To follow this spooky story, there really are just three basic facts that you should know about my best friend.
1.) He’s Irish Catholic
2.) He’s gay.
3.) He’s dead.
Deciding precisely where to drop strangers in to the story of the 15 year saga of our friendship—from our first meeting to receiving the worst phone call of my life—is a tough one. Mostly because there has never been a boring or insignificant moment with my friend—who I will refer to here as *Johnny.
In my friend’s death, though, a new chapter of our relationship began--one that I could have never foreseen happening and still don’t entirely understand. I’m learning about what it means to have a “guardian angel” looking out for me all of the time.
Johnny passed away in July of 2015, just a week after his 29th birthday. In the months following the end of his life, I experienced grief for the first time. My emotions were scattered and unpredictable. In one moment I’d be enjoying the perfect weather and the company of friends. The next: I’d find myself in bed, staring at the wall. At any given point I’d suddenly become overcome with sadness, set off by a song on the radio or a photo on social media. Sometimes by nothing at all? Memories would just float up to the surface.
So it shouldn’t come as a shock that Halloween, my favorite night of the year, ended up being a big 'ol bust. Despite my initial efforts to psych myself up, put on the costume, go out and have fun, my night fizzled out quickly. I was feeling sad-drunk, tired and just didn’t have the energy in me to even fake having a good time.
I went home early and didn’t bother turning on the lights. Still wearing my Halloween costume, I collapsed on my living room couch and began swiping through my phone's galleries of photos of my dead friend. I thought about how much I wished that he were still alive, even for just a little while. So that I could talk to him just one more time.
And then suddenly I remembered something. It WAS Halloween, wasn’t it? I wiped the tears from my eyes and checked the time at the corner of my screen. It was late, close to midnight, but it was still October 31st.
At this point in my life, I didn’t yet practice magic, but I did know a little about Samhain. (Pronounced “sow-wen”) I can’t say exactly where in pop culture or when I first learned about it, but I know the idea had come up before in books, TV shows and movies that I liked.
Samhain is known as a time of great magic and mystery and reverence for the supernatural. It is considered to be the period when the "veil between the worlds" is at its thinnest and the dead are able to cross over onto our side of the hedge and move among us. It’s the root belief behind Halloween and why we dress up in costumes every October 31st.
I set my phone down on the table next to me, re-positioned myself into a meditative “corpse pose” and closed my eyes tightly. I clamped my hands together (a lapsed Catholic’s knee jerk reaction?) and began to speak out loud.
“Johnny? Are you there?”
I could hear my voice shaking so I cleared my throat and began again.
“Johnny,” I said with added volume and confidence, “if you’re there, I have something I need to say.”
I paused a few moments, and opened my eyes to peer around the room, seemingly waiting for something dramatic to happen. When nothing did, I closed my eyes again and continued.
“Johnny, I just want to say that I love you, and that I miss you and that I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you when you needed me.”
There was an electrical shift in the air. The room felt cooler and every hair on my arms stood straight up. An orchestra of chills shot up and down the length of my body. I knew I was feeling his presence in the room, but was too afraid to open my eyes. Not afraid of him, of course, just afraid that he would disappear again if I did.
“I love you and I’m sorry,” I said again.
For a few moments it felt like my living room vibrated in a dull, comforting hum. And then it stopped.
It wasn’t long after that Halloween night that the dreams began. Johnny and I would hang out in my bedroom, exactly as it was during high school, and have full conversations. He looked healthy. His skin had this shiny bronze glow to it—which was ironic, since he so often tried to artificially achieve such a look when we were in high school, with self-tanner and make-up.
I’d hesitantly ask him about death and what it was like. I asked if he was in pain or if he needed my help. He’d dodge my questions entirely, careful to never give me the whole truth of his reality. He’d reach for my hand, hold it tightly in his, look me in the eyes, and tell me how good it was to see me.
Waking up, I’d slowly come to realize that he was gone--still dead-- and in some ways, it felt like I was losing him all over again.
It wasn’t long before I started actively going looking for him in my dreams.
I’d wander the hallways of a large, empty house, calling out for him. The floors creaked as I zig-zagged down a long corridor, swinging open doors and peering around the interior of each room, sure that he was around here somewhere. He just couldn’t hear me calling for him.
And then—I did hear him?
“Caitlin! I’m in here!” An echoey cry would come from somewhere far across the other side of the big, abandoned house.
I centered myself in the hallway and shouted back.
“In here!” I heard. A little closer than before. Only, this time, it didn’t quite sound like Johnny. Each time it yelled out, it sounded less like my friend and more like someone or something impersonating him. The shadows would kind of shiftandmove around to resemble his silhouette, but whatever this shadow was, it couldn’t hold his form for long. Whatever it was felt sinister, and I knew I needed to run away. I would be out of breath, but still would shout out to my sleeping body “Wake up! It’s time to wake up!”
