very close to them. I still miss them terribly. I know I always will. I long to believe that their essence, their personalities, what I loved so much about them, are—really and truly—still in existence somewhere. I wouldn’t ask very much, just five or ten minutes a year, say, to tell them about their grandchildren, to catch them up on the latest news, to remind them that I love them. There’s a part of me—no matter how childish it sounds—that wonders how they are. “Is everything all right?” I want to ask. The last words I found myself saying to my father, at the moment of his death, were “Take care.” Sometimes I dream that I’m talking to my parents, and suddenly—still immersed in the dreamwork—I’m seized by the overpowering realization that they didn’t really die, that it’s all been some kind of horrible mistake. Why, here they are, alive and well, my father making wry jokes, my mother earnestly advising me to wear a muffler because the weather is chilly. When I wake up I go through an abbreviated process of mourning all over again. Plainly, there’s something within me that’s ready to believe in life after death. And it’s not the least bit interested in whether there’s any sober evidence for it. So I don’t guffaw at the woman who visits her husband’s grave and chats him up every now and then, maybe on the anniversary of his death. It’s not hard to understand. And if I have difficulties with the ontological status of who she’s talking to, that’s all right. That’s not what this is about. This is about humans being human. More than a third of American adults believe that on some level they’ve made contact with the dead. The number seems to have jumped by 15 percent between and 1988. A quarter of Americans believe in reincarnation. But that doesn’t mean I’d be willing to accept the pretensions of a “medium,” who claims to channel the spirits of the dear departed, when I’m aware the practice is rife with fraud. I know how much I want to believe that my parents have just abandoned the husks of their bodies, like insects or snakes molting, and gone somewhere else. I understand that those very feelings might make me easy prey even for an unclever con, or for normal people unfamiliar with their unconscious minds, or for those suffering from a dissociative psychiatric disorder. Reluctantly, I rouse some reserves of skepticism. How is it, I ask myself, that channelers never give us verifiable information otherwise unavailable? Why does Alexander the Great never tell us about the exact location of his tomb, Fermat about his Last Theorem, John Wilkes Booth about the Lincoln assassination conspiracy, Hermann Goring about the Reichstag fire? Why don’t Sophocles, Democritus, and Aristarchus dictate their lost books? Don’t they wish future generations to have access to their masterpieces? If some good evidence for life after death were announced, I’d be eager to examine it; but it would have to be real scientific data, not mere anecdote. As with the face on Mars and alien abductions, better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy. And in the final tolling it often turns out that the facts are more comforting than the fantasy. The fundamental premise of “channeling,” spiritualism, and other forms of necromancy is that when we die we don’t. Not exactly. Some thinking, feeling, and remembering part of us continues. That whatever-it-is—a soul or spirit, neither matter nor energy, but something else—can, we are told, re-enter the bodies of human and other beings in the future, and so death loses much of its sting. What’s more, we have an opportunity, if the spiritualist or channeling contentions are true, to make contact with loved ones who have died. J. Z. Knight of the State of Washington claims to be in touch with a 35,000-year-old somebody called “Ramtha.” He speaks English very well, using Knight’s tongue, lips and vocal chords, producing what sounds to me to be an accent from the Indian Raj. Since most people know how to talk, and many—from children to professional actors—have a repertoire of voices at their command, the simplest hypothesis is that Ms. Knight makes “Ramtha” speak all by herself, and that she has no contact with disembodied entities from the Pleistocene Ice Age. If there’s evidence to the contrary, I’d love to hear it. It would be considerably more impressive if Ramtha could speak by himself, without the assistance of Ms. Knight’s mouth. Failing that, how might we test the claim? (The actress Shirley MacLaine attests that Ramtha was her brother in Atlantis, but that’s another story.) Suppose Ramtha were available for questioning. Could we verify whether he is who he says he is? How does he know that he lived 35,000 years ago, even approximately? What calendar does he employ? Who is keeping track of the intervening millennia? Thirty-five thousand plus or minus what? What were things like 35,000 years ago? Either Ramtha really is 35,000 years old, in which case we discover something about that period, or he’s a phony and he’ll (or rather she’ll) slip up. Where did Ramtha live? (I know he speaks English with an Indian accent, but where 35,000 years ago did they do that?) What was the climate? What did Ramtha eat? (Archaeologists know something about what people ate back then.) What were the indigenous languages, and social structure? Who else did Ramtha live with—wife, wives, children, grandchildren? What was the life cycle, the infant mortality rate, the life expectancy? Did they have birth control? What clothes did they wear? How were the clothes manufactured? What were the most dangerous predators? Hunting and fishing implements and strategies? Weapons? Endemic sexism? Xenophobia and ethnocentrism? And if Ramtha came from the “high civilization” of Atlantis, where are the linguistic, technological, historical and other details? What was their writing like? Tell us. Instead, all we are offered are banal homilies.

