I have been surrounded by the dead my entire life- there’s never been a time when I don’t recall feeling like I’d been given the key to a door that no one else could see but me. Throughout my life, I have endured sneering taunts and even outright insults, but none of that has swayed me from what I have seen and experienced in my own life.

I grew up in a haunted house.

When I was sixteen, I did what kids in the nineties all did and ordered all sorts of music through BMG. That day, I had spread all of the CDs out on my bed to admire their splendor. I organized them in the order I planned to listen to them, so excited to know I would have a way to pass the time it would take my modem to connect to AOL’s endlessly disappointing internet service.

I left the room to turn the computer on and when I came back, one of the albums was missing. Strange, since there was no one in the house (both parents were at work and my sister was still at school), and I had literally just had the album in my hands. I counted the CDs. Counted them again. I looked under the bed. All over the floor. I checked the entirety of my bedroom, and at this point, began to feel a touch of panic. How could a person lose a CD in five minutes? Why did it have to be the best one, the one I was most looking forward to hearing? I counted the CDs one last time to be sure I wasn’t insane. No- one was definitely missing.

They say you should always trace your footsteps when you lose something, so even though I was skeptical, I walked back through my house, searching the living room and kitchen. Maybe I’d taken it with me and forgotten? Anything seemed possible at this point.

By the time I got back to my bedroom, I was devastated, and probably crying. I hadn’t even gotten a chance to –

The CD was sitting in the middle of my bed. On its own, separate from the rest.

What a strange mix of emotions I felt in that moment, as all the hair on my arms stood straight up and a tiny frozen shiver ran up my spine. I was so delighted to have my music back, so relieved I hadn’t carelessly lost it in a matter of moments, and also deeply, profoundly horrified at what had just happened.

No one believed me when I told the story- why would they? I was a messy teenage girl, and of course I just didn’t look carefully enough for the CD the first dozen times.

But for me, it was the catalyst to a search that would alter the next ten years of my life.

Many other strange things happened in that house, aside from things temporarily “disappearing.”

My childhood home had a back door with an ancient deadbolt latch that would frequently lock behind you when you went outside for a moment. It was the kind of lock that was separate from the doorknob itself and had to be twisted shut by hand. Often, on summer days when the wood would swell, it required you to lean against the door itself to give the latch enough room to slide into place. It only locked from the inside, and only when the door was closed. There was no key for it- or if there was, no one in our family had ever owned it.

When my sister and I both admitted to being inexplicably locked out more than once (we blamed each other for it, and were disturbed to hear the other’s adamant insistence), my mother said, “That’s just what old doors do when you slam them too hard,” and dismissed the eeriness of it out of hand. So one day, my sister and I went to great lengths to recreate this event.

No matter how many times we slammed that door, gently pushed it closed, rattled the knob, jiggled the latch- nothing. It never locked on its own. But because we were kids, we believed our mother and just left the door wide open whenever we needed to run outside for something. When the wind started to catch the door and slam it shut, locking it in the process, we started placing shoes in the way to keep it from latching.

A few years ago, my aunt bought the house from my parents and my cousin said to me, “This sounds stupid, but have you ever been locked out of the house? Like… does it seem possible that a deadbolt that big could lock on its own? You can only lock it from the inside, and it doesn’t lock unless you slide the bolt yourself. I mean it’s not automatic, so how….?” I realized I had completely forgotten about this, and it sent a wave of shivers through my body.

It also suddenly explained why to this day, I am terrified of being “accidentally” locked out, though it’s never happened to me in any other place I’ve ever lived.

And of course, there was the basement. That basement is actually a teenage dream- a pool table, big old musty smelling couches, Christmas lights cheerfully ringing the ceiling, a great sound system. When my sister and I were teens, we played pool and listened to music with all of our friends down there. It was The Place to Be, especially in the heat of summer before air conditioning was a commonplace luxury.

However. If anyone was ever left alone in the basement for more than a few moments, I would come back to them sitting rigid and saucer-eyed, staring blankly into space. Or my friend would come tearing up the stairs, panting and skittish, but unable to articulate exactly why they came to find me. Most of my friends would, without realizing it consciously, refuse to be alone down there. Those that did would be furious upon my return.

“How can you leave me down here in this place? What the fuck is happening down here? I feel like someone has been staring at me from a foot away. I have never been so scared in my fucking life. Let’s go upstairs. I don’t want to be down here anymore.”

It got to a point where my sister and I would purposely and maliciously abandon people down there to see how they would react. It never failed- even the most staunch non-believers would say, “This place is fucking scary, let’s go. I feel like I’m being watched by someone who is really pissed I’m down here.”

Now, this is all something that’s pretty easily attributable to the overall creep factor of a basement, to be sure. But it’s not as if this was a Murder Factory kind of basement. It was fun, it was warmly lit, and it was filled with furniture and a bar with music playing almost at all times.

And yet.

///

My grandmother died when I was eighteen.

She was my source for paranormal conversations. We talked about whether the Bible was really accurate, whether ghosts could be real, how we felt about Jesus, what happens when we die. My mother hated that she would talk about such adult subjects with a child, but it felt very natural to me. I loved the mystery of it all, and I was thirsty to get as many answers as I could.

For years, my grandma told me she’d try to come back after she died to send me a sign. She said if she could do anything, she’d come back in butterflies. To this day, when I see a butterfly flutter near me, I know it’s her, and without question, on my darkest days, I always see a bright yellow butterfly dance across my field of vision. I believe in my heart that she watches out for me every single day, and I miss her more than anyone I’ve ever lost.

A few days after her funeral, I was walking through my parents’ house in the dark as they slept, and in the middle of the kitchen I felt like I walked into a wall of her cigarette smoke. It was a smell that I had come to love from her house, knowing it meant I was with her and I was safe. I laughed at the irony that the smell of the thing that had killed her was a security blanket for me, but in that moment, I knew that wherever she was, she was safe too.

It was also the first time I’d been in my parents’ house since I’d moved to college, and with distance, the strength of the “events” of that house seemed much larger. Once the house was quiet for the night, every shadow, every corner, every doorway seemed to loom large with unseen but deeply felt gazes and glares.

The next time I was there for a weekend, I got up to go to the bathroom and I felt as though someone was walking right behind me, their breath on my neck. It was so palpable I believed that if I swung my arm back, it would connect with something solid. My mind was flooded with horrifying and grotesque faces and images, as if something with jagged teeth and fiery eyes was gnawing at the back of my head, clawing at my back.

I practically ran from the bathroom to my bedroom every night in abject terror. I’ve always had a sadistic imagination, but this felt crueler than usual. My mother thought I was ridiculous, and my father just nodded quietly after awhile and said, “This place can be pretty scary at night. Just don’t think about it. Block it out if you can.”

Shortly after, thrilled by what felt like encouragement to keep searching, I decided to go cemetery hunting with my then ex-boyfriend (who is my now ex-husband).

At first, it was a typical creepy midnight walk through a very old cemetery. Our minds were ramped up with adrenaline and we giggled and hushed each other as we tiptoed around graves.

The cemetery sloped gently down a hill to a thick treeline that fenced in all the graves and ate up any surrounding light. Many of the headstones were aging and in poor repair, jutting sideways like rotten teeth. The air was thick, silent like a hand held over a screaming mouth.

As we got to the bottom of the hill, where even the lights from the street were blotted out by the landscape, my ex said, “Well this is creepy,” and both of our flashlights abruptly cut out. Nothing we did would turn them back on again.

And suddenly, it seemed as if the entire forest was making noise. Every shadow became a silhouette with long fingers and awkwardly angled spider-thin legs. Every breeze was a whisper. The very cemetery itself felt like it was folding in on me, like I was standing amidst the crush of a busy subway car, filled with an unseen claustrophobia.

Instantly throttled by terror, we broke into a full run. I accidentally stepped on a few old plots and somehow, it felt like my feet were sinking into quicksand. The graves seemed wet and pliant, filled with grasping hands and shrieking mouths, and I let out a piercing scream as I ran even faster.

As we crested the top of the hill, both of our flashlights instantly came back on. I started shaking uncontrollably and began to cry in a mixture of horror and relief. My heart was beating so hard I felt like it was going to crack my ribs. Back in the light, with the safety of the flashlights, and particularly in the comfort of a car that was taking us far away, it all seemed very silly and hyper-dramatic. We made up a hundred reasons why flashlights could go off for no reason, then come back on. Just as the horror of a nightmare burns away in the sunlight, the further we traveled from the graves, the more it all seemed like a fear-fueled folly.

That’s when we decided we should try using my Ouija board again.

///

Almost everyone has a Ouija board story.

If it wasn’t them, it was a cousin or a friend of a friend or that often repeated tale of how once someone’s aunt set one on fire and threw it off a cliff and it was sitting on her kitchen table the next day.

But more often than not, the stories are of failures, as were most of mine. Someone always moved the viewer or it never moved at all after what felt like eternities of focus. Plus, if it even so much as twitched, things would devolve into an argument and finger-pointing over who must have been moving it.

Of course, it was all based around this intricate, made-up ceremony learned from movies. We needed candles and incense and to maybe say a series of phrases or play music. Everyone had to focus, no laughing, no whispers. Ever since I got the board at twelve, I knew I could make it move and that someday, it would happen. I believed it down to my bones.

When I was fifteen or sixteen, I briefly dated a girl that, as I did with many people over the years, I turned into a huge fan of a musician I had loved, who we will (for the sake of legalities) refer to as Alex. He was a semi-unknown musician who has a legacy of being a musician’s musician- largely unknown outside of the artistic community, but achieving nearly god-like status inside of it.

At that time, he’d only been dead a year or two, and it seemed highly plausible that we’d be able to contact him. I still find this to be true, for whatever reason- it feels like the veil between life and death is much thinner when you first go to the other side. I think because you’re still trying to process your own death, and the pain of all the people you’ve left behind that you tend to linger closer to the earth. I don’t think that’s always the case, mind you, and I know several friends that have been devastated by a lack of contact with loved ones, but I think the movie What Dreams May Come was most accurate in depicting the idea that we don’t actually really know who are loved ones are. They may go Home and are instantly needed elsewhere. But more on that later.

My girlfriend and I put on one of his albums and sat in front of the Ouija board for hours, with absolutely no movement of the viewer whatsoever. I focused so hard I made my head ache, and nothing. Nothing. Nothing. We finally gave up when I started weeping out of devastation. This time I had been so sure. This time I knew it was going to work. This time I put my entire heart and soul into it and nothing happened. I felt utterly flattened. This was it for me, I decided. No more Ouija board. No more trying. It just wasn’t real.

We went outside to smoke cigarettes. She lived literally out in the middle of the woods, so there wasn’t a single light anywhere near her house. The sky opened up with pitch black clarity, and every single star was visible. The Milky Way stood out like a hazy white swirl in the center of the sky. Our breath came out in little puffs of steam as we huddled together against the cold and stared into the star-pitched darkness. Our feet crunched with fallen leaves not yet covered in a blanket of snow, but the smell of the air said there wasn’t much time left. The stars were so beautiful I almost lost my balance trying to walk with my head leaned as far back as I could. I felt like I could drink the sky.

“Oh look!” said my girlfriend, and she snatched my arm, startling me. “A shooting star!”

Just as I turned my face to where she was pointing, another one streaked white-hot across the darkness. And then another. And then another. And then another.

For awhile, it seemed as if the entire sky was melting. Dozens upon dozens of stars rained down all around us. In the profoundly rural setting we were in, at that incredibly late hour, it felt like we were the only people in the world who could possibly be witnesses to this moment. Maybe we were.

Were the two events related? Maybe, maybe not. But I believe that what is most important in our lives is our perception. That’s what creates our reality. And for me, in that moment, it was all the proof I needed to keep trying. It was my proof I wasn’t wrong. It was proof that I was heard.

