There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more ludicrous than a bunch of twelve-year-old girls performing a séance. The 17th century Salem Witch Trials come to mind when I think about the levels of hysteria that took place in each of our bedrooms—proof that adolescent girls had changed very little in the last three hundred years. Oftentimes, it wasn’t until someone went a bit too far that things would come to a halt, and oftentimes, that someone was me.
“Are you moving it?” I asked Deborah accusingly, our fingers shakily and lightly resting on the plastic planchette. Three or four other girls would be hunched over the OUIJA board in a semicircle while two of us sat in the middle, summoning a spirit, any spirit, to come to our bedrooms. Bedrooms that were plastered in Kirk Cameron posters, or New Kids On The Block, or Ralph Macchio while our teddy bears lay strewn about the bed. We were all inhabiting that space somewhere between boys and bears.
“No! I’m not!” Deborah would protest, looking around at all of us for reassurance that we believed her. Our young, prepubescent faces were illuminated by the numerous candles we had lit in an effort to make the room look and feel a bit more séance-like, our eyes as big as saucers.
“Yes she is! Let me do it!” Raquel would take over, kicking Deborah out of the middle and taking her spot across from me. It only made sense that Raquel help with the board, since this was her room. Deborah took her place among the rest of the huddled girls, hands clasped in fear, shrinking from the dark corners of the bedroom. Raquel dramatically closed her eyes and carefully placed her fingers on the edge of the planchette, her head slightly raised, perhaps to more easily reach the ghosts we were all certain were hiding just behind us in her closet, or under the bed.
“Is someone there?” she would ask in her most theatrical voice. Collectively holding our breath, we all stared as the planchette slowly made its way to “YES.” My eyes met Raquel’s in a mutual look of horror and delight.
Someone gasped and frantically whispered, “Someone just touched my shoulder!” causing the whole lot of us to grab on to one another, look all around and over our own shoulders in gleeful terror.
Placing our fingers back on the edge, Raquel would ask, “Who are you?” and again, it would slowly move to the letters beginning to spell out a name.
“Oh my God, did you hear that? Did you hear that?” someone would squeal, and we would again grab each other and huddle, waiting for a dresser to be thrown onto us, or someone’s closet door to randomly swing open. Suddenly, the board would fly off our knees and spill into the middle of the floor. The six of us would scream and run out of the room, beckoning to Raquel’s mother that there were demons in Raquel’s room.
Another time, my friends Tami and Tiffany were at my house. I met Tami in the 5th grade when she came to our school as a new student. She stood all of 5’1”, wearing pink overalls and a cast on her right leg. The teacher had asked me to show Tami around and help her out that day. Tami was nervous and shy and hobbling everywhere and I was given a job to do, which made us fast friends. I first met Tiffany from afar, a couple of years alter. It was recess in the winter time. She was surrounded by a group of her friends and was holding their attention with her antics. I remember envying her charisma.
The three of us were next to my bed, huddled on the floor over my Ouija board, whispering and trying to contact Jennifer Stife. I channeled my best Abigail Williams and feigned being possessed by an evil demon. Mid-séance, I held out my arms zombie-style, moaning and making wide-eyes, causing Tami and Tiffany to scramble back toward the door, screaming in terror as they threw it open and raced down our stairs as fast as their feet could take them.
“What the hell are you girls doing up there?” my father asked, taking his feet off the ottoman, his cross-word puzzle half done. He craned his neck to look up the stairs, Tiffany and Tami practically jumping over the banister toward him.
“Michelle! For crying out loud, what is all the screaming about!?” My mom emerged from her bedroom where she and my sister were cuddling and watching some TV show. “It’s past 9:00 and it’s time for you girls to start calming down!”
My dear, sweet friends, huddling at the bottom of the stairs, reluctantly came back up as I hid in the bathroom, stifling my laughter. Once they reached the top of the stairs, I again came out of the darkness moaning, arms outstretched, which caused yet another barrage of screams as they scrambled to get back into my bedroom. It was all fun and games for me until, trying to follow them, they slammed my bedroom door right into my face, nearly giving me a concussion. I started crying. There is no limit to the hysteria that can happen among a few girls in Junior High within the span of 15 minutes.
Here again, I felt a bit badly for my parents. Things would have been so much more cut and dry if we had been boys. We could have just beaten the crap out of each other, given a couple bloody noses, and been done with it. But where’s the imagination in that? Where’s the ingenuity? The innovation? It was far, far more creative to feign demon possession.
This is how the large majority of our sleepovers went when I was 12. Always the Ouija board. Always the screaming. In particular, Tami and I had an unnatural preoccupation with the paranormal, and when we weren’t trying to psychologically torture ourselves, we seemed to enjoy putting others through it as well. Especially unsuspecting 7th grade French-Canadian exchange students.
