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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.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 36

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

A force was urging me to rise from the bed and go out on the balcony. I gripped the sides of the bed so as not to be swept off. My will was draining away, as if my own blood yearned to join the tidal current, to be borne away…off the balcony. The irresistible lure was not to commit suicide, but rather to fly.

No, I had not dropped acid, or smoked the abundant kif passed around to the wedding guests, nor eaten the mahjoon (dried fruit, spices, honey, and hash buds), nor drunk whiskey or wine. My reason reasoned, quite reasonably, against leaping to my death. My body and being were desperate to obey.

My dear friend Karla still remembers being woken by the telephone ringing at five a.m. on her wedding day. “Please,” I begged, “stay on the phone with me. Something’s pushing me to the balcony, and if I go out there I’m afraid I’ll jump off.”

Karla drowsily suggested that I close the doors to the balcony.

I approached the moonlit doorway, my legs rippling like water so that I could hardly stand, fighting lunacy itself. It seemed to take my hands forever to grasp the door handles, and then, in a burst of determination, I swung the doors shut and locked them.

I returned to the phone. Karla was snoring on the other end. I hung up and slid back under the bedcovers.

As I lay there, the room filled up with unseen miasmic threat, an evil pressure I remembered too well from another hotel room, in Marrakesh. I muttered my little Muslim prayer, but it carried no weight against this tyrannical presence. Something crowded close, as if searching for points of entry; I could feel its intent to nudge my soul aside and take charge. I recoiled from it, hiding under my threadbare sanity while I waited, shivering, for the light of day.

I flew back to Tangier six days later, after surviving the mother of all Moroccan weddings. A package from New York was waiting for me. It was from anthropologist Vincent Crapanzano. I didn’t know him at all, but I’d read his book about a Moroccan spirit cult. Crapanzano’s accounts of their ecstatic dancing and possession by the jinnoon struck a chord of familiarity with me. Impulsively I wrote him a letter describing my own experience of “marrying” a spirit; how the jinn faded away, only to be replaced by supernatural horndogs, jinnoon who woke me before dawn, digging their fingers into my ribs and assaulting me from behind.

I didn’t expect to hear back from him. His answer did arrive, in the form of a manuscript. He wrote that he was startled by the synchronicity of my letter, since he had just finished writing a book about an illiterate Moroccan tile worker who claimed to be married to a jinniya (female spirit). Crapanzano had interviewed the man over the course of a year, and had grown very fond of his subject. The anthropologist in him had to maintain a scientific objectivity, and render a scrupulously academic analysis of local mythology. Yet, another part of him wanted to believe the man’s story and descriptions of the world of the jinnoon. My story had matched the tileworker’s in tantalizing ways that suggested our experiences were actual.

I read Vincent’s manuscript eagerly. For a while the tileworker’s story seemed very remote from me, though poignant: he was probably mentally ill (he’d been hospitalized for depression) and thus more likely to find a superstitious explanation for his instability.

Then I came across Crapanzano’s mention that, according to Moroccan belief, a sleeper is considered to be particularly vulnerable to demonic influence just before waking.

Very strange, I thought: that’s just the time when my tormentors made their move. How many times had they waked me – as recorded in my journal – at 5, 5:30, 6 a.m.?

I resumed reading until I came upon another detail that freaked me out a bit. The tileworker declared that a jinniya intent on seducing a mortal first approaches him in the guise of someone beloved. The victim thinks he’s sleeping with his crush. After that, whenever the jinniya reappears, she drops all pretense and the mortal realizes, too late, what he’s in for. He may never be rid of her now.

I must mention here that when I first saw my husband-jinn, in that indelible dream about our wedding, he resembled a man I’d been deeply, horribly in love with, four years before. The resemblance was close enough that I didn’t hesitate to rush down the aisle and say, “I do.” I was still hot for him after all those years. That is, until he lifted my veil and dug his fingers hard into my ribs, and the pain woke me from the dream, and from then on I was toast.

Whenever I doubted myself, thinking I’d made up the whole thing, I would remember that dream and how the jinn looked an awful lot like my heartbreaker ex-boyfriend. Then I’d tell myself that the dream was simply wish-fulfillment, and what happened after – when I woke to find an immense studly body on top of me – was a hypnopomic image (psychologists’ term for a hallucination generated by a sort of cross-current of sleep and consciousness).

Reading further in the manuscript, I saw something that took my breath away. The tileworker said that whenever the jinniya visits her victims, “she will come to them at night and tickle them – pinch their bones.” Crapanzano added, “Pinching bones are a symptom of demonic attack.”

Here is my journal entry from earlier that summer, when I was visited once again by jinnoon: “Dreaming I had an experience of sheer physical torture – in the usual 5 - 6 a.m. hour-of-the-wolf – it was a murderous tickling, and not tickling but a gouging in the ticklish zone, under the arms, and I had to thrash my head from side to side on the pillow, trying to create enough discomfort to wake myself and escape those fingers under my arms.”

Crapanzano was amazed by this coincidence, too. His tileworker had grown up steeped in the myths and legends of his native country. The man unconsciously reworked these into a personal myth: his marriage to the jinniya. But how could a tourist from New York, with no prior knowledge of the specifics of Moroccan superstition, report the same details? Unless the spirit world was real, and our stories true.

(To be continued.)

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