It would be several years before my ex and I had our cemetery experience that encouraged us to pull out the Ouija board again. This time, it worked. It worked every single day. It worked for years to come. And eventually, years down the road, to try to escape it, I would snap it in half and throw it across a room. And for the record, it still sits at the bottom of my box in my house, because I don’t know how to throw away something that entirely altered the course of my life.

///

The thing about the supernatural that I think is important to mention at this point is that when it’s real, there is no doubt inside your bones.

I used to argue with people about ghosts and now I just say, “I have no desire to convince you. In fact if you don’t believe me, it makes your life easier.” This always puts the non-believer in such an awkward, confused state since they were already geared up to fight. But I won’t argue about it. Not anymore. Please, by all means, do not believe me. In a way, I encourage it. Your sneering arrogance, your certainty of something that can only be a mystery to any of us, does nothing to sway me from what I have seen in my life. Things I wish I’d never seen.

People who have lived in haunted houses or had eerie experiences don’t need to be convinced. I’ve found that for me and for many others, the sign of a true haunting is when all the hairs on your body rise, your throat feels clenched, your muscles start to shake or shiver, and tears well up in your eyes. I don’t know why things like this make people want to cry, but I’ve experienced it with so many people through the years that it seems to be the greatest indicator of truth. The more hysterically your mind attempts to convince you it was anything but the dead, the more sure you can be sure that’s exactly what it was.

That’s how it was the first time the Ouija board really worked. My entire body began to shiver uncontrollably and I barely held onto the edge of hysteria the entire time the viewer glided across the board. When it works, it feels almost like a magnet is underneath the board, pulling the viewer with unseen energy. When we were really good (or sick, depending on how you may view it), my ex and I could lay two light fingers on the plastic and it would whip around the board so fast and hard, it often flew off the edges. Anyone who saw it was scared to death.

In the beginning, we had a small parade of people that stopped in to say a few words. My sister (who only used the board with us once) had a friend who was killed in a car accident, and she stopped in to confess that yes, she had been drunk. My ex’s mother, who died of a brain aneurysm when he was four, came to say she was always watching over him, and so proud of him. Same with my grandmother, who I actually spoke to several times through that period. I’m actually inclined to believe that in later years, when things were going bad, she is the one who alerted my “rescue team.”

After the first time, which was really just a lot of awe and giggling and borderline terror, we became close to the teenage boy who was plaguing my parents’ house. He confessed that he was the one who chased me through the house at night, conjuring terrifying faces inside my mind.

“It is so easy to scare people, it’s hilarious,” he said. “Your thoughts are so loud- I can’t believe you can’t read each other’s minds. For us, it’s like you’re speaking out loud. Most of the time, at night, you show us exactly what you don’t want to see. It’s so simple.”

“But it’s mean!” I cried. “Why would you do that?”

“What else is there to do?” he said. “At least for a moment, you know we exist.”

In the beginning, conversations like these took ages as we slowly spelled the words out letter by letter and tried to group them together into sentences. There were a lot of wrong guesses and to be honest, Will was not the best speller. Pointing this out to him was not wise, as he would instantly sulk and often sit in wounded silence for several moments while we pandered and pleaded for him to come back.

Will was seventeen when he was killed. He had discovered he was gay in a time when that was still utterly unacceptable, especially with a father who was homophobic. One day, Will was caught in bed with one of his male friends by his father. At the time, his father closed the door and didn’t say a word, and Will hoped it would be something they’d just never speak of again.

A few days later, they went hunting deep in the woods and his father shot him in the back of the head. He left Will’s body in the woods and told family and friends that he’d gotten lost while they tracked a deer. They conducted a search in the wrong part of the forest to keep the truth hidden, and his body was never recovered.

Will said it took some time for him to even understand what had happened to him, and once he did, he was filled with rage. That rage, in the early months of our conversations, was still palpable. He was short-tempered and after decades of wandering around alone, was often asocial and cruel. He said he wasn’t sure how long he’d wandered around- fifty or sixty years, we later estimated- so he was a perpetual teenager with the weariness and pain of an old man.

When I asked why he would stop here at my house, what made him decide to stay, he said, “You have a light that’s like a beacon. You don’t know it yet, but it shines so bright- anyone can see it. It’s why your whole life you’ve been surrounded by the dead, and you always will be. We’re drawn to your light.”

It sounds arrogant to write that out, but over time, I’ve found it to be at least partially true. I’ve never not had a haunted home until I moved here to North Carolina, and often my house has felt like a subway station. A place where dead people come to rest for awhile. A safe harbor. A save point. I used to fight it and now I’ve just learned to quietly accept it, even embrace it.

Imagine being dead and being so angry at God/The Universe/your family/etc that you can’t go Home. That’s the story of all ghosts, and also why they are so frequently children. Children are often too young to know what death is, and therefore, don’t understand they’ve died. All they know is they’re in a world where everyone ignores them, which frankly, isn’t much different than the life of a child anyway. Others seek vengeance on their murderers, and others hate “God” or whatever you want to call him/her/it/them so deeply that they refuse to cross. An eternity of rage, bitterness, and misery. I like to think my home is a temporary respite from that suffering.

Will insisted we use the board every night at midnight, and if we didn’t, things in my dorm room would go missing. Papers would get pushed to the floor. The door would slam shut. He often pinched or pushed me- never violently, but in that frustrated teenage way that demanded attention. It became our nightly ritual, sitting on the floor with the board, asking questions about the dead and the Universe.

///

It doesn’t offend me in any way that people don’t believe me. My longest internet friend is the only person who, at the time, knew exactly what was going on and to be totally honest, I don’t think she completely believed me either. I think she thought I had a psychotic break. And maybe I did. It’s certainly well within the realm of possibility.

So if you continue to read past this point and you begin to find it hilariously unbelievable, that’s okay with me. I’m not offended. If it didn’t happen to me, I’m sure I’d be extraordinarily skeptical of it all. Don’t lose the forest for the trees in this part, is I guess what I’m saying.

My first concert was an Our Lady Peace/Eve6/Third Eye Blind show when I was about fifteen, because my best friend and I were rabid Our Lady Peace fans. I can recall telling my parents I would run away if they didn’t let me go.

About halfway through their set, they covered a song, and through the din of the crowd and the poorly set up mics, I heard something about someone who had died, and how this was their tribute to an album they couldn’t stop listening to.

I was part of a fan board at that time, so I went home and started asking questions. Who was this guy? What was this song? After all, if the band loved him, I needed to as well.

One of the fans sent me the album by this artist in a series of Real Audio files that I became immediately obsessed with. One of the things I loved about the Our Lady Peace fan base is that all of us had come from different cultural and musical backgrounds- the majority of the exposure I had to various kinds of music I never would have experienced was because of that group.

Anyway, “Alex” was the one musician (other than OLP) that we all seemed to agree on. Everyone knew this was something special, something beyond what we’d ever heard before. He became an enormous fixation for a group of us, and friends of ours, who had always been very spiritual, kept claiming they had spoken to him on a Ouija board. It was fairly common in the community for people to speak about sensing his presence while they listened to his music, a phenomenon I had also experienced myself. It was both eerie and comforting at the same time, and potentially a product of the utmost wishful thinking.

Years passed and I stopped listening to Alex for a long time, partially because I’d played the album to death, and partly because the whole thing was just too sad for me. I couldn’t wrap my mind around why someone so pure and talented would be snatched out of the world like that.

About a month or so before we started regularly using the Ouija board, a friend of mine from the community, who was actually eight or nine years older than I was at the time and considered herself to be immensely spiritual, came to me with a strange request. She and I had actually recently partnered in making an indie music website that did PR and album reviews for unsigned artists. It was one of the most fun and fulfilling (and frustrating) things I ever did in my life.

She said she’d been getting back into meditating again, and was a huge Sylvia Browne fan. (Take that with a grain of salt- my thoughts on her are quite ambivalent.) Sylvia had this theory that you could meditate and meet your spiritual guide, the person who helped you survive your life. She said everyone had a person, and meeting them could give you some of the answers about the life you’d been seeking.

This friend of mine was all-in on this idea, and dedicated a great deal of time to the process. I personally had never had any luck whatsoever with meditating, and it seemed to just be a version of a sleep tonic. My Internal Narrator never, ever stopped talking. I had no idea what inner silence felt like, and assumed I’d never get there.

One day my friend came to me and said, “You’ll never believe this, and I know it sounds crazy, and maybe it’s just my head making it up, but I think I saw Alex today while I was meditating.”

Of course, she might as well have said Jesus Christ came and ate dinner at her house for as staggering and thrilling as I found that to be. Had so many other people not had experiences with him, I might have been inclined to think she was lying. It was almost a measure of status in his community- has he been to your head, your house, your Ouija board? Oh, maybe you’re not a true fan, then.

But she doubted herself.

“Can you just… maybe write down a word on a piece of paper… don’t tell me, don’t tell anyone. Just write it down and the next time I see him, I’ll try to guess it. That way I’ll know for sure I’m not making it up.”

So I pulled out a scrap piece of paper from a drawer and, for no particular reason, wrote the word “SHOE” on it. Then I stuffed it under a bunch of other pieces of paper in a drawer where my family kept old printer paper. The bottom of the stack always had scrap paper- doodles, notes, calculations, phone numbers. In the midst of all that, it was just another piece of paper without meaning.

No one ever knew about it. I didn’t even tell anyone I’d done it.

After that day, I began to sense someone standing near me often. Once while on the internet, listening to one of his albums for the first time in probably three years, I felt as though someone was breathing on the side of my neck. The right side of my throat grew warmer and warmer until it was almost hot. It was cool to the touch, but under the skin I felt like I was on fire. Then it felt as though someone was running their finger along the nape of my neck, stirring the tiny hairs under my ponytail. It was both exciting and terrifying. I varied between indulging it and swatting the air in horror. I started listening to his music again regularly, singing my head off in spite of the very profound sensation of being watched.

The very first night we used the Ouija board, the first person to come onto the board was not Will, our snarky little teenage troublemaker. It was Alex.

I can still remember the moment that the viewer slowly rolled from A to L to E to X, then wiggled a little, like a wave. I remember feeling sick with excitement and delight, and also very, very skeptical.

“Why would you come here?” I blurted with narrowed eyes.

“Because I am your friend,” he said, and my cheeks rose in an instant blush.

Not to belie my hammering heart, I narrowed my eyes further and said, “Okay. So if you’re really him, what’s the word I wrote on the piece of paper?”

My sister and ex were baffled and stared at me in complete confusion, but the viewer swirled like a spoon in broth for a moment before spelling S-H-O-E.

I felt like the entire bottom of my stomach fell out, and almost couldn’t respond when my sister and ex cried, “Is that right?! Is that right?!” All I could manage was a weak nod, my eyes filling briefly with tears.

Then he was gone. For the moment.

It was hard not to hurt Will’s feelings every night with him knowing how much I wished Alex would return to talk to us, as he did not return after that first visit for quite awhile. After all, Will could read my thoughts clear as day. More than once, he would answer questions I had only thought inside my head, which fascinated and horrified me.

“I told you,” he said. “Your thoughts are as loud to me as if you speak them.”

Nothing had convinced me more than one particular night, when I was sulking over a bruised heart and he kept specifically addressing my thoughts. Saying things my ex had no possibility of knowing, and actually frequently looked stunned and vaguely hurt to read. I had forgotten about this exchange until I was combing through old summaries of this time, and I gasped at the memory.

It happened to another friend of ours a handful of times, when he came over to use the board while drunk. Will started saying things to him that frankly, made no sense to my ex and I (although to be specific, my ex and I had reconciled by this point and he was my boyfriend again), but scared our friend absolutely to death.

