My redemptive paradise begins with a Beltane flower crown. May 1, 2017. In the backyard of my House of the Rising Sun. Climbing the cherry tree to yank young green vines. I weave together a cherry blossom flower crown. Take a selfie for Instagram. Twitter. Facebook. It’s what you do. It’s practically required.
Women are often accused of asking for rape and sexual harassment. No matter how short the vinyl skirt, women don’t ask for that shit. There are things that women do ask for. That sunburn I got after three days post-Beltane backyard lounging? I asked for that. That vigorous haunting that appeared four days post-Beltane? I asked for that one too. Date rape Halloween Sophomore year--didn’t ask for that.
My Jean Genet via Kathy Acker séance was published in Grimoire magazine the morning of the night’s visitation. I do séances in a witchcraft room despite not belonging to a formal Coven. So I basically sent these ghosts engraved invitations. Calling their names in morning mediation? Naming them in manuscripts? Pretty much calligraphied that shit.
I could blame the Ouija board necklace I purchased from The Pyramid Collection. Shaped like that recognizable planchette. Decorated with an eye on one side. Skull. Pentagram. The words "Yes," "No," and "Goodbye." Most of the time all that I am willing to say to strangers. The other side bears the full Ouija board letters and numbers. CVS cashiers ask me to move to the next aisle over when I wear it out to buy toilet paper. That pesky "Religious Freedom Act," or something.
The Ouija board necklace hangs right over my heart. Turning the voice of my subvocal speech auditory hallucinations into an activated spirit board. In American Horror Story: Coven, the young witch Zoe Benson summons and releases the Axeman with an Ouija board. What will my heart summon? Or release? As a living, breathing spirit board?
I could blame not drawing my usual protective circle before the Beltane ritual. Silly, trusting me, believing things I read on the Internet. The ritual came from those Patheos Pagan emails that came from out of the ether somewhere to my gmail inbox. I draw much of my Wicca from the Internet. Don’t most modern witches? Nothing says otherworldly like anonymous unsourced information from literally nowhere real.
I follow the emailed ritual to walk from one fire to another. Saying Beltane incantations to Persephone. Ever cautious of fire danger, I walk from living room lamp to spooky room lamp. Good Lord, I don’t want to burn down my one last chance at a roof over my head. Let’s just take the suggested two fires and path of candles right on out of there.
I read about how Edie Sedgwick burned down her room at the Chelsea Hotel. Candle fires were in Francis Bean Cobain’s restraining order against Courtney Love. How was I to know that these would be the same steps I would walk again. With a ghostly visitation. A few nights later? Despite all my celebrity-inspired safety precautions.
Instead all this woo, I should probably really blame not taking my sleepy-time anti-psychotics before falling off into golden slumber. I took the Saphris earlier that afternoon and napped instead. Timing is everything. Even and especially with psychiatric medication for Schizoaffective Disorder. I am notoriously sloppy at timing my meds properly. I’ve given up trying to.
It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. It’s all fun and games? Hocus pocus? Internet shopping? Until I take my meds at the wrong time. When the stars are miss aligned. Wake up in a frenzy. Yelling at nothing. Convinced a couple are sitting on my back together. Watching me sleep. When I am really alone.
In my sweet dream, my favorite cousin Lauren and her fiancée are snooping around my house. Harmless. Benevolent. I let them make out. Watch me sleep. Foced myself to lie as still as possible. Even in and out of waking. So they won’t leave. I love them. They can hang out.
Lauren’s voice pipes up, "Let’s look at the wedding rings as we’re getting ours tattooed on at the ceremony." I have a closely guarded wedding ring collection. From all the broken engagements of my misspent youth. You supply the ring, you get to keep it.
With those regrets are the rings from my one actual marriage that ended in suicide. I argued my wife’s wedding ring out of the crematorium. A domestic partnership didn’t cut it legally to get what was left of her remains. So I wept. Pitched a fit. Showed the mortician my own wedding ring. My wedding tattoo matching her cremated corpse.
