Friday, March 2, 2012

I DO Believe In Spooks!


When Sweet Sassyfats was a wee towheaded ankle biter, the Sweet Family Sassyfats moved into a four-bedroom cape cod house on a quiet suburban street. We had a big fenced-in backyard and a whole herd of neighborhood children with whom Elder Bro and I could run. We had been living in a small apartment in a questionable neighborhood, so Dear Mama and Good Ol’ Pops were more than happy to uproot us chid’rens to transport us to this sleepy little community.
What my parents did not know, however, was that the house was not altogether vacant the day we moved in. <cue the creepy organ music>
I cannot remember ever not knowing my childhood home was haunted. I remember routinely hearing the distinct sound of footsteps going across my parents’ room overhead while the whole family – including the dog – would sit in the living room and exchange startled looks. There were times I would see shadow figures dart across the wall, gone before I could get anyone’s attention. One time I even saw a mist figure materialize and walk across my parents’ bedroom. When alone in my room, I would sometimes hear someone whisper my name in my ear, and I frequently felt like I was being watched.
For most of my life I have had a distinct picture in my head of an older man with thinning grey hair and dark-rimmed glasses. He wore jogging attire, complete with terrycloth headband and wristbands. (It was the late 70s, if that matters.) He looked like a nice man, very grandfatherly. By the age of 5, I was convinced that Mr. Whositsface had died of a sudden heart attack in my bedroom shortly after going for a run. I do not know where I got that particular idea, so I have decided to go on the assumption that he somehow communicated the information to me. And even though he looked like a nice man in my mind’s eye, I did not like him hangin’ around my room. I slept with my bedroom light on, my door wide open, and the hall light on until I was in middle school. Cowering under my covers was normal nighttime behavior for me. Leaving my bed at night to walk three steps down the hall to the bathroom was an exercise in courage, right up through the day I left for college.     
Speaking of college, picture it: Boston, 1991. I was a fresh-faced new arrival at Berklee College of Music, ready to show the music industry how it was done, son! (Not sure whether to laugh or cry at my youthful naivete. Le Sigh.) My dorm assignment was in a building that had once been a hotel. The old building had been badly damaged in a fire decades before my arrival. The creep-out factor was higher than many of the students, so naturally the ghost stories started on move-in day. I ignored them. Happy to have left Mr. Whositsface behind, I didn’t have time for spooky stuff in my new life. I stubbornly decided that the people who told of strange happenings in their rooms were just making stuff up so they’d have a cool story to tell.
That is, until the day the spirits decided to give me a cool story to tell. <where’s that organ music?>
I was alone in my room one day practicing my keyboard (Rule violation! No instruments allowed in the rooms! I know. I was such a rebel.) To be more accurate, I was alone in my room’s walk-in closet (must have been a nice hotel). I started to feel like I was being watched. As the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, I told myself I was imagining things and kept practicing. Then the wire hangers on the rod behind me started to rattle. Again, I brushed it off. Could have been caused by the vibration of someone walking by in the hallway, right?
Ignoring my attempts to ignore it, the faint rattling gave way to a scraping noise, like a hanger slowly and purposefully sliding back and forth on the rod. I screwed up just enough courage to turn around and look – and the sound stopped. But the hangers were still swinging like someone had just touched them. Whatever wanted my attention got it, but it did not try to engage me any further. Which is good, because I didn’t want to be known as the girl who ran up and down the hallway that one time, waiving her arms in the air and screaming something about, “There’s a ghost in my closet and I done peed myself!!” I was socially awkward enough as it was, I didn’t want people to know think I was batshit crazy.  
"Yeah, man. I was there, man.
That girl was like, nuts, man!"
My dorm ghost would make its presence known every so often. It was a benign presence, albeit a mischievous one. Sometimes you would just feel like you were being watched. Other times you'd feel a little whoosh of air behind or beside you, like someone had just walked by. Still other times, items would go missing in the room. You’d tear the room apart looking for your keys, only to find them sitting in plain sight exactly were you’d started your hunt five minutes before. One of my roommates named our unseen domestic partner Herbie, because it’s weird not to have a name for the invisible force that messes with you just for funzies. We coexisted with Herbie and hoped he/she/it wouldn’t kill us in our sleep.

Fast-forward a little more to the year 1997. I was a fresh-faced young bride getting settled in my new husband’s old townhouse. He’d been living there about two years by the time we got married, so I’d already had plenty of time to get acquainted with the spirits that lingered there. They stayed silent most of the time and were easy to tolerate. Every so often they would knock on a wall or tap you on the shoulder. But the instances were few and far between, and just barely perceptible. What bothered me the most about the spirits in the townhouse was not being able to shake the idea that they were in that house because their lives had abruptly and violently ended there.
Not long after Miracle Man bought the house, he learned that it had previously been the neighborhood crack house/brothel. (One-stop shopping is convenient no matter what you’re in the market for!) We heard rumors of a suicide and a possible murder. I never investigated the claims, but would not be surprised to find some kernels of truth in the rumors. I was sad for the spirits trapped in that house. They weren’t evil or harmful, they were just plain lost. All I could do was pray for their peace and hope that they would someday move into the light.
As I have matured over the years, instead of leaving childhood fantasies of ghosts and goblins behind I have only become more steadfast in my certainty that ghosts are never too far away. But the paranormal doesn’t scare me like it used to. I have only had experiences with benign presences who have not meant me harm. At times I have even had experiences with loving presences who just stopped by to check on me. I’m not into seances or Ouija boards or anything like that; when you open the door between the physical and spiritual worlds you can’t control what comes through. I’ve seen enough horror movies and watched enough episodes of Ghost Adventures to know that some seriously bad shit can go down when you’re not careful.
When my kids ask me if ghosts exist, I neither confirm nor deny their suspicions. I don't want to outright lie to them and say “no.” Nor do I want to open up a frank discussion on the paranormal with my young children; then they'd never go to sleep at night.  My answer is always the same: "What do you think?" They both say there's no such thing a ghosts. I'll go with that for now. I see no reason to be all like, “Why yes, my darlings. There are ghosts, and some are evil AND WILL EAT YOUR FACE OFF IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT!!!! Here, watch this instead of iCarly tonight. You want to snuggle with your clown doll?”
Nighty-night, Children!
And on that note, I will bid you, gentle reader, a good night. If you hear anything go bump in the night, don't freak out. Just tell Mr. Whositsface I said Hi, pull the covers over your head, and continue on with your sweet, sweet dreams. <and organ music crescendos... then fades to silence> Mwa-ha-haaaa

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