“Stop this!” he yelled at us, his eyes enormous. “What are you doing?”

We didn’t know. But it certainly made us feel powerful as hell.

I began to think of the book The Tommyknockers, where the protagonist is the only person in the town who isn’t under the influence of alien voices in his head, and in order to protect his mind from the town’s violent telepathy, he begins to sing nursery songs in his head to block them out. At the time, I relished the idea of someone knowing me so intimately, as I had trouble expressing my emotions and this was like a shortcut. In later years, though, I had a constant stream of consciousness running at the top of my mind to try to protect my innermost thoughts. Especially once I realized how much danger I was in.

In spite of the jealousy, or maybe because of it, Will was utterly infatuated with Alex. He said he stopped in from time to time to check on me, as he did many of his fans, particularly ones with struggles and pain.

Will told us that while most people die and just go Home to relax, others took on “jobs,” so to speak. Kind of like a guardian angel. He said Alex did this, that he was “the most powerful soul” he’d ever met, and he was “almost perfect.”

Be still, my overflowing heart.

At this point, we had decorated the Ouija board with a series of faces to help color up the flatness of plain text. There was a smiley face, a winking face, a face similar to the heart-eyed emoji, an angry face, a shocked face, etc. Because of how dryly sarcastic Will was, it was necessary to have some kind of buffer so we understood the tone of his words without one of us (me) getting their feelings hurt.

ouija

“Regular dead people who haven’t crossed,” and he pointed to the angry face because the word must be rather distasteful when it’s about yourself, “can only be in one place at one time. And that’s even true for most people who have crossed. But he can be so many places at once. He is insanely powerful. His soul is very, very old.”

On the board, Will’s movements were sharp and swift, like knife slashes. He hit each letter like a punch, and would rocket to the faces along the edges so hard our fingers would slide off. Alex’s movements were light, often dancing across the board in soft butterfly spirals, and somehow in spite of the gentleness of his touch, the viewer always pulled with much more power and authority when he was around. Alex’s vocabulary was significantly higher than Will’s as well. Often, you could feel the energy in the room shift when he entered it.

Every so often, Alex would stop by to say hello. He told me I should learn to meditate and when I protested about my lack of ability, he was disinterested in my excuses.

“We could hang out and talk,” he said. “It’s so much better than this. You’re not even trying to learn. You should. Byeeeeee.”

While I put some level of effort into it, I was entirely too skeptical to do it alone. I was constantly second-guessing myself, over-thinking, losing myself inside worries and fears. I had no clue how to quiet my Inner Narrator, the voice that says useless things like, Okay, this is silence. Silence. Breathing. In. Out. Relaxed. Nothing. So quiet. Well almost. Wait did we turn in that paper? Oh my god. Check your email now. Okay no no we can wait. So relaxed. Soooooo quiet. It was utterly infuriating.

So after a few months, Alex said he wanted to help tutor me. My ex would read instructions from the board as I closed my eyes and did my best to learn. He told me to visualize a place that brought me peace, and, what I would imagine is no surprise to any of you, I thought of a beach at sunset. He told me this was my place, that I should go there any time I felt like I needed to see him and he would be there.

But I couldn’t see him, couldn’t hear him, and most of the time, couldn’t even picture a landscape for more than thirty seconds. Within that time a rich, life-like scene would begin to turn cardboard and surreal. Fake, tinny sounds of seagulls. Unnatural, awkward waves, like a thrift store painting. It was like walking through a poorly rendered cartoon of a beach. And once my frustration set in, all was lost.

He had me go to a waterfall as a new way to try to see him. Maybe switching up the landscape would help. After a moment, the scenery faded in fairly easily- the sound of the water, the cool spray of it on my face, the smell of the wet foliage all around me, the gentle sheen of the rocks around the edge. But the minute he said, “Now look up and see me,” the pressure turned him into an out-of-focus television, nothing more than static and pixels. A Cheshire cat of elusiveness.

“You have to trust me,” he said patiently, but just the idea that someone I idolized so profoundly was in the same room as me made it hard for me to focus completely. I felt like I was disappointing him. I felt like he had better things to do. I felt so unworthy of this attention. I was so afraid he would abandon me out of frustration. It was beyond overwhelming.

Once he was in my life, even on the periphery, I became obsessed with watching every bit of footage I could find, and was dazzled to find that the Alex I knew was exactly like the one I saw videos and interviews of. For me, each new discovery confirmed his identity to me. This was him. It was really him. I tested him many times, and he always managed to sail over all my hurdles effortlessly. Part of why I was failing at meditating, I think, is because I was constantly on guard, trying to make sure I wasn’t being played.

After what was probably a month or two of coaching, I started to be able to meditate and actually see him. I still couldn’t hear his voice at all, as that is another one of meditation’s great secrets- the more you try, the more you fail. There is no trying in meditation, there is only what is. It’s as simple and as hard as completely letting go of everything you think you know. I’d watch his mouth move, but the words rushed by in a gust of empty wind. He’d grin and shrug and eventually, I just assumed I’d never figure it out.

For awhile, it was a perfect dynamic. My old/new boyfriend and Will were such good friends, often cackling at jokes on the board that I found raunchy and distasteful. Will’s favorite game was to show up on the board with the absolute filthiest phrase he could think of to say, things even my nasty mouth has more decency than to repeat. And likewise, Alex and I hysterically giggled over things that made my boyfriend say, “Oh my God, you guys are so. weird.

We would play cards in “teams,” especially Rummy, and Alex was the filthiest cheater in the world. I would get dealt four aces or four kings hand after hand, or my boyfriend would discard every single card I happened to need to make a set. He didn’t think it was nearly as charming as I did. Alex and I would snicker behind my cards and Will and my boyfriend would shout and complain and protest to no avail.

These were the good times. We were all friends, we laughed together constantly, and I don’t think I ever felt as close to anyone as I did those four boys. It was our entire life, and no one could get between us. No amount of doubt or suspicion or mockery pulled us apart… and we were absolutely surrounded by a sea of rolling eyes and sneering mouths.

Looking back on it, even from this distance, it’s hard to believe myself. But even now, I can pul up old videos and interviews and just the sound of his voice, the way he holds his head, flips his hand, rolls his eyes… it absolutely takes my breath away. If it had just been Some Random Dude, I wouldn’t have felt the pressure to succeed, the infatuation with his attention, the need for approval. This made me feel like not only was I cool enough to talk to the dead, I was behind the VIP velvet rope. I was Very, Very Important.

And if there’s one thing I still fail to realize in life, it is never good to think that you are bigger than the Universe.

///

The meditation sessions had gone so well that I was finally able to do it entirely on my own, even if it meant being in complete silence. I joked that it gave me the ability to just talk endlessly about myself, and Alex raised an amused eyebrow with a smirk pulling half his face, a look that I equally loved and hated through the years.

I knew he was around because he always came up behind me and “breathed” gently on my neck, just like he had in the beginning. Often, that heat now spread into a gentle tingling up the nape of my neck into my hair, the way it feels when someone caresses you with their hand. In short, he was very difficult to ignore.

One of the first times I ever went to see Alex on my own, we went back to the waterfall. Out of impulse, and to test how real it was, I shoved him into the water. When he surfaced, spluttering and wide-eyed, I felt a wave of certainty across my chest that was like surging triumph. His face was unlike anything I’d ever seen in a photograph or video. As I relished this new discovery, he grabbed my wrist and pulled me in with him.

We swam in circles, and I grinned mischievously at him, riding high on the knowledge I’d done something on my own. I was really learning. But in his eyes, I saw something else new that I’d never seen before. He looked at me with such a burning heat that I could feel my cheeks flush, and I had to look away. He splashed me in the face, I laughed and splashed back, and the moment was over.

I didn’t tell my boyfriend, didn’t mention it to anyone. This certainly felt like something I must have invented on my own. I was a weird looking, overweight child only just beginning to grow into her features, and he was too beautiful for words. My own wishful thinking had obviously invented that ferocious face, even if I’d never seen it on him before.

My friend who had seen him meditating (my “SHOE” friend) continued to see him regularly for awhile, then eventually she told me, “It’s like I can sense he’s there but I can’t see him.”

“I hide from her,” he laughed when I asked on the board. “She doesn’t want to know me, she wants to be able to brag to people that she does. Do you know how many people just want the status of claiming me? It’s disgusting. So.” And he spun daintily to the >:) face on the edge of the board.

Of course, I didn’t want to help her find him either. I began to feel vaguely possessive of him, and of course with the attention I was garnering on LiveJournal due to this new friendship, I felt like a powerful witch. I felt ethereal. I felt like a queen. My friendship with that woman consequently had a massive falling out that was due very largely to Alex.

Months went by with the same routine. We’d giggle on the board, get high, play cards, and Alex and I would cheat wickedly the entire time. I began to sense which cards he wanted me to discard and which I should hold. He would poke me in the ribs or breathe on my neck trying to distract me, and it seemed at this point our joking was really more like flirting. On the board, he would discourage it, almost try to embarrass me over it, but when we were alone, the tension between us began to feel palpable, even in silence.

I was also finally, for the first time in my life, losing weight. I’d reached my heaviest my freshman year of college and in abject horror, I made a drastic and dramatic change. I was starting to become more confident, more aware of what I looked like, more aware that simply loving myself made others love me, too. I began to have real friends. And now I had my boys.

I felt elite. I felt powerful. I felt secure in myself for the first time in my life. Everything was going my way, and I was happier than I’d been in all the years I’d been on this Earth. It was all falling together so perfectly.

///

My boyfriend and I got engaged.

It was a wonderful time- I had a music website where I was highly revered, I was succeeding in a difficult major in college, and my spiritual life was flourishing. I still couldn’t hear Alex, but I certainly saw and felt him all around me at all times. He called me pet names, and even though I pretended to hate it, he called me “Krissy,” constantly. He’s the last person I’ve ever let use that name.

My fiancé and I moved into our first apartment together. It was our first real space, entirely our own. We were poor and starving almost every day, but we were happy. At first.

I began to use the hours from 12 a.m. to 3 a.m. as meditation time, where I would go and chat with- well, at- Alex as my fiancé tooled around on his guitar and played video games. He teased me about our relationship, but assured me he wasn’t jealous. After all, he had Will, and he had his own special little connection to Alex as well. We started using the Ouija board less, and playing more card games and hanging out as a foursome every night before he and I would go hang out alone for awhile.

Eventually, the flirting between Alex and I was hard to ignore. Will and my fiancé began to tease us for being “so adorable.” He began to take care of my friends at my request, coming to them in dreams to soothe and comfort them as they struggled. This kindness was the most incredible thing in the world to me, so I naturally became even more infatuated with him. This is also when I started to tell less to the LiveJournal crowd, which should have been a sign to me that I was heading into dangerous waters.

Alex and I would sit too close, touch too much, and giggle almost endlessly. His warm breath on my neck started to feel an awful lot like a soft, wet mouth. His searing eyes were on me constantly, and his fingertips were always just barely outside the range of inappropriate, but even so, it seemed fairly harmless. What could happen?

One night I went to thank him for helping a friend of mine get through a rough and ugly divorce. She sent me a message saying she wasn’t sure if it was real, but she’d been crying in a chair, fell asleep, and dreamt that a tiny little dark haired, dark eyed man had scooped her into his arms and stroked her hair until she felt safe and secure.

“I don’t know if you were involved,” she said, “but I think you were, and I wanted to thank you.”

When I went on my nightly visit, I showed up on the beach where we always met. At this point, I had started to construct a little beach house that sat so illogically close to the water that high tide would have flooded the bedroom. But there were no rules here, no logic.