The first time I found Johnny, he didn’t seemed surprised to see me. He again invited me into the space that took on the form of my teenage bedroom. He knew about the shape shifting shadows. He told me to be very careful about searching for him. “Because I’m not the only one who can hear you,” he warned.
In September of 2017, a good friend and I decided to embark on an adventure. We wanted to meet with a psychic or a tarot reader. Aside from having our palms read during a Halloween or birthday party, neither of us had ever gone to see any kind of fortune teller for an actual, serious glimpse into the future.
We did some research to find readers in the area and ended up discovering a local woman who worked using a form of divination neither of us had ever heard of. Using a common deck of playing cards—a system apparently rooted in numerology, astrology and sacred geometry-- she could see into each subject’s past, present and future. (For reasons that will soon become clear, I’m going to refer to her here by a fake name: Edna.)
At the end of my reading, Edna asked if I had any remaining questions I would like to ask. Naturally, I inquired about my dead friend Johnny. I was worried about him.
She asked for his birthday and then showed me the cards. He and I shared the same “Planetary Ruling Card,” The Nine of Hearts.
“He’s someone very close to you. Were you lovers--?” She paused a moment before correcting herself.
“No. You were friends. He was like a brother to you.”
She explained that because of the nature of his death, his spirit was trapped in an in-between, “limbo-like” space and would remain there for as many years as he was meant to live on Earth. This was why I was able to reach out to him so easily.
Upon telling me this, Edna became stern. “Your friend is gone,” she said. “There is nothing you can do to help him. You have to let him go.” Edna emphasized that I wasn’t doing him any favors by attempting to hold onto him. In fact, I was likely actively harming his spirit by keeping him close to the land of the living.
The advice felt harsh, but after some deep consideration, I opted to follow her wisdom. I hated the idea that I could be holding him back and so I decided that I would no longer speak to Johnny out loud or go looking for him in my dreams.
This past April, there was a public Seance at Bearded’s Lady’s Mystic Museum in Burbank lead by the medium, Adela Lavine. The set-up for the experience was very different from what I expected—not at all like the movies. We weren’t seated at a table, holding hands. There was no critical warning to avoid “breaking the circle.” Instead, to accommodate everyone who was in attendance, we sat in chairs that were loosely scattered around the perimeter of the room.
Adela lit incense at an altar that among candles and other sacred objects, included a small statue of the Egyptian god of Death, Anubis. She seemed to silently called out to the dead as she wandered around the center of the room, carefully moving the incense around the entire space.
Soon, she was seeing spirits and calling them out to us. She would point at a person sitting in the circle and describe the deceased person who was “standing” behind them.
In most cases it was a family member—an elderly relative, like a grandmother or grandfather. She would describe what each spirit looked like in life and what kind of people they were. Occasionally, she had messages to pass on to their loved ones.
Coming into the séance, I thought it was important to guard myself with a healthy amount of skepticism, but also keep myself open to possibilities. (Which actually also kind of accurately sums up my relationship with witchcraft.)
Throughout the séance, the air felt heavy and it was like a weight was pressing down on my chest. There were moments when I had difficulty breathing, like I was having a panic attack.
A few people mentioned this heaviness and so Adela began “closing off” doors to limit the intensity, she said. It did seem to help.
Adela told the group that if there was someone in particular that we would like to see or speak to, that we should concentrate on their face and invite them to come to the séance. So I closed my eyes and said to myself, in my thoughts, “Johnny, you can come if you want. I invite you.”
After awhile, Adela had gone around through much of the circle and indicated that it was nearly time to wrap up for the evening. But before she did, she looked at me.
“You,” she said. “There’s someone standing behind you.”
“Me?” I asked.
“It’s a young man. He’s 29 years old.”
I froze in my seat.
“The two of you were very close,” she said. “Were you lovers?”
I shook my head, no.
“He was my best friend,” I explained.
That’s when Adela said something that caused a chill to run through my entire body.
“He wants to know why you don’t talk to him anymore. Are you mad at him? He loves you and misses you.”
I couldn’t stop my eyes from flooding with tears.
“I was told it was bad for me to hold onto him. To talk to him. So I stopped.”
Adela’s expression changed as her eyes narrowed, seemingly in anger. “Who told you that?”
“A card reader.”
She pressed me to give her a name. “Who?”
I shook my head "no" because in the moment, on the spot, I couldn’t remember Edna’s name.
She sighed heavily.
“No, it’s OK to talk to him. It’s good to talk to him. You can talk to him whenever you want.”
“He’s very protective of you and is with you always,” she said.
I could feel myself shaking and couldn’t make it stop.
A few minutes later Adela closed the circle and ended the séance. I wanted to talk to her more, but in standing up I realized I didn’t have any energy.
Driving home was difficult. My eyelids were heavy and my mind was blank. I realized when the drive was nearly over that it probably wasn't the safest thing to do. (Have a DD for your seances, friends!) When I finally made it home, I went straight to bed and slept continuously for the next 12 hours.