Is it better to be haunted or crazy?
This was one of the themes explored at “Reaching Through Time,” a night of music and monologues held Nov. 23 at Dave’s Coffee and Wine House. The event featured twin narratives performed by John Tobin and Chris DiCesare, which explored childhood trauma, male gender roles, identity and belonging through the lens of the paranormal. Singer/guitarist Mike Lewis rounded out the trio of performers, opening the event with cover songs.
Floating on air
John Tobin is the founder of Glory Haunt Hounds, a group focused on historical preservation and the paranormal in New York and New England.
Tobin’s story of his encounters with the paranormal runs parallel to his history of unspecified childhood abuse, beginning at the age of three, at the hands of his mother. According to Tobin, it was years of trauma that opened his mind, allowing him to experience premonitions, as well as an out-of-body experience of floating and flying, unseen by others.
The six-foot-tall Tobin spoke slowly and almost conversationally, as he unraveled the painful and quixotic details of his youth.
Tobin says that he realized he could float above his own body at age eight. The first time, Tobin says, he was lying in bed staring at the ceiling when it happened. Over the course of the next several years, Tobin says he continued being able to escape his own body in this manner, which he later began to understand as astral projection — a term he heard on a TV show in his teens.
When these episodes occurred, Tobin says he also saw and felt the presence of a white-haired, white-bearded man. The presence of this man comforted and validated Tobin, reassuring him that his experience was both real and okay.
During this time as a young boy, Tobin says he also began to foresee disastrous events – including two separate car accidents and the death of two individuals. His premonitions, and the events, seemed to occur on a yearly basis around his birthday – the significance of which Tobin doesn’t try to explain.
While watching “Guiding Light” one day with his mother, Tobin says that he had a revelation that the abuse he was experiencing at home wasn’t right. Ironically, at this pivotal moment in the story, when young Tobin is about to become self-empowered, adult Tobin makes a self-deprecating comment to the audience about his watching soap operas with his mother, which he tries to laugh off as a joke.
Uncomfortably moving on, Tobin goes on to say that after that day, he reported his mother’s actions to a teacher at school. After that, the abuse stopped immediately and permanently – as did the visions and Tobin’s ability to spiritually levitate.
Since childhood, Tobin says he has had one other encounter with the supernatural: the time he saw a “full-body apparition” of a young girl. He at first thought the girl was his daughter, but found his daughter in another room of his home.
At the close of Tobin’s talk, when the room was opened up for questions, two male audience members preceded their questions by sharing that they, too, had had out-of-body experiences.
A college nightmare
Chris DiCesare has been referred to as a “key witness” in the 1985 SUNY Geneseo hauntings, a title that makes it sound more like a crime than a ghost story.
Appropriately, Chris DiCesare is now a history teacher in New York State. However, at the time he was a cross-country runner and aspiring Olympian studying communications.
DiCesare was the more animated of the two speakers. While Tobin spoke slowly, trying to get every detail in order, DiCesare ran confidently through the telling of events, peppering his tale with colorful descriptions and well-rehearsed analogies.
Unlike Tobin, whose trauma preceded a paranormal experience, DiCesare’s trauma was his paranormal experience. Like Tobin, DiCesare’s story grapples with having survived an unwanted encounter, and what that means as a man.
DiCesare opened up his story with a universal statement about all people, based on his own personal experience, that seems best attributed to men of a certain generation. “No one likes to talk about our pain,” he said. “We want to be seen as strong, not weak. We wear a mask. We try to fit in and be accepted.”