It had a huge saltwater aquarium that separated the bedroom and the living room. An enormous, claw-footed white porcelain bathtub. A dark wood four-poster bed with all white bedding and a wispy canopy that overlooked a perpetual sunset on the water. By now, scenery was easy. In fact, I often found myself staggered at new things that would appear each time I came. A guitar in the corner of the bedroom. A plant that seemed to grow and change each time I saw it. This world was beginning to take on a life of its own.

This night, I went to the beach and I could see right away that he had that dark fire in his eyes, and it was more intense than ever. I tried to ignore it, stammering about how grateful I was that he had helped my friend. He paced circles around me like a panther, and each step made my heart beat faster.

In the middle of a sentence, he wrapped his arms around me and crushed me against him, his mouth enveloping mine. The surprise was so great that I started to fall out of focus, and he shushed me gently and said, “Just relax. Trust me. Don’t think- just feel.”

It was the first time I ever really heard his voice in meditation.

I have always been of the opinion that sex is an entirely spiritual event. It’s why I don’t have one night stands. I don’t judge those that do on any level, but for me, that level of intimacy is so profound I don’t believe in sharing it with many people. And to be with someone who is not “real” by any measure, and yet you can feel and (now) hear with clarity, was mind-blowing. I have a hard time describing it to anyone, except that I felt everything. It was as real to me as if he was laying in bed with me. Most of that first time was spent with me gaping in shock and delight at what was happening to my body and soaking in the sound of his voice. I had no idea this was possible. I had no clue we were headed in this direction.

That night, he whispered, “I’m afraid I’m dangerously in love with you,” and when he realized that I could understand him, his eyes widened in horror and he tried to backtrack out of the confession. But I understood. What we had seemed so pure, so perfect, how could it be denied? I felt sure we must have loved each other in another life. It was so romantic, so Shakespearean, so perfect.

But I was also engaged to another man. And while my fiance was absolutely aware of the relationship we had, I also believe that Alex had convinced him to accept something that was very much unacceptable. It was the beginning of his hold on us. We trusted him so completely.

Soon, Alex and I were even more inappropriate. We began to pull away from my fiance and from Will into our own little world. And while in the beginning, we were having unbelievable sex, after awhile, it faded, too. I would go to meditate and float into another world, not awake and not asleep. Something strange was happening. I would come out of meditation sessions feeling disoriented and upset. I couldn’t understand where my mind was going during these times. Everything was fading to white noise.

Alex started to get very strange, staring at me with big, dark, mournful eyes. He refused to explain his sadness, waving me off, but his behavior became increasingly erratic. He flashed hot and cold on a regular basis, leaving me confused and wounded. I would go to him on the beach and he would be weeping, but couldn’t articulate his pain, or he would say frighteningly cryptic things like, “I’m just so afraid I’m going to hurt you.”

After a few months, we agreed this was not healthy, that we needed boundaries. But I was twenty and volatile and heartsick, and I did not handle the information well. I saw myself as being cast aside, another pawn… another whore. How stupid was I to think I ever mattered? Of course I didn’t. How many other girls had fallen for this same game?

Alex became icy and bitingly sarcastic, and for a period of time, I stopped meditating entirely. When I did, we would sit side-by-side on the beach in heartsick sadness, unable to think of anything to say. I felt wretched and guilty, and my heart screamed in pain all the time. Alex and I would fight regularly, and then he would pick a fight with my fiancé, telling him secrets between us that hurt him and subsequently caused the two of us to fight as well. Alex would ramp it up to the point of violence. Later, he would cling to me and weep, kiss my fingers, beg for me not to leave, sing me songs, profess his eternal love and devotion.

This is when I knew my meditating was really real, beyond any hints of doubt I’d had before. Alex had a horrible, vicious, viper mouth, and would say things to me that stunned me, things that I would never dream of saying to myself in a hundred years. I would very often cry while meditating. What a horrible way to gain so much certainty in the reality of what was happening.

Not to mention that at this point, I had allowed someone into my internal thoughts, into the deepest parts of my mind. He was as much a part of me as my own Inner Narrator.

And worse, we began to fail at keeping our hands off of each other.

It destroyed our little group. Playing cards became awkward and felt like a show we were putting on to convince ourselves of how “okay” it all was. The Ouija board became a stiff formality, and Alex and I would often scream at each other while my fiancé sat in stunned and wounded silence. I began to cry myself to sleep, and a wedge between my almost husband and I began to grow. I knew I needed out of this mess, but I had no idea how to escape.

At this point though, without even realizing it, there was no chance of escape.

///

There were small red flags in the beginning, I realized later. The clarity of hindsight and all that.

One night when we were trying to pretend this was something we could maintain, something we could make “real,” Alex wanted to take me on a “date” in meditation. I mean, we could go anywhere or do anything, right?

So we went to dinner and dancing and drank wine on the top of a roof and watched the stars, which of course, rained down all around us. It was romantic and exciting and beautiful, and for once it felt like something visible, even if it was all inside my mind. However, I do think this was one of his first missteps, as I think the people who were at the restaurant were not projections but other crossed people, people who probably had things to say about us being anywhere together. After all, up until then, things had been hidden away on an island that I agreed and helped to lock down and secure from anyone’s eyes. So often I didn’t know what I was doing, didn’t realize the weight and danger of my actions. I trusted Alex, and I wanted to be only his, and have him be only mine. I would have done anything he asked of me, and more. And I did.

When we got back “home” to the beach house that night, we showered together and tumbled into bed. In the moment, we had a very good time, even though things seemed a little rough. He was much more aggressive and forceful than he’d ever been.

The next day, my nose ached from my nose ring being pressed into my skin when he was shoving my face against the pillow, which to this day shocks me. Some of the things he’d said seemed much uglier in the light of day than they had the night before. I suddenly recalled that in the beginning, somehow, it was actually physically hurting me in my waking life. I remembered sitting up, breaking the meditation just so I could touch myself to be sure I wasn’t actually injured. The pain was so sharp, so startling- I had no idea how it was translating from meditation to reality. I remembered how when I’d laid a hand on his shoulder to ask him to slow down, to wait, he turned his face away as if I hadn’t spoken.

He and I spoke about it later and he apologized profusely.

“You don’t know everything about me,” he said quietly. “In fact, there’s a lot you don’t know. I’m… I’m not a good man, Krissy. You would be better off never speaking to me again. I wish you would.”

But I was young, and forgiveness has always been my greatest strength and most ironic weakness, and I worshiped him. I adored him completely. I shrugged it off. A silly miscommunication. No big deal.

One night, a few months later, I was meditating and when I got to the beach, it was dark, moonless, beyond midnight. I’d never been here at night before, and seeing the landscape so altered by darkness set me on edge. It seemed like everything was constantly changing here now, and I just had to roll with every new surprise. The beach house, illuminated from within, looked so beautiful that I stood outside just admiring it a moment before I went in. My lucky life, my beautiful home, my secret nest.

Alex wasn’t inside, though. I checked all the rooms, called his name, paced around in confusion. Anxiety began to prickle my skin, and now the darkness of the world seemed vaguely sinister. A storm rumbled at the horizon- flashes of lightning and deep, bone-rattling booms of thunder. The wind began to whip my hair into my face, pressing my gauzy sundress against my legs.

I went back to the sand, and I saw a silhouette moving towards me from the shoreline. Relieved, I rushed towards him, calling his name. The storm was closer now, and lightning kept strobing across the waves, lighting everything up for a moment in a garish hue.

It was just as I got within a few feet of him that the lightning struck again, and I saw his face. Except it wasn’t his face at all. His eyes were completely black and his features were twisted in a grotesque mask of rage. His hands reached out for me as if he was a movie zombie, a hungry snarl coming out of the back of his throat.

I screamed and began to run the other direction. He lurched behind me, gaining on me with every step, until his hand closed around my arm and everything went black.

When I came out of the meditation, I shrugged this off, too. I must have fallen asleep and had a nightmare. I must have seen things incorrectly. I still wasn’t always very good at this, so it was clearly a mistake. Too many horror movies. Silliness. My penchant for the dramatic.

When I asked about it on the board, Will said that I was fighting my own internal fears and demons. We spoke about it at length until I felt better, but those images never left me. It didn’t seem important at the time, but Alex was not the one to explain it to me. He remained suspiciously silent. No matter the explanation, it began to create an uneasy distance between us.

This was the period of time when I stopped telling my fiancé about a lot of things that happened between us. We didn’t discuss them on the board. Later I would find out that my fiancé/husband would have similar encounters, but feel equally as if he’d just seen things incorrectly and shrugged them off.

My husband and I were married on May 28, 2005. Alex was there for the wedding and the honeymoon (of course he was, I’ll cringe forever at how many layers of wretched betrayal that was), but disappeared for several weeks shortly afterward. Life was a whirlwind of moving and poverty and starvation and craziness, so it went largely unnoticed.

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This was when things began to rapidly and dramatically change.

This is another one of those moments where things get…. hard to believe. If you’ve been able to hang on up until this point, I commend you. But this part…. this is absolute insanity, and I know it. And I know, of course, that this is not a nice story, and certainly one I am not proud to tell. My behavior was frequently reprehensible, appalling, selfish and destructive. I don’t want to try to excuse it this time, not one iota. It’s important I show how nasty I was in order to be as honest as I can be.

Do you remember the scene in Ghost when Whoopi Goldberg channels Patrick Swayze? And she and Demi Moore kiss, because she’s really her husband? And no one questions it, because it’s Hollywood and it’s magical and it’s true love, but really it’s Whoopi and Demi kissing in that moment because he’s actually not really there. Except he is… except he isn’t.

Alex had this ability as well. Actually, most of the dead do, they just need to find themselves an open channel that is accepting (naive?) enough to allow it. My husband was that kind of person. His ancestry is thick with Native American blood, and it gave him all sorts of spiritual “powers” I did not have. Everything that I struggled with in this realm came naturally to him. I was envious and often, downright resentful. Once, Will tried to channel through me and he complained that I wouldn’t let him all the way in, that my barriers were too high, that I fought too much. At the time it felt like a failure, but I think it’s the only thing that saved me later.

At Christmastime the year before, Alex had showed up as a present to me. He couldn’t open his eyes because he said it was too terrifying, like wearing 3D glasses outside of the movie, or maybe like not wearing the glasses while inside the movie. Either way. He wasn’t there to do much talking, as you might imagine. He said he wouldn’t be allowed to come back for a long time, that he’d begged for permission and I shouldn’t expect to see him again.

But of course, I became fixated on the idea. Obsessed. I wanted to see him again so badly- this was the solution to all of our problems, I thought. He could come to visit sometimes and we could be together for a few moments. Oh, it was so romantic. It was too impossible and ridiculous to tell anyone. This is when it all started to become a bit isolating. At the time, it just made me feel more elite. See how I have achieved so much beyond what anyone else can do. We are chosen. We are significant.

About a month after the wedding, Alex showed up through my husband again. He convinced me to sleep with him, it was okay, he’d fixed it all. “Don’t worry,” he whispered, “I promise, everything is fine.”

No. It was not fine. My husband and I got into a huge, massive fight that day, where he drove off and left me in a crumpled mess for hours. I didn’t understand, I felt so betrayed, I felt so disgusting and wretched. I was a terrible, awful person. I swallowed ten aspirin as punishment.

However, when my ex returned, he said he and Alex had sorted it all out. They had agreed he’d get to come visit sometimes, and they’d barter out a deal.

At the time, I knew in my heart that wasn’t right. It couldn’t be. It simply wasn’t possible. But I was selfish, I was greedy, and I was madly in love. So it seemed like for once, I was getting a good deal. I was getting something that I deserved, that I had waited my life for. Everyone was happy. Everyone was getting along again.

