31 July, 2010

A Ghost In Boston

Specters, spirits, ghosts. Things that go bump in the night. Regardless of what you call them, and whether you believe in them or not, something hit me in the face in the middle of the night last Tuesday. My money is on ghosts.

Let me go back. I grew up having a serious curiosity with "the other side." When my parents thought that I was old enough, they allowed me to watch the old Nickelodeon series, "Are You Afraid of the Dark." Mistake #1. My parents would also buy me books about kids that solved old mysteries and interacted with historical ghosts from civil war-like time periods. Mistake #2. After I turned thirteen, my parents more or less let me control what I watched, read, and was entertained by. So, because I was fascinated by the idea of ghosts, I sought books about them. The more I read, the more scared I became. The more scared I became, the more I felt I had to read more of them in order to confront my fear of ghosts and move on into the brave world of adults. Mistake #3. There have been few peaceful nights since.

After all of this learning about the undead, for my own credit I'd like to state that it's not that I'm scared of ghosts, really. I just have an incredible aversion to getting maimed by things that I cannot see. Which, really, is not such a unfounded fear to have. And though I like being entertained by them in television shows, books, and movies, I'm still not entirely sold on the idea of whether or not they actually exist. However, I would never voice these thoughts aloud, especially not late at night when it is dark and I'm alone. There is always the fear that nearby spirits could hear me say these things, become angered, and kill me. It could happen.

To be honest, they wouldn't even have to be that proactive about killing me; I'm pretty sure my fight-or-flight instinct is misfiring somewhere. My bodily reaction to extreme fear is not the adrenaline-inducing sprints or punches of species survival, but total body freezing, not unlike that of a fainting goat. Not exactly a life-saving skill. There is very little chance that my genes would have been passed down to future generations if I were to, say, have been born in the middle of the Amazon in the 1600s. Red-bellied piranha swims past me? I'll save it the trouble- instant heart attack. Anaconda in my bed? No need to squeeze me, I'm long gone. A sheet floating by me, however cliché, would more than do the trick. So I like to hedge my bets and avoid any and all discussion of dead things after sun down. Just to be on the safe side.

When I was twelve, my parents abandoned my beloved childhood home for a bigger one across town. I'm sure there were very good reasons why we moved there. It was a fine house; it had a pool and a large backyard, and even access to a pond that harbored enough mosquito eggs to ensure that the rest of my summers I would be covered head-to-toe in attractive bites. As though middle school wasn't hard enough. Thanks, parents. Unbeknownst to my parents, our new house also included the addition of invisible things that made rocking chairs move in the middle of still nights and gave a seriously eerie sense that you were being watched. In other words, a ghost.

Depending on who you ask, there are a few front-runners for the title of first ghost in my house. There was Colonel Eaton, the man who used to own the estate that my house sits on. While my house was located in the cattle-pasture area of his estate, he could have felt a unique affinity for the barnyard and decided to haunt there after he passed. This is all just educated guessing on my part, but it seems probable. Then there is my grandmother, who came from the Old Country and was just stubborn enough to avoid passing on into "the light" and instead chose to forever sit in her favorite perch, a rocking chair by the fireplace. Lastly there was Moody Brown's wife, the woman who died in the house before we moved in. A big part of me wants it to be the wife, because "Ol' Moody Brown's wife" is quite possibly the best name for a ghost I could ever have imagined. 

With four daughters, my house had seen many a gentleman suitor on its grounds. Many boyfriends have been relegated to sleeping on downstairs couches at night if they were to stay over. A few of these boyfriends have had not so normal nights. My boyfriend, Dan, lives in New York. Whenever he comes to visit he claims a space on the living room couch. He swears that during one of these nights the rocking chair next to the couch started to move on its own accord. The rocking was slow, steady, and continuous, leaving very little evidence that it could have been made by a rogue wind. The rocking chair was my grandmother's favorite, so this would seem to solidify her as the pre-eminent ghost of the house. Personally, I never want to get close enough to find out.

Sometimes, when I'm home and it gets late, I latch onto nearby family members. I'm not too proud to admit that this is a desperate attempt to avoid being alone with who or whatever else could be out there. In nearly every horror movie known to man, if you're in a scary situation and you get split off from the group, you die. If you're a female, you get chased, and then you die. If you decide to be brave and fight back, you die. So while I may have terrible fight-or-flight instincts, I will never be the one who says, "Hey, what was that scary noise? I'm going to go check it out all by myself!" and so, I have at least a solid chance at survival. What am I supposed to do, go upstairs alone and be forced to expose my back for an attack from behind? Simple math suggests that stairs + ghosts = instant death.

My twin, a night-owl and fellow late-night person in her own right, is usually my latch-ee. Sometimes I do feel a bit bad for her since we are the same age and I should at least pretend to be brave. But on certain nights after dark I regress back into a 12-year old girl. But in my opinion, feeling regret and still remaining alive is preferable to death by invisible ghost. Rachel and I will inevitably be watching television, and then she will move to get up from the couch.

Me: "Hey, where ya going?"
Rachel: "...The bathroom."
Me: "Cool. Can I come?"
Rachel: "No."
Me: "Well, how about you just leave the door open like a foot or two and we can talk."
Rachel: "What? Why?"
Me: "No reason. I just love you. Please do it."
Rachel (already down the hall): "You're weird."

At which point I grab the nearest blanket to give my body some semblance sense of protection. Everyone knows that ghosts can't penetrate the sacred fortress of a quilt.

Me (whispering): "I can't believe you left me here alone to die."

It might be easier if I did die, or at least get knocked unconscious for a little while. The fear itself is somehow worse than actually meeting with a ghost and getting it over with. I think, if I were to meet one, I'd just be like, "Oh. That's it? Ok, whatever." But it's the fear of the unknown that is intensely horrifying. So I count the seconds 'til she returns, turning the volume of Tosh.O up higher and higher to scare away any menacing spirits that (god-willing) can't stand to be around loud noises or internet memes.

Rachel returns. "Em. We're in our living room."
Me: "You mean Moody Brown's old bedroom where he died."
Rachel: "Stop watching tv."

And then I force her into having a sleepover.

Which brings me back to today. My apartment building is located in a historic Boston neighborhood which was settled nearly four-hundred years ago. Whether or not it is related to the ancient settling of my 'hood, my apartment, most likely, is haunted. Not even haunted, really, just a presence. A presence that is mostly focused around my bedroom.

At night the pipes rhythmically click click until I courageously decide to overcome my fear and inspect it. But then the clicks stop. So I get back into bed again. And the clicking starts anew. It's like invisible chinese water torture, but less insanity-inducing. (At least, so far.) One night, out of severe frustration, I exclaimed aloud, "C'mon ghosts. Clicking? That's the best you can do?" But then my door opened by itself, a poster fell off my wall, and my light burnt out. Two seconds later I was in my living room, after scrambling out of the room like the Road Runner and apologizing into the air profusely. Even if they don't exist, having a ghost mad at me is not high on my list of priorities this year.

That was the last time I tried to talk to them. Now I've resigned myself to the fact that there may be a ghost in my room, but I like to think of it more as a cohabitation with a roommate that I don't particularly like. If I leave them alone, they leave me alone, and everything is cool. The clicking I can deal with, as long as they leave my lights on.  I just wish they'd kick a little in for rent. Because if I have to share my space, I should at least be able to enjoy some financial perks, too.