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From the Outside, Looking In

Memoirs of an Observer

As long as can remember, I have been an observer. There are two kinds of kids, the ones doing and the ones watching. I was the watcher: extremely shy, awkward and skinny, too afraid to talk. I could watch for hours and never utter a word recording everything around me, taking it all in – every detail –  watching lizards, spiders, birds, and exploring the rich paradise that was Santo Domingo. And reveled in the stories around me carried forward by the women in my life: my mother, aunts, maids, etc.

I have started this site in order to share stories of my family and my life. I have led the most exciting, complex, chaotic life full of ups and downs, adventures, lots of fun, lots of pain, but at the end, full of peace and happiness. I wish I could go back and tell that scared little girl that it is going to be alright. To relax and enjoy the ride.

I would like to dedicate these stories to my daughter, Avaryl, and my nieces and nephews — a generation free of political repression, anxieties, and fear, full of hope and open to every possibility.  I am aware that your generation has no reference to relate to the world I grew up in. Even I, at this age, and in this reality, feel like this was just a movie I saw a long time ago, but, sadly, I know it was all very real.

I am adding entries in the Blog when I can. Short stories of memories, events, or just observations throughout my life. Browse through and comment if you like. I welcome any information you might be able to add to the stories. 

coat-of-arms arvelo-dalmau

Family Crest designed by my father in the late 1940s.


I come from a long line of people with a connection to spirits, or some kind of 6th sense. My maternal grandmother was a shaman in the countryside of the Dominican Republic. It is hard to believe, but she took care of the health and spiritual needs of a whole village outside of Bani. Ever since she was a small child she could talk to spirits. She then went on to be able to use them for healing. My mother and her mother had a connection even though my mother did not grow up with her. I remember countless times when my mother would tell the maids to prepare the guest bedroom because she was feeling her mother closer. And, sure enough, a few hours later she would be walking through the front door. I was used to my grandmother telling us things were going to happen before they happened. She told my future husband had not arrived yet but he had blue eyes and was a foreigner a year before he arrived in the island. He had blue eyes and was a foreigner and we were married 3 years later.

My “gift” is that I dream things before they happen. When I was younger I kept a journal by my bed that I wrote my dreams in. When they happened I would mark them. But later on there were things that I saw ahead of time that I wished I had not. So I learned to not remember them as often.

With that background in mind, it wasn’t very far fetched that we would play with a Ouija board. In 1973, Tommy and I did just that. We didn’t buy the commercial “game” they sell at stores since we were in the DR and had no access to one. Instead, we used scrabble letters, made a yes and no out of paper, used the coffee table and a crystal glass. It was large enough to place our fingers on the top, but small enough to be able to move it.

If you are not familiar with a Ouija board, the idea is that you invoke spirits using a small heart-shaped piece of wood or plastic called a planchette to communicate moving it to point to letters and thus “receiving” a message. We started out believing this was just a game. A fun thing to do to pass the time in the hot Caribbean summer. But we soon learned better.

We started communicating with different spirits. Some were somewhat ambiguous while others were very direct. Then we met Leon. Leon was an old spirit who told us he had been watching over Connie, Tommy’s mom, all her life. He would “talk” with us almost every night. It was entertaining.

Tommy wanted to prove that no one was actually pushing on the glass and thus controlling the message, so we all used bobby pins which slipped if you tried to push the glass with them. The messages still came. So, we kept on “playing”.

One night, Tommy, his sister Gioia and I we were talking with Leon when another spirit took over the glass. The spirit told us it was my grandfather’s sister, tia Caona, who had been in the hospital in a coma for about a week. She told us that she was dying the next morning. I started asking her questions that only I knew the answers to and she answered them correctly. So, it couldn’t be anybody else pushing the glass. When it was over, I called my mother. She told me that Caona had just come out of the coma and was feeling better.

Caona never married and spent her whole life raising her brother and sister's kids. She raised my mother and uncle and to them, she was their mother. She was the one that saw them through sickness, homework, school and much more. She was sweet and loving. We loved her a lot.

Later that night I went home late after playing and socializing at Tommy’s house. I went to bed but was quite restless. So was my dog Jupiter who slept in my bed with me.

My father built our house so that when you closed and locked the doors to the bedrooms, the rest of the house was completely sealed off from them. You could break into the living room, dining room and kitchen, but could never  get to the bedrooms. There were two bedrooms and a bathroom along a very large hallway. By this time, one of the bedrooms was my brother Alex’s and the other my sister Jackie’s. There was a smaller hallway that connected from the large one and went all the way to my parent’s room. That door was also locked at night and you had no access to the bedrooms. My room also opened to that smaller hallway. My sister’s room connected to mine and mine to a bathroom that connected to my parent’s room. So, you could go from my sister’s room through my bedroom and the bathroom to my parent’s room, or you could go down the smaller hallway and bypass my sister’s bedroom, the bathroom and my bedroom.

I was lying in bed when I saw a white figure float down the hallway and by my bedroom door and towards my parent's room. I say float, because it wasn’t touching the ground. My dog was trembling and I couldn’t move. When I was little, in the cartoons, when a character was afraid they drew ice cubes around the legs. I always thought that was funny. But, I can say for a fact that my feet felt like they had ice cubes around them. It seemed like an eternity before I could garner the courage to move and warn my parents.What happened next would have been a roll on the floor laughing moment if we had not been so scared...

I walked towards the bathroom and opened the door. All I saw was my shaken little sister freaking out. She wasn’t expecting to see me and I wasn’t expecting to see her.  So we stood there and screamed and screamed. She had seen this thing come into the bedroom and float over my mother. Needless to say, we woke the whole household. My father was not amused. Apparently, the night before, my brother Alex had felt something in the house and woke him up also. But they had not mentioned it so we wouldn’t get scared. My dad was not happy. He looked all over the house and, of course, couldn’t find anything. It was hours before we settled down and were able to go back to sleep. Since that night until I got married, Jackie and I slept together and we had the lights on all night. And I had my dog in bed with me. Not that he would help. He was just as scared that night.

The next morning, around 8 am, my mother got a call. Caona had just passed away. We don’t know if it was her spirit saying farewell to my mother. Whatever it was, it wasn’t in my mind or Jackie’s. We both saw it in different rooms. So, we couldn’t ever explain it away. And it wasn’t anything to be feared, except fear itself.

You would have thought we would have stopped there, but we didn't. A few nights later there were a lot of people at Tommy's house. Every night people came buy to visit. We always had a few people over for dinner. Tommy's dad's table and his extensive wine collection were very well known. After dinner we started playing with the Ouija. Our friend Nando was there as well as many other friends. A spirit came in that claimed to be his uncle who had committed suicide. Nando didn't believe in this stuff and didn't want to join in. So he wasn't going to play along. The spirit got more and more powerful and more and more demanding that he talked to him. Nando wouldn't budge.  All of a sudden, the glass started going around and around and then it flew off of the table and shattered into dust. Tommy's dad got really upset because it was an expensive crystal glass (it seemed to work better than any other). This was enough to discourage us from doing it again.

This wasn't the only time I have seen or felt things I couldn't explain. But, this was sure the most direct manifestation I have experienced. The rest have been more vague or just sounds.

Leave Ouijas  alone. They are not a game. You could be inviting something that you are not ready to deal with.