At this point in my life, we became so poor we lost the internet. I had no job, no phone, no money, no car, no driver’s license, and no contact with the outside world whatsoever. If I had had some sort of communication with others, I would have been able to get myself out of this mess. But I was trapped alone all day with no one but the dead.

I believe that Will was right when he said Alex was powerful, that he had a “job,” that he was taking on all sorts of responsibility. However, I don’t think that’s because he was so good. I think- no, I know- it was because he was so profoundly evil. He was trying to change, trying to better himself, trying to escape his past in any way he could. I believe his life as Alex was the first time in his entire timeline that he’d ever been someone that people respected, someone that people actually revered and idolized. It was the first time he saw that being a pure person, having a good heart and soul, brought much more satisfaction than wielding others like tools for your own purpose.

But over time, Alex began to bend and break the rules. At first, there were short visits. A half hour, an hour maybe. Eventually, it became whole nights. It became whole days. It became entire weekends. My husband later told me there are entire periods of time he only can only vaguely recall because he was not himself. He had been, for lack of a better word, possessed.

It’s hard to describe how strange it really was, and how much it solidified the reality of the situation. After awhile, Alex was able to open his eyes (the early days I had to guide him around like a blind man) and we began what was essentially, a dual relationship. An open marriage of sorts.

To see my husband’s face with different expressions, with a totally different tone of voice, completely new mannerisms, new phrases, a new temperament was often very unsettling. When Alex took over, he was dainty, fragile, silly. He would prance around the bedroom and strike dramatic poses. A few times he put on my dresses and flounced around like a queen, something my husband would never have done in a million years (and was actually pretty angry about when he found out). He held his cigarette differently. His handwriting was different. His laughter was entirely new, and so was his singing voice, though Alex complained about being forced to use it instead of his own.

In the beginning, I would just stare at him in awe- the idea that there was a whole new person inside my husband, that he was simply a ship carrying another vessel inside him, was beyond staggering. It defied the entirety of all logic.

Reflecting on it, I wonder what it must have been like to lose such enormous portions of time. I think it completely altered who my ex-husband was, maybe for the remainder of his life. He was stunted as a human. He was left out of so much of what was happening that I still don’t think he really even fully understands to this day what exactly transpired during those years. He was the pot that carried the coffee Alex and I got to drink. I have to live with that knowledge forever.

It was exceedingly unhealthy and unrealistic. And let’s be honest- it really revealed how improbable my relationship with Alex could have been. We began to fight real relationship fights. I found myself frequently disgusted with his bratty, sullen, selfish, spoiled attitude. Instead of it being a dream come true, it felt very much like trying to hold together two rapidly crumbling relationships. It got to a point where I wasn’t even sure who I was talking to anymore, and it was very hard on my brain and heart.

And then I became pregnant.

///

I feel like my pregnancy was the Before and After marker of this entire mess. As my pregnancy progressed, I think it occurred to Alex that my real life was going to move on without him. I needed to get serious about succeeding in the real world. I needed to figure out how to live outside the realm of the world of meditation, as most of my life and mind was spent elsewhere by this point.

Alex became “ill,” and said he needed to go away to spend some time alone. He said that he was fighting against himself. He worried that he was about to do something destructive or impulsive and he needed to figure out how to heal it before he hurt me.

While he was gone, a “friend” came to talk to us on the board. I use quotation marks because they were not friends in any way… much more like “frenemies,” people who had long been acquaintances or working partners, but didn’t get along whatsoever. At the time, though, this was someone who came just to tell me that I needed to be very careful- he said Alex was very powerful, very manipulative, and very dangerous. He urged me to focus on the real world, on my growing child, on my future with my husband. This person’s power was so great that while using the board my husband stared with unseeing eyes at a distant horizon, his mouth gaping open, his head slumped, as if someone had thrown his “off” switch. Again, thinking back on it, it speaks to how sick I was that that did not seem strange or terrifying.

“I’m not saying you can’t talk to him,” this man said. “I’m just saying that you need to be cautious of the things he says. He is very much in love with you, and I worry he will do whatever it takes to get to you. He wants so badly to be a good person, but he can’t let go of the power he can wield on others. He is the whisper that convinces people to cause trouble. He is the devil on everyone’s shoulder.”

When Alex came back, he was very different for awhile. He was fragile and insecure. He cried a lot, and didn’t seem to be able to look me in the face anymore. He became even more clingy, desperate for my attention and my affection. There was never a time during the day when he wasn’t constantly talking to me, because at this point, his voice was as loud in my head as my own. He wanted to pick out my clothes, decide what I watched, ate, and thought about. And, as you may have guessed, he began convincing me we should start breaking the rules that the three of us agreed to. Again.

The most important rule was that if Alex was coming for visits, he and I were not allowed to be intimate in meditation anymore. That went fine for a long time and then, during a visit, he seduced me. When someone isn’t just a skilled Lothario but in fact, lives in the place where he has access to all of your flips and switches and can throw them on himself, it was very difficult to resist. Not that, at first, I did a very good job of resisting. Okay. I didn’t resist at all, really.

We promised to keep it a secret, and of course, he told my husband. More fighting, more ultimatums, more throwing dishes and plates and shoving and calling names. More strange and sudden reconciliations.

The next time, I did my best to resist. But even I can admit that though I said “No, no, no, nonono,” the entire time, my pleas didn’t even sound convincing to my own ears. The resistance was for show, so I could claim later that I tried to fight him off. And being a girl that had harbored secret rape fantasies, it was honestly one of the best sexual encounters we’d ever had. Which, naturally, only disturbed me even further.

That time didn’t stay a secret, either. More screaming, wailing, pleading. Alex worked his magic tongue on my husband once again, and magically, all was forgiven. On the surface, anyway. This constant betrayal caused a very large rift in my marriage, and my husabnd and I were constantly bickering. He felt undesirable, unloved, and I felt torn to pieces, sick with regret and shame and disgust.

The stress of the never-ending arguments caused me to go into preterm labor, and I was put on bedrest for the remainder of the pregnancy. Alex and my husband came together immediately, everything utterly forgiven and forgotten in the mindset of keeping me well.

In later years, Alex confessed (after weeks of challenging him) that he did it on purpose, that he wanted me to lose the baby. That if I didn’t have the baby, nothing had to change. He knew that once Max was born, my life would steadily continue without him being able to take up such a large portion of my life.

It was all quiet and stress-free until Max was born. I will live with regret for the rest of my life that the house my infant child had to live in was a home plagued with such evil, such monstrous darkness, such terror. I think it shaped who he is to this day, and that guilt will never leave me.

This is the part of the story I don’t want to tell.

///

After Max was born, Alex once again took a turn for the worse. He was either saccharine or cruel, and often made careless comments about my newborn baby that I found appalling and distasteful. I began to see him as someone entirely different. I used to say often that we had a “fighting or fucking” relationship, because if we didn’t have our hands all over each other, we were usually doing our best to drive knives into the other’s heart. And he was much better at it than I was.

A few months after Max was born, Alex attempted to seduce me. This was truly the first time in our relationship that I can say I really began to try to fight him off. I was so tired of being such a ruthlessly selfish person, such a disgraceful wife. I needed to do better for my son’s sake.

At this point, I didn’t need to specifically meditate to talk to or even see Alex. He would just show up as I made dinner, as I cleaned the house, as I took a shower. I would hear his voice as clear as if he was in the room with me, and would picture him lounging on a nearby couch or standing right behind me. This was something I had been able to do for a long time now, and it increased in strength like a muscle. Eventually, there was no way for me to turn myself off to that world. I was constantly streaming the dead.

Sometimes it was fun. We’d dance through the house or sing along to a song or kiss and hold hands during a movie. Other times, and increasingly as time went on, he would find me in vulnerable moments to attempt to seduce me. He’d been doing it since before Max was born, of course, but now that I was “healthy” again, it became out of control.

Once, I was in the shower while my son slept and he appeared there with me, his mouth on my neck, his hands on my wet skin, his filthy whispers against my ear. I protested and pushed him away over and over, but eventually lost feeling in my legs and ended up dazed and weak at the bottom of the bathtub. I had to crawl out of it to try to escape him.

I began to pace the house, trying to clear my mind. But no one had taught me how to do that. I had no clue how to shield myself from something I’d always openly welcomed. How do you stop the flow of a flash flood?

“Where do you think you’re going?” he purred. “You can’t get away from me. I’m already inside you. Why do you bother to fight? You’ll never escape.”

I can remember a time that I was sitting on the couch when my hands began to roam my skin, almost against my will. It wasn’t until I was stumbling down the hallway, bouncing off the walls like a pinball with my eyes half-closed that I realized I was being led to the bedroom. During one occasion, I got out of the shower and as I dressed in the bedroom, my “legs gave out” as if I was pushed, and I found myself face down on the bed, totally naked. There were times I had to literally crawl on my hands and knees to try to get away, but he was right- where was I going? It didn’t matter what room I was in or where I went. He was constantly in my head.

The more I fought him, the more it turned him on. He would invade my brain like smoke, like a tranquilizer. I was unable to think logically or to make rational arguments. Thoughts would begin to form in my brain and then fade into fog. I imagine this is what stroke patients experience- I knew the words I wanted to say, I just didn’t know how to find them in my mind. I didn’t know how to articulate anything concrete. Just finding the right words to pull together was an almost impossible feat, and even then, he just chuckled thickly and ignored me anyway. He would whisper in my ear like a magician, and the sound of his voice would make me weak and disoriented. I would splutter and stammer as every muscle in my body felt heavy and weak.

I had allowed him total access to every part of my mind, and now he was exploiting it. He truly seemed to enjoy showing me how little power I had left over my own faculties. I still fought him valiantly, trying to shut him out the minute that whisper would start in the back of my head.

But again, remember- no car, no money, no job, no phone, no internet. I was effectively a prisoner in my own home, trapped alone with someone who was constantly luring me with the one thing we as humans are constantly seeking- pleasure. The most intense, satisfying, electric pleasure I’d ever felt in my entire life. And sometimes, I wasn’t able to fight him off.

One particular time, I said no repeatedly, protested the entire way through, and I did not willingly participate on any level, just laying limply as he hammered against me. The minute it was over and his lust had waned, he saw my face and realized what he’d done.

“I guess this was one of those times when no really meant no, huh?” he asked in a tiny voice. I nodded and disappeared, and we didn’t speak for a few days. He tried to convince me that I was the problem, because we had this sort of relationship where no meant yes and my protestations were just invitations to convince me.

“No, Alex,” I said angrily. “They always mean no. You just refuse to listen. You do whatever you want and you think there shouldn’t be any consequences.”

But in a lot of ways, I believed him. I deserved this. I had brought it upon myself. This is what happens to bad girls. This is what happens when you dance with the devil.

We fell into a frosty silence for awhile and I hoped that finally, he was starting to get the point. I was so exhausted from the constant battling against my own mind. I just wanted to get away from him, and actually began to wonder if I needed to shut it all down. And I’m sure he knew that very well.

One night, my ex and I had a night away from our son and had taken Percocet and gotten high. We went to bed and he fell instantly asleep, but I laid awake in the soupy weakness of prescription opiates. And of course, on cue, Alex showed up.

For the very first time since we’d had this ongoing struggle, I was really angry. When he climbed on top of me, I thrashed violently, shoving at him and clamping my thighs together. We wrestled ferociously for a moment, a jumble of knees and elbows and clawed hands, and then he struck me so hard in the face that even in meditation, everything went white. I was stunned into silence, frozen and horrified. And then, as I tried to recover, he shoved himself inside me.

