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Ghirls' weekend

If you’re going on a girls’ weekend, choose a haunted hotel and go with your friend who’s a past-life regression therapist. Of course, Cindie’s more than that, not an easy person to categorize. She’s also the writing partner I can count on to scrawl “liar” in the margins of my manuscript but also tell me when my writing’s brilliant. Oh, and she’s my godmother, having arranged my full-immersion Spider Lake baptism about a dozen years ago.

And just in case you’re worried that her work as a hypnotherapist somehow puts her at odds with Christianity, let me assure you that her conversations with Jesus are just as real as anyone else’s.

We decided on this ghostly ghirl weekend about a month ago, each of us having suffered through what people used to call “a string of bad luck.” More accurately for me, I suddenly became responsible for everyone, it seemed, and I was beginning to question God’s judgment in that regard. A couple weeks into the new year, Cindie suggested that in lieu of gratitude journals, we start WTF diaries, or perhaps just write down all our WTF questions so we’d have them ready when we meet our maker in the afterlife: “Yes, um, could you please explain why it all had to hit the entire surface of the fan, and then oscillate so thoroughly, splattering so many in its path?”

And God laughs, because we are hilarious.

We chose an old hotel in northern Minnesota that has a reputation for being haunted. I like ghosts—I have several in my family—and as I said, Cindie is the last person to judge someone simply because they are not physiologically “among the living.” But despite my open mind and desperate need for relaxation, I almost called it off, several times. Even on the way up, an emergency arose that made it seem like I should give up and accept that my life is a series of terrible troubles that only I can resolve.

After a several phone calls along a stretch of freeway with no exits to turn around (God knows), my husband convinced me he could manage this one. Maybe it would even be good if someone other than me was the rescuer. So I continued north, guilt-ridden but excited about the mani-pedi, the hot stone massage, the prospect of ghosts I hadn’t met yet, and my dear friend Cindie. And that’s before I even knew we would be the only guests who were not Peewee Hockey enthusiasts.

“How do you think ghosts react to the energy drummed up by middle-school hockey players racing up and down the halls?” I asked Cindie.

She said there were stories of young couples moving into houses formerly occupied by little old ladies, where ghosts had been dormant for many years but began their hijinks after being stirred up by youthful energy. If it hadn’t been 2 a.m., it would have sounded like a Scooby Doo episode. But minutes before, I’d awakened and noticed two pinpoint lights flashing above my head.

“Cindie, are you awake?”

She said she was, which I thought was nice of her.

“Do you see the lights flashing above my head?”

“Yes. Hotel smoke detectors are legally bound to have flashing lights so guests can see them in the dark.”

Did I mention she used to run a resort? Not in a past life in the ethereal sense, but literally: she and her husband ran a summer resort for several years.

The next night—between Saturday’s mani-pedi and Sunday’s massage—it was Cindie’s turn to ask if I was awake.

“Yes,” I said, in all honesty. Turns out you don’t really achieve REM sleep in a hotel filled with hockey families and purported ghosts.

“Is there a glow above the table?”

After some back and forth about exactly where the glow was, I remembered I hadn’t quite closed the slats at the bottom of the window blind.

“Okay. That makes sense,” she said. “It’s just that I woke up and heard something falling from the table. Did you hear it?”

I hadn’t, but sure enough, an empty water bottle had fallen to the floor. It might have been caused by a blast from the air vent on the opposite wall, but it probably wasn’t. As I drifted back to sleep, I had a random thought about the ghosts of people who die in hospitals. Surely they can’t all stay there, in hospital. They must drift elsewhere, to places they want to see before they go toward the light.

“That’s exactly what happened to me,” said an old woman who showed up inside my head. She was originally from Colorado. “But after I died, I went straight to California to pick up my honorary degree, which should not have been honorary because God knows I earned it.”

At moments like this, I have to hope that my seemingly random, falling-asleep thoughts are nonsense. My brain is tired. It wants to sleep. Let’s assume this is the result of exhausted, misfiring synapses. That makes sense, doesn’t it? But then another stranger started telling her story. “Someone has to be the sacrificial lamb,” she began, flashing a Victorian-era portrait of an innocuous-looking woman. Really? I thought. Do tell. No, don’t. I need to sleep.

So instead I apologized to the voices inside my head. It’s almost 3 a.m. and I am not taking notes. Maybe you’re not aware, but this is my getaway weekend, a break from responsibility. Something brushed across my lips, not a shushing touch but a speak-my-truth sort of thing. Absolute nonsense.

“Cindie? Are you awake?”

She said she was. I told her about the old woman and her honorary degree, and the other woman whom I’d cut off. I said that throughout my writing career, people have come to me with their stories—many profound and worth sharing, a few crazy, impossible, and (most important, for a writer who makes a living at it) unsellable. I wonder how I’m supposed to tell all of them and also honor and tell my own.

“Isn’t yours as worthy of telling as theirs?” Cindie asked.

“I can’t tell.”

I meant, “I don’t know” but that’s not what came out.

We laughed about it, and I fell asleep. These stories we carry are worthy. And I can tell.
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