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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The (haunted) house where I used to live

The first house I shared with my husband was full of spirits. That house was also newly built, but it had been built under contract for somebody who had reneged on the deal at the last minute. That house was built on land that was once a farm. The original farm house was next door to ours, and it had even more problems. The house behind that one and the house next door to ours on the other side all seemed to be affected. In the 8 years my husband lived in that house, those 4 houses saw 3 divorces, the demise of one good friendship between 3 room mates, the financial ruin of one couple, actual psychological illness, spouse abuse, and dozens of knock-down, drag-out fights that frequently spilled out into the yards.

The five years I lived there were the most difficult of my life.

Though I had stayed with Ted on weekends before I was pregnant, I had never noticed anything weird or unusual. I would attribute that to the constant activity—(Besides Ted and me, there was also Ted’s roommate, the roommate’s 12 year old son, all their rowdy friends, and several cats) and my continual state of drunkenness, hung-over-ness, and/or post-coital bliss. Hell, I was lucky if I noticed whether my shoes were on the right feet. When I got preggers, though, we kicked the roommate and her entourage out and started fixing up the house That was the year natural gas prices were so outrageous, so we stayed in my condo and only went down to the house to work on cleaning and decorating it. That was when I began to notice things.

The house was a split-level ranch, with a short stairway in the living room that lead up to a hallway that was open on the living room side. Frequently, when I came around the corner from the kitchen or the bathroom, I would see someone standing there. It was a man, rather short, in a tan jacket and pants, and a wide-brimmed hat. He usually stood with his hand on the newel post, looking down into the living room. He would always fade away as soon as I saw him.

One time, when it was bitter cold, Ted and I went into the house to do a few things. We had to turn up the furnace while we worked (we usually left it set at 50) and left it on when we went for supper. We had planned to do more when we came back, but for some reason we stayed out several hours and decided not to do any more in the house. When we went back to turn down the thermostat, we found it had already been turned down.

When we brought the cats down to live in the house, they went crazy. One stayed under the couch for days and growled. The other ran right to the top of the stares, where the figure of the man always stood, and started to cry. (Not really crying—it’s this desperate-sounding noise she makes when she wants something and we don’t know what it is.) We put the litter box in the basement bathroom, and the older cat would sit on the steps and cry many times when she didn’t want to go down to the litter box. She would stare down the stairs with her ears pointed forward as if she could see something, and meow like somebody was killing her.

When we brought he baby home, things got worse instead of better. When I sat up nights with the baby, I could hear another baby crying. Having worked in an emergency room, I know a baby’s fever cry. Sometimes it was that, and sometimes uncontrollable bawling. I heard cats meowing. Kiddo’s electronic music toys would begin to play spontaneously. Musical instruments, like bells and tambourines, would play. Things got moved to improbably places. Things disappeared all together—especially shoes. Over the years, I threw out several single shoes and slippers, after despairing of ever finding the mates. I sort of expected to find all that stuff when we moved, but no luck.

The sprits got bolder. One time I came home and opened the front door, the find the tan-suited man standing in my living room. As the door swung open, he stared at me in surprise for a moment before fading away.

I began seeing a female form, too. She had a long pink dress. One time, I had taken Kiddo out for a walk in his stroller, and he had fallen asleep there. I simply wheeled the stroller inside and parked it in the kitchen, letting kiddo sleep. I got busy doing some dishes. When I turned away form the sink to check on Kiddo, the woman was bending over him in the stroller. It wasn’t a threatening gesture, just an interested one; the way people usually look at babies in strollers. As I opened my mouth to speak, she disappeared.

As kiddo got old enough to stand and walk, he developed the charming habit of lifting his arms and smiling at whomever he wanted to pick him up. Sometimes he would turn to what seemed to us an empty space, make faces that showed obvious pleasure and recognition, and then lift his arms to be held. He would also babble and wave to people we could not see.

Ted had his experiences, too. He likes to soak in the bath tub with a good book. Frequently while he was doing this, the bathroom door would open and shut, as if someone had passed through. A couple times, the bathroom door flew open forcefully and banged against the wall. Sometimes it didn’t open, but there was still a banging sound, as if somebody were knocking desperately to get in. When in the basement, he could hear footsteps in the empty house above.

The creepiest thing that ever happened to me there was once, while I was standing in the hall, a huge black shape flew from the bedroom at the front of the house, straight down the hall, and out the bathroom window at the back of the house. It was not a bird or a bat—this thing was huge. It was probably about as big as a person, but it seemed shapeless. It passed just inches from me in the narrow hallway and blocked out the light from the bathroom window before it made its escape. Although it was a hot summer day, I felt cold.

The oddest thing was the way the house or its spirits seemed to affect our relationship. Although our relationship was rocky in those days, we would be fine as long as we were outside the house. As soon as we came home, a fight would start. I’m not joking—sometimes as soon as we were in the door, Ted would say something, and I would take it the wrong way, and off we’d go! They really seemed to thrive on this—the worse the argument, the more activity we’d see for the next few days. Strangely, sex seemed to have a similar effect on them. Many women state in a figurative way that they herd bells and music after hot sex—we really did!

The activity seemed to calm somewhat as Kiddo grew older, but I still hated being in the house. I never felt comfortable there, and I never felt like I was alone. And we still tended to fight whenever we were together in the house.

Thank God Cook County raised their property taxes; because that was the only way I could convince Ted to move. Our new house, a restored school, is super quiet. In almost a year and a half, there has been not one single incident. The nights here are peaceful and quiet. When I sit up at night to read or work, I can relax, instead of always listening for unexplained noises and watching for God-knows-what.


Fourmother said...

Scary! My mother swears that the house I grew up in was haunted. She says my brother and I had identical imaginary friends who were mean to us when we were each 3-4 years old. (He's nearly 3 years my junior.) When she figured it out, she told me and my brother to go outside and leave his friend behind. Then she cursed out the invisible friend and told him to leave her kids alone. She says we never mentioned him again after that day.

By the way, I tagged you for a meme. You're now a Wonder woman. See Wonder

Erin said...

A follow up--Something accidentally got shipped to my old house, and I had to track it down at the post office in the old town. In the process, I googled my old address. Turns out in 6 years, all the houses in the immediate area have been sold at least once. My old house forclosed 3 years after we sold it, and was for sale and standing empty again last summer. How odd...

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