During my first year in Calhoun, I still had no concept of reincarnation, although I was fully aware of what it meant to be a ghost. That was my own diagnosis for the problem of “knowing” my nineteenth century family. I had seen a television show a few years before in which a child who saw ghosts was profiled. The mother explained that the child had been blocking what he saw and that appeared to make the problem go away. A light bulb lit up for me then because I had been blocking on instinct. I did not know that blocking was a known method for dealing with those things. I made an art form out of suppression again, and by the time I began my second year in Georgia, suppressing my dreams and visions had become a habit.
Nobody told me that suppressing natural intuitive or medium abilities could cause great harm to a person’s mental condition. Nobody told me that in order to let go of past life memories, had I even known what they were, they had to be acknowledged and dealt with directly, in most cases. I never made the connection that trying to pretend that part of me did not exist marked the beginning of the most severe period of depression and anxiety in my life. At any given moment after having a dream or having a thought connected to those people, if I had acknowledged it and found a cause for it, I could have avoided years of self-loathing and fear. Instead, I continued to ignore it and behave like a normal teenager.
Georgia, I learned quickly, was a place deeply invested in and in love with its history. It seemed to have been a running joke that the Civil War never ended and the reenacting culture was far more prevalent there than in St. Louis. I felt compelled almost immediately to become part of it, despite an intense phobia of guns and cannons. My phobia has been a debilitating presence in my life since I was a baby and it affects me so deeply that I find even fireworks on the Fourth of July or the sound of a balloon popping absolutely terrifying. I equate the sounds of explosions with imminent death of those I love. The intense desire to reenact the Civil War period has always been at poignant odds with my phobia. The two fixed points of who I am fight each other until I cannot contain it anymore and the battle manifests as panic attacks.
Still, I participated in and was a spectator at Civil War reenactments all over northwest Georgia. When people ask why I put myself through the torture of guns and cannons, I never know how to respond other than, “I have to do it.”
Civil War reenacting from the lady’s perspective was like a healing awareness for me. Some things I knew by instinct, such as how to breathe in a corset without getting lightheaded or the way I seemed to have a knack for seeing what was inaccurate about someone’s attire or portrayal. I realized quickly that wearing the proper clothing and being immersed in the reenactments, which were like massive outdoor theatrical experiences, boosted my confidence and offered me a feeling of being “home” again. I was the only female that I knew who was eager to spend weekends wearing layers of clothing in the blazing Georgia sun with people two or three times my age. There was no way for me to comprehend why I felt so at home in restrictive corsets and billowing skirts.
At the end of my junior year of high school, the self-imposed block I had on my nineteenth century family dislodged itself in a traumatic series of dreams. Again I found myself, as I termed it, sucked into the body of the woman with heavy dark hair and a heavy black dress, seated beside a coffin. An infant lay in that coffin and as I became more immersed in the surroundings, the pain of knowing that baby was mine struck like slamming headlong into a brick wall. My chest constricted, my stomach rolled with violent nausea and my hands ached from squeezing a handkerchief so tight.
Thrust into extremely painful feelings of motherly grief, I knew consciously that it was a dream but I couldn’t pull myself out of it. It felt like I had gone from zero to sixty in seconds of paralyzing sorrow and it was nothing short of having one foot in the past and one foot in the present. I sat as still as stone in that old chair because if I moved at all, the grip on my composure would break. I watched a few people talking in hushed voices and wanted them out of my house. In the background, the man who had long since felt like my husband stood by a window, one hand on the wall, the other in his pocket, and a vacant expression as if he had no awareness of people around him. Every cell in my body fought the urge to fall on the floor weeping and pounding my fists on the floorboards until the anger dissipated.
“Lord, sustain me. I cannot endure this again,” I thought with my other voice before I finally pulled myself out of it.
The dream repeated itself periodically for years and I found it frightening, not because there was a monster chasing me in the dark, but because I could not get a handle on grief that deep at my young age. I was old enough to understand motherhood but nobody could understand the agony of losing a child unless they went through it firsthand. I felt guilty for assuming I understood the grief of a mother through that dream even though I had no children of my own. On top of that, I still occasionally had dreams of being in army hospitals and seeing blood and the man I later knew as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain put through the most painful things, which were intensely frightening because I did not understand them. Those dreams stuck with me for days afterward and affected my day-to-day moods and mental condition. Sometimes I wouldn’t go back to sleep afterward or I avoided going to sleep in the first place, which left me exhausted at school during the day.
I wanted the double life in my conscious and subconscious to stop. I went as far as pleading with what I assumed to be the ghost of this woman to go on to Heaven and leave me alone. Nothing seemed to relieve the pressure. I became more and more withdrawn from my family and friends; often spending hours secluded in my bedroom because I did not understand why I appeared to be the only one enduring such spontaneous and unwelcome visions.
I took an interest in the paranormal in rather broad terms, in my quest to stop what was happening to me. I was rather clueless about the inner workings of spirituality, ghosts, the afterlife and the like, beyond what I had learned in the church of my childhood. Lack of guidance opened the door for me to dabble in potentially dangerous activities such as consulting an Ouija board on occasion and I also began teaching myself to use Tarot cards. I researched different religions such as Wicca and Ancient Egyptian mysticism. For a brief period, I rejected my Episcopal upbringing in favor of adopting the Egyptian goddess Isis as my own patron saint of protection. I chose her after I read that her husband, Osiris, was the god of the underworld. My goal in all of this was to banish or even exorcise the nineteenth century family from my subconscious mind.
Conversely, within a year I thoroughly rejected polytheism, most likely due to the nearly oppressive Christian air hanging over my Southern home. Nobody I knew researched other religious beliefs and my quest for answers gave way to the desire to be like everyone else — to simply be another sheep in the herd. I became outwardly ultraconservative, vowing such things as virginity until marriage, absolute faith in God, belief in angels and demons, etc. Despite my outward change of attitude, I continued my introverted struggle. Not even blind faith in God could help me understand why I had to be the one experiencing vignettes and images of the family who lived in an entirely different century.
Disbelief gave way to depression. Depression gave way to anxiety and fear. Anxiety and fear gave way to anger. I slowly began to realize that I was the only one who could make the dreams and visions stop. I could not depend on anyone but myself. Instead of banishing the family from my thoughts, I slowly began analyzing the things I saw and I decided that step one of my uncharted plan would be to discover the woman’s identity.
Where to Buy
Unveiled: Fanny Chamberlain Reincarnated is on sale today through the retailers below, both in the US and internationally. Brick and mortar bookstores, NACSCORP, the Espresso Book Machine, and Ingram Book Company are also be able to order and stock Unveiled as well.