This time reminded me of the time years ago, when our date had turned nasty and he had ignored my pleas. In this moment, I tried to convince myself it wasn’t real, it was a hallucination, it was a dream. I tried to talk myself out of years of spiritual teaching and guidance to try to escape what was happening to me. It couldn’t be real. It couldn’t hurt like this. It was as if someone had shoved a thorned stake into my body and was savagely ramming it into me as hard as they could.

“Oh, Alex, please don’t do this,” I wept and pleaded, pressing a weak hand against his shoulder. “Please stop.”

The moment he lifted his head to look at me is a moment that became an ongoing nightmare for years to come.

His eyes were completely black, but in the depths there was this flicker, like a tiny flame. Looking into them was like falling into a bottomless pit. It made my soul pull back against my spine in revulsion. The entire shape of his face had changed- his nose was a long, sharp knife blade. His cheekbones, which were already so large they created substantial hollows in his face, looked like they were molded from granite. His skin had gone grey, mottled, leathery. His teeth became a wide mess of rotten black fangs, every single tooth as pointed as a needle, so long they hung out from between his lips and distorted the entire shape of his mouth.

“Alex isn’t here anymore, honey,” it said to me, and its voice was like the grinding of broken machinery, like a wounded animal with a leg caught in a trap, like silverware screeching across an old blackboard. The kind of sound that makes people lose their minds. “Now it’s just me.”

There is no way to describe that kind of terror. I couldn’t begin to explain it to anyone, not even now. It took me back to my childhood, when shadows in the dark could easily be monsters, when the whispers of leaves on trees at night are menacing threats, when the feeling of losing your parents in a supermarket causes you to go nearly feral with fear.

I tried to hide my face, tried to keep from looking, but it roared at me, demanding my gaze, and held my face so I had to stare right into its eyes as it raped me. It ran its teeth against my skin and varied between whispering words of rapture as if what was happening was consensual, and screaming at me for my betrayals, for my weakness, for my disobedience. When I wept and plead, it mocked me, weeping and pleading in return. I tried to scream for help and it laughed with delight.

“Oh, please scream,” it said. “I love to hear you scream. Beg for help, I want you to. There’s not a person in this world who could find you right now. Your own husband lays right next to you and has no idea this is even happening. No one can save you now. You wanted to play games like a whore? This is what happens to whores.” And it began to strike me in the face over and over.

I have no idea how long it went on, because meditation time is warped, and especially so under the influence of painkillers. I laid still and dead and it insisted on my participation. It forced me to repeat phrases. It demanded I show what a great time I was having. Every moment it went on, I felt like my entire humanity was being stolen from me. It hurt so much, but all I could feel in that moment was the blankness of terror. I couldn’t allow my mind to even think in rational terms about what was happening to me because I knew it would shatter me. I knew I had to try to hold myself together so it wouldn’t be able to get further control. And it laughed and it laughed and it laughed. It forced me to do things to myself to show my consent, to show how much I had enjoyed it, to make myself an accomplice in this assault.

When it was finally over, it patted my thigh and said, “See now? That wasn’t so hard, was it? And by morning, you’ll have forgiven me already. You won’t even say a word. I’ll get away with this too. I love you. …See you soon.”

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///

It took me two months to tell anyone what had happened, and that was only because suddenly, there were new dead people in our lives.

Friends of Alex’s came to visit us under the guise of just wanting to hang out. Reflecting back, I realize that some kind of alarm had been sounded and people became aware things had taken a turn for the worst.

I played off like everything was cool, I was fine, it was not a big deal. But I stopped eating. In downtime when my son was napping, I stared blankly at the carpet for hours. I have no idea how much time I lost over the years just staring blankly into space, being a feeding trough of energy for someone else.

Finally, I was cornered by two friends and by Will, someone who had completely disappeared in the last few months. He absolutely unequivocally did not approve of the “sharing” relationship we had and made his protestations loud and clear. When we ignored him, he left.

This time, the three of them told me I had to tell my husband what had happened. I tried to shrug them off but they were insistent in a way I was not accustomed to. So I finally confessed.

Now I was being attacked at all hours of the day. My mind would drift off into blankness and this thing I had seen would come back to rip my flesh off before my eyes or gnaw at my throat with its horrible teeth. The small group of protectors became large, and it was then that I really saw the kind of power that Alex, or whatever this thing had become, really had. They had virtually no control over it whatsoever. It would mock and sneer at them, holding me hostage in my own mind as I screamed and wailed. It tried to drag me back into the beach house, and I can still recall the feeling of sand overflowing underneath my fingernails as I desperately clawed the beach. Save me save me save me, I wailed hysterically. Inside my mind, I was constantly screaming for help.

Everyone kept insisting that I fight, but I was so damaged and so under his spell that it was almost impossible to know how to resist. I didn’t know how to turn my own mind off. I was so beaten down by everything that happened that I was unable to escape. And how does one escape their own mind? In meditation, I frequently saw myself with slashed, gushing wrists.

In the end, we devised a secret plan to capture him. Using me as bait, because I was the only one left that he seemed to trust.

Alex and I had been meeting occasionally during the day when he seemed well, even though his eyes never looked the same to me after that day. Even when his face was back to its normal shape, he seemed slightly off-kilter. Even now, in the videos I watch, his eyes look too dark, his teeth too sharp, his cheekbones too large. Even now, I am terrified of his face. I see It inside of him.

He was incredibly jealous of my new friendships, the fact that others had broken into our little secret. He seemed relatively unable to accept exactly what he’d done, or what he’d allowed to happen to me. Talking to him now felt like trying to pet a caged animal at a carnival- he radiated a sort of tightly wound fury and disgust. Why I continued to see him at all, I don’t know. I guess it goes to show how strong his hold was on me. I still loved him. I still wanted to save him. On bad days, when he was very sick, he would stand entirely blanketed in shadow, but his eyes would glow from the darkness. On those days, he wouldn’t even let me stand near him… not that I would.

One day I went there to see him and I could hear a woman screaming inside the beach house. We hadn’t gone back inside since that night. The sand was the only place I would stand now.

“What is that noise?” I asked, horrified. It sounded like murder.

He shifted uncomfortably and a pained smile pulled at his face. “It’s… haunted. By you.”

I wasn’t brave enough to look.

After weeks of careful, secret planning, where I was instructed how to keep my mind constantly humming so he couldn’t read it, I lured him to the beach house. The minute he was there, the beach was rushed with people. Even though the tiny space was packed like a rush hour subway station, he still found my eyes in the crowd and glared at me with betrayal.

They locked him away in a literal cell, a metal, windowless box, and told me that everyone he’d ever hurt was coming to tell him what they’d done to him. They were going to try to save him. An exorcism? I don’t know. There was so much of this I was realizing I didn’t understand, and for the first time, I really realized that I was in deeper than any living human should ever be. I realized what a pawn I’d become.

When I left the cell, the line of people was so long it seemed to have no end. I remember being overwhelmed with pain at that moment, knowing that someone I loved so much, that I adored with all my body, had spent centuries tearing people to pieces. All the work I’d done trying to make him well was for naught. It led to this, to him being caged like a rabid animal.

Did he love me? Was it just a game? Was he trying to kill me or did he just want to siphon me dry? Everything felt like a lie. I have been played many times by many men in my life and this time had absolutely wiped out everything I thought I knew about myself, about him, the dead, the Universe, and my own strength as a person.

Suddenly I wondered… did any of this ever even have a point?

///

I put on a brave front for everyone. It was important for the sake of what was happening, and it was also important because Alex was not someone who acted alone. In fact, someone with this level of power had “fans,” so to to speak. Underlings, for lack of a better word. A few times, Alex referred to them as “disciples,” which was so ugly in that context I had a hard time hearing it.

Either way, they were furious that I’d taken away their King.

For weeks after that, everything on television was about rape. For some unknown reason, at least four different television shows that year decided to use one of his songs as a plot device. It played regularly in a commercial. Ten thousand characters were suddenly named “Alex,” including a new lawyer commercial whose catch phrase was “Call Alex! Call Alex! Call Alex!”

One night, both my husband and I heard distorted, sick-sounding carnival music playing. Another night, for no reason at all, a small music box I got from my grandmother, which has not made a sound in the last decade, played three loud notes. Once. And never again. Shadows moved of their own will on the walls. We found wolf spiders in our bed. The hose to the washer blew off in the middle of the night and sprayed the house with water. Everything electrical started to break. My car once lost all its power in the middle of a rainstorm as I drove sixty miles an hour towards a place where two lanes suddenly merged to one. My ex and I had vicious, terrible fights. Once, I got a terrible, sick feeling in my chest and ran into my son’s room to find a blanket over his mouth. There were wasps in the house constantly, and they flew at my face more than once. I couldn’t sleep at night because it felt like someone was holding their face a mere inch from mine, screaming right into it. I laid awake many nights, sobbing, praying for the sun.

So I guess it was decided I needed security.

This is where my current, constant companion comes in, as he apparently volunteered for the job. He was a relatively newer friend of Alex’s, and someone that didn’t really know me Over There at all. He’d apparently been “hanging out” with Alex and Will for awhile with a larger group of Alex’s friends (the ones he gained while he was trying to become better and that he lost once he did this) and I imagine felt some sort of debt needed to be repaid for not being aware of how bad things had become. He was kind and sweet and entirely in over his head. But at the time, he was the only other person that felt that maybe Alex was still good, still okay, still salvageable. I think we both just felt like maybe someone could save him. Maybe all was not lost. Everyone else was so sick of his antics that they turned away like family does after an addict relapses for the twentieth time.

Another friend, someone I learned later both Alex and I have known for a very, very long time, told me that this had been Alex’s opportunity to prove himself. He’d taken the job Will had told us he was doing (and one Alex actually used to talk in great detail about to us) to show me and everyone that he could be good, he could do the right thing, he was everything he wanted so badly to be. A job that I came to understand was mine.

“He was unequipped for how hard it would be, which is why he started looking to you for advice He quit that job when he got involved with you here,” he said, “and that was the end of his chance to prove himself. It’s not your fault, not at all. But the minute he gave up that job, everything that is putrid and violent inside of him began to grow and grow and grow. He knew he was losing you and he gave up everything trying to hold on. That’s why these sorts of relationships don’t happen, can’t happen. It’s a mistake to try to blend these two worlds together. It never ends well.

“You need to focus on yourself now. Your life, your family. We’re going to try to fix him, bring him back at least to a starting point again, but he is resisting in every way he possibly can. As you knew he would.”

Alex spent months in that cell. I would go to visit sometimes, but with him out of the picture for the first time in years, I had to face exactly what had happened to me. I had to face the hold he’d had on my entire life.

Alex was able to take that night and push it to the very back of my mind, lock it in a little box, but it continued to push its way out against my will. My husband and I talked about how often we wanted to talk to each other about things that were happening, but didn’t seem to be able to find the words. We were effectively muzzled and isolated from each other. Again, imagine that someone owns your brain, can filter your thoughts, can control your mouth. With him gone, everything started spilling out.

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///

One day, my new friend, who I will call Jim asked me to take him to the beach house and show him the “haunting.” Once Alex was gone, I’d lost that house, that island, the place I’d now spent years. One of the only places in the world I had truly felt safe. It was really more of a home than any real place ever had been, and was essentially a spiritual version of a fortress. When I locked it behind me, it was inaccessible to anyone- probably including myself. I tried many times, but I was never able to go back there to reclaim it. The entire beach had the haunted melancholy of a former battlefield.

But Jim said it was time to deal with it. Face it head on- exposure therapy. If I was sure I was okay and unbroken by it (as I continued to arrogantly claim), I should be able to face it. Every time I tried to insist I was okay, he would just frown at me until I finally agreed to go.

As soon as we got there, I could hear the screaming I’d heard before and my heart took a few staggered steps. Jim looked at me in horror and I weakly shrugged, unable to meet his eyes.

