My Life with Ghosts, part 5, (The Confirmation, Conclusion)

Found at the foot of the basement stairs, one of the many vintage bottles discovered among the possessions of the dead…

The Confirmation, Conclusion

One good thing has come out of this latest “haunting.” I begin to write furiously, working on these stories of the dead in particular, with the words becoming my weapons. For the more I fling the words at the paper, the less the incidents occur and the less intimidating they become.

Ultimately, however, I decide that it is time to spend much less time thinking about the past and to get back to the living. And I certainly make a valiant try. But despite this desire, the dead continue to be use me as their conduit for some reason that is beyond my grasp. And the strange events continue…

One night, I swear the ghosts are teasing me. I dream that my children are calling me, but they sound far away as if at the end of a tunnel. I awaken, go to their rooms, but they are fast asleep.

And is this another taunt from the ghosts? On several occasions during my sleep, I hear a “pssst!” sound as if someone is trying to get my attention.

Every night Lee gets up once in the middle of the night to use the restroom off our bedroom. The routine is always the same. Four or so steps to the bathroom, then the squeaking that accompanies the opening and shutting of the old door, followed by his return a minute later. Often I hear this in a half sleep state.
Last night was no different. Except the footsteps were different. I think I was dreaming for they sounded like leather shoes on the wooden floor. The steps were slow and heavy—like those of a tired, elderly person. I heard the familiar squeak of the bathroom door. I think I heard the steps come back. I visualized in my dream an elderly man’s legs, dressed in dark suit pants and slightly bowed. I then pictured a pair of black, worn shoes, old-fashioned in style. The sounds awakened me. I opened my eyes to find Lee in bed beside me, sound asleep. It had not been him walking about. I snuggle closely hoping the contact of our real-life bodies will form a shield against the imaginary ones.
The next morning I asked Lee what kind of shoes his grandfather wore. Why I thought of Barney, I’m not sure. Lee had no idea why I was asking. He answers without hesitation, “black leather shoes.” The expression “spine-tingling” was very appropriate at that moment. I told him of my dream. He shook his head as if it was all too much. He reminded me that our bedroom was once Barney’s.

Our time in “The House” is no longer an interesting adventure. It has become frightening. And I can’t shake the feeling that we are headed towards some kind of crisis.
A footnote to this particular story about Barney’s shoes: I get a call from a friend this morning while writing down these very words. After we hang up, the phone rings again. I pick up the phone, thinking it is her. Dead silence. Another one of those strange “no one at the end of the line” phone calls.

One night, I wake up brushing something away from my mouth. It felt like something sharp, like a fingernail, had been dragged across my lip.

August, 2006:
My son gets scared when he hears “funny” voices in the hall that sound like “walkie talkies.” He says accompanying the voices are shadowy shapes like “ghosts.”

Finally, gratefully, the strange experiences begin to subside. But still, I make sure that I am never asleep alone in my bedroom. And I often wake up in the 2-5 A.M. “witching hour” and feel that all too familiar oppressive feeling. It is difficult to breathe, as if the air is choked and heavy with souls.
I tell Lee about this. He replied that there was one recent night when he woke up, and sensed a similar ominous feeling. He wondered if he was about to have another one of those “moments.” He was relieved when he did not.

