ghosts who live in my house

Graves at Old Holy Cross Cemetery

Image by Fritz Liess via Flickr

Last Thursday, the ghost tickled the crown of Rob’s head while he stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes. Not an “attaboy”. Rob performs housework without the need for warm affirmations or pats on the head. It was a “heads up”.

So, when the call came later that evening to let us know that his uncle had passed away, the ghostliness of the day made sense.

But it was hardly the only sign this month, lights have been on that shouldn’t have been and there was that incidence with the shadow in Dee’s room. For myself personally, it’s been this persistent feeling that someone was going to die soon. It’s caused me no end of anxiety. First with Dee’s class taking a field trip into the city during the icy weather earlier in the month and then Edie and Silver driving through the mountains to and from Vancouver on their vacation.

It’s not as if we didn’t know about Uncle Francis. He had lung cancer and recently went into hospice, but death comes in threes. It just does. What’s true for the rich and (in)famous holds true for we lesser mortals.

This morning I awoke from a bad dream about a dinosaur trying to bite me (long back story that I’ll go into another day) to see Rob sitting up next to me. At least, I thought it was Rob. The room was Devil’s Den cave midnight. I couldn’t see my own hand when I reached up and then had to bring my hand down to find Rob, who was lying down and asleep next to me.

It was frightening. I sat up and noted that there were dark shadows ringing the bed and then I lay down and went back to sleep.

Tonight, we returned home after depositing Rob’s mom and future step-father at a hotel near the airport. They are heading home on an early flight. A message was waiting on the machine from my mother. My Aunt Peach died last night sometime.

You might remember Peach. I’ve written about her before. She would have been 103 this coming March. She was my grandmother’s youngest sister and the last of the Fagan siblings alive.

Gran lived to 94. She might have gone longer but for the dementia. Uncle Fran and Auntie Anna were 102 and 104 respectively when they passed on. The ones that cancer didn’t get young lived to 75 at the youngest and if they didn’t have bad hearts 90 and beyond. Remarkably long-lived, my dad’s relatives. If Dad hadn’t queered the deal with his drinking and smoking, he’d have cleared 100 easy, I’m sure. He still has two siblings – though I fear for not much longer – who are in their mid-80’s.

Will one of them be the third?

I really hope not though I know many folks who would roll their eyes and say that living to extremely ripe to bursting old age is long enough for anyone, so what’s the big deal?

It is a big deal to die, regardless of when. Death is one of the milestones. It represents fruition – which is a big fucking deal – and opportunity, which is nothing to sneeze at either.

Aunt Peach always made me a bit uncomfortable as a child and teen. She was forceful and larger than life though I towered over her even as a 10-year-old.

The last time I saw her was on our visit to Iowa last spring. She was playing bridge. It took us a good twenty minutes to track her down. No one knew where she was though everyone in the nursing home knew who she was.

She gave Dee a doll and probably more of her interest than she’d given me since I was that age myself. She barely acknowledged Rob or my mother, who was with us.

There’s quite the family reunion going on, if I know my dad’s relations – and I do.

I wonder if they are waiting on anyone?

I’m betting that Sylvia Brown kicked herself a good one when iTunes started hawking its latest app, a virtual Ouija board.

Satan at one’s fingertips, say some, but with so many of us related to the dead, turning our cellphones into a conduit to the other-side is an improvement over giving us a brain tumor and simply sending us there in person.

Touch screens being a fit made in … the beyond … the Ouija app is a must-have for anyone whose ever stored a loved one’s last voice message. No word on if the two can be interfaced.

The Ouija has a gruesome reputation thanks to Hollywood though Christianity besmirched it first, but whether one believes that the departed can be contacted or not, this app has a creepy feel.

I don’t have a phone that does anything other than be a phone, so I can’t speak to the appeal or use of apps in general, but I can’t imagine why anyone would spend actual money on an app that could potentially unleash poltergeists into their natural habitats – electronics. Doesn’t anyone remember Carol Anne and the television? Spielberg is probably ordering up a new sequel using a touch screen even as I type.

Though, now that I think about it, convincing the spirits that knock around our place to live in one of our cell phones could be a potential winner. If it helps them be less cryptic, I’d be all for it.

How does one politely tell the spirits to bugger off?