I love the archaeological search for treasure of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I also am enthralled with the aliens of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Independence Day. Weird movies like Altered States and Jacob’s Ladder are fantastic. I grew up a Star Wars kid (so I never felt anything for Star Trek). I watched Creature Double Feature at my Gram’s house. I moved on to the action movies of the 1980s, and experienced lots of exciting movies, eschewing the bloody gore porn for movies like Signs, Avatar, and The Mummy (the one without Tom Cruise). Now, I live on Destination America, Ancient Aliens, and the James Wan Conjuring / Insidious movies. In between, I also got my degree in teaching English, so I read many of the classics. For this, I need character building. Here, origin movies like the first Captain America, Wonder Woman, and even Ant Man work well to give the character life and purpose instead of just showing up. The first Rambo and Jaws also do this well.
Comic book action like the first Avengers movie is a lot of fun. However, by the time we get to Civil War, it’s fighting for the hell of it. Nobody can be shuffled off this mortal coil, so why bother? For a while, Walking Dead has been the same, though they did send Carl to college after his zombie bites. I’m not saying we need to go Game of Thrones because the blood and nudity just overshadow what I’ve seen of it (I quit at the beginning of Season 2), but characters just need to be expendable in that battles against evil create suspense.

Writing with purpose is good, too, and I hope that I have done that in my own books as the characters of Blackrock Canyon take on a life of their own. For as much as I extol the virtue of the serious and academic while I teach, I also like books, whose pages turn quickly. I hope I’ve been able to mix them up well in my own works of fiction, which I share HERE (2 of which are out already in complete form, and one more is out today).

            On a night in early October of 2011, I woke up at 530a.m. to the sound of the ornaments on our Halloween tree singing Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me.” I had no idea what was going on. Had the motion sensor picked up an intruder? Was there a ghost downstairs? I went downstairs to check on the situation and I found nothing. There was no open door. There were no people in the house. I even went to the basement, which is theoretically the scariest place in our abode.

This is a fact because our house used to belong to an elderly woman named Hazel, who fell down in the basement and died. Apparently, her body gave out from either a stroke or a heart attack, and she was found a day or so later by her daughter. I can imagine how scary it must have been for her since she too had Alzheimer’s. Life can be cruel like that.
For a few years after that, the house belonged to this daughter and her husband. They left the area after they sold it to us, so we were never able to ask them about any incidents in the house – not that we would have been able to broach the subject very easily, but still. There really is no good way to ask how I met your ghost mother (probably a better story than a lot of the CBS show of almost the same name). Heather learned this when her former sister in law drunkenly explained to her family that she was now communicating spiritually with the mother in law that didn’t think much of her. If the family hated her before, they really hated her now. These things just don’t go over well, even in a family that believes in ghosts due to many of the younger girls claiming to have had visions of things that were not quite alive.
Because of the inability to broach the subject with anyone knowledgeable and the decorum, tact, and general fear of being thought that I’m not right in the head, I asked my neighbor Shirley questions that confirmed things such as the presence of cats having lived here. In this, I did it in such a way that we could have just been talking about lingering pet odors instead of some evil harbingers of death.
In addition to this incident, it seems that more pain has existed at this house. The man who Hazel was married to lost a limb in an accident in the backyard. There isn’t much detail on that, but it’s something that seemed to have happened. Apparently, something fell on his leg and it got infected, so it was chopped off. It’s just something that happened. Nevertheless, we have never seen a phantom limb floating through our Siesta Zone or chanced upon a one-legged ghost telling us to get out of his house.