Walking up to the French doors that opened to the bedroom, we could see movement inside. I was shocked to see an image was playing of the night it happened over and over and over again like a hologram, real and not real all at once. My mind was seemingly trapped in a terrible loop of trauma.

I hadn’t seen it in third person, and watching it was almost more terrifying than experiencing it first hand. There was blood sprayed up the side of the aquarium, pooling on the sheets of the bed, and it came cascading out of my mouth every single time he thrust against me. My face was swollen and stained with tears, and the gurgling sound that came out of the back of my throat as he choked me was so awful I wanted to hold my hands over my ears.

Jim walked slowly to the very edge of the bed, almost in a trance, and stood in front of it for a long time. When he turned around to face me, he was weeping.

“Why didn’t you say it was like this?” he said, his voice thick and full of tears. “Oh my God, Kristyn. I didn’t know. I didn’t know. Jesus Christ. I…” And he grabbed my hands and pulled my stiff body into his arms. I still felt so numb to it, like it was a nightmare from someone else’s mind. As I watched it over his shoulder, I thought, I should have died. If this was real, it would have killed me.

And instead, it was nothing. It was nothing. It wasn’t real. It never really happened.

When he pulled away, I remember shrugging half-heartedly and lowering my head. As soon as I tried to say it wasn’t a big deal, it was okay now, it didn’t matter, it wasn’t real, he shook my hands gently, squeezing my fingers.

“No. No. Kristyn, I’m dead and this scares me more than anything I’ve ever seen. And this… thing… was inside you. If it was real when it was consensual, it’s real when it’s not.”

His eyes were enormous, so full of pain I didn’t know how to process it. How could it hurt him so much if I couldn’t even feel it?

He turned back to look just as that monster began to roar absolutely vile things into my hologrammed face, and she sobbed and spluttered with pleas and apologies, her lips wet and crimson black.

“We have to go,” he said, shaking his head. “I can’t… I can’t look at this.”

It took me four entire years before I could say the word “rape” out loud again. I still struggle to get it out, even now. In 2011 and 2012, trying to heal, I’d try to utter the sentence, “I was raped,” out loud over and over, but it wouldn’t come out. I choked on the word as if I didn’t recall how to pronounce it.

But this was still 2007. I was years and years from even accepting I’d been damaged. It wasn’t real, I kept telling myself. It didn’t actually happen. This was just silliness. People can’t be traumatized over things that no one would even believe happened. This wasn’t like what happens to women in real life, not even close. This was just a very bad nightmare, that’s all. My mind would start to touch the edges of how it felt when he was on top of me, but I’d shrug them back to the shadows. It was fine. It was fine. It was fine.

As word spread and others in this little group of guardians I now had went to the beach house to look at the “hologram,” the trauma imprint, they’d come to see me with that same agonized look of despair and horror.

It was their faces that started to convince me that maybe this had gone beyond my control. Maybe it wasn’t okay. Maybe I did need to deal with it. Maybe it was time to stop protecting someone who had caused me so much harm.

But then they decided to let him free, and I’ve never been less glad to see anyone in my entire life.

I was terrible to him, constantly bringing up what he’d done. I didn’t let him put a single finger on me. My little group said I’d been asked to talk to him, keep my eye on him. Our whole group became “responsible” for him, and none of us were pleased.

Add to this my new friendship with Jim, who I refused to stop talking to or hanging out with just because Alex was back and desperate for me to understand how sorry he was.

“It comes down to this,” I said to him once. “You’re either a demon or you’re a liar and a fraud and you sold me out to try to bring me back to you. You tried to kill me, you tried to kill my son, you tried to kill my husband. You tortured us all.”

But he was always around, always whining, always showing up to complain about something. It was like being followed around by a tired and hungry four year old all day long. His feeeeeeeeelings. His precious, precious feelings.

But somehow, he started to wear Jim down. Jim started to back off, to try to give him more time to explain, reassuring me that it was fine, he was cool, no worries. I think everyone wanted me to really deal with the things he’d done to me, but I just wasn’t able to access that part of my mind at all. Consequently, the few orgasms I did have- and they often felt forced and left me nauseous- trickled to theatrical performances. I didn’t want to be touched. I didn’t want to deal with anything in life at all.

Do you remember Ellen Burstyn’s performance in “Requiem For a Dream?” My life felt a lot like that. Trapped. Destroyed. Paranoid. Terrified.

Things in real life became increasingly worse. And worse. By the end of 2009, our lack of ability to balance worlds meant we lost our home and had to move in with my parents, just as they both simultaneously lost their jobs. It was a lovely time.

We moved into the basement, which we believed at the time was wretchedly haunted but now I believe that we brought the monsters with us. Every. Single. Night. after my parents went to bed, footsteps walked back and forth and back and forth across the floor. A black shadow sat in my father’s recliner when I’d run past to go to the bathroom, and looking right at it just made it worse. It stared right back. I watched- while wide awake- shadows walking across the basement in front of the tiny windows.

One night I was rendered absolutely paralyzed and terrified by listening to footsteps that paced the house for a long time. Then I heard them come down the stairs towards me. My heart hammering in my chest, I pulled the comforter over my head and thought desperately to myself over and over, I’m safe under the blanket. I’m safe under the blanket. Nothing can hurt me under here.

Just as I started to let out the air I’d been holding in my lungs, I felt a hard PING in the middle of my forehead, like I’d been flicked with a hate-filled finger.

That was in the top three of scary things that happened to me, because there is no more helpless feeling in the world than knowing you belong to a nightmare world from midnight to five every single night. That even the childhood trick of “protection blankets” didn’t work. I was their prey, entirely.

I started working at my previous job in February of 2010. Suddenly, I was out in the world, I was talking to people, I was socializing, I was making money, I was actually enjoying my life for once outside of the Other Side. But I was also a broken, strange, asocial, confused, petulant, wounded child. I don’t think I realized then what a shattered person I was at the time, how incapable I was of functioning on even a basic level.

And of course, it probably goes without saying at this point, but Alex started to worm his way back into my good graces. Reading it now in old journal entries, it makes me sick, but in many ways I think it was a form of Stockholm Syndrome. To keep myself safe, I befriended an enemy. Instead of living in terror, I let him rule my kingdom again.

///

I began deep diving for answers, desperate to understand more about why this happened to me.

I learned that Alex and I have known each other a long, long time. We’ve been on opposite sides of the fence for centuries. He’s been a long established Troublemaker and I have been a long established Fixer, and we’ve often gone to war with each other for various reasons many times.

I also found out that he and I have been to Earth a few times together. Lots of near misses or fatal attractions. He’s burned me all through time, apparently.

At one point, Alex- hundreds of years before he was Alex- decided he wanted to be a Fixer, not a Troublemaker anymore. He asked for my help, and I agreed to give him guidance (against the advice of many of my friends, apparently).

Alex/Not Alex asked me to go back to Earth with him to try again. I said no or we may have been told no, that he wasn’t ready, and I went to Earth with someone else (possibly my current ex). He murdered me in a car accident to get me back Home. I came back insane with anger, and he bailed out back to Earth in fear of my fury as Alex. I went back to Earth as my current self.

When he died, he went back Home to discover I was gone again. Discovered I was a sad, ugly, weird little teenage girl on the brink of suicide. He may or may not have kept me alive out of a desire to show what a Super Good Guy he was now. That’s never been fully established. It might be true. It just as easily might not be. Everything I learned in that time could be very easily disputed or ignored. How could I possibly know any of this? And how do I even know if it’s true? To be honest, I really don’t. And it wasn’t until I was digging through old journals that I even recalled learning most of this information. At the time, it was so important, but it’s hardly relevant to who I am now at all.

As I said in my answer earlier, Alex took on what apparently is my job to get into my good graces, to prove he was still trying. Once he realized we could be a thing and he could have me/not have me here, he abandoned all that was good about himself to get me. He erased all the progress we made. He blew his chance entirely.

And just to be clear, that one scary time with him was not the only time he violently assaulted me. He probably raped me three or four times over the course of several months. Once he made me get up in the middle of the night, walk on legs that no longer belonged to me, and forced me to lay on the bathroom floor in a room that was so cold I shook uncontrollably the entire time. When it was over, I washed my face, my hands, and my hairbrush handle, going back to bed like nothing had happened. For a period of time, assaults were just a normal part of my day. Speaking in tongues became a part of my day, too. I spent hours just trying to hold my mind together, whispering gibberish to myself. Words that made so sense but somehow felt like they had power, like I was casting spells I didn’t understand.

I’m getting distracted. This part is all a little unclear to me, and I remember things in bits and pieces. The more I think about that time, the more strange things I am able to remember. And don’t think for a moment I am not aware of how strange this part of it sounds.

So after Alex got out of his cell and continued to worm his way into my good graces, I began to start spending more and more time with him. I don’t see a point in going in depth on this because honestly, it was the exact same cycle again, and to look back on it now is disturbing and disgusting. Even though I had people Over There who were angry about it and pushed me to deal with how sick I was instead of locking it away, I let myself get swept back into sickness again. It’s so hard to understand now. I was so angry and disgusted with him in the beginning and over time, we were back to exactly the way things had been before. It honestly and truly makes no sense to me. Listen, I get that my capacity for forgiveness is extremely large, but this is even beyond what is logical to me.

My ex and I, in the midst of trying to find a way to navigate our homelessness, and back under the spell of a manipulative Alex, ended up separating for a period of time. I think back to that split in 2010 and believe that we really should have stayed apart, but I was so mentally ill in 2011-2012 there’s no way I could have survived it alone. It would have torn me to pieces. It nearly did anyway. Not that my ex was a tremendous help in that time, as he was also terribly sick and wounded and furious.

Anyway. When my ex and I began to reconcile after a month or two, we agreed the only way we could move forward was to lock Alex up at the beach house. Forever. Trapped with the ghost he had created. Remember, because of things I don’t understand, the island was on full and complete lockdown at all times. It was exactly why when things were really bad and frightening, Alex/it would take me there.

My ex decided to meditate and I, for a lack of a better word, performed an exorcism on him of sorts. He battled Alex inside his head and helped to push him permanently onto the island while I recited prayers and laid my hands on him. It sounds silly, but it was one of the scariest times in my life, and I honestly don’t know if we realized at the time how serious what we were doing was. If we had failed…

I can still remember the moment that a voice said in my head, “It’s done. He did it,” and inside my head there was this collective sigh of relief, like a room of people had erupted in cheers and high fives. At the same time, there was this spiraling horror inside me, a cold rock that plunged down through the core of my body, a sensation that something inside me had been slowly peeled open. That something else had been entirely torn away.

Now we had to live in a world we hadn’t been a part of for the last seven years. The real, actual world.

///

Before my ex and I reconciled, I told him I didn’t want to have sex anymore. It was a spiritual choice I was making. It was pure and holy, and that’s just who I wanted to be now. He agreed to that, saying he understood. Of course he didn’t, and we had many, many arguments over the next two years about how I reacted to being touched or seduced. Not to mention that at this point, about 75% of the time I would either have a panic attack in the middle of sex, or fall into a dark spiral afterwards. I had a lot of flashbacks at this time. I started to remember all sorts of things that had apparently been hidden from me.

Now that Alex was gone, I had time for all my new friends again. I made separate little “houses” to hang out with each one of them, partially as compensation for losing the beach house, which had become like a real home to me by that point.

For an old, old friend, we made a gorgeous penthouse behind a waterfall. The bedroom was all glass ceilings, and the water roared right over the bed. There was an open deck outside where the waterfall fell just outside the railing.

I had an open-air overwater bungalow with Jim, with big floor pillows in purples and greens and blues piled in the middle and a hammock that swung out over turquoise water. For a period of time we had an underwater slide that led to a glass bedroom surrounded by coral reef and tropical fish swimming lazily around.