Sophie and Karin came to Swanton, Vermont one early winter weekend after Tami and I spent some time in their country several weeks prior—one of the perks of living just a few miles from the Canadian border. During our visit to St. Jean, Quebec, Sophie and Karin took us clothes shopping, played French board games, and introduced us to their favorite weekly show that resembled America’s Little House On The Prairie, save for the occasional boob shot now and then. Karin, my exchange student, was a stickler for only talking to me in French, despite her family’s attempts to speak to me in English and give me a break.
“Eh, eh, eh! En français!” Karin would scold her sweet family, while I looked helplessly at her parents, desperate to know what they were all trying to tell me. No amount of tutoring seemed to help me. I would never learn French.
In exchange, when Sophie and Karin arrived in The States and to the front steps of my house for their first-ever American sleepover, Tami and I swiftly brought them to my room, shut the door behind us, turned out all of the lights, and subjected them to the horror movie of all horror movies.
In our defense, The Devil did speak some French during one point in the movie.
The only reason we even had access to such a terrifying movie (and clearly not age-appropriate) was that my father had recorded it off of the TV. It was his hobby. I would venture to bet that we had one of the largest underground operations of piracy taking place right from our living room. And when I say “operation” I’m not talking about a few recorded movies here and there. We had thousands. For all intents and purposes, we had an in-home video store for our very own personal use.
Each VHS tape had at least two or more recorded movies on it, along with a cut-out of the TV Guide synopsis taped onto the outside of the VHS jacket. We had dozens of VHS drawers stacked on top of one another lining our living room in lieu of end tables. In addition, my father had put together a typed catalog of his movies, which included genre, rating, title, length and tape number.
In sharp contrast to the hysterics I brought to the house, my father seemed to be desperately trying to find some order. So many lists, so many categories, so much time spent labeling and organizing. I imagine it gave him some kind of solace to have at least something in his life that made sense to him. It was too bad you couldn’t categorize or label a marriage, fatherhood, or a confused and melodramatic 12-year-old daughter.
As Tami and I took out the seemingly endless list of movies in an effort to locate The Exorcist, my father tried to communicate with Sophie and Karin. Unfortunately, he was under the impression that he knew more French than he actually did. He sat in his chair, stumbling over his French words, adding hand gestures and throwing in an English word here or there. Sophie and Karin were visibly confused and uncomfortable, swapping perplexed glances with one another, until I finally grabbed our movie and rescued them from my father’s sweet but embarrassing attempt to seem cultured.
Once in my bedroom, which was strewn with sleeping bags and duffle bags full of clothes, and teddy bears, Tami and I cued the movie and immediately fast-forwarded to the best parts: innocent little Reagan being whipped back and forth on her bed like a rag doll—her head spinning 360 degrees, her green vomit landing all over the priest’s face. When she began speaking in French in her sinister Satan voice, we paused the movie to ask Sophie and Karin, “What is she saying at that part?” but were only met with the violent shaking of their heads as they cowered beneath their sleeping bags. At each horrifying scene, we all screamed in unison and laughed afterward. Well, Tami and I laughed. Poor Sophie and Karin sat, huddled in each others’ arms on top of their sleeping bags and screaming something in French—I didn’t know what, because I had a C in French and had to be driven to my French teacher’s house twice a week to get tutored. Eventually we shut down the movie and sat around and talked about boys, which seemed the only other exciting topic at the time, and one in which we all shared common interest.
After all of the frightening fun of sitting through scary movies—and forcing Sophie and Karin to watch them—and having performed séances with my friends while feigning demon possession to get a rise out of people—the truth was, as I lay in bed at night unable to sleep, I was terrified. Maybe I had become preoccupied with demon possession, because at twelve I was starting to feel a bit out of control myself. I was starting to change in ways I didn’t understand, almost as if someone else was taking over my body or my mind. I felt things I didn’t understand and did things I didn’t always understand.
Maybe little Reagan and I had more in common than I liked to admit.
In the dark of my room, I would lay flat on my back and wait for odd sounds or random movements. I would lie there, certain that my own bed was starting to tremble, expecting to be thrown around in my nightgown and start speaking in tongues like Linda Blair. That’s when I would start to pray to God. I would clasp my hands in desperation and plead, “Please God, keep me safe. Please God, keep me safe. Please God, keep me safe.” My bedroom door, which was directly across from me, slowly opened. The light from the hall would shine in, and my mother’s silhouette appeared.
“Chelle honey, don’t forget you’ve got your class pictures tomorrow, ok? I washed your favorite red shirt to wear.”
My mom gently placed a warm and folded pile of clothes on top of my dresser. Of course I forgot tomorrow was class picture day. Of course I wouldn’t have remembered to wear my favorite red shirt. Those were things that I took for granted at my age. My mother remembered all of those kinds of things for me. While I was busy indulging in hysterics all day long, she was keeping tally of everything that needed to be done to make sure real life went smoothly for me. I never seemed to have to worry about having clean clothes. They were just always there when I opened up the drawers. And with a kiss on my forehead, she shut the door behind her and I fell fast asleep.