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I am a restless writer of fiction, film, and music. I scripted such films as 9 and ½ Weeks, Sommersby, Impromptu (personal favorite), What Lies Beneath, and All I Wanna Do which I also directed. Both my documentaries, Marjoe and Thoth, won Academy Awards. Formerly a recording artist, I continue to write music, posting songs on my website. I live in New York with my husband James Lapine. My second novel, the paranormal thriller Jane Was Here, was published in 2011. My latest film, Learning to Drive, starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley, came out in August 2015, now available on VOD, DVD, and streaming media. This blog is a paranormal memoir-in-progress, whenever I have spare time. It's a chronicle of my encounters with ghosts, family phantoms, and other forms of spirit.

Monday, November 14, 2011

At Home With a Ghost - 4

(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

The only person privy to my haunting was my friend Vivian, who had sent me to the psychic in the first place, and who had no trouble believing my story. She had long claimed to be, God love her, a white witch. So anything of a paranormal nature gave her a boner, so to speak.

“What about the ring?” Vivian pestered me without cease. “He said there’s a ring for you somewhere!”

The road to that information led once again back to the parents. I still quailed at the thought of telling my dad what was behind my sudden interest in his father. Consider what was in the balance: either the ghost did exist or I was psychologically in deep trouble. I wasn’t even sure myself. But my mother could be relied upon to give me tons of slack; within the family, she was known to be fantastically gullible.

When I finished telling her, Mom was silent. Her face carried an expression I’d never seen before. Then she related her own story – or rather, it was her father’s story. He had told it to her in strict confidence. But this seemed like the appropriate occasion to bring it to light.

At this point I should insert the title “The Other Grandfather.”

My mother's background was similar to my father's, both raised in old-money wealth. Born in 1920, she grew up on a huge estate in Chicago. She and her four siblings were raised by a string of governesses (there was high turnover). Her mother had zero interest in mothering. Once, when Grandma didn’t want to deal with Mom coming home from boarding school for the holidays, she had her daughter delivered to a hospital to have both her tonsils and appendix removed. Her children marinated in constant uncertainty; you never knew where you stood with her. She seemed only intermittently engaged by their presence; she had an air of absence.

Mom’s father was physically absent much of the time, first serving in World War I, then serving as Roosevelt’s Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, then running the European Red Cross during World War II, then serving as Truman’s Under Secretary of Commerce. My mother had a hardcore case of hero worship - and who can blame her. I chiefly remembered him for his ubiquitous glass of whiskey, his chain of unfiltered Camels, and his rumbling cough (he died of emphysema eight years before this conversation took place).

His own mother (hope I’m not confusing you here) died when he was a young man. He had been very close to her. He missed talking to her. Around the time he fell in love with my grandmother, he was working very hard and late into the nights. One night his attention strayed from the page he was writing on; it was the wee hours, and he was exhausted, starting to lose focus. And then his right hand, with its pencil paused on the paper, started to move. Of its own accord, as if separate from him, it started writing. He watched his hand in dazed fascination as the words formed, in a script that was all too familiar to him. The handwriting was not his own, but his mother’s. She was talking to him.

He became hooked on nightly bouts of “automatic writing," communicating with his mother. She comforted his feelings of loss. She encouraged him in his ambitions. When he asked for advice, she gave wise counsel, just as she always had when she was alive...until the night when he asked her about a fascinating girl who had beguiled his heart. He wanted to propose to her. What did dear Mater think of her?

His mother replied that it would not be a good match. Contrary to his own nature, the girl was irresponsible and spoiled. Ultimately he would not be happy.

He was shocked by her reply. It was not what he wanted to hear. In that moment, he realized what he was doing, that he was in thrall to a dead person whose power over him increased with every night he sought her company. What he had allowed to happen was utter madness. That very night, he broke it off. Not with his fiancĂ©e, but with his mother. Never again did he petition the “other side” for comfort, love, or sustenance. For that he would go to his wife.

Mom’s implication, in telling this story, was that in the end her father didn’t get much of comfort, love or sustenance from that corner. The marriage indeed disappointed him, and became part of the reason for his long absences. (After his death she, who had never learned to economize, blew through his entire fortune.)

It occurs to me as I write this that I got the ghost from one grandfather, and the receptivity from the other.

My mother had held this secret for a long time. Who would believe it anyway? This account came from a man who was the opposite of fanciful, a wielder of facts and figures: in short, a man of the world and not the beyond. Mom believed him because he was her father whose every word was golden.

Thus she had no problem believing I was being contacted by a family member who happened to be deceased. If I was crazy, that would mean her dad was crazy, an impossible thought to entertain.

So when I asked Mom if there was an old ring passed down to us, her response was immediate. She gave me the key to a safe deposit box.

(To be continued.)

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