In seventh grade, my best friend Cindy and I discovered the Ouija board. Honestly I’m surprised it took us that long.
I can’t remember how it started or where we got the board, but Cindy and I were magnets for supernatural messaging. We had spirit, yes we did.
At first we accused each other of moving the planchette and had to swear on our future marriages to Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora it wasn’t us. Obviously we were telling the truth.
We chatted with a little boy named William who had an accident involving water. He made us sad. Then there was Debbie, a woman who climbed the golden staircase after a freak Bolivian salt mine accident. She got annoyed by our questions and we were like, “Duuuuuuude! You answered our call! We didn’t ask for you by name!”
Then there was Wayne, a Vietnam vet who died at war. Wayne was communicative, open, and clearly looking to chat it up with two bored, teenage girls with big bangs. If only we had Venmo accounts back then we could have charged him $19.99 a minute.
Our friends thought we were weird, but used to our ephemeral, yet deeply immersive hobbies. The only thing our friend, Paula, cared about was making sure the spirits said goodbye.
“Don’t forget,” she warned us. ” Otherwise you risk getting possessed or having a spirit move in with you!”
She read about an eight year-old girl from Montana who had been taken over by the spirit of a vaudevillian performer from the early 1900’s. Very awkward when you’re spinning plates and singing Toot, Toot, Tootsie in second grade.
Conversations with the other side became a part of our daily routine, which went something like this:
- Cindy and I went to my house after school
- get the Ouija board
- go up to the guest room (because if a spirit refused to leave, better to have them trapped in a room only in use every other Thanksgiving. Sorry, Aunt Linda.)
- conjure Wayne and other spirits
- spend a couple hours shooting the shit with said spirits as teenage girls are wont to do
- say goodbye when my mom called us to dinner
Wayne almost always came through to chat with us and Cindy and I developed a real affection for him. We learned about his young wife whom he missed a great deal. They never had kids, but he wanted them. He was born in Oklahoma but moved to Maine when he was eight to be closer to his grandparents. He joined the Army straight out of high school even though his mother begged him not to. He told us boys our age were about ten years behind in maturity and we should focus on school. He encouraged Cindy to learn the guitar and told me my mom would never let me have a dog, but they were a lot of work so maybe that was good. On the days Wayne didn’t come through, we could barely hide our disappointment in front of the spirits who did show up. No, they did not know Wayne. No, they didn’t have a way of getting a message to him.
One night our friend Mandy’s parents were going out and she invited us and Paula over. We brought the Ouija board. At first Mandy was into watching us throw open the door to the other side, but quickly got creeped out when she saw the way the planchette zipped around the board with our fingertips barely touching it.
“Want to try?” Cindy asked.
“NOOOOOOO!” she cried.
She said if we wanted to keep playing with our dumb ghost friends, we had to do it away from her so we went into her parent’s bedroom.
Mandy’s parents were very religious and their bedroom was filled with crosses and paintings of sad, disappointed Jesuses. I’d seen other depictions of Jesus looking pretty chill and charismatic and wondered why this particular Jesus was the one that appealed to them. I imagined this Jesus rolling his eyes, wishing we’d leave the dead people alone and go out and get high and pregnant like all the other teenagers.
At last Wayne showed up, but we immediately sensed something was off. His answers were short, punctuated by impatience and irritability. Did he have some other board to crash? It wasn’t like him at all. Cindy and I were not impressed so we told Wayne that Mandy was upset and we needed to hang out with our friends in the material world.
“Goodbye, Wayne,” I said. “Talk to you later.”
Nothing. Our fingers didn’t move.
“Bye, Wayne,” Cindy said more firmly.
“Are you still here, Wayne?” I asked.
Y. E. S.
“We have to go,” Cindy repeated. “We’ll talk to you tomorrow. Goodbye.”
Wayne was refusing to say goodbye.
We tried to contain our panic. Could spirits smell fear? We heard the pop and fizz of a can of beer opening in the other room and our eyes got wide and tastebuds lusty.
“Paula’s going to drink the whole thing,” Cindy whispered.
“Okay, we gotta go, Wayne. We’ll come back later to check on you. Goodbye!”
“Maybe he already left?” Cindy asked. “Maybe something came up and he didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.”
Seemed totally logical to me so we packed up the board and joined our friends in the living room.
“Did you say goodbye?” Paula asked.
“We did,” I said. That part was not a lie.
“Did the spirit?” Mandy asked.
“Pretty much,” Cindy said, taking the Miller Lite can from Paula.