Over time, I have come up with a theory about the “haunting” of our house. That day when we had cleared out the small area at the bottom of the basement stairs, we had encountered a tangled knot of souls. Upon thinking over the variety of items we handled during that particular purge, it hits me how many deceased people we were dealing with in just a few feet of space. We had revealed Mrs. Warner’s oriental embroideries (and I’m guessing those were her antique books as well); Gretchen’s carefully color-schemed towels; Harold’s obsessive use of baggies to protect the mundane; Barney’s industrial tools and vintage army lighters; and a vast amount of vintage jars likely used by most everyone that had lived there at one time or another.
But it wasn’t just the objects we were untangling, it was the memories as well. Memories of camping trips and vacations; thoughts of childhood and growing up with parents and grandparents; and reflections on all those who have left us and gone on…
It seems to me that the process of extracting the belongings of the dead from their hiding places and exposing them to the light of day, is somehow loosening the bindings of trapped souls. The more we clean and purge, the more we are lessening this strange hold the house has over all those who once lived here. It’s like a giant spider web that, with our help, is slowly coming unraveled, its captives finally falling away.
My question is–and it’s a question I believe that will most likely never be answered–why do the ghosts seem to be trying to get our attention? To make their presence known? To say goodbye? To express their anger? Are they trying to guide us somehow, or to tell us something? Maybe they are asking us to stop our actions, that they don’t want to leave this place that they once called home for so many decades. Or perhaps they are begging to be released. I have to believe that that’s what they want. So we carry on, dismantling memories and lives, piece by piece.

And that is how it goes, in this house of ours…

My life with ghosts (part two)…

The Confirmation and Other Stories of Dreams, Ghosts, and Unusual Events

I must preface this story by interjecting a note about my dreams, as
well as my beliefs about the paranormal.

I have always had incredibly vivid and creative dreams which I can
almost always recount. They are often saga-like, whether they be in the form of operas, ballets, theater, musical pieces, or movies, all of which I conjure up during my sleep. Sometimes I am conducting a symphony and often, I can still hear the music as I awaken. And occasionally, I write in my dreams. My dreams are colorful and multi-layered, resembling moving paintings often with Surrealistic or Cubist-like imagery. I travel in my dreams. I fly in my dreams. My dreams are frightening, exhilarating, and at times, they simply are, serving as a sieve for all the creativity around me that has inspired me and flowed through me throughout my entire life.
What has changed then about my dreams since living in “the house” is not their intensity, but rather, their subject…Ghosts.
I don’t typically dream about such things and I’d like to think that my recent dreams full of apparitions are simply the result of the power of suggestion—thoughts that have evolved from perusing the things once belonging to those who are long dead.

My view of the paranormal has always been a dubious one. But still, I guess you could say I have psychic tendencies. As long as can remember, I have been able to sense who is calling me on the phone when it rings. I know when a squirrel is about to run in front of the car, and sometimes I can sense when there is an accident up ahead and I’ll instinctively put my foot to the brake. Here’s an example of a recent “psychic” event. We were driving down a street past a golf course when it suddenly occurred to me that I should roll up my window—a golf ball might hit me. What a curious thought! But only an instant later, a ball whizzed in front of our car and struck the vehicle next to us. Strange. Even so, these “events” do not seem too extraordinary.
My connections with the paranormal have been tenuous at best. When I was a child, my friends and I terrified ourselves while playing with the Ouija board, with the planchette seemingly taking over and moving of its own free will under our hands. As a young adult in my in my early twenties, I read a book that my mother had recommended which documented people’s accounts of life after death—white light at the end of the tunnel kind of stories. I thought it was interesting but I went no further with the topic. And a sidebar here–as far as astrology is concerned, I have read horoscopes for amusement, but I believe them only if I approve of their projections for my future.
In other words, this paranormal stuff is not really my cup of tea.
But upon the death of my father-in-law, Harold, strange things began to happen…

