Illustration by Andres Garzon
The hypnotist’s voice is a glacial lake: smooth, distant, cold, and piercing. It says, “Close your eyes and put your hands together in front of you.” The tips of my fingers touch, as if in prayer. “Your hands are fused together.” My hands are magnets. My arms shake from the force.
“You feel the bond increasing as your hands squeeze together even stronger.” Vines sprout from my wrists. Cold and heavy, like wrought iron, they twist and tangle around my fingers. I can no longer keep my hands lifted in front of me. The weight forces me to bend forward so I can rest my elbows on my thighs. The vines get so long they yank my hands to the ground. I separate my knees to spare my feet from getting caught.
In this position, I realize this is what anxiety feels like. It creeps up on me and weighs me down. I struggle against it, seeking control. Mostly, I try to hide it, which is impossible when I’m being pulled down.
“Your hands will not come apart,” the voice, interrupting my thoughts, stings my ears, like a caught bee. I try to tear my hands apart, but the vines are unyielding, and I am their prisoner. I hold my breath.
“If your hands cannot come undone, stand up.”
Despite the weight, I stand. Okay, someone is going to help me. Good. I don’t panic. This is a minor inconvenience. Now someone has gardening shears equipped with a blow torch to get through the vines. I exhale.
“If you are standing, you will be able to separate your hands on the count of three. One, two, three.”
The spell is broken. The vines loosen and fall to the ground. I kick them under the seat in front of me.
The voice speaks again, “Raise your right hand.” Freedom! “If your right arm is in the air, open your eyes.” The vines melt into the floor.
The power of suggestion has infiltrated.
I am suddenly aware that my husband, his sister and her boyfriend are looking at me, chuckling. I laugh too, but I don’t know what’s funny.
I remember that I’m in a vocational studies auditorium in Joliette, Quebec, and Messmer has hypnotized me. There are about two hundred other people attending the show.
I had always been curious about hypnotists, wondering if the people who end up onstage at these shows are paid actors. Could someone really tap into another’s subconscious with their voice? I went to the show to find out.
We sat through the first act in hysterics at the absurd things Messmer made audience members go through. Two men, who did not know each other, were spooning on the stage floor while their girlfriends watched from their seats. Another chump, who had been under the spell, started dancing the merengue. It was good entertainment, but how much of it was real? We all have that voice inside our head telling us not to embarrass ourselves; so, I figured they were actors.
After the intermission, the hypnotist asked us to close our eyes and listen only to the sound of his voice. I didn’t think that it would be my turn to be hypnotized in a few moment.
The voice continues, “If your hand is in the air, please join us onstage.”
An usher approaches me, holding out his hand in a welcoming gesture. I’m one of the chumps. My friends are laughing at me, but I’m not bothered by it. It must be the voice, calm and cool, telling me I am happy and having a great time.
I walk onstage, where Messmer puts a microphone to my lips.
“What’s your name?” the voice is still cool but inviting.
“Like the princess?”
“Yes, but not spelled the same.”
“And those are your friends?” he points.
“Okay, Lea, have a seat.”
The usher nods to a chair behind me, and I join several others.
“When I count to three, you will all close your eyes and sit comfortably in your chairs until I call your names. One, two…”
My eyes are already closed, my head is tilting down.
I slump in my chair. This is like a dream: reality is distorted yet I feel in control. I am comfortable, like the voice told me I am. Even though I am fully aware of the audience, they seem to be a part of my dream; I am not embarrassed to be in front of them. I can ignore them if I want. I can get up and leave if I want. Like watching a horror movie, I stay to see how this will end. The voice makes me feel safe.
I sit comfortably, aware of what is going on and, when I am not included, the suggestions don’t affect me. I sit with my eyes closed and listen.
The voice has convinced a girl that the number seven no longer exists. When she counts, she skips it. When she adds three and four, she has no answer. When she counts her fingers, she is astonished and confused to find out she has eleven.
“Lea, join me onstage.” I like the way the voice says my name, it is as if we’re friends.
The next part of the show includes us acting out a scene from the Lucky Luke comics. We each have a role and the voice gives instructions: “Lea, you are Luke’s girlfriend. You are sitting in a saloon, drinking a beer. You haven’t seen Luke in months, and you will greet him passionately when he arrives.”
It doesn’t take any more convincing for me to believe this than for the previous woman to forget the number seven.
“On the count of three, you will begin the scene. One, two, three!”
We come to life in unison as though we’ve rehearsed it a hundred times. I blow the suds off my invisible mug of beer. A moment later, I hear the hooves of a horse. The spotlight is in my eyes, so I can’t see who it is. Then I recognize him. It’s Luke! I see him on his horse as he rides from the back of the room. He’s here at last and I can finally be with him, but he’s riding so slowly, I ache for him.
My hand shoots up, trying to get his attention. I call out to him, “Lu-uuuke!”
At long last, Luke reaches the stage. Climbing down from his horse, he races towards me with arms extended and lips puckered for a kiss. I hesitate. That little voice in my head is still there. She’s resting with her feet up on a coffee table while the voice onstage does most of the work. When Luke approaches, my little voice kicks her feet off the table and comes to the forefront. Yeah, that’s not happening, she says. I nod to her then hug Luke. There is no passionate greeting, as the voice instructed, because this is Luke, not my husband. I still know who I am and, although I am Luke’s girlfriend, I will not cheat on my husband. I find this confusing but shrug it off as the hypnotist explains to the audience that I will not go against my moral judgement.
The scene continues, there is a showdown outside the saloon. Luke and one of the Dalton brothers face each other. The voice says the spotlight is the blazing sun; I wipe sweat off my brow and grab the base of my skirt (although I am wearing jeans) to fan my legs. They draw their guns and I hide behind my chair. I duck, afraid to see what might happen, but I peek anyways because that’s my Luke. I want to run to him, but if I get in the way, I’ll get shot. The gun pops, and Luke crumples to the floor.