They mean well. I know this. Our dead family only has our best interests at the center of their wispy insubstantial hearts, but my personal preference is to live in psychically deaf ignorance of any coming catastrophes or even minor bumps. And I am not talking “bumps” in the night.

Or the early morning light.

I haven’t been able to get a full night’s uninterrupted sleep since Rob’s heart attack. Some of it, I will concede, is the reactivation of my caregiver’s spidey sense, but the physical presence(s) in our room are not helping.

For some reason, I am able to tune in to the frequency of the departed with nerve jangling clarity in the early morning hours. I wake nearly every night to the powerful sense of someone standing by the windows.

Thursday morning I was awakened by footsteps that started at the door and ended at the foot of the bed. I started because they were loud and opened my eyes to spy a human shape heading towards Rob’s side of the bed.

Sunrise filtered illuminated the shape and I assumed it was Rob. He is often up to use the bathroom on the main floor. I heard him ask,

“What’s wrong?”

“I heard footsteps,” I told him and thinking now that they were his, I went back to sleep.

Only it wasn’t Rob.

Later as I thought about it more – while sitting in the ER as the doctor tried to determine if Rob had suffered another heart attack – I realized that the figure was clad in light coloured clothing. Rob’s robe is dark and even when he shuns it – which he isn’t at the moment with my mother visiting – he is dark.

The chest pains turned out to be a reaction to the Lipitor, which is another kettle of fish for another day, but as I headed into town to spring Rob from the Fort Hospital – also a tale for a day soon – Metallica came on the radio.

Metallica is hardly in popular radio rotation anymore. When the rare song turns up, it usually comes at “interesting” moments in my life. As they were my late husband’s favorite band, I have to wonder at the timing.

“These are definitely messages for you, ” Rob remarked when I told him about it later.

Perhaps I should pay more attention than he did.

… I am not sure which.

I mentioned not long ago that the house ghosts are fiddling with the lights again. The one that leads to the basement, the lamps on either side of our bed (though they prefer mine – it’s probably an effect thing as you can’t see mine until you are all the way in the room. Our ghosts have a wicked sense of humor.)

In the last week and a half, I have heard someone call “Mom” in the night which, as any mother will tell you, can rouse one from the deepest slumber to near full battle-stations in less time than it takes to draw in a breath.

Nearly every night since the weekend, I am awakened by footsteps. Either on the stairs going up or down from the main floor or in the landing between the bedrooms.

Last week, my last alone during the day as Dee is now out of school for the summer, the basement was alive with pops and bumps and rattles throughout the morning and then again in the afternoon.

This evening marked the first physical encounter in a while.

Rob had finished folding laundry* and he was leaving the bedroom when he felt something brush along the top of his head. It was substantial enough that he ducked a little and looked up to the door frame to see if anything was hanging from it.

“I thought Dee must have hung a ribbon up there or something,” he told me.

Which is silly in retrospect because Dee is barely four feet tall. Standing on a chair – and there are no chairs upstairs – she still wouldn’t be able to reach the top of the door to hang anything from it.

This comes on the heels of Monday evening when I heard one of the bedroom doors open as I was walking out the back door to check on Rob in the garage. The doors have new knobs, close securely and make a very distinct noise when they are opened or closed. Rob and I have to be very careful when opening or closing bedroom doors when Dee is asleep because the noise is loud enough to wake her.

After I came back in, I walked upstairs to check the status of the bedroom doors. They were both closed earlier. Dee, in fact, has been pretending to lock hers with a key.

Hers was open.

Dee’s room isn’t a hotspot.  Nothing has occurred there since 2007 when something in the corner spooked her enough to call for me in the middle of the night. This was in the midst of our first “get acquainted” with the unseen inhabitants here and to say I was not amused would be playing the incident at a very low key.

I was irate and I gave my late husband a sound verbal “this is your territory buddy, so get on it” lashing.

Most of the time, spirit agitation is tied to impending death. The last rattlings occurred just before my BFF called to let me know that the 11 year old son of my late husband’s best friend, Wally, had tragically died.

But, the ghosties get hopped up by anniversaries. Wedding anniversaries past seem to provoke visitations.

I am weary of the attention and the alerts. Really. I’d rather just be surprised by death like everyone else and the Hallmark rememberances  really aren’t necessary. Really, really.