The Community Area was a large field with a burbling creek lined with red and yellow tulips. Any time there was a Group Meeting, everyone went there to talk. I actually just saw that place for the first time in years the other night while meditating and it was strange to be overwhelmed with so much nostalgia at a place that technically doesn’t exist.

When I was sick, strange things would happen there. The ground would split wide open and swallow me. I would try to focus and get snatched up into the clouds. For a period of time I would go there and I would see myself (most of my meditation sways wildly between first and third person) retching or gushing blood or unable to walk. No matter how hard I tried to fake it, my Inner Mind kept showing me just how broken I was. I had a lot of nervous breakdowns in that field. I can remember a time while, trying to prove how this place wasn’t real, I threw myself to the ground and pulled up fistfuls of grass, shoving them into my mouth while one of these people watched me quietly with big, sad eyes. It didn’t help that I could taste grass and dirt in my mouth.

Real and not real.

But Jim and I had a marvelous relationship. He was kind and generous and sweet and respectful and honest. He eventually confessed he knew that he was in over his head, that he was working at a level now that was maybe more than he could handle. Protecting me in the worst times took an enormous toll on him, because while I was being attacked and plagued, so was he.

“Listen, I’m lazy,” he said sheepishly. “I don’t go to Earth often and I don’t really try to learn or grow while I’m there. And here I just like to have fun, too. But you guys…” he shook his head a little incredulously. “You’re involved in things that are on a totally different level. Everyone is trying to talk me into taking a job to help out and to grow or whatever but I just… I don’t know if I’m ready to handle this kind of responsibility. And I mean, who wants to work when they’re dead? That’s ridiculous.” We laughed.

He often said things like he wasn’t “good enough” to talk to me, that I was so far above his level, that he was too intimidated to talk to me Over There because of who I am and that’s why we didn’t know each other previous to this. It was strange to have someone I had such star eyes over be equally starry eyed over me. He acted like I was a celebrity. Who knows why… no one would ever really tell me. I guess there are some things you’re not allowed to know, even when you’re in as far as I was.

Another problem arose from all of this drama and war- it ended up revealing that I’d been hiding the true nature of my relationship with Alex Over There. I began to get a lot of questions I couldn’t answer. I began to be held accountable for the relationship I’d been carrying on with him for the better part of five years, and for things that I didn’t know anything about.

I became so deeply fractured over living a Real Life and a Meditation Life that I became two different people for a period of time. Kristyn and… My Other Self. Whoever the fuck she is/they are. Jim and I called her Hermie (Her/Me), because while she was obviously an extension of myself, she was certainly not my representative. She actually is a lot closer to who I am now than who I was then, actually. She did not like being accused of betrayal, she did not like being interrogated about her relationship with Alex, and she lashed out at this new group of friends with impunity, disregard, and frosty, regal arrogance. She often said things that, as I left meditation, I wouldn’t be able to recall, or things that made no sense to me and scandalized them.

It’s hard to explain, even now. It was like watching a private movie sometimes… I would sit back and watch this poised, tough, cold queen of a woman roll her eyes and shrug an indifferent shoulder at a group of people who demanded answers and leveled accusations. These people were my guardians, my saviors, and she was acting like they were servants and children.

To be honest, I was a little frightened of her. My… self.

It was when I realized I was in over my head as well. With the spell of Alex finally broken, I became aware of how many things I’d pretended were okay when they weren’t. I realized how far into this world I’d gone, maybe for the first time.

The powerful dead can do something I truly hate, and that’s brain digging. When I wasn’t providing helpful answers, a few of them would begin to sift through my thoughts, looking for whatever they needed to find. Imagine taking a book and flipping through the pages, catching tiny snippets of phrases. Or using the “Find” function in word documents. It absolutely infuriated me, because when I wasn’t giving “sufficient answers,” one of them would go searching for it.

I could still go see Alex on the island, and I did a few times. I told him to get his shit together, that he wasn’t coming off this island this time, and even though I forgave him, I wasn’t sure if anyone else would. And it certainly didn’t mean he was allowed to be free. He’d proven he was not to be trusted.

I allegedly brokered a deal with The Universe that Alex stays imprisoned until after I die, at which time I have been allowed to handle him however I see fit. I will decide his final judgement.

I read the Bible a lot during this time, and my private journals are filled with verses from Psalm. I was desperate to find a way to cleanse myself of the horror of the last few years, to find a way to function in a world that I didn’t know how to belong in anymore.

The other thing about the dead is that they hear you when you talk about them. When Alex became sick, we started using code names and phrases to refer to him. It was a little like Voldemort, and interestingly enough, I devoured the entire Potter series about a year before we agreed to put Alex away for good.

It makes me nervous just to type out his name, and even now when I say it out loud, it feels like I’ve been jolted with cold electricity. It puts his name into my atmosphere, and I really do not want to do that. He can’t get to me, I don’t think, but his “friends” certainly can and have.

After my husband and I watched Paranormal Activity, I was attacked for two or three nights in a row. I could sense someone at the end of the bed and then weight shifted onto the edge and someone grabbed my toes. I had nightmares where my screaming would wake up my husband. I could feel someone holding their face close to mine, the game I hate most of all (and they know it of course).

When my husband said he didn’t understand why I was so afraid, that they were “bitches” and he wasn’t scared of them, I shushed him desperately. No no don’t say that. He scoffed and continued to make taunts and threats, and I immediately announced I did not agree with anything he was saying.

“Good luck,” I said to him. “You’re going to get them all riled up and after you.”

“Let them try!” he cried aggressively.

Three days later, he came to me white-faced and said, “Um. Nevermind. They…. uh, they are actually really powerful. I don’t want to play their games. They win. It’s not worth it.”

It’s why I’m always, always in bed before three a.m. I cannot be alone in a house at that hour, the Hour of the Dead, and I certainly cannot allow myself to get frightened at any time during those sixty minutes, because they feed on it and it gives them additional strength they use to frighten me even more.

///

Over time, when I went to meditation, I had so many people to talk to that I had to specifically request someone when I went there. It also meant sometimes refusing to speak to those who were demanding my attention.

I think I mentioned previously that saying someone’s name would bring their attention to you, and that I had constructed different landscapes for different people. There was a rumor going around that in my sleep, I (or whoever I was in the greyscale of the unconscious world) was still going to see Alex, and possibly still involved with him.

When I would wake up, people were constantly hunting me down, trying to dig around in my brain for answers. Eventually, I was entirely done with it. I had allowed myself to be enmeshed in that world, but now it was time to start closing some of the doors I’d left open. My brain started to feel like a subway station, and I was shutting it down.

Jim and I were inseparable for a long time, throughout the entire “Alexervention,” but we had agreed very strongly that we were just to be friends. We flirted and occasionally fooled around, but it was all very innocent. Harmless. He and I took the most severe assaults in the darkest times, and I think he was entirely unprepared for what he’d agreed to do when he said he’d guard me. And of course, I still really have no idea what I got involved with to this very day.

Once day I went to see Jim in our little ocean hut and called his name to bring him to me, but nothing happened. He wouldn’t show up, or he would appear in a silhouette of static, like an out-of-focus television.

When I would ask others in The Circle, they would dodge my eyes and awkwardly change the subject. If I pushed too hard, they would disappear or guide me into the darkness of sleep.

Eventually, after weeks and maybe months of not being able to find him, someone else in The Circle finally confessed that Jim had caught feelings for me and, in honor of our arrangement, had put himself in a witness protection program of sorts. In fact, no one had seen him.

This is one of the times I realized exactly how much power I had. It was maybe the first time I felt that way after years of having my strength systematically stripped away. I eventually got to a point where I demanded that Jim appear, and felt as though I had forced him to materialize against his will. I saw glimpses of this person occasionally in flashes where Her/Me, or Hermie, grew in strength, took me over. I didn’t particularly like her at the time, but I did respect the way she got exactly what she wanted, and didn’t give anyone anything she didn’t want to.

But the minute I saw his face, I knew this wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have. His agony and humiliation were profound, and the broken connection between us hung like a fog that left us unable to speak for a long time.

“I’m leaving,” he finally whispered. “I have to go back to Earth. I’m sorry. I can’t… I can’t be here.”

“Are you in love with me?” I asked softly, trying to catch his lowered gaze.

His face twisted miserably and he held his palms up. “I… I’m sorry. We had this deal, and I promised you I’d protect you. I did that. As much as I could. And now that I know you’re safe…” He shook his head, his eyes never finding mine. “I have to go. I’m so sorry.”

I still remember this conversation, remember how my heart went crimson, scarlet, burgundy, black. I begged, I wept, I demanded, I cajoled. He couldn’t leave me now, not while I was still so broken, so sick, so weak. I couldn’t lose everyone all at once, not like this.

But I couldn’t convince him to change his mind. No one could.

When he left, I shut out the entire world Over There. At the time, my husband was understandably bitter and angry towards them, so he encouraged it. He had had several years of his life entirely stolen from him, and now that he was a full cognizant person again, he was just as traumatized as me.

Imagine sitting down on a couch at 6 p.m. on a Friday and waking up Saturday, Sunday morning morning with only a dim recollection of who you’d been for the weekend. And now being fully back in the world with a wife who was broken, frozen, fragile… who had several hysterical mental breakdowns in 2011… who would barely even let you touch her…

By that time, I don’t think we really even knew each other anymore. He was hollowed out and filled with others, effectively stunting his entire emotional and spiritual growth once they departed for good.

I, on the other hand, am the opposite… thrust into the depths of darkness, pulled into plans and schemes and fights that were beyond my mind. Seeing things that no living person should really ever see in their lives. It was burned onto my bones.

The week after Jim was gone, someone else randomly reappeared in my (real) life. At the time, it seemed like a happy coincidence, but now I think the connection is quite obvious. That man was the catalyst for fixing all the broken places me I wasn’t sure would ever heal, and I only could have done it by letting go of the entire Other Side.

A year later, when I was leaving my now ex-husband, he said to me, “You know, you’re not alone. I see Jim around you all the time.”

It felt like a kick in the ribs.

I don’t think he ever knew that Jim had “left,” and I was staggered by his casual comment about someone I had secretly cried over for months. Hours later, when I was finally brave enough to say his name, a soft voice said, “Well. It’s not as if I could say, ‘I’ll talk to you after you get divorced,’ is it?” And we both laughed.

Jim never went anywhere, but it was important that I thought he did so I would let him go. So I would be so angry at everyone else that I let them all go as well. This new man I was involved with became the funnel for all of that energy, especially because of how much he reminded me of Alex. So much of those two relationships mirror each other, except where Alex wore me down, this man gave me strength. Where Alex was warm and soft and weak, this man was cold and hard and strong.

Maybe that’s part of why I’m so afraid of getting into another relationship… I’m not sure I’ve learned enough to keep myself from making the same mistake again.

Either way, to this day, Jim is my constant companion, my guardian angel. Whenever I need him- when I am afraid, when I am sick, when I am lost, when I am in pain- I say his name and he’s right there…. over my right shoulder, where they all appear. You know that feeling you get when someone hugs you from behind and you can feel their breath on your neck? That’s how it is with me. That’s how I know a room isn’t empty, no matter where I am. I don’t know why, but I always see them on the right side.

To be honest, it’s a strange mix of wonder and delight and longing and agony. It’s playing house in a shadow world. As beautiful and fulfilling as it is to get to live in a world that’s not real, with people who are always protecting me in ways I can’t even fathom, is a little like visiting an art museum. So many gorgeous sights, and none of them truly belong to me. A family behind glass.

That’s the theme of my life, I guess.

Almost, but not quite.

Dreams coming true in the dark.

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