by REBECCA ARMENDARIZ
My mother loves ghosts and spirits and the television psychics who communicate with them. She’s currently waiting her turn to talk with the dead via the innate gift of Theresa Caputo, "The Long Island Medium," whom she calls by her given name and not her showbiz title. "Who's Theresa Caputo?" I say each time my mother mentions her. "The Long Island Medium!" she yells back, flustered by having to clarify it for me again. The list of people wishing to pay Theresa to talk to their deceased loved ones is two years long, but my mother's already been on it for a year.
Mom says she only saw a ghost herself once, when I was a baby. I’d woken up for a middle-of-the-night feeding, and as she describes it, she got up from bed, walked toward my room, and turned her head right to flip the hallway light on before facing my doorway. In the second after her head pivoted left, she saw an elderly woman in a nightgown standing there, who disappeared within seconds.
“I saw her. I can still see her as if it just happened. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced. You can’t make that shit up – that kind of adrenalin at 3 a.m., half asleep,” she recalls.
Mom’s had other paranormal experiences -- she heard someone whispering her name once when she knew the house was empty. Another time, on a drive to Allentown, she felt a hand press down on her shoulder. “It was like my guardian angel was letting me know she was there,” she says.
I have limited faith of my own, and can’t pinpoint exactly how I feel about the afterlife or whether the dead maintain a presence in my space. It’s hard not to trust in some sort of magic, though, when my mother and her concrete beliefs come to visit. She’s jealous of what they must know, she’s told me.
Last weekend, she drove to D.C. to take me to see another TV psychic she admires speak about his life and contact select audience members’ dead family members. Chip Coffey claims he began exhibiting these tendencies as a toddler, when he would name the person about to call on the phone before it even rang.
I just think it would be nice to get dressed up, my mom texted me a few days before the event, so we wore heeled boots and lipstick. When Chip walked onto the hotel ballroom stage, she blushed. “He's SO adorable,” she whispered to me. He’s a short, out gay man with icy hair and a Georgia drawl in a T-shirt and patterned scarf, and she’s right.
"Do not let anyone tell you what you should or should not believe; it's none of their damn business,” Chip said at the beginning of the night. “I just basically say ‘fuck you,’” he said of critics. Before the event, my mom tried to influence my opinion by pointing out Chip’s status as an advocate for both gay rights and animals in shelters, which worked, in part. His middle-finger philosophy solidified his likeability. “Leave me alone, or respect me enough to just live my own life!” I put one foot on board.
Chip showed us black and white photos of his ancestors and pictures of himself as a child and teenager. "I had that hair before he did, bitches," he said of a Bieber-reminiscent high school haircut.
About 150 people, most of them women, beamed at him from their seats. Husbands and children dotted the room. The crowd eagerly interacted with him, verbalizing their approval. Those with VIP laminates happily wore them around their necks – including me (hey, I didn’t pay for it).
During the question and answer session, a man tearfully professed his “man crush” on Chip and asked for and received a hug. His wife looked proud to sit beside him. Another praised him for his work helping children deal with the difficult aspects of their abilities on Psychic Kids, a now-canceled A&E show. Chip said he certainly believes in angels: “It’s kind of like God is Donald Trump with much better hair, and he has his apprentices.”
Chip used his spirit guides to lead him to one of the many hands raised in hopes of receiving a reading. He doled out either life advice based on his future-seeing ability or words from the dead person of their choice. Predictably, most people wanted to catch up with someone from the past and gave him three requested details to go on: the person’s name, the nature of the relationship, and how much time it’s been since the death.
I wasn’t impressed at first. One man’s uncle “talked with his hands,” Chip divined. Grandma was and still is a “spitfire,” though she’s calmed down in the afterlife. A man and his wife would have a second child, a boy, and their two-year-old daughter would soon break her arm.
Another man lost his dad when he was 14 and wanted to know more about him. Chip was unapologetic: “He was a shit.” But he praised the son for being a loving family man who needs to knock himself up a few notches on his own to-do list.
A 13-year-old girl there with both her mother and grandmother wanted to talk to her paternal grandpa, who died when her dad was young and before she was born. Chip mentioned a dog that scoots his butt on the carpet (“That’s Pepper, our dog that died!”) and an argument about pierced ears (Yes, she’d botched the job behind her parents’ back, and now they were healing and closing up. Should she be allowed to get them re-pierced?). “What’s the thing with the shoes?” Chip asked. Why, they’d just been fighting over leaving their shoes in the entryway earlier that day. This proved, Chip said, Grandpa’s lasting involvement in the smallest details of their lives. Everything he said rang familiar to them, and now I was paying attention.
The last person to stand up lost her 13-year-old daughter eight months ago. “She knew she was going to die,” Chip said. Yes, the mother confirmed; it was a suicide. She hung herself and didn’t leave a note. Chip mentioned details, inside jokes, and I could feel the mother’s recognition in my body. My mouth hung open as she laughed and gripped her husband’s arm.
I know he could be a con artist; he could just be very good at guessing.
My mother dreams of the dead she’s lost. “He said he’s very happy you’re happy,” she told me after one night when a boyfriend of mine, who died of cancer in 2009, came and spoke to her. I usually change the subject.
But when they visit, it makes her feel better. Her ghosts don’t haunt her, they reassure her. There are certainly worse things to believe in.