I don’t even want my favorite cousin looking at my sentimental diamonds. But this is not simply relatives. Nor are they mortal. Real. Or even there at all. I claw my way out of sleep paralysis. Face down. Back arched. Finger by inch. Roused like a dormant dragon. I must have been partially sleepwalking still. I force one arm up to flail. Punch the air. Nothing there. I pull myself up laboriously to one shoulder. Muscles straining. Still half-asleep.
"That’s! Enough! Get! Out!" I intone. With as much vehemence as an frail, petite, unarmed woman can muster. When alone. Completely helpless. I open my eyes. The room is dark. Empty. The only pressure on my butt is a quilt and duvet. My back? A white terry cloth bathrobe.
Confused, I claw my way up out of bed. Sleepwalk to turn on the Christmas fairy lights. The room lights up in a warm twinkling.
My eyes immediately seize upon the card hanging across from the bed. Embracing skeletal bride and groom. It reads, "Until Death Do Us Part," under morbid ribbons. My grandparents were both married until death do us part. So was I. I found the card in grandma Virginia’s basement bedroom drawers while in transition to this house. Filched it thinking she probably forgot she even owned it fifty years ago. It speaks the truth of my marriage as hers. Less lesbianically.
I flick my fingers from the skeletal death card on the wall to my eyes. I see you. You see me. We see each other. Oh, I see what this is!
"Oh, it’s you," I said. "All of you. I am entertaining the house’s resident married ghosts. As expected upon planing to move here. Eight months ago. Watching American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare. An amicable ghostly dinner party. Haunted mansion at Disneyland? That was my best-case moving scenario. If "My Reno Nightmare" became "My Reno Paradise."
As every ex-boyfriend says to me, "I didn’t sign up for this." Well, they kind of did. So did I. When I moved into a house sure to be haunted. Started doing séances. In a witchcraft room. As a mentally ill widow. So I try to be hospitable. What else can I do?
"Well, 'mi casa su casa.' You guys live here too," I say to the invisible assembly. I call them by name. "Janet? Dewey? Butch? Theda?" The room is empty. Yet I sense presence around my bed. There? Or not there? Delusion? Psychosis? Still sleepwalking? I’m not sure. I drift off to sleep again. My arms open on the bed to welcome what spirits may come.
"Wuzh! it’s me, Katie!" says my dead wife’ s ghost. "And I brought great-aunt Clementea!" I still can’t tell if I am dreaming or awake. I hug the air lovingly. Shake the hand of an elderly Schizophrenic who probably isn’t there.
Nope, I’m having an exceedingly pleasant psychotic episode. As mine usually are. Carefully modulated with harm reduction techniques in order to stay out of the hospital. Nevada lacks the hospitable psych wards of Los Angeles. I would prefer to avoid being gang-raped in Reno’s jails used as overflow psychiatric facilities.
"Not today, Satan," as Bianca Del Rio says.
"Meow?" Nevada the cat. Named for the state. When I lived in California and Nevada was far away. The cat opens the door of the witchcraft room.
"Kitty!" I stagger out of bed. Unsure of what is real. What is sleep. Follow the cat down the Beltane path I walked without protective circle three days earlier. Ouija board planchette waving above my heart. "Yes." "No." "Goodbye." I hold the Ouija board necklace in my fist. So far I am still saying "Yes." I follow the cat to the clawed mid-century pedicure chair beneath the living room window. Lay down to pet her.
"Aw, kitty! We’re always happy to see the nice friendly ghosts, aren’t we?" I let my head fall. Fall half into sleep again on the living room carpet. I realize directly under my prone body is the crawlspace under my house. What am I lying on top of? What secrets have the ghosts led me to? The Property Manager and his small town junior named son uncovered this crawlspace when they were turning on the sprinkler system. I thought only spiders and electrical whatnot lay below. Well, I don’t want to know. Whether lost bones or forgotten memory box. Could we just not, spirit world? Not tonight.
