A crescent moon in Pisces wanes to a New Moon in Aries over my house. Paternal grandparents lived here before me. Dewey Lambert was a soldier in WWII. Janet with her blonde ringlets said, “Howdy sailor, new in town?” Marriage and two children later Dewey was dishonorably discharged from the military for homosexuality. I will never know if grandpa was bisexual or just seeking the quickest route home to his growing family.
Dewey’s Schizophrenia went undetected and unmedicated. During a psychotic break he tried to kill Janet with a butcher knife. Grandma escaped. Grandpa spent time in jail and psych wards. Janet’s love forgave Dewey’s insanity. I found grandpa’s parole papers with grandma’s signature stuck behind a drawer of their Queen Anne dresser after both were dead.
Queer madness comes with the package. Double edged sword of curses and blessings. Yet modernity is kinder than the past. I was diagnosed and medicated early for Schizoaffective Disorder. Married a woman with a bouquet of white roses and eucalyptus. Parlayed this identity into fringe postmodern creativity. Lived a life my grandfather could not as his times did not permit it.
Dewey and Janet slept on this same bed I sleep on. My wife committed suicide on this bed. In the anthology: Writing the Walls Down: A Convergence of LGBTQ Voices I ask, “How long will I sleep in this bed of our madness?” To haunt it forever is my ideal. Ghosts soothe the carved four posts. In sleep I forgive my wife the suicide that tore her away from me. Forgive my grandfather what a crueler era drove him to.
A psychic walks the Cortez hallways in American Horror Story: Hotel. Trauma screams from the walls. Haunted buildings have powers from the past. I seek healing between these walls with witchcraft and prescribed psych meds. I came to Nevada broken and damaged from California. Taking a combat veteran’s dose of PTSD pills. Antipsychotics put me to sleep every night. Make me know this house is only as haunted as it amuses me to pretend.
I decide to do a seance when night falls. Take a ritual bath. Hot water pours over my legs. I am grateful to have awoke from last night’s dream of red wine. It broke me to violate my hard-won sobriety. I wash my gray hair in blue Clairol Shimmer Lights. Wince at the pain that never goes away. Those fatal last few minutes of October 15, 2012. Katie took all my pills in our Echo Park bathroom. I passed out drunk in the bedroom oblivious to her death wish. Woke up next to a corpse with empty pill bottles around her head. Googling “Coping with suicide,” reveals the normalcy of guilt over not doing more to avert tragedy. I berate myself. Why didn’t I notice? I was blind drunk. Why didn’t I do something different? I hate myself for not going to rehab until 2013. I choke back tears under hot water.
I smooth on Fragonard Parfumeur Lait Hydratant Pour Le Corps. Blow dry my hair. Line my eyes black. Put on healing jewelry of the living and dead. The crystal blue and silver pendant another patient gave me when I left Las Encinas. Black and white plastic vintage-look earrings. Left ear an old fashioned cameo of a live women. Right ear the skeleton cameo of a dead woman. Acquired separately yet the size, style and borders match. Coincidence or sign?
“Be careful,” my auditory hallucinations says. “This is deep magic. Uncharted territory. You’ve never gone this far before.” I believe this house is only gently haunted. Am I naïve? Fear lurks deep in my heart. By disturbing ghosts I may stir up trouble. I prepare with apprehension. Set out grandma’s old things: a pink plastic hors d’oeuvre tray and porcelain lamp.
A YouTube comment pops up for “A Schizoaffective In her Natural Habitat.” My video’s 21,000 vIews attract ignorant judgments. People are cruel. Opinions are like assholes. Everyone’s got one. Spelling and punctuation errors left intact, the comment reads: “1: do your mefications not cure you? How remarkable ? More more more pills & you pay the billls and still not cure? Why………? 2; the true reason = your are possesion by bad spirits! Called search a true good exorcist not a scam dude! Get awake! Goodluck!”
“Fuck off, illiterate stranger,” I mutter. “You know nothing about mental illness if you think pills cure. There’s no cure for what I’ve got. Medication only makes me functional enough not to be in an institution. The only bad spirit possessing me is DNA inscribed with Schizophrenia code. No bullshit exorcist I don’t want to pay could fix that without killing me. I prefer loving spirits.”
I dress for witchcraft. Zip up my wife’s baby doll Courtney Love dress. Katie’s soft hands holding my waist in 2010. Courtney Love onstage with Hole sang “Blessed are the broken.” Katie loved the brokenness in me. Wanted to heal it. She did for a time before her death ripped the scab away.
I see some general parallels between Love and I. Widows of suicides. Survivors. Cockroaches who Live Through This. Messy drunks. Groupies. Former addicts. Valley of the Dolls fans. Sex work vs. sex art. Portland. San Francisco. Los Angeles. Katie’s damage goddess Love. The night before, I put on that baby blue dress to read Katie’s old copy of Courtney Love: Queen of Noise, A Most Unauthorized Biography. Dissolved in broken sobs when Kurt shot himself. For awhile I was unable to cry. My tears dried up like the Mojave desert. Now I let my sorrow out cathartically into the quiet Nevada night.
I shuffle the Tarot deck in the middle of a navy and white skull scarf. Put on my witch hat. Sweep the hardwood floors with an besom broom. Light sandalwood incense. To cast the circle, I hold a cinnamon candle aloft at the four corners of the room. Call upon light and earth to the North. Air to the East. Fire to the South. Water to the West. Draw a circle around the room’s perimeter visualizing blue light shooting out of the knife. My athame is a blunt butter knife that Janet used to spread frosting on carrot cake. I pick up three portions of pink rock salt with the blade. Stir it thrice into water in a skull goblet. Seal the circle with salt water and incense.
