I had already written a post on Grave’s End when our Evil Overlord informed us that we were to write our posts as if Elaine Mercado’s account of her haunted house were in fact true. It’s easy to suspend disbelief when you’re reading/writing something that does not claim to be anything but fiction. That suspension is more difficult to attain when someone is telling you their house is haunted and nearly begging you to believe them. I have experienced strange phenomena myself, but what made this so hard for me was Mercado herself. She seems very emotionally troubled, so lacking in self-esteem that the “haunting” appeared to be an attempt to feel special for once in her life. Whereas the opportunistic Lutzes of Amityville made me want to kick them in the teeth, Mercado made me feel sorry for her. Were the family dynamics not so awkward and embarrassing to read, I might have had an easier time writing this. As it is, I’m not sure I’ve been able to accomplish what Scott has asked of us, but here is my post anyway.
I have actually experienced two of the phenomena Mercado describes in her book. Hypnagogia was, at the time she moved into the house, a thesis being explored by Dr. Andreas Mavromatis. While it could certainly account for the “suffocating dreams,” it’s a concept that had not yet entered the scientific community at large, so I suppose I can’t fault her for attributing them to paranormal activity. I experience hypnagogic sounds very frequently–“exploding head syndrome,” not nearly as unpleasant as it sounds–in which I hear voices, buzzing, crashes and booms, and on occasion I even experience the hypnagogic hallucination of being touched. It’s truly frightening if you don’t understand what is happening. Mercado also reported the sensation of being watched. I think we have all had this feeling at one time or another. Hallucinations and paranoia often attend high electromagnetic fields, which is why I believe I feel this in my kitchen–lots of large electrical appliances in there–and no where else in my home, but I have also experienced it in a farmhouse with no electricity at all and a reputation for being haunted. So I don’t doubt her insistence that she frequently felt this sensation in her house, though believing there might be ghosts can create a sort of feedback loop that leads one to think one is being watched, whether real activity exists or not.
I do believe that Elaine believes her house was haunted. She seems like a kind and sincere woman, with no real incentive (other than an emotional one) to make up a ghost story. I’ll even go so far as to say that I believe there was something going on in the house. But I think the true source of the “haunting” was Elaine herself. Being hysterical in front of her children, and constantly prodding them to tell her if they had felt or seen anything, created a case of emotional contagion and folie a deux if there ever was one; she admits that Christine never experienced phenomena while alone in the house. This is a woman with very low self-esteem who craves validation, and she will get it anywhere she can–through her children, through a parapsychology class, through writing a book. She surrounds herself with people who will validate her as well, like her brother and his “psychic” girlfriend; her own boyfriend with his lifelong interest in spirits; and Hans Holzer, that fraudulent “Ph.D”. Even her nursing supervisor, who conveniently happens to be sensitive to psychic phenomena (and tells Mercado about the ghosts on Halloween, no less!).
Rather than a factual account of a haunting, Grave’s End was much like reading a novel with an unreliable narrator. We are viewing Mercado’s experiences in the house through the distorted lens of her faith, anxiety, and low self-esteem. The extremely negative portrayal of her husband, the frequent infantilization of her children and her obsessive relationship with them, the ghostly phenomena themselves…these are reflections of how she perceives her world, but perception does not equal truth. Thus the events themselves are called into question, since we have only Elaine’s word (and Hans Holzer’s, though he lied about his own education, Amityville, and who knows what else. But he’s dead, so I’ll cut him some slack) that they happened.
That’s about as suspended as my disbelief can get in this case. Elaine Mercado, without a doubt, believes her house was haunted. I believe she is sincere in that belief, but it simply wasn’t possible for me to deny my own experiences and knowledge in order to accept her story as truth. I’ll try harder next time.