*Yes, he is a gem.

Wednesday morning I was waked by a finger poke to my side. It wasn’t painful but meant to get attention. I was startled but thought it was Dee, even though she wouldn’t come into our bedroom at such an early hour. We trained her long ago to treat our bedroom as off-limits. I had an open bedroom policy for her when she was little and it was just her and I, but once Rob and I coupled, I decided it was time to go old school like my folks. We kids weren’t allowed in their bedroom under pain of pain. I can remember standing at the door in the middle of the night, sick as a dog and still not daring to put so much as my big toe in their room without permission.

Dee knocks, a very soft rapping, or if she is unwell, she calls from her room.

I half sat up and found no one.

They’re back, I thought.

The house has been quiet and empty of spirits for a while. That feeling of being watched had disappeared after the cat incident on Rob’s birthday. But that poke in the side woke more than just me.

I didn’t mention it to Rob. It was just a poke. There was nothing behind it other than a call to attention, and I figured I would know what I was supposed to be paying attention to so enough. Ghosts, I have come to discover, are resourceful.

The next morning was 6AM Ashtanga. Yeah, I get up at five and drag my sleepy self out into the cold, drive into town and pretzelize myself with a vigorous yoga workout for an hour. Rob, sweetheart that he is, sets his alarm to wake me because my alarm is alarming and lost since May when we ripped up the hardwood in the bedrooms to prepare for new, smoothly delicious looking hardware (which is down now and gorgeous in case your mind was inquiring).

Shortly before five, I hear the soft knocking on the door that I associate with Dee. I am instantly awake and waiting for her voice, but I hear nothing. I sat up and looked toward the door, thinking that I would see light. The doors are back up but the trim isn’t and if Dee’s light is on, I can see it.

It was dark.

I laid back, thinking that the alarm should be going off soon and pondering when I heard the stairs creak. Our stairs are in needing of a good screwing down and make quite a distinctive sound when anyone comes up or goes down. This time, the creaks were descending and as Rob’s alarm went off, I found I was not in a hurry to follow.

Now I have never seen a spirit/ghost/whatever your preferred pc term is in the time I have been living here. Heard a voice. Being shoved and poked and watched, but haven’t seen anything.

“What is that overhead?” Rob asked.

I looked straight up and there was a white light twirling just about our pillows. It reminded me of  similar experience Rob had in the early morning hours last year when we were in the midst of dying fathers through the fall and end of the year. The light swirled like dust caught in a sunbeam.

“I don’t know,” I said. I didn’t tell him about the knock on the door. Mostly because I didn’t think the sign was for him at the time.

Reluctantly I crawled out of bed and headed downstairs. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d seen someone in the living room or office at that point but saw nothing but dark. I put on my yoga togs, had some tea and toast and headed into town with a bit of trepidation because the early morning traffic that races by our hamlet on the way to the plants is careless and will someday kill someone. I crawled through the intersection and drove in no great hurry to town.

The street where the yoga studio is located is deserted at just before six in the morning. The building is right next to a bar/flophouse where the clientage run mostly to people who flirt with homelessness on a monthly basis. I have been heckled and ogled and generally creeped out by the inhabitants to the point that I avoid walking directly past it, so I park right in front of the studio.

Yoga passed and I did not fall over from exhaustion but I was tired. I’d lost a lot of sleep with Dee’s being ill. She had been up in the night and I was running on not quite six hours. In days of yore, I could do 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night for weeks on end but these days my body will not stand for the abuse. It literally punishes me with all manner of threat of collapse.

After yoga, I climbed into the truck, wondering still about what I was supposed to be paying attention to. The radio was set to the XM 70’s station and the song that came up first was Cheap Trick’s I Want You to Want Me. I first heard that song the summer before high school. The next door neighbor’s had a grand-daughter visiting from California who was my age. She attached herself to me without my permission and I was forced to entertain her for the month she was there. She was vapid, willfully illiterate and thought poking sticks at the local in crowd was a fun pastime. Her only redeeming quality was a collection of the latest hits on cassette tape. She had a Cheap Trick cassette that she let me borrow and copy which is where I first heard this song. Decades later, I marry Rob and come to discover that this same song was “their song”. That love song that all couples have. The one that played when they first met or danced or kissed or had sex or simply dogged them through their first weeks/months together.

