I quickly reached over to the bedside table and turned off the lights.
I’d spent nearly an hour lying in bed reading a magazine, attempting to induce sleep, but it wasn’t working. Without the luxury of extreme exhaustion, falling asleep without the comfort of voices can be a challenge. My need for the sound of television is a hold-over from childhood where I lived in a house filled with the presence of a woman long gone. Voices kept her at bay or, at least, that’s what I thought. My sleep habit has endured for too many years to count. I’ve argued with parents, roommates and even an ex-husband about the television as a sleeping partner.
I lay in the bed at my mother’s new house thinking of these things while longing for the muffled sounds and flickering light of a television. Finally, exhaustion won and I slowly began to drift despite the energy that was rising. By that time I knew enough about myself to know I’m a beacon. It’s not the buildings, it’s me. I’ve come to know the feeling and I’m able to recognize when someone or something wants to make its presence known. Most are just memories being played again and again, but some are angry, some are confused and some are lost. Some were never even human to begin with. Sometimes I can ignore them. I pretend I can’t hear them or see them and they silently move on to wherever it is that they go. It’s the ones who refuse to be ignored that make me long for a television – a distraction that buffers whatever it is that causes my mind to tune in.
My mother’s new house – the one she was so proud of, the one they’d just built on the top of a hill in what was once a farmer’s field, was haunted. I didn’t tell her. My “ability” had become running joke in the family. You think every house you go into is haunted… David and I drove to upstate New York from Boston and, from the first time we stayed, I knew they were there. Three of them – a man and two women. He was very angry. His emotion was palpable. On that first visit I curled myself into a ball and buried my face in David’s back in the guest room bed. I tried to ignore them.
The burst of bright light happened just as David’s breathing told me he was falling into sleep. The room was washed with the blue-white light of a lightening flash. I told myself that it was storm but knew it wasn’t. It was late fall. There were no accompanying rumbles of thunder and the big windows confirmed the stars were shining. The yard was illuminated by a bright harvest moon. The flash came again, filling the air with a series of popping sounds and carrying their image into the corner of the room. The women hovered behind him silently, almost sorrowfully, looking down to where their feet should have been. He looked straight at my face and, wearing an expression of rage, he pointed angrily at the ground. His mouth moved in a noiseless tirade. I closed my eyes and pressed against David’s back, trying to shake him awake, but he wasn’t sleeping.
Did you see that? That flash?
Yes, that burst of light.
Yeah. Did you hear that sound…like bubbles popping?
This house is haunted.
Just don’t say anything…they’ll all make fun of me if you do.
A year later, I was nearing the end of my first pregnancy. I was alone for the visit and my mother offered the pretty guest room. My big belly and I slept on the couch. I pretended I’d fallen asleep while watching television. I had tried the bedroom, but he came with his women in tow, riding those lightning flashes, emitting a noise best described as impossibly large bubbles popping. He was full of rage. He pointed to the ground, angrily jabbing his finger at something unseen and mouthing something I couldn’t hear. On the second night, I finally asked my mother if she’d seen any bursts of light.
Yes, what is that?
Have you seen anyone? Anything?
Despite myself and the fear I’d be belittled, I told her what I had experienced.
It wasn’t until a later visit when she led me to a broken gravestone they found after the foundation was dug. She laughed sheepishly, explaining that my sister had forbidden her from telling me about the broken headstone because, of course, I’d immediately claim there was a ghost in residence. Instead of becoming defensive, I suddenly understood his anger and his jabbing points to the ground. I knew why he was angry.
Each time I went, he became stronger. He began appearing in daylight. One afternoon his form moved through the living room, easily identified by his broad shoulders and dark button-down shirt. Despite feeling foolish, I talked to the air, hoping to explain that the farmer who sold the field had knocked down their cemetery, plowed their headstones and scattered their bones long ago. My mother had asked around a bit and uncovered that sad revelation. One of the last times I visited before my mother sold the house, my friend Tiffany came with me for a weekend. I generously offered her the pretty guest room and its lovely view…because she doesn’t see dead people.