"Keep your secrets." I say to the ghosts quoting the Ghost Orchids' song beginning 2003’s Death Before Disco. "I know enough of this house’s secrets, I don’t need to know what’s in the underground crawlspace at three am. The last thing I want is the neighbors calling an ambulance. What do you expect me to fucking do, put on my wedding gown and get down there? Muck around looking for some super special hidden secret? Really not up to being strip searched in a psych ward at this hour of the morning." So that the neighbors don’t call an ambulance, I stop talking out loud to my psychosis in the dark. Pipe down right quick.
I get up off the floor. Lie down on the green velvet couch. Run my hands over its soft pile. Try to soothe myself back to sleep. It’s far too late. I think of Kathy Acker’s green velvet minidress. That dead writer’s dress worn for the Grimoire séance began this. Green Velvet could end this. In the disco millennium of my twenties, Green Velvet had a song about afterparties called "La La Land." That’s what I need to return from. Time to come back to reality.
American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare showed on FX right before I moved into this House of the Rising Sun. In Roanoke, the yoga teacher Shelby Miller moves from Los Angeles into a rural haunted house. All the parallels I saw terrified me. I prayed my new life would not become "American Horror Story: My Reno Nightmare." I was fleeing "American Horror Story: Hollywood Cockroach Apartment" already.
I make a list of life lessons from American Horror Story. That’s educational television, right there on your Netflix cue. Lessons like: if you hear a strange noise? Don’t run out in the spooky woods in the middle of the night. Or: Don’t answer the door to strangers. No matter how convincing. Or charming. If something supernatural happens in a house you know is haunted? Don’t call the cops. Police won’t know what to do with invisible scary nothing, except take sweetie away to Asylum to rot. The relevant lesson of Murder House: If the ghosts are scaring you? You can tell them to go away and they will.
I know my actual reality differs greatly from Hollywood’s American Horror Story. That shit is just TV. Thank God for that. My ghosts come in love. My ghosts don’t come in pain to kill. Ever.
I do my quickie witchcraft on the go gesture. Put my first and forth fingers together in points. Both hands in heavy metal devil "sign of the horns." Connected at fingertips.
"As I will, so mote it be," I pray with eyes closed. "May the ghosts assembled here who came in love depart in love. I know I called y’all up but it’s time to say goodbye. From green velvet couch to green velvet dress: Kathy Acker and Jean Genet. I love your books, goodbye. Theda. Butch. Janet. Dewey. Goodbye. Great-aunt Clementea, thank you so much for finally making it out to see me, but goodbye."
I look at the three framed wedding photos I can see from where I lie on the couch. Black and white bride on bride wedding dresses. Cutting a cake. Embracing. Standing side by side. I can’t bear to let her go for long.
"Katie Jacobson, my last, beloved, and final ghost? Go now, wuzh, but come back any time. Sing me sweet lullabies over a nap as you did yesterday. Come often. Come soon again. Farewell, sweet angel."
The clamor of voices in my head falls to silence. I look up. It’s dawn.
I get up. Make a pot of coffee. The pale blue dawn light slides through the slats of the blinds to fill the kitchen. I think of the ghosts that laid this teal tile as it light up with dawn light. Butch and Theda. I think of the ghosts that used to fry bacon right where I was standing. Janet and Dewey. They come in love and they depart in love. I run my finger over the "Goodbye" on my necklace.
I remember a dream about 2010 in Echo Park. Feeling the heat trapped in Katie’s sunburnt skin as I hugged her. I pressed my hand to my own sunburnt shoulder. I remembered the sunburn heat of her soft skin so vividly. That dream memory haunts me.
Andrea Lambert wrote Jet Set Desolate, Lorazepam & the Valley of Skin: Extrapolations on Los Angeles and the chapbook G(u)ilt. Her writing appears in Entropy, Luna Luna, Angel’s Flight Literary West and elsewhere. Anthologies: Golden State 2017, Haunting Muses, Writing the Walls Down, The L.A. Telephone Book and elsewhere. CalArts MFA.