Now I am confused. Why would I get a song sign from my husband’s late wife?

Later in the morning during one of the several phone conversations Rob and I have during the day (we used to email back and forth all day when I was in Iowa and he was here – now we call each other), I told him about the poke and the knock on the door. He had no explanation, but later called me back to say that perhaps our house was s conduit for recently departed spirits. An older gentleman down the alley had died recently and maybe it was him.

Loathing that idea very much, I told Rob about the Cheap Trick song.

“Well, that shoots my theory to hell, ” he said.

Which was fine with me because I do not want to live in a conduit for the recently deceased.

That evening as he was going through his blog reader, he happened upon the posting of The Zoo for the day and what was their song video du jour? Yeah, Cheap Trick.

There has been nothing since. I don’t know if we were just getting Christmas greetings or if it was a heads up. And you might wonder why Shelley would contact me first instead of Rob but it’s not much different from Rob getting dream visits from my late husband as opposed to Will showing up in my dreams. Our passed on spouses appear to be quite comfortable with our choices in second mates.

It’s all very fitting for the season I suppose. Very Dickens. We haven’t neglected Christmas here this year but it has been rather lackadaisical and low-key in terms of preparation. I believe this is an outgrowth of our discomfort with the materialism though.

If I should discover deep meaning in the visitations and signs, however, I will let you know.

…that pat your leg or sit in the backseat just the the right of your peripheral vision or that say,

“Hi, Ann.”

There are a lot of ways to meet your husband’s first wife but her disembodied greetings on the edge of sleep is probably not the preferred way.

On the drive home from the city, Rob admitted that what had woke him was the presence sitting on the end of the bed touching his legs. This has happened before. It’s usually associated with an anniversary for him.

“Even now, I can feel someone in the backseat,” he said. “I can almost see a dark figure just on the edge of my vision.”

“What do you think it’s about? Your birthday?”

But it could have been Edee. She’d been up all night the previous night with Pandora in her arms as the little cat alternated between struggle and a death like limpness.

I didn’t tell Rob until the next morning that as I was falling asleep Saturday night, I saw Shelley in the background of my waiting dreams. It’s not as odd as it sounds. Rob had a dream once where Will had given him a hug. And I have a half remembered dream of speaking with Shelley but I don’t recall what was said.

When I told Rob what had happened his reply was,

“So, you’ve been identified by name now.”

I was quite startled when it happened, but I’m not frightened. I am not at all sure what it means. I am sure that if I were to hear a recording of Shelley’s voice, it would be the same as the voice that greeted me. I’d like to think that she approved of my handling of the cat situation and Edee. I was quite worried I’d overstepped and been too motherly. It’s hard not to mother. I am a mother. It’s not something I can switch off. After Dee was born I found that my approach to children – of all ages – in general was more maternal. It made me a better teacher and was a liability all rolled up in a neat package.

The house has been quiet since early Sunday morning. Pandora recovered though it was a very close call. I spent Monday afternoon on my own for the first time since June and all was well. I am taking that as a good sign.

I know it’s Tuesday and from a fresh news perspective Dee’s first day of school yesterday, the “growing” push for Texan succession and the latest Glenn Beck YouTube parody – except it’s really him and not terribly funny – will all pass the smell test and what I want to talk about won’t. And I’m sure at least half of you are tired of the blending and the widowy, but things come up. They run around the rooms in my mind before burrowing in and blossoming with the rapidity of qwack grass after a soaking rain.

Saturday was the hamlet wide garage sale and hockey swap meet. There is nothing like a dozen or so neighbors displaying their junk and the lure of hockey equipment to bring out the crowds from The Fort. Rob and I, being us, worked until after 10 on Friday night setting up. Other people toss their unwanted onto tables and are done. We treat it like it’s a real business or something. Consequently, other people get more sleep than we do.

By the time we’d cleaned up and were in bed it was after midnight and the plan was to be up by eight to finish the remaining pricing.  At 4:30 I woke. My right leg was stretched across Rob’s side of the bed and the toes were dangling off which is something that can only happen if Rob is not there.

The dimmest bit of light was straining to lift the blinds and I headed downstairs in search of my husband (and to use the toilet because I am old).  At this time of day the sky is bruised by the indirect light of a sun still too far east to do more than send word of its impending arrival. Such a difference from just a few weeks ago when the sun never seemed to set at all.