“I consecrate this circle in the names of my beloved ancestral ghosts: Janet and Dewey Lambert,” I recite from Aoumiel’s Green Witchcraft. “Only love shall enter and leave. A circle is conjured. A circle of power that is purified and sealed. So mote it be.” I draw a solar cross on my forehead with salt water wet fingers. The grey cat pushes open the door. Feline love enters and leaves the circle. I draw a figure eight above the altar with my wand: a dried up silver pen from CalArt’s graduation.
“Hail to the elementals at the four quarters,“ I say with knife raised. ”Welcome, ancestral ghosts, to this rite. I stand between the worlds with love and power all around.” I sit in lotus position on white velvet pillows before the altar. Raise both hands in mudra and sign of the horns. Close my eyes. Take deep breaths.
“Dearly beloved ancestral ghosts,” I say. “I think of you fondly. Love you so much. Call upon you now to attend this rite. Guard this circle. Grant me your blessing as I embark upon the next stage in my life. Janet and Dewey Lambert, please bless this House of the Rising Sun where you too found forgiveness and healing. As do I. As Janet forgave Dewey may I too forgive. May I take my medication and be healed to the extent that it is possible. May I live out a long happy life in his house. How long will I sleep on this bed of our madness? Forever I pray. It is a blessed bed.” The house responds. I hear a loud crack in the wall. Magic! I do a creepy yoga back bend over the Dame Darcy Mermaid Tarot deck. Lift one leg then the other toes pointed at the almost new moon. The cat comes in to investigate. I am not wearing underwear. The cat has seen my vadge before.
“Janet Lambert,” I say. “I seek your healing grace. Here between these walls may I find the forgiveness you possessed.” I deal the Pinterest “Connecting with a Spirit Guide” five card spread. The first card promises to tell me “Who are you, what is your personalty?” The card’s back beckons. Stars and whale tales on blue around a red and gold ship’s wheel. White sheepskin rug soft on bare legs. I turn the card. Reversed Three of Swords. I look up the meaning. The spirit’s personality is: “Confusion. Error. Mistake. Anxiety.” Janet’s ghost seems to be saying she’s anxious about being contacted via mistaken seance. That or I have the wrong number. Even the sweetest old ladies don’t like to be bothered. The cat yowls unseen. I worry. Wonder if I should stop. I am afraid. Feel I must go on.
The second card tells me: “How can you help me on my spiritual path.” I turn the card. Reversed Knight of Pentacles. Meaning: “Stagnation. Inertia. Lack of determination or direction. Limits set by dogmatic views. Idleness.” Grandma wants me to stay safe inside. As she did. I too stay inside idle. Limiting myself with fear. Horrible things happen outside. The third card reveals: “How can I honor and respect your presence.” The reversed Three of Pentacles means: ”Sloppiness. Mediocrity. Lack of skill.” A reversed card implies a twist on the meaning of the upright one. The Three of Pentacles upright means: “Great skill in trade or work. Artistic ability. Mastery.” I’m honoring grandma by being a sloppy mediocre artist lacking mastery with no job? Interesting. Shitty glittery oil paintings from an all-nighter line the walls. The forth reveals: “What are your spiritual strengths.” I turn it over to see my favorite card, the High Priestess. This means: “Wisdom. Serenity. Perception. Platonic relationships. Self-reliance.” I strive to be a solitary celibate wise woman in my forties. I am thankful my strengths are a positive card at least.
The final card tells the: “Outcome of our relationship.” The Fool reversed means: “Bad decision. Indecision. Apathy. Hesitation. Negligence.” Uh oh. Janet tells me through the cards this seance was a foolish, bad decision. She’s apathetic and indecisive about how to react. Will be hesitant and negligent about further haunting me. I feel terrible to have bothered her in her peace of death. No more seances. An apology seems in order. I am shaken. Turn back to the altar. Incense all burnt down. I light another stick.
I hear Janet’s voice hallucinated in my mind, “Sweetheart! Sweetheart!” she repeats. “Don’t go contacting me with the Tarot. Use your mind and heart. I am always with you. Believe in us. Believe in this house. Believe in your strength. You will live a long and happy life here. Oh dear little witch, you still have a lot to learn about contacting spirits. I don’t want to go all poltergeist on you so I would warn you against any further seances. Now close this circle!” I take her message to heart.
“Ancestral ghosts Janet and Dewey Lambert,” I say with ritual knife raised. “I am blessed by your sharing this time with me. Watching and guiding me here and in all things. I came in love and I depart in love.” I kiss the flat of the blade. “Depart in peace, Elemental earth. My blessings take with you.” I say. Snuff the red candle with the knife blade. Raise the knife to each wall of the room bidding the elementals air, fire and water farewell. Walk around the room visualizing blue light drawing back into the athame. Return to the altar. Press the blade to my forehead. Feel blue light flowing back into me.
“The ceremony is ended,” I say. “Blessings have been given and blessings have been received. May the peace of these beloved ghosts remain in my heart. So mote it be.” I turn off the warm IKEA globe lamp. Go into the kitchen. Feed my hungry cat. Sit down to edit this essay. I hear grandma’s hallucinated voice at my desk.
“We will bring you the healing forgiveness you seek,” she whispers in my mind. “Just don’t bother us too much. The other side is so relaxing and peaceful. We prefer it there.” As I prefer Nevada to California. The peace of these cold quiet nights with cat and ghosts for company.
Many hours later I crawl into the soft bed of our madness. Rest back on pillows in a yellow silk kimono. Time for soporific antipsychotics. I set my prescribed dose of two tablets of Saphris under my tongue. Drift off to sleep held by walls haunted with love.