BY KAILEY TEDESCO
When I was a little girl, I was convinced that I had a sixth sense. Often I’d see flashes of bright light that would appear just before something bad was about to happen, like a tiny explosion in front of my eyes. After seeing a particularly vibrant flash of light on the school bus home just before finding out about 9/11, I was convinced that my "gift" was solidified. As I grew older, I found out that I had horrible eye sight, inner ear imbalances, and touches of vertigo – thus, the bright light visions. But this didn’t stop me from believing that something about me was magical, or frankly, very strange.
When I was 22, my mom and I were in the car and she was telling me about Hemlock Grove, her latest Netflix obsession. "Oh, Kay," she said really flippantly, "I found out you were born en caul!" One of the protagonists of the show, a vampire (or Upir) named Roman Godfrey, also discovers that he is born with the caul, and therefore, according to popular Roman mythology, promised greatness.
My mom told me that I was born with a strange film around my head that looked partly like feathers and partly like a netting. She admitted that she was horrified when the doctors showed me to her, but that they told her it was "harmless" and then proceeded to peel it away. Since they never told her what it was, she didn’t think to mention it again until Hemlock Grove, of all things, educated her.
Since caul births are so rare (fewer than 1 in 80,000), it makes sense that the doctor didn’t describe it as a caul. In most larger healthcare settings, physicians would likely avoid this more pagan terminology, and instead call it what it is scientifically: the amniotic membrane enclosed around the newborn like a helmet.
Finding out that I was born with the caul was like having an epiphany. I didn’t know exactly what it was as I sat in the passenger seat talking about Romanian werewolves and Frankenstein teenage girls with my mom that day, but I knew it explained something about me. It made me feel validated.
The mythology surrounding caulbearers varies and it is often polarizing. According to some ancient groups, those born with the caul are blessed/kissed by an angel/destined for greatness. In Medieval times, babies born en caul might be considered witches and if they were not killed at birth, it was likely that they’d be later burned at a stake. Others believe that a caulbearer has a special relationship with water and can never drown. And some believe a caulbearer can never die period. I once even heard that a caulbearer will come back to live eternal life as a vampire, thus Hemlock Grove I guess.
Participating in the lore and mythos of something that has since informed my identity so greatly is a satisfaction to say the very least. The stories are so rich and fascinating that I’ve found my own writing has flourished with inspiration.
And, while I can’t promise anyone that you can hold my head underwater for hours like some weird parlor trick, I can tell you that there are some stone cold truths to this caul lore.
As a caulbearer, I am said to have a heightened sense of perception and intuition, an ability to see beyond the veil, so to speak. And while you may argue that this is true of all poets, writers, many others, I can promise you that it is super true for me. In addition to light flashing visions, I have also had prophetic dreams since I was a teenager. Usually it will contain some Lynchian image attached to an almost unbearably intense emotion. I will wake up from these dreams frightened, but suddenly aware of something I must do or something that will be done to me.
Even more evidential of the power of caul is its ability to attract negative energies. It is believed that individuals of negative character are attracted to caulbearers because, on a primitive or basal level, they can sense that something is different about them, and sometimes these evils wish to destroy them.
All of my life, strange people have flocked around me. Sometimes, these strange people are not negative people at all, but in fact some of the most beautiful people in my world. However, all too often I find myself surrounded, unwittingly, by various evils.
As a young girl, I lived in a poorer part of town that was infested with released sex offenders. My friends and I knew them all by name, picture, the make of their car…all thanks to the posters mandated by Megan’s Law (Megan herself, sadly, lived not too far from this town). I remember being especially horrified of a man named Mike whose face made its way to my front door. I had multiple nightmares about him, which was strange because I had been used to these sorts of people at that point, or as used to them as any eight year old can be anyways. One day, I went to Acme with my mom, and there he was right there in the deli line with us. I was traumatized to see him manifested there, allowed to shop with the rest of us.
Just a few years ago, I taught eighth grade. A young girl would have lunch in my room once a week or so with a larger group of students. One Friday, the other students were either absent or busy with other extracurriculars, so the young girl was the only to show up. We discussed a school-wide poetry event and she smiled the whole time, talking about making the t-shirts for it. That Monday, I found out that she had murdered her own mother over the weekend, a plan that she had concocted with a secret boyfriend for months. All I could think about was the strange feeling I got picking up a stray piece of lettuce she dropped on the floor after she left. I was alone with her and she had these intentions the whole time. She smiled and laughed, but she knew.
More and more of these instances have happened since, some much stranger than others. I used to think something was wrong with me or that I was some kind of walking Pandora that just unravels chaos all around her. But the caul explained a lot of this for me and again made me feel validated. This is called "the curse of the caul" and now that I have diagnosed it, I can use prayer and spells and rituals to mollify it, and hopefully to keep myself and others safer.
I carry the caul with me now like most might carry a personality type. I keep it in my social media bios so people know that I am different, but I am magical. Whether it is a curse or a blessing, I choose the carry the caul like a purple eyes genetic mutation. It perhaps not anything desirable or undesirable, but it is beautiful and it is who I am.
If you are also a caulbearer, please reach out to me (although, the lore states we should already be able to identify one another). And, if you are interested in learning more, visit caulbearer.org for some extremely educational FAQs.
Kailey Tedesco's books These Ghosts of Mine, Siamese (Dancing Girl Press) and She Used to be on a Milk Carton (April Gloaming Publications) are both forthcoming. She is the editor-in-chief of Rag Queen Periodical and a performing member of the Poetry Brothel. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart. You can find her work in Bellevue Literary Review, Hello Giggles, UltraCulture, Poetry Quarterly, and more. For more, please visit kaileytedesco.com.