I found Rob wrapped in our old comforter on the couch.  He was grumpy from lack of sleep and the fact that the sadist train engineer had just crawled past the hamlet with the whistle at full throttle.

“I’d just managed to fall asleep too,” he said.

He’d been up since two. For reasons he didn’t explain until much later, he was up and couldn’t fall back to sleep. He hadn’t wanted to wake me tossing and turning, so he’d gone downstairs, fiddled about on the ‘Net until his eyes burned and tried to catch a few winks on the sofa.

I got him to come back to bed. He was so exhausted by this point that he fell asleep quickly, but I was awake. I got up at 5:30 and was out in the garage by 6:45 and that is mostly where I remained until 3P.M.

But I did come in a bit before 8 to wake Rob who thought perhaps I had a birthday present  for him despite the fact that he’d issued a no present edict earlier in the week. The next day he would say,

“It was probably one of the worst birthdays ever.”

So much for birthdays not being a big deal.

We’d planned dinner in the city with the older girls for seven that evening. It should go without saying that neither of us was energetic enough to really be looking forward to the 45 minute drive – each way – but the sitter had been booked. Last minute sitter cancellations can lead to difficulty finding willing sitters, so we headed into the city.

Let me digress a minute. Earlier in the week, Rob noted that I had been commenting a bit more on widow blogs. He wondered if I was okay. I was heavy into the memory mode with purging old things for the garage sale. On the surface I felt fine but after a bit of reflection, I realized I was a bit blue about Rob’s birthday. Not that it was his and not mine. I actually love planning parties for other people more than I like celebrating my own birthday. It came down to the fact that we were having two celebrations to accommodate the children. We took Dee out for dinner on Friday night and had cake upon returning home. Saturday was with the older girls because their adult schedules sometimes make it too difficult for them to always be traipsing out to the country.

The thing was that Rob has three daughters, but I have one. As much as I love Edee and Mick, they are not my daughters. I am not their mother. My birthday doesn’t mean anything at all to them. Which is not to imply that I think it should or that they are not wonderful or that we have a contentious relationship. But where Dee becomes more Rob’s child than Will’s, they remain Rob’s daughters.

It’s not something I expected to bother me. I knew perfectly well that, with their being adults, we would not have the relationship that Rob and Dee have formed and will continue to form. And I get it. I really do. One of the reasons I have shied away from searching for my birth parents – my birth mother in particular – was that I didn’t want to feel bound to love her like I love my mom or to have expectations of any deep connection.

And though we get along quite well and the girls are genuine and warm, I know they struggle with just who I am in their lives.

The word “step-mother” is not used. I am introduced as “Ann” or sometimes “This is Ann, Dad’s wife.”

And to clarify further, no one uses the “step” prefix in our family aloud really. Dee doesn’t even know what a step-dad or step-sister is.

I am ever conscious of my actions and words. I don’t want to push or encroach or presume or give the impression. I walked into this with more knowledge than Rob, who at one point declared himself willing to be Dee’s father figure but that he could never be her father father.

We stopped by Edee’s to pick her up. She’d been home with her cat, one of Bouncy’s brood if you recall, who was at death’s door from a blood parasite she’d picked up. And I mean the literal door. Pandora was at a point where she was using her reserves to try and crawl away from wherever Edee put her – looking no doubt for a place to die. Even I know enough about animals to know that.

Dinner was back and forth between pleasant conversation and tearful worry. There was hugging and reassurance and I never know when I am doing too much or not enough.

We’d told the sitter we’d be home between 10 and 10:30 and it was 11 because after dinner at Edee’s poor Pandora was no better. We finally left after assuring Edee that whatever she decided to do concerning Pandora’s care  we would support. The naturopath vet had prescribed an antibiotic with herbal back up and instructions to bring the cat in on Monday if she was no better but still alive or a trip to the emergency vet clinic, an expensive affair that makes a jaunt to the human ER in the states look affordable by comparison.

Rob called me from the car after dropping off the sitter to let me know that Edee had texted him and needed him to go along to the ER with her and Pandora. He didn’t get home until about 2:30 where he found me still awake.

Why? The ghosts are back … but then he already knew that.