I run out from behind the chair, and rush to his limp body. Kneeling beside him, I scream, “Luke! No!” tears blurring my vision.
When the voice tells us to do the fight scene again, but backwards, I wipe my eyes and repeat, “Luke! No!” I stand up and walk backwards, duck behind my chair to hide my eyes, and look up again. I fan my skirt and wipe away sweat.
When the voice tells us to do it again in slow motion, I remember my every move. This time when Luke is shot, I stretch out my arms and legs in a pantomime of panic as I run to him. When Luke falls, I hear my own voice, deeper than usual, echo in the room, “Luuuuuuuuuuuke! Noooooooooo!” I hear my friends laughing. When I look towards them, I see my husband has his head in his palm and his sister’s mouth is open. They must also be in shock that Luke is dead after I’ve been waiting so long to see him.
The scene is over on the count of one, two, three. We freeze.
“Well done, everyone,” the voice tells us, “You may go back to your seats onstage.”
We follow his suggestion.
“You are not embarrassed. You are feeling good and happy and comfortable.”
“Next, you are all going to work together in a rock band. You will each have your instrument to play. Lea, on the count of three, you will stand up and join me. One, two, three.”
I get up to play the bass. I don’t just want to play a bass guitar, I want the big bass, so that’s what I conceive in front of me.
“On the count of three, the music will begin, and you will each play your instrument. One, two…”
I spin my bass as I have seen musicians do.
Jet’s “Are You Gonna be my Girl” plays. The singer is lip-syncing to it but so am I because this song rocks. We are on fire.
As the song ends, the voice introduces each of us to the audience once more. “And on bass, ladies and gentlemen, is Miss Lea Beddia!”
I spin my bass appreciatively and hold my right hand up, two middle fingers down. Rock and roll! The audience cheers.
When the second act is over, the voice reminds us again that we feel great. He counts backwards from three and we snap out of it. The evening is done.
Until this experience more than ten years ago, I always thought of hypnosis as a mere magic show illusion. Being onstage with Messmer made me realize that although there may be things I cannot control, I can manage how they affect me. I did not panic when the vines restrained me, because the voice made me feel confident. In a strange and unexpected way, experiencing hypnosis gave me self-assurance.
When I told my sister about the show, she said, “I guess you have a weak mind.”
Normally, this would upset me, but my husband corrected her. “You have an open mind, Lea. Where most people would shut off any possibility of something unconventional like hypnosis, your mind is open to learning. That’s not a weakness.”
Three years ago, while I was pregnant with my third child, I decided to use self-hypnosis during birthing to help manage my pain and stress. I had an epidural, but I wanted to go further, to see if I could control how the pain affected me. During my previous deliveries, the epidural had a minimal effect and I was on the edge of panic by the time my boys were born. I felt my stress had a lot to do with it. There are not enough hats in the world to tip to mothers who go through childbirth without an epidural, but I didn’t want to go through it again. I wanted and needed to be in control. I researched tactics for self-hypnosis. With practice, I was able to get myself in the right state of mind. My trigger was a simple touch to my abdomen and a one, two, three.
The book I read suggested making a playlist of songs to help me relax. Much like Peter Pan needs a happy thought to fly, I used songs triggering serene memories to get me through contractions.
When my pain became more intense, I requested the epidural, but had to wait for the anesthesiologist. Listening to my playlist, a live version of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” began. The rhythmic waltz tuned out everything else for me. For about an hour, while my contractions persisted, I used that rhythm to breathe. Cohen’s voice, like a pendulum, veiled the discomfort so it was dim and far away.
When the nurses wheeled me to the anesthesiologist, my mind and my muscles were relaxed, just like when I sat onstage at Messmer’s show. By the time I saw the anesthesiologist, my body was open to receiving the pain relief. Moments after the injection, I felt warm, easing into a gentle wakefulness, index finger resting on my abdomen. It was as if I was in a room with the door closed. I heard voices on the outside, but everything was muffled.
I was calm and, twenty minutes after I hit ten centimeters dilation, my daughter was born.
Hypnosis has become synonymous with control. On occasion, my anxiety is much like the vines growing from my wrists, weighing me down. I don’t always have the voice to free me, so I had to create my own method. Had I never considered self-hypnosis to manage my pain, I would not have learned to adapt these techniques to cope with my stress and anxiety.
It is a part of my coping system, giving me confidence to tell my anxiety to take a hike. I use it to get through crowds, elevators, boat rides, awkward family gatherings, messy diaper changes in public places, and parallel parking. I keep “La-da, La-da, la-da, La-da, Dance Me to the End of Love” on repeat in my mind. I tell myself, Count to three and breathe. One, two, three, and go. It seems simple for the magic spell to work: I needed an open mindset and a ticket to see a hypnotist. I was embarrassed after that show many years ago, but I’m glad I kept the spell.
LEA BEDDIA was born in Montreal and now lives near Joliette, Quebec, where she’s been a high school English teacher for fifteen years. Her passion for literature has bred into a passion for writing. She studied Education at McGill Uniersity, and is currently completing a Creative Writing certificate at Concordia University. She enjoys all forms of writing, especially literature for young adults, and children. She aspires to have her young adult manuscript published. When she is not teaching or writing, she and her husband care for their three children. She spends her free time reading anything from Shakespeare to Stephen King, usually with a warm cup of tea, or a slice of her mom’s homemade pizza! Find her on Facebook @LeaBeddiaWriter and on her website: http://www.leabeddia.com.
Copyright © 2019 by Lea Beddia. All rights reserved.