I’m glad for that.
All in all, we never think about it much except at times when things are going bump in the night. Those times have a way of making us remember stories of limbs that succumb to gangrene and the presence of deceased women.

Back on that October night in 2011 when Rockwell's lone hit permeated my house, I was now forced to confront whether I had an intruder in the dining room or whether something from the other side was in my house as the muffled sounds of an eighties classic played out from my downstairs. I went into the basement, but nothing was there. A bug might have scurried across the floor, but that’s not something that would set off a motion detector. It takes loud thumps or dropping things to do this. Thus, I went back to sleep, but it was interrupted again with the sound of Michael Jackson’s voice keeping me from my sleep. 

I went downstairs again, and I did my same checks again, but this time, I took out the battery from the lights and unplugged them as well. Now, I couldn’t get back to sleep and the fire alarm was occasionally chirping.
Did I have something else to worry about? Was my home going to be reduced to ashes? The answer was obviously “no.” It just meant that the batteries needed changed and that the motion detector downstairs was so sensitive that it was picking up on the sound of chirping from up above them.
Nevertheless, for one morning only, it felt like we had ghosts in our house all over again. And with that, I breathed a sigh of relief that nothing was watching me.

            I’d like to think that our protection comes from Heather following the advice of the goofballs from Paranormal State that seem to think that by telling a ghost clearly and directly that the house doesn’t belong to them anymore that there will be no issues with said ghosts.  One time while she was alone in the house, Heather declared to that which might have been or might not have been that the house was ours. Whether this did the trick or not, I can’t say, but I can say that the house has been quiet since then.
            Personally, I think sage helped more, but that’s just me. If something / someone ever comes back, I hope it’s either able to be pushed away that easily or it shows itself as her mother or my Gram / Nana, who I feel have tried to look after me.

            Spookily enough, in my life, there has always been some paranormal force out there looking to interact with me.
            I can remember bumps in the night while I was living on Southgate Street in Bury St. Edmunds. It was an old row home that definitely had about one hundred years of history to it. Nevertheless, it was a time I never thought much about ghosts despite the fact that I was creating ghosts in my life with all of the actions I was doing stumbling around my early twenties and obsessing over my past. Even with those bumps and thumps in the night, this dead world kingdom of England only brings the ghosts that possess people in mental ways that they can’t leave behind. For this reason, no exorcism can remove these demons. Instead, it takes stabilizing life actions and / or little pills that go with therapeutic expressions of understanding to make them go away or at least to diminish their presence. Over time, I’ve left some of these behind, but still, I keep so many more.

As a child, I was first introduced to paranormal ghosts by my dad who told me that Reggie Rothenerger, a person who once lived at the house that we were living in while we resided at 627 Vester Place in Sinking Spring, fell off of my enclosed porch and died. His ghost was living in the cooby hole in the attic, which was a crawl in closet on the side of the house. For years, I never went in the cooby hole or close to the edge of the enclosed porch. On one hand, it seemed to serve a need to keep me away from falling off of the 2nd floor dusty and dirty porch. On the other hand, it created paranoia for edges that I can’t shake to this day. In the same respect, it kept me away from the cooby hole, which was right next to where my dad kept his old Playboys stashed. I only found this out because a childhood friend of mine found them while we were playing in that room. He told me that I could come and look at them whenever I wanted to, but whenever I did, I would always feel nervous about being in the ghost room. Somehow, ghosts and naked women became engrained together in mind. Both of them became elusive to approach and to touch for the longest time despite the fact that it was a Holy Grail quest to see all of the things that were associated with them.