Mandy could tell we were leaving something out and when pressed we easily caved and told her about Wayne’s reticence to bid us adieu.
“HE’S STILL HERE?” Mandy shouted. “You left him in my parent’s bedroom?”
“Well, we had to,” Cindy replied so matter of factly, for a moment the whole conversation made perfect sense. Yes, we left the spirit of a Vietnam vet in your parents bedroom. He’s our friend, Mandy! Your parents will barely notice him!
But Mandy snapped out of it and realized that no, this was not normal and it was a terrible idea. She commanded Cindy and I to return to the bedroom and tell Wayne it was time to go.
“He’s probably long gone by now, T, ” I said, trying to placate. I did not want to go back in the bedroom. If Wayne’s change of attitude had anything to do with the hopes of finding a nice, hormonal host body, he’d have to find another pair of Gasoline jeans to fill.
“How do you know?” Mandy shot back.
“We left the window open,” Cindy said, popping the tab on the second can of beer. “He’s moved on.”
“I read about that happening,” Paula added. “An entire neighbor possessed because some irresponsible kids left a window open.”
For fuck’s sake. We were going to get in so much trouble for this.
Mandy started to cry. Her parents would kill her if they found a ghost–especially a male ghost– loose in their house. Couldn’t we have conjured a nice nun or former kindergarten teacher?
“Fine,” Cindy said. “We’ll go back in there. But we’re taking the beer.”
Inside Mandy’s parents chambers, Cindy tossed the box on the bed.
“I’m not opening that thing,” she said.
“No Goddamn way,” I said and immediately felt Jesus’s sad eyes turn from disappointed to annoyed. This was probably violating what? At least six of the Ten Commandments?
We laid on the bed and talked about the new Bon Jovi video and what it would be like to be married to Jon and Richie and live on a tour bus. After what seemed like the right amount of time to conjure then banish a stubborn spirit, we returned to the living room.
“It’s done,” Cindy said. “He’s gone.”
“Did he say goodbye?” Paula, the goddamn rules lawyer of the afterlife, asked.
“Yep,” I answered. Wayne had said goodbye. Not my fault they weren’t being specific about which time.
Mandy stepped forward. “Do you swear that if you’re lying you won’t marry Jon or Richie?”
Cindy and I passed a glance between us. Damn. Mandy came to play.
“That is so unfair,” Cindy said. “I don’t remember if he said goodbye or see ya later or until next time! Do you?”
“I don’t,” I said. “It…uh…happened so fast.”
“You can’t make us swear on something so important, Mandy. We don’t remember. It’s not fair.”
“But he’s gone?” Mandy asked. “My parents won’t walk in and find a ghost in their bed?”
We felt pretty confident agreeing to that. One last swig of beer each and we were out of alcohol. Mandy kicked us out so she could clean before her parents returned.
She shoved the Ouija board into my arms. “Don’t forget your friend!”
Cindy and I walked home mostly in silence, each of us pondering the possibility of leaving Wayne in Mandy’s house or possessing the entire westside of town.
“Shouldn’t all those crosses on the wall protect them?” Cindy asked.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “I think that’s just for vampires.”
When we got to the park, a beautiful tree-filled, 18-acre oasis by day, creepy, fairy-tale-child-stealing-drug-dealing-witch haven by night we had to make the choice: Cut through and save fifteen minutes or take the street lamp lit sidewalks and probably not get murdered.
“What do you think?” I asked Cindy.
She looked at her watch. We were already late and every extra minute would ratchet up my mom’s anxiety-fueled anger.
“We have to,” she said, reading my mind.
The towering oaks and starless sky quickly engulfed us. Halfway through, we stopped at the gazebo, a historic monument that served as a stage for music festivals and mayoral speeches.
Laying the box on the ground like an offering for the drug dealers or early morning park walkers, felt like flushing your not-quite-dead goldfish down the toilet and wondering if it would thrive in the sewer, mutating and growing more sentient and hostile until the day it exacted revenge. Would we come back to this park one day to drink beer or after college graduation or with our kids to find a creepy, leering man running the carousel with the name WAYNE embroidered on his jacket?
Cindy picked up the ominous vibes I was putting down, grabbed my sleeve, and hissed, “Let’s go!” We took off running and didn’t stop until we were on my front porch. We ran so fast we ended up not being that late, but as expected my mom was still pissed.
“You’re grounded,” she said, before returning upstairs to bed.
We rolled our eyes, pretended to be disappointed, and settled in to watch Headbangers Ball, secretly delighted we had an excuse to not leave the house for the next two weeks.