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A Head Full of Ghosts(4)
Paul Tremblay

Ugh, I didn’t intend to introduce this series of blog posts about THE series with politics. I promise I’ll get to the fun gory horror stuff eventually, but you have to indulge me first . . . BECAUSE KAREN SAYS SO!!!

If The Possession was going to emulate so many of the archconservative possession movies and horror movies that had come before it, then it was going to do so while standing on those sagging shoulders of the man of the house. The message was already clear. Daddy Barrett was out of a job and consequently the family and society as a whole was in full decay mode. Poor Mom, Sarah Barrett (stalwart bank teller), only gets a brief background check in the opening segment. Her being the sole breadwinner in the family isn’t mentioned until later in the pilot when she offhandedly mentions her job during one of the confessional (see what they did there????) interviews. Sarah is barely a prop in the opening as we see a montage of wedding photos and pictures of the two daughters, Merry and Marjorie.

In the photos everyone is smiling and happy, but ominous music plays in the background . . . (dun, dun, DUN!)


I TELL RACHEL that there is no starting point or ground zero for what happened to Marjorie and our family.

If there was, the eight-year-old me was not aware of it, and the almost quarter-century-old me cannot find it with the supposedly clear lens of hindsight. Worse, my memories mix up with my nightmares, with extrapolation, with skewed oral histories from my grandparents and aunts and uncles, and with all the urban legends and lies propagated within the media, pop culture, and the near continuous stream of websites/blogs/YouTube channels devoted to the show (and I have to confess to reading way more online stuff than I should). So all of it hopelessly jumbles up what I knew and what I know now.

In a way, my personal history not being my own, being literally and figuratively haunted by outside forces, is almost as horrible as what actually happened. Almost.

Let me give you a small example before we really start.

When I was four my parents attended two church-sponsored Marriage Encounter weekends. I’ve learned from second-third-fourth-hand accounts that Dad insisted they go with the hopes of getting them through a rough patch in their marriage and to rediscover God in their relationship and lives. Mom, at the time, was no longer Catholic or practicing any religion at all and was very much against the idea, but she still went. Why she went is subject to total speculation as she never told me or anyone else why. That I’m talking about it now would totally embarrass her. The first weekend went well enough with their A-frame cabin, walks in the woods, their group discussions, and dialogue drills; each couple would take turns writing down and then sharing their answers to questions concerning their marriage, with those questions framed within the context of some biblical lesson or text. Apparently the second weekend didn’t go so hot, with Mom walking out on Marriage Encounter and Dad when he reportedly stood before the entire gathering and quoted an Old Testament verse about the wife having to submit herself to the husband.

Now, it’s certainly possible that story about Mom’s weekend walkout is an exaggeration based on a couple of facts: My parents did leave the second weekend early and ended up staying a night in a Connecticut casino; while Dad famously found religion again when we were older, he (and we) did not attend church, Catholic or other, for many years prior to the attempted exorcism. I mention these facts in the interest of accuracy and context, and to point out that it’s possible his quoting the Bible didn’t actually happen even if enough people believe it did.

But I am not saying it isn’t probable that Dad quoted the offending verse at Mom, as it sounds totally like something he’d do. The rest of that particular story is easy to imagine: Mom storming away from the retreat cabin, Dad running to catch up with her, begging for forgiveness and apologizing profusely, and then to make it up to her, taking her to the casino.

Regardless, what I remember of those Marriage Encounter weekends is only that my parents went away with the promise that they’d be back soon. Away was the only word the four-year-old me remembered. I had no concept of distance or time. Only that they were away, which sounded so weirdly menacing in an Aesop’s Fables way. I was convinced they went away because they were sick of my eating pasta without spaghetti sauce. Dad had always grumbled about his not believing that I didn’t like the sauce while he added butter and pepper to my macaroni elbows (my preferred pasta shape). While they were away my dad’s younger sister, Auntie Erin, babysat Marjorie and me. Marjorie was fine but I was too scared and freaked out to keep to my normal sleep routine. I built a meticulous fortress of stuffed animals around my head while Auntie Erin sang me song after song after song. What song didn’t really matter, according to my aunt, as long as it was something I’d heard on the radio.

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