Man Confronts Childhood Obsession With Ghosts In New Memoir (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Man Confronts Childhood Obsession With Ghosts In New Memoir

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
Okay, so let's say our crotchety guy in the log cabin actually does exists, if so, Heather Freeman and Darlene Felton, pretty much seem to think that ultimately, you know, he's harmless. But the man we'll meet next has had a more dramatic and a much more scary experience with the other worldly. Growing up in Canton, Ohio, in the early 1980s, Eric Nuzum became convinced he was haunted by a little girl in a blue dress. His anxiety over this haunting ended with Nuzum in a psychiatric ward. Decades later, Nuzum has told the tale in a new book, "Giving Up The Ghost." He recently talked with Kavitha Cardoza about how he confronted his fear of ghosts.

MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA

00:00:43
I do want people to understand that this little girl was very, very real to you. Could you read a little excerpt from your book? It starts when you talk about a man in a wolves costume pointing you to a path.

MR. ERIC NUZUM

00:00:54
"As I enter the path, I can see her outline in the moonlight. I step closer and I start to see detail. A little girl in a blue dress, she's wet like she's been in water. She's staring right me, eyes wide, cold and dark. When I'm only a few steps from her, she starts yelling at me. It sounds like gibberish. She never moves, never takes her eyes away from mine. As I come closer, she seems more and more irritated and frantic. When she's at the point of screaming so loud that she's shaking, I wake up."

CARDOZA

00:01:29
What was going on?

NUZUM

00:01:30
Well, I would wake up -- often I would be sitting up when I woke up and be looking around this room in total pitch blackness and seeing swirls of something. It was just my eyes adjusting to the darkness. Having this disoriented feeling and would be convinced that I had had that dream because she was in that room somewhere. And I would, in my mind, justify anything I saw, unusual or something that felt like movement, that was her. And the attic was divided into two rooms and I was in one room and I was convinced she was in the other. And the door to that room is always kept closed.

NUZUM

00:02:04
But I felt that if I exited my room to go downstairs, that then she would have the advantage and be able to open the door and get me and do whatever she wanted to do to me. So I would, basically, sit there and stare at that door. I would routinely stay in my room for, you know, a full day. I mean, never come out.

CARDOZA

00:02:21
The book is also about your relationship with Laura, a childhood friend who helped you through this time. But also by deciding not to be friends or not to continue being friends, she pushed you into turning your life around and she died in an accident a few years later.

NUZUM

00:02:36
Yeah the dreams with the little girl, I never had any after Laura died. I don't remember having any. She -- at one time saved me from my imaginary ghost and became a real one in my life. I never saw her floating around or heard her or felt her presence but she's been part of my life ever since.

CARDOZA

00:02:54
When reading the book, I was so surprised to read all these kind of gut wrenching passages about how that time seems to have haunted you. Because you seem like such a happy chap and it made me wonder about all the demons people carry about that we don't see. And one of my favorite lines in the book is "Life is neat and binary and clean. Life is messy and troubled and leaves ghosts in its wake."

NUZUM

00:03:21
I would have two responses to your question about me. One is, often times comedy is tragedy plus time. So maybe because you're looking for the same thing about happiness. I think that a version of me definitely died in the course of this story. And the second thing I would say, is I'm a happy person because I keep my life very much in context. If you look around this room, a couple places, you'll see little skulls. Like, there's one over that stand, there's one up on that shelf. I keep that motif around me a lot because I want to be reminded of where I've been. But a skull is a reminder of death to me. And it keeps me focused on living.

CARDOZA

00:03:56
When I entered the room, my eyes were immediately drawn to your very happy looking baby.

NUZUM

00:04:02
Yes, yeah, which is also something I keep around too. I was in a race to finish it before my son was born so that I could be a better father. One of the main reason I wrote this book was to let go of it. This has been something I had been keeping inside of myself and festering this whole story for 27 years. And I wasn't succeeding in eliminating it. You can imagine my wife's reaction to reading it when she was six months pregnant. Not really knowing all these stories, like, what have I gotten myself into? It's like a manual for how this kid's going to eventually rebel against us.

CARDOZA

00:04:37
To understand your fears, you visit places including the battlefields of Gettysburg and Clinton Road in New Jersey, places where lots of people have claimed to see ghosts. And you keep shifting between rationally being able to explain that there could be many possible explanations for, say, spirit orbs and yet being convinced that there was something out there that couldn't be explained. Do you believe in ghosts now?

NUZUM

00:05:03
I believe, if you think that there's a building that contains some floaty thing inside of it that comes out when people are in there at night, that that doesn't exist. I think people are haunted. I think people are haunted by their pasts, their regrets, things that have happened. And sometimes they'll go sit in a dark space, in a place that feels creepy or unfamiliar and you're sitting there alone with your thoughts and things come out in you, not the place. And I think that's real.

CARDOZA

00:05:36
How do you make peace with your past? Your hauntings.

NUZUM

00:05:40
Well, my current tactic is to talk about them very publicly, which is both completely crazy and uncomfortable. My family has a lot of trouble with this. They think it's going to damage my reputation or people's impressions of me. And my feeling has been that by telling the story, I get to stop trying to suppress in my own life. When I tell it, I'm really being honest about me, even though it's a crazy story and there are crazy elements to it, it's the only story I have.

SHEIR

00:06:19
That was Eric Nuzum who's now a Vice President of programming at NPR. He's author of the new memoir, "Giving Up The Ghost." He spoke with WAMU's Kavitha Cardoza. You can find an extended version of this interview on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

00:06:40
Time for a quick break but when we get back, what it's like to have professional ghoul on your resume.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1

00:06:46
Nothing is more exciting than watching somebody jump or scream or get terrified.

SHEIR

00:06:50
That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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