by Amelia Kanan
Growing up, I had a string of unhealthy obsessions and one of them was with dead people. Naturally, like most things, I blame my Catholic parents.
As a family, we said our nightly prayers before bed and they were usually followed by a philosophical discussion led by my dad. For some reason, bedtime seemed like his favorite time to talk about all things scary: angels, ghosts, and dead relatives. “You know – lots of people who love you are always with you, Amelia”. What the fuck? They are? Even when I’m naked?
One night, after watching a special on people who had near death experiences, I took the liberty of asking God for a bunch of things.
“Please God, make sure every single homeless person is warm and snuggling with someone, don’t let anyone in the whole world cry, and don’t let anyone I love die. Also, I wouldn’t mind if I have to get glasses and braces, I think they look cool. And please please please God, I know you love me – so, you don’t have to come visit me to prove it.”
My dad freaked out. He started yelling at me, “Don’t you ever tell God to leave you alone!”
As always, my mom calmed him down and I was left alone, with a racing heart, in my dark bedroom, that at the time was believed to be haunted by my great grandma who had died the year before. This theory became a confirmed fact when our housekeeper told my mother that she had seen my great grandmother in the mirror in my room.
With all this death experience and talk of spirits as a concrete reality encompassing me, I evolved into a dark pre-teen. But, not the cool kid kind. The weird kid kind. It was weird because I managed to find the one way you could be superficial with death.
Like when I came to school dressed in a black dress and white pearls and told everyone to call me Jackie Kennedy Onassis. It was wasn’t Halloween. It was a free dress day in February. No one called me Jackie and with the exception of recess when I wanted to play soccer with the boys, I stayed in character the whole time. But, Jackie would’ve wanted it that way.
When I was 13, I told everyone I wanted to die so I could be with John Lennon and the next year, I convinced myself of being the reincarnation of Virginia Woolf, which was the motivation behind me picking up a cigarette butt on the ground and smoking it. Virginia made me do it.
In my defense, I was trying to make the best of my fears. I would talk to dead celebrities all the time. They were my friends. Jackie taught me that there is so much power in silence (something I’ve always known but have had a hard time actually integrating into my life). John taught me that real strength is in kindness. And Virginia, she taught me that it’s ok to talk about how you really feel and that smoking doesn’t kill you- suicide does.
Finally, in high school, I was able to clear my head a bit with some Grateful Dead, herbal medicine and eastern philosophy.
Being crazy during my formative years wasn’t easy – I got teased a lot. Teachers, adults, my best friends, family – basically anyone who knew me. This could have perpetuated things. It could have made me an angry little soul. But, it didn’t. In fact, it made me resilient and taught me things that some people never get the chance to learn. Plus, by the time I got to college; I knew what I wasn’t good at: fitting in with normal people and I knew what I was good at: telling stories and method acting.
And…the rest is history.
I’m proud to say that I am no longer scared of ghosts and I respect the privacy of all dead celebrities by not bothering them with my thoughts.