The Unknowably Strange Case of Carol M.

I’ve been canning green beans recently in a pressure cooker. Six pints. There’s so much time when the timer is on (10 minutes, 20 minutes, another 10 minutes…) that it’s easy to cook up a fresh idea for a blog post. So here we go…

No food this week. Another heavy dose of weirdness.

Sometimes something sticks in your craw for years and years, and you want to tell the story of it, but then the doubt hits: is this a blog post? Is it too much of an outlier to have credibility? Do I want to “go there?”

No, I really don’t, but I also feel I should. In some way it may be helpful to someone out there who can’t explain something way out of the ordinary that happened to them in years past. And I think this needs to be my only post on this subject. If ever there was a rabbit hole, this is it, and the deeper you go down it the harder it is to get out.

So here’s the story of Carol M., and we’ll leave it at that. As Hunter Thompson famously put it, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

The private terror of Carol M.

In my former life when I lived in a small northeast suburb, my (then) wife and I became friends with some neighbors Carol and Tony M. She was a middle school principal, and he a lawyer. Friendly, highly educated, intelligent, well-grounded people.

In time, as our friendship deepened (this was the late 1980s), we started to share more of our personal histories – college stuff, what we did after college, travel, and so forth. Carol spoke of one winter (about 1972) just after college when she worked at a large ski resort hotel here in Maine – housekeeping, waitressing, and other things — in exchange for a lot of free skiing. She said she’s never forgotten it: partly because of the fiends she made and all the skiing, but mostly because of one night when her life went completely haywire.

“This guy” Bill

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For several weeks after Christmas, there was this guy staying at the resort hotel who struck her as very odd. He never went skiing. He hung around the lobby or the lounge areas. His clothes seemed out of date and uncomfortable-looking. Brownish, tannish, boring looking. He would sit and read, or look around at other people. And he paid for everything in cash. (Note that in 1972 credit cards were just gaining traction as a common method of payment). She never saw him take out a wallet. Just a wad of bills.

Carol said she had several conversations with him over these weeks and she found him very friendly, personable, polite, and quite private. How old was he? Well, it was hard to say. Late 20s, early 30s. Nice face, short brown hair (definitely not 1972 hair). Maybe even handsome. Part of her was even attracted to him. He called himself Bill.

Then one evening he asked her out. “I’m going to meet some friends at a restaurant. Can you join me?” She said, sure.

In telling this to my wife and me, Carol paused. “I remember we got in his car. It was a long long drive. Very cold, snow everywhere, dark, I don’t remember seeing any other cars on the road. And that’s it. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in my room, very late in the morning, missing my work shift. I was freaked out. I left the resort the next day and went home.”

Enter Joe N., hypnotherapist

This is where I become, very reluctantly, part of the story. The “mysterious stranger” aspect of Carol’s account intrigued me, as did other hints that she may have had an “extraordinary experience” with something unknown. I had a somewhat more than average interest in this field, her story resonated with some others I’d read about, and I also knew I could suggest some help if she wanted it.

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Like, what happened that night?

After some phone calls and research, I found Joe N. in a town not too far from us, a researcher and hypnotherapist working mostly in the field of the “extraordinary experiences.” We talked on the phone and I told him what I knew. He wanted to talk to Carol directly, but to have her call him. I gave Carol Joe’s phone number, and after several weeks of getting over a case of cold feet, she set up an appointment. But she wanted her husband Tony, my wife and me there with her in the room.

Regression: the trip to the restaurant in the woods

We gathered with Joe in his modest ranch house, chatted idly for a bit, then moved into his hypnotherapy room, fitted with chairs for Joe, Tony, my wife and me, and a recliner for Carol. She was very smart, strong-willed, a forceful personality, but also a ready and willing hypnosis subject.

Joe got her to relax on “a beach,” counting gradually up to 10, then asked her to go back to 1972 at the hotel. She did. She was there. Joe asked her to describe this fellow Bill. She did, speaking in the present tense (and also as someone just out of college). He’s kinda cute. Joe moves forward to the night he asked her out to the restaurant. He wants me to meet his friends.

They’re in his car together. Joe wants to know about the car. It seems old. Strange car. I don’t know. Joe tells her, “Okay, you’re driving…” Carol pauses a long time. Very dark, cold. Snow everywhere. It’s taking forever. Another long pause. It must be an hour or so. I have to pee.