During the seven months following Harold’s death and before we had moved into his house, our children, who were just two years old at the time, began relate to us incidences that chilled us.
With his health rapidly failing, Harold had stayed with us in our duplex during the last week of his life. He spent much of that time sitting in our living room in his favorite chair, which we had brought over from the sitting room of his house. Our children would sometimes go to his side and talk with him, or they would play on the floor nearby. After one week of this, we took him to the hospital, where he died.
Despite his passing, my children’s play continued. Death was a large abstract to them and I don’t think its ramifications registered with them. Or so I thought. Our twins begin to claim, in their earnest little voices, that following his death, Harold, or “Danda” as they called him, began coming to visit. As they often did at that age, they spoke simultaneously, telling their stories independently, but in unison. And there was no prompting on our part. They told us how Danda would sit in the big chair by the lamp in the living room, the same spot where he had sat the week before his death. He would watch them play and chat with them. They had complete belief that their grandfather had been there. We did not know what to think.
And it was during this time that I had my own first bizarre experience. Following Harold’s death, Lee and I had begun the cleaning and repair on his house necessary to make it habitable. While one of us watched our children, the other worked over at his house. We shuttled back and forth like this between our duplex and Harold’s house for months.
The “event” happened one day following weeks of working furiously at packing Harold’s books, cleaning and scraping walls, and priming and painting. I was taking a moment to pause and glance around the living room at my progress. I happen to be standing in the doorway that separated the living room from the hall–the very spot where Harold often had stood to say goodbye to us when we would visit, for he was too weak to escort us to the front door. Suddenly, I heard a voice next to my ear, so loud that it made me jump. “Suzy,” the voice said simply. I knew immediately it was Harold.
This would be just the beginning of a series of eerie events that we would experience over the next many years, occurrences for which we could never be able to logically explain. So many curious happenings and bizarre dreams, that my husband and I have been left baffled, even frightened.
Sometimes these events happen during that transition time between sleep and awakedness. Other times things have occurred while we were fully alert and functioning. And we begin to see a pattern that correlates with our work in the attic and basement–the more we cleared out and organized the two spaces, the more the paranormal happenings took place.
Over the years, I have documented these strange experiences whenever they occurred–a way of making them seem less intimidating I suppose. I will now attempt to put my notes to paper in chronological order, still in their original loosely written form. Some occurrences are dreams, while others are actual events. All took place over an eight year period. I hesitate to even write these words while sitting here alone in “the house,” but it is the afternoon and most of the bizarre events have taken place in the middle of the night. The mystery is, how should I view that which I am about to relate to you…

My life with ghosts…

This is my very first post.

I thought with Halloween approaching, it would be an appropriate time to share my real life stories of having lived in a haunted house. Despite having been 5 1/2 years since I moved from there, what I went through still puzzles me and sometimes disturbs me.  I am sharing the documentation of my experiences that I made at the time, beginning with the backstory of  how it came to be that I lived a place where these events were even  possible. This first installment is titled “The House.” The ghost stories will follow soon…

The House

During the late moments of the day, when the light is soft and glowing, a time in filmmaking that is so special that it is referred to as the “magic hour,” I stand in my dining room and look to my right. There, I see the leafy view outside the kitchen window of what was once Uncle Martin’s world, a place where he quietly nurtured to full life his garden of roses. But over the many decades since, a bamboo thicket has won out, destroying almost all signs of the red flowers, and the tall, thin trees that bend easily in the wind are now my children’s world.

If I turn slightly, I will find standing before me Mrs. Warner’s china cabinet that wearily displays various old objects from her travels to ancient places, each item rich with its own story. And if I look towards the living room and beyond, I can see into the distant porch room, a room that was once Gretchen’s, and which has now become my own special place for quiet thoughts and creative tasks.

It is at this instant that an enchanted thing happens. The house comes to life. Its force, in the shape of a complicated interaction of sparkling light and faint shadows, flows through the rooms and I’m almost sure, through me.

But let me back up and tell you the story of this house and of its many inhabitants throughout its numerous years…

The house had made its way through three generations of my husband’s family and following the death of my father-in-law, Harold, it landed squarely in our laps. A gift, yes. But a curse as well. For the house was packed with junk. From the coal-littered basement floor all the way up to its spidery attic’s raftered heights, there was barely a space within which one could move. It quickly became obvious that for sixty years, every previous family member had left their mark in the shape of their things. And apparently, it was now our problem to remedy.

But I sensed that underneath all the clutter there had once been a charm to the place and I was determined to bring it back. The first time my mother came to visit, before dementia had completely stolen her mind, she exclaimed as we drove up: Why, its a storybook house! It does have that innocent aura with its red brick, white trim, a green roof with matching green door, and making it unique from all the other houses on our street, its three gables. It was partly due to those three gables that my husband’s grandmother, Eloise, had first chosen the house back in the 1940s following an exhausting search for the perfect home.

