So, this one time? In fifth grade? I kind of hypnotized this girl. And then I couldn’t bring her back.
Actually, it wasn’t quite that I hypnotized her. Not to split hairs or anything, but I put her into a trance. To be perfectly honest, I put the girl next to her into a trance, but this particular girl, the one who got sucked in anyway, was highly impressionable.
To be absolutely precise, I tried to put the girl next to her into a trance, by having her lie, prone, eyes closed, on the floor with her head in my lap as I rubbed her temples in small circles and told her a scary story that likely involved her slowly sinking into quicksand. Or drowning. Or being choked by vines. Or something that involved some kind of slow suffocation. Because that’s how trances worked. Or at least that’s how I was taught to put people into them during a lunch break at gymnastics camp in the summer of 1979: ease the subject into a state of deep relaxation by having her breathe deeply and slowly as you count back from 10, and then see if the trance worked by telling said scary story and watching for signs of panic and inability to breathe.
The trances never worked at gymnastics camp, but I tried out this particular trance a couple of years later at a Saturday-night sleepover party for ultra-Orthodox girls at the Vancouver Jewish Community Centre, at 41st and Oak. I wasn’t ultra-Orthodox, not even in the slightest, but my friend Devorah was, and she invited me along to that fateful Lubavitcher shabbatton.
There must have been services, but, as I remember it, the Saturday night at the VJCC seemed mostly about minor dabblings into white magic. We told ghost stories. We tried that thing where one girl lies on the floor and everyone else tries to lift her off the ground using only their index fingers. It didn’t work, but that might have been because we didn’t try hard enough. Our chaperone, Sherry, a high-school senior who seemed impossibly sophisticated, hypnotized Alana, the impressionable girl. Although many details of that night are sketchy in my mind, these two are crystal clear: first, when I (or someone else) said “teapot,” Alana was supposed to hug me. And when another girl, Sarah, used the phrase, “You’re bananas,” Alana was supposed to crow like a rooster.
And then I performed my trance, the impressionable Alana sitting beside me in a posthypnotic daze. I did the thing with the temples and the quicksand and the counting back from 10, and, as usual, nothing happened. Or so I thought.
And then, the next day, of course, we went bowling. Because that’s what ultra-Orthodox girls do, or did, I suppose, on Sundays back in the early 1980s. And we all tried out the “teapot” and the “You’re bananas” things on Alana all morning long, and all morning long she doled out hugs and crowed like a rooster and I secretly (or maybe not so secretly; I don’t entirely remember) wondered whether she was faking. Because, in addition to being somewhat impressionable, Alana also had somewhat of a reputation of being somewhat dramatic.
And that should have been the end of it. Because Sherry the high-school senior had clearly instructed Alana that, once bowling was over and we all went home to our families, the spell would break and she would no longer be compelled to act like an affectionate chicken in public. Further, I had issued a similar set of instructions to my trancee: “When I count to ten, you will come out of the trance,” I must’ve said. Obviously, though, I didn’t say it to Alana.
Because the next day, at school, Sarah, the one who was supposed to say “You’re bananas,” came running, breathless, into gym class, interrupting a vicious game of dodgeball to announce, “Alana is in the guidance office and won’t open her eyes and they think she’s still hypnotized!”
Even then, I knew my moments when they appeared. And this was one of them. “I think I might be of service here,” I said, rising gracefully from the gym floor.
When Sarah and I reached the guidance office, we found Alana inside, sitting, eyes closed, on a leather couch. Surrounding her were the enrichment teacher, the science teacher, her fourth-grade teacher, the guidance officer and the vice principal. They looked up as we slammed into the room and tried to shoo us away, but I stopped them. “I think I put her into this trance,” I said. “I may be the only one who can get her out of it.”
Technically, this was true: the terms of the trance stated clearly that the trancee would respond to my voice and my voice only. I had told my trancee to close her eyes, to keep them closed, not to open them until I said so. It was dawning on me that perhaps the trance instructions had cross pollinated, merged with hypnosis in a double-whammy mindfuck. Although I doubt I thought of it, then, in precisely those terms.