“No need to be afraid”

“Did you tell him that?” Yes. He pulls over, stops. I have to get out of the car, trudge through the snow. Very cold. I do it. No paper, I use snow.

“Okay,” Joe says, “now you’re back in the car.” I tell him I need to go back. To the hotel. He tells me he wants me to meet his friends. It’s important.

 

“Carol, you’re there now, in the car. Stay there, in the car.”

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I want to go back! No, he says, don’t be afraid. You’ll be fine.

Please!

No, no need to be afraid.

I’m trading looks with Tony and my wife. Tony’s eyes are wide. He doesn’t like this.

We keep going, and then after awhile he stops the car. Turns the engine off. He gets out, takes the keys. I’ll be right back, he says. He’s gone for a long time. It feels like hours. I’m freezing in the car. It’s so long! I’m scared. Why is he gone? Where is he?

Long pause. He’s back. I’m furious! I’m so cold, how could you do that? He says, we’re almost there, don’t worry. And I realize, I’m starving and freezing. It’s late, I need to eat.

Joe keeps her going. “What happens next?”

Pause. I see some lights ahead in the woods. Very bright. Is that the restaurant? Yes, he says.

Long pause, her breathing becomes more rapid. We’re inside the restaurant.

“How’d you get from the car to the restaurant?” Joe asks.

I don’t know. I was in the car, now I’m in the restaurant.

Joe waits, then asks, “Are there other people in the restaurant?”

No.

He says, “Look around you. What do you see?”

As she’s reclining in the room, her head moves around. Breathing intensifies, she looks panicked. Get me out of here!! IT’S NOT A RESTAURANT!!”

 

She’s panicking, Joe tries to calm her but it’s not working, she wants out. He takes her immediately back to the beach, lying in the sand, counts backward from 10 to 1, telling her she’ll remember everything from this session. She comes out of it, starts to sob gently. Tony goes to her, and that’s it. She wants no more of it, no deeper memory of what happened. She awoke the next morning, all those 15 years or so before this session, in her room at the hotel, late for work, knowing something had happened that was erased from her memory. “Bill” was nowhere to be found. He’d paid for his room, but he and his car were gone.

Then what?

Joe really wanted to pursue the memory more deeply in another session, but that was the end of it for Carol – she wanted no more of this stuff. I couldn’t blame her. Get to the precipice of pure terror, why go over the edge? She thanked me for my role in it, but said no, no more.

I’ve lost touch with Carol and Tony, and Joe N. may or may not be doing this work anymore, may or may not be living. But he was fairly prominent in this field and well-respected by leaders in this field – like John Mack, and Budd Hopkins.

Of course, there’s the question of what really happened to her. There was the weird guy at the hotel. Okay, so? After a few weeks, he took her in his car on a long drive. Okay, so? No other cars, no other people, just snow and woods and cold and dark for more than an hour, maybe two. Okay, so? They go into what he says is a restaurant but it isn’t. So? End of story.

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In Joe’s mind, there was no question this was an abduction experience. “Bill” was an intermediary alien, human looking, but still alien. The restaurant was a ship. No people, no food. And Carol, after they were done with her, was “shut down” until she awoke late the next morning back in her room at the hotel at a ski resort here in Maine.

What “really” happened, we will never know.

(Disclaimer: the story and dialogue above is reconstructed from my own memory. It’s very clear on the entire experience, but a few words here and there may not actually have been spoken.)

John Mack, Harvard professor of psychiatry and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, is featured in one of my earlier posts about three geniuses “with guts.” He spoke of the “ontological shock” of people experiencing a reality that is far afield of their usual reality: “What happened to them is impossible. But it is also true.” Budd Hopkins staunchly defended the genuineness of these experiences, pitting religion against this weird science. He said, “One is all belief with no miracles. The other is all miracles with no belief.” Both men, sadly, are gone now, passed on before their time. But they appear together in a 1997 episode of The Connection, hosted by Christopher Lydon, in a memorable discussion of what they believed the abduction phenomenon was all about, below. It’s about an hour long, but if you’re game for it, it’s worth it.

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For all the time I knew Carol after her session with Joe, she never wanted to talk about what she remembered that she didn’t verbalize under hypnosis. She saw clearly what was inside “the restaurant,” but that was as far as she wanted to go. She did confide in me that, yes, she had experienced something ultra-remarkable, and would try to find ways to assimilate it into her life.

I’ve also known other people who have had similar experiences, but that’s as far as I want to go.

Back to earth next week!

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Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, humorist, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.