BY KAILEY TEDESCO
When I was 22 years old, things were not working out. I had graduated from college, and I was ready to start my teaching career. But, of course, there were almost no jobs. I never got called back after the interviews I had managed to land, and I imagine the majority of my applications from that summer are still sitting in some kind of purgatorial slush pile. On top of all of this, I didn’t have a driver’s license. I was too frightened. I was frightened of a lot of things. I always have been.
But to get by, I needed a plan B.
I ended up working as a sales associate for my neighborhood’s Spirit Halloween. It wasn’t teaching, of course, but I got a pretty major discount on Jack Skellington socks, and that seemed like enough at the time.
I helped build and stock the shelves in a previously abandoned Old Navy. The entire store was massive, comically large for amount of stock we had. On some shifts where it was just me and the manager working, it was possible to go the entire night without running into each other once.
And that’s how the paranormal investigators found me — alone and hidden behind rows and rows of shelves.
I was all the way in the back of the store, re-packaging costume petticoats next to the empty dressing room. Two men browsed the shelves around me for a moment and then paused, whispered to one another, and approached me. One of the men locked eyes with me and furrowed his brow in concern. In the same moment, the other man handed me a card. The first man said something along the lines of “sorry to bother you… it’s just you look… haunted.” He said it as though it was something that had to be said, almost as though he were perplexed by it. This struck me.
Don’t get me wrong. I was not naive. I knew this was an ill attempt at a very seasonally-inspired pick up line, which was made even clearer when they asked if I’d like to see the gear in their van after my shift ended. But this was not the first time someone had told me I had looked haunted.
For most of my life, I had tried to decipher what this means. How does one have the appearance of being haunted? Most people who know me well remark on how often I smile or how loud I laugh. Of course, these habits are not indicative of lacking in hauntings, necessarily, but one would imagine that a bubbly demeanor would signify the opposite of a haunted being. Did I look troubled, I wondered? Or disturbed? That night, did my “can I help you?” smile betray me (probably likely)? Or was there something literal to this? Is it possible that others can sense when certain people are full of ghosts?
Was I full of ghosts? Am I still?
Of course, I’m giving the paranormal pick up artists way, way too much credit to assume they were acting with some kind of empathetic intuition when insisting I looked haunted. But there have been other times I’ve heard it far more sincerely.
Just this past weekend, while in Salem with my husband, we decided we’d like to get our aura photos done. He sat with the physic first, placed his hand over the hand sensor, and then we watched as his aura bubbled around him on the computer screen. Our psychic walked us through it’s meaning, and printed a copy for us to take home.
When it was my turn to sit and place my hand on the sensor, the computer glitched and then froze. Even though my hand was on the sensor, the screen revealed no aura around me at all. Our psychic had me remove my hand, and start the process over. When I placed it on the sensor again, a blue and white aura appeared immediately. “You’re spiritual” our psychic said. “You’re someone who can see and contact spirits.” As someone who had spent the entirety of the past few years writing and promoting a book about necromancy and a seance with Lizzie Borden, this felt validating. “Oh look” she continued, “there’s one right there.”
On the computer screen, right above my right shoulder, a face stared out right next to my own. Our psychic pointed to the eyes, nose, and mouth as though it were an ultrasound. “It’s a lady. You have a lady with you.” She printed my photo and we tried to see if the spirit’s face printed as well. It did, but not as clearly as on the screen. It looked more like a skull.
In the past, I’ve written several articles on how I’ve spent my life feeling haunted and attracted to the supernatural. I have always believed in ghosts, though in the past few years, my ideas about what ghosts actually are have gotten more abstract. This experience with the aura photography made me think of the Spiritualist movement and how, oftentimes, mediums were said to have specific charges, like batteries, that could attract spirits.
I wouldn’t refer to myself as a medium, but it has made me think of the medium as a concept. If I am haunted, and there are ghosts with me to the point where some can detect it in my appearance, I must be channeling something. And by this logic, I think that we are, all of us, haunted.
Perhaps that “lady” that is with me is just another version of myself — a past, or future, or alternate version. Perhaps we carry our selves with us like we carry ghosts. And, in that case, perhaps the self above my shoulder is trying to show the world a vulnerability that I often try to bury under toothy smiles and laughs. Or perhaps it is a loved one, my Grizzy maybe or my best friend Elise, coming to say hello through the blue of my aura. Or, perhaps, it’s Lizzie Borden — god knows I’ve been spending a lot of time with her!
No matter who or what the ghosts who surround me are, they persuade me to look inwards, into myself, and think about what it is that’s haunting me and how I communicate my ghosts to the rest of the world. It’s shadow work. Dark and vulnerable and frightening and important.
I look haunted — and maybe that’s peculiar to many.
I am haunted.
But, I think, it’s likely the same might be said about you.
Kailey Tedesco is the author of These Ghosts of Mine, Siamese (Dancing Girl Press) and the forthcoming full-length collection, She Used to be on a Milk Carton (April Gloaming Publications). She is the co-founding editor-in-chief of Rag Queen Periodical and a member of the Poetry Brothel. She received her MFA in creative writing from Arcadia University, and she now teaches literature at several local colleges. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. You can find her work in Prelude, Bellevue Literary Review, Sugar House Review, Poetry Quarterly, Hello Giggles, UltraCulture, and more. For more information, please visit kaileytedesco.com.