So I persevered. I was on a quest to make the house our own “perfect home.” My first line of attack was against the ocean of books. Thousands of them, on every level of the house, dealing with every imaginable topic, in all different shapes from the fascinating antique volumes held together with embossed leather bindings, to the more recent cheap fiction paperbacks. In their totality (at my estimation, at least 6000), the books seemed an incarnation of all the varied lives that had previously called this three-gabled house their home throughout the passing decades.

During this book sorting, endurance task from hell phase of my life, (which, by the way, took four months just to deal with the books on the main level of the house), I came across an antique edition of Tennysons Poetical Works” from the late 1800’s. When I first held it, I tentatively turned through its gilded pages, for I felt such a presence emerging from the book that I hesitated at invading anothers world. Inserted in a passage from Guinevere,I discovered a small white card. Hand-written in ink in beautiful cursive penmanship were the words Souvenir-Saturday night. Feb.-13.97,” underneath which were a series of intertwining initials inscribed in a heart-shaped configuration. Stitched to the card with black thread was a small pressed flower, so ancient it was hard to determine its type but I guessed it to be a violet.

February 13, 1897. The day before Valentines. Suddenly, time had done a reversal and I found myself spying on a very private moment that had occurred 108 years before. One special night in one persons life, long lost, long dead. My body felt curious, caught between my ordinary, task-laden life and this mysterious, romantic moment in the past, one so powerful that it had driven the owner of the book to immortalize it. What had happened that evening?

This would prove to be just one of many such moments, full of magic borrowed from the dead, that I would experience over the next many years during our time living in what I have come to refer to simply as “The House.”

As we continued cleaning, several things occurred. First, with every excursion to the attic or basement, my horror grew at the job ahead. Secondly, as my brain became more focused, I was finally able to discern individual objects rather than simply massive heaps of junk. And finally, we became aware of the numerous trunks and cabinets and satchels scattered about, including five trunks in the attic and two in the basement. Each time we pried open one of these repositories, we’d discover it filled to the brim with items once belonging to one or more of the house’s previous inhabitants.

Here, for clarity’s sake, is a brief summary of the varied souls that this place once held. The very first person to live in our house was the contractor who, back in the 1940’s, originally built the house as well as many of the other houses on our street. Then there was Barney and Eloise along with their son, Harold. Once grown, Harold married Gretchen and they lived, along with their son, Lee (my husband), with Barney and Eloise. Various other relatives passed through as well: Lessie (Barney’s mother and Lee’s great-grandmother) lived here for brief period while she attended a school for the blind; Uncle Martin, Barney’s brother and editor for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, lived here for a number of years; and there were many cousins that came and went. Our home was almost always full, and as we were about to discover, they all left their mark in various forms, both tangible and intangible.

Over time, my original purpose of cleaning and straightening the house was slowly joined by an overwhelming desire to know exactly what lives were entombed here and what their stories might be. Hence began what I nicknamed “The Great Trunk Hunt.” We set out to tackle the trunks (along with all the cabinets, boxes, satchels, and any other form of vessel a particular person had chosen to hide away their treasured belongings) from which we wrestled their decades-old secrets.

We approached the job like a couple of amateur archaeologists. Once locating a trunk or some other such repository, we’d slowly raise the lid, wary of what might jump out, careful not to breathe its foul air from ages ago. Its contents would then be examined, piece by piece. We’d make a mental note of the original owners, all dead. A sad job. An item or two might be removed to join us in our living space–a letter opener, a pocket watch, coins and stamps–but the rest of the things would be returned to their crypt, to remain there for who knows how many more years. I think it was at this point that I became fully became aware that what we were dealing with was not a simple cleaning/purging/fixin’ a house up kind of thing. No, we had landed in a place caught in another time. And soon, we’d discover that otherworldly occurrences in “The House” were not completely out of the realm of possibility…