            The house at Sinking Spring was an older house. It was also the place where all of my childhood memories came together to make me who I was. Some of these were humorous, some of these were typical in their childhood nature. Some of these are held close to my chest in a place where I can keep them hidden and never have to think about them again. These memories, like the memories of an odd painted bird that was decorating the dining room wall, are the things that make the house I lived in from 1977 to 1988 so unique and eerie at the same time.
            No matter which of these memories exist, be they the romanticized good or the painful past, I still dream about them in all of their actuality. I say this as a fact despite the fact that I haven’t seen the rooms since 1988 and despite the fact that we don’t have pictures of much of the house.
Nevertheless, my mind is completely certain to what is there. In the backyard, we once had a shed that was old and decrepit. I always felt that it was haunted, too, but that seemed to come more from the cover image of a mystery book that I had as a kid. Nevertheless, the shed was completely removed to make way for a newer shed sometime after we got there. I didn’t have anything to do with it, but I was glad that all of its rotting gray boards and black roofing were gone.

            Since we left, much has changed. It’s no longer the same house as it was when I was a kid. The concrete wall that we had between our yard and the neighboring yards down below us fell and was replaced with timbers. The cherry tree that grew in the yard was cut down because it was so big and messy with big black cherries dropping everywhere in the midst of its growing season. Now, there is a chain link fence between the front yard and the street. There is a deck that was constructed in the back and a new tree now fills the yard. I’m sure there are other changes internally, too, but I haven’t seen them.
            Across the street, we would see the Sinking Spring Elementary School. It used to be open when we lived there, but now it’s an apartment complex. The playground was where I learned to drive a bicycle. I got my first kiss on the left side of the school when I was in high school. On the right side of the school, we would play baseball. Behind the school, there was always a kickball game happening. We also played dodge ball in a circle that was painted onto the back of the schoolyard. In addition, there were basketball poles and a rim, but there was never a net. It was a great place to be a kid, even if the train whistle blew incessantly from the locomotives moving down the tracks that were behind it. Eventually, like so many other things in life, we got used to it. It became the place that we became who we were, for better or for worse, but now Old Sinking Spring is no more. In fact, the traffic pattern in front of the school has been reversed as well so that nothing exists as it did in that glorious time that was the eighties.

            I can still feel the ghost that is Old Sinking Spring though. There’s no denying that it was once there because its spectral force is still here. Sure, much of it was vanishing to new housing developments that all looked the same. The fields we played in were replaced with middle class houses and communities that weren’t part of the world that we grew up in. This has nothing to do with socio-economics; rather, it has to do with the fact that these people didn’t live in row homes and the community existence that we did. Instead, they live in comfortable cocoons that were even more subdivided by their not knowing the neighbors that moved there to be in their comfortable cocoons. Community was gone. Nobody knew anyone. There was just a house to live in.
            There was no home.
            Eventually, we too moved to a new neighborhood, and despite its age being much older than the new housing developments, there was no community there either. It just was. Nobody cared to know anyone. We just lived our lives in our homes and backyards. Instead of being a part of something, we were just a part of ourselves.

            And so Sinking Spring is now another ghost in my life.
Occasionally, I still walk through it in dreams and deliver my papers like I did in my teenage years. I used to dream of home as being in the house that we lived in. Prior to coming home to this house in Ephrata, it’s been a long time since I felt that way.

            With this house we live in now, I feel like we have made it our own. We have established our lives. Heather has used her art to make the rooms special. We have memories here. Maybe someday after I move on, I’ll dream about its ghosts the way I do that house on Montieth Avenue and the apartment in Mount Penn.

            Some things just stay with us and haunt us forever, for better or worse.

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