The adults faltered, and then acquiesced, their arms slowly dropping, limp, to their sides. Sure, I was 11 years old and in a gym uniform, but at least I had answers. Alana, apparently, had simply turned off in the middle of class: shut her eyes, ceased to speak or move. In the guidance office, she had stood, walked to the blackboard, picked up a piece of chalk, and written the words Mother and Father and her parents’ phone number — they were on their way, as was Sherry, from the high school down the street. Then Alana had sat back down on the leather couch and responded to nothing.
It was an impressive performance. And I would not be outdone. I stood against the wall, facing Alana from across the room. I cleared my throat.
On cue, Alana let rip with a cock-a-doodle-doo. The adults in the room jumped back. Sarah nodded. “Okay,” I said. “Teapot.”
Alana stood, eyes still closed, and walked across the room to where I stood. We embraced. For a long time. I was the first to let go. Alana sat back down on the couch.
“She’s still hypnotized,” I announced. “And, she’s in a trance, too.”
The details of the previous Saturday evening unfolded quickly: the ghost stories, the hypnosis, the seemingly ineffectual trance, five-pin bowling, the thing with the fingers, the way you rubbed circles into somebody’s temples. Sarah, disgruntled, was sent back to class, while I remained with Alana in the guidance office, surrounded by wood-paneled walls and high-strung adults. My job was to bring Alana out of her trance, back into the realm of the conscious. If this were a work of fiction and not the truth, I would have the enrichment teacher mutter, “Okay, Kreskin, show us your stuff,” but of course he didn’t really say that.
“Okay, Alana,” I said, sitting down next to her on the couch. “When I put you in the trance, I told you not to open your eyes until I told you to. You’ve done a good job of listening. Now, I’m going to count backwards from ten until one. When I get to one, the trance will be broken and you will open your eyes.”
And I did. And when I reached “one,” Alana’s eyes fluttered open like Cinderella’s must have after the kiss. It may have been the single most exultant moment of my life up to that point, but I played it cool. “Good girl,” I said.
Alana looked around, confused. I don’t remember whether she asked, “What happened?” or whether she simply crumpled, sobbing, onto the leather couch as Sherry the chaperone, was ushered, panic-stricken, into the room. My memory gets a bit blurry here but I believe it was deemed that Alana was likely no longer hypnotized or, for that matter, tranced. The adults milled about, wondering about their next course of action. I’m sure I gave helpful suggestions. I’m sure Alana was somewhat dramatic.
“Maybe we should take them to the hospital,” one of the teachers wondered out loud. “Just in case.”
Now there was a good idea, I thought. At that moment, more than anything else in the entire world, I wanted to go to the hospital. Not because I felt anything other than perfectly fine and whole, but because, come on. The hospital? How cool would that be? The cherry on top of the whipped cream on top of the ice cream sundae of legitimacy. I wondered if they’d call an ambulance, or if we’d get to ride in one of the teacher’s cars. I imagined myself gowned, on a gurney, with an IV needle, explaining to a room full of white-coated professionals, “Well, what you do is you make little circles with the tips of your fingers on each side of the person’s head and then you tell them this scary story about quicksand…” I could dine out on the story for months. I trained my newly honed paranormal gaze upon the assembled teachers and counselors: Yes, I told them with my brain waves, yes. We must go to the hospital. Take us there, now. Do it. DO IT.
It didn’t work. I was dispatched back to my fifth-grade classroom, where, much to my gratification, the news had gone viral — although that term was not yet in common parlance in the early 1980s. My classmates were beside themselves with curiosity — a hypnotized girl! Who wouldn’t wake up! Sleepwalking! Drowning in quicksand! — and my reappearance in the classroom unleashed such a frenzy of whispered questions, such a ripple of energy, that our teacher finally and very wisely agreed to let me stand in front of the class for a brief Q&A. Which made up, to a certain degree, for the hospital.
When I left school that day, I walked by the enrichment teacher, who beckoned to me with one finger. I walked over to him, and he bent down so that we were face-to-face, put his hands on my shoulders. He looked me in the eye.
“I want you to promise to never, ever, put somebody into a trance ever again,” he said.
“Okay,” I said.
And I never have.