Do you believe in ghosts? Yes, I mean the kind that go bump in the night. The specters caught between real and not real, past and present, energy diverted.
I just watched Haunting of Hill House on Netflix and it made me think. I thought of the fine line between what’s real and what’s not. I thought about how peoples’ sensitivities and gifts are often misread as faults, as symptoms of mental illness. I thought about how, maybe, this whole time I’ve had it wrong.
When I was growing up, I lived in a haunted house. Well, two, actually, but I was too little to remember the first. I was always sensitive. I was tuned into a frequency that other people never really got. I felt other people’s emotions. I felt energy left behind in our house, reverberating there. I felt malevolence in benign objects inherited and brought into the house. I was an unusual child and I knew I had to keep my most unusual experiences to myself.
When I was about 7, I remember lying on my belly, in my parents’ bed, my feet in the air, kicking against their headboard. They were in one of the common areas, fighting as usual. I was listening to the radio, trying to drown out the noise. But the radio wasn’t loud enough. It was an old thing, so there wasn’t a fancy remote to adjust the settings. If I wanted the music louder I had to get up and turn the knob for myself. I was far too lazy for that, so I just stayed there and stared at the knob, wishing with everything in my fiber that the music would grow louder, that the arguing would grow fainter. And the surprising thing? It did. While I was watching the knob, it starts turning. The music crescendoed. I always wondered: ghost or trick of the mind.
It was a well-known thing that our house and the house next door were already occupied by some less corporeal tenants. Our neighbors once told us of waking up to their bed shaking, levitating off the ground. Their radios and TVs blasting. Their house was so afflicted that they eventually abandoned it, much like Hill House; they still own the home, just don’t set foot there. Now, our house, was a bit less intense.
There were two floors. Any time one of us would go upstairs, we could feel this evil presence. The hairs would stand up, all over your body. You’d get cold chills and goosebumps. It was too much for me to handle, so I avoided the upstairs at all costs. This suited my sister fine, as she spent most of her teen years in that second floor room. She changed while she lived there. It may have been your run-of-the-mill teenage angst. It may have been a reaction to her own traumas. But she grew dark and angry. She blasted music that only intensified the screaming in the house. When she moved out, no one lived up there for years, except our ghost. Sometimes you could hear footsteps on the stairs. Creak, creak, creak, then stop. Just enough creaks to get to the part of the stairs that opens to the rest of the house. I’d posit that the upstairs space was like a container, a holding space, but then that can’t be true.
When I was a teenager, I decided to dabble in other religions. One such religion was Paganism (Druidry, Shamanism, Wicca, etc.). My friend and I thought it would be a stellar idea to make our own ouija board and use it in the house. We were smart enough to A) not do this upstairs (I had one of the two large front rooms); and, B) cast a protective circle. Nothing spoke to us through the board. And neither of us was about to fake communication. We took things much too seriously. So we went to bed disappointed. Except the house did not disappoint. All night long, things slammed to the floor throughout the house. There was communication, just not the kind we sought. And things got creepier the next morning. My friend, M, thought we were safe in the daytime… not so much.
I remember, I had just stepped out of the shower. I went to my bedroom. I was wearing a towel, facing a full length mirror. The mirror was on the opposite wall as my computer desk, so when things started flying off the desk I could see them in the mirror. And I don’t mean small things. Not things that could be moved by the wind. I mean things like my piccolo case. That thing is small but stout. It literally hovered a moment above the desk, then fell to the ground, and slid across the room. I was sufficiently freaked. We never tried to communicate with the ghosts in the house again. Message recieved.
For a while, I thought the original occupants of the house had left. I didn’t get the spooky feelings anymore whenever I walked upstairs. But there was one day, after I had already moved out, that I went to visit my dad. No one was home. I checked all the rooms, except the upstairs. If anyone had been up there, it would have been my brother; he was living there at the time. And, anyway, I didn’t see his car out front. So, like a typical broke, college kid, I went about rummaging the kitchen for something to eat that was not ramen. While in the kitchen I heard someone walking upstairs. The same soft stomp, then creak, that would make itself known on the stairs. My first thought was, “maybe G is home.” I went to investigate. I walked up the stairs, all the lights were off. I thought maybe he was up but was trying to take a nap. I opened the door to the bedroom, no one there. It was weird but my mind still didn’t jump to supernatural. I went back downstairs. I heard it again, except this time I also heard the sound of plastic bags rustling. I already knew there was no one up there but I thought, with the bags, maybe there were rats. I went up again. Picked up every bag; my brother wasn’t very cleanly. Nothing. It is at this point I got suspicious. But if it is a ghost, what do you do? I chose to ignore the footsteps, eventually they descended the steps and then stopped.
Now, I know these stories seem kind of crazy. I know some people would explain away the happenings with perfectly rational, scientific logic. But, here is the thing, that doesn’t resonate with my reality. And, that’s what has me thinking. What makes one person’s version of “the real” more credible than any other person’s? This brings me back to my thoughts on our gifts as diagnoses. I have several diagnoses: MDD, PTSD (C-PTSD), GAD, DDNOS. Sure, some of my diagnoses could even explain away the “supernatural” experiences I had in my house. But, what if? What if those experiences were real? What if I had them because I was sensitive? What if my gifts had been nurtured and not chastised? Where do we draw the line between pathology and eccentricity, between illness and sensitivity?