I recently heard a story on the radio show, This American Life, about a haunted house.
The family that lived in the house was terrorized by invisible hands gripping their bedsheets and pulling at their clothes.
Strange figures appeared at the ends of hallways. The human inhabitants of the house reported a constant feeling of being watched.
I’ve been an absolute sucker for ghost stories since I was a little girl.
I spent my childhood watching, rewinding and watching again Micheal Jackson’s Thriller. I saw Poltergeist so many times I began to believe that I could walk into the television and find my dead grandmother waiting on the other side. I chose not to, given what happened to Carol Anne. This kept my belief unproven and therefore very easy to believe.
So, I know from ghost stories. The one on the radio show had the same elements and well-worn cliches, until it was revealed that the cause of all these paranormal pranks was a carbon monoxide leak. Seriously. I was hoping for murder, blood, insanity—something I could enjoy before starting my day. Not a PSA for carbon monoxide alarms. Letdown.
Such is the state of my life currently. I, too, am awakened in the night by eerie sounds coming from outside my window. I’ve found my possessions disappearing without a trace. I constantly feel that I’m being watched. I wish it was because my rickety, 1950s bungalow was being haunted by some fabulous housewife ghost whose figure could be seen vacuuming in pearls and heels. My floors would be magically dog hair free, my bathtub moldless.
The cops have assured me that this isn’t the case. One morning a few weeks ago, I began the morning as I always do. Half-asleep, with crust still in the corners of my eyes and my bedhead on full and glorious display, I went to the gym to ride a spin bike into nowhere. I thought how ridiculous it was that I was riding a stationary bike to a Euro-mix DJ’s version of a crappy Chris Brown song when I had just purchased a brand new, super-expensive road bike.
I glanced at my bike briefly on the ride home after class. It was still in the trunk of my car after a bike trip a few days before—its first time ever touching pavement. When I got home from the gym, I decided that I shouldn’t leave it in the car like that. That someone might very well steal it. I wondered, for a second or two, if I was being paranoid. Then I lifted the bike out of the trunk.
What came out of the trunk was not my bike, but an 80s Schwinn long past its prime. The chain was mangled, the push brakes looked like they’d been run over by a truck. It took me a few moments and what the’s to process the crappy carcass in my hand. That eerie sound in the night was a bike thief, one who needed a female specific, compact road bike with purple handlebars.
Somebody had stolen Purple Rain. What the funk?
Not only did they steal my bike, but they took the time to load an old behemoth into my trunk and go through my CD’s (which were politely stacked on the passenger seat—Kanye on top). It was, the cop said, an almost playful crime. You had to, she said, laugh a little.
I had trouble finding the hilarity in it all. I felt violated. I burned sage in my car and took it for a drive down to the river. I cursed the thieves and checked Craig’s List constantly for a possible Purple Rain appearance. I contemplated taking Krav Maga classes (the best cure for breakups and lay-offs) and buying pink boxing gloves. I wondered if people still formed posses, and if they did, when was their MeetUp?
I went a little bit nutters over the whole incident, a fact that I was well aware of. I almost wrecked my car twice while staring down poor college girls on what-may-have-looked-like-from-a-hundred-feet-away my bike.
When I started waking up at three a.m. every morning in a cold sweat and unable to breathe, I decided that this bike thing was disturbing more than my peace. Down through the years I’ve had more than a few insomniac periods. I could live through it. It was the other people around me who had to suffer. No sleep equals no peace for the people in Sara’s life. You know how babies get when they are sleepy. The demon cry and the flailing of limbs? Dignified by comparison.
I upped the yoga practice by one day a week and broke out my bolster for extended meditation sessions—a little Ganesh statue by my side. That fearful feeling didn’t go away. I cleansed my chakras. Still nothing. Had a few beers and watched Spinal Tap. Slight improvement—briefly.
My mind had unleashed itself upon me. I had no idea it was such a menacing beast.by Jill Shropshire
What I began to understand through my practice was that my fear went a lot deeper than the bike. It was lodged way down there, underneath a stack of junior high yearbooks, my old fat clothes, and a well-thumbed copy of Jim Morrison’s America. It went back to that very soft place in me before I began pretending like a self-assured adult. It was raw down there. It was childhood.
It was when ghost stories were a welcome distraction from the very real fears about my parents’ finances and my friend’s cancer and my inability to pass math tests.
I’ve heard it said that children are so wonderful because they have no inhibitions—they aren’t yet hardened by jobs and dating and political debates. Having worked with children, and having spent many years as one myself, I can call B.S. on that idea.
Children are sponges—all nerve endings and no filter. They can, if raised in a protected and immensely loving environment, be inhibition free. They can believe that unicorns live just over the hill, and teachers are witches. They can also wonder why their fathers left and if there’s enough money for food. They can contemplate war and curse the price of gas. They can grapple with the death of loved relatives and pets.
I certainly did. But for all those cheesy 80s horror flicks with Dokken soundtracks, real life was the thing that scared me the most. I felt socially inept and ugly. I felt I wasn’t smart enough to please my parents, and too bookish and nerdy for the other kids. Slumber parties gave me panic attacks. Field day, just the thought of it, gave me hives.
And even now, long past my new and shiny self, I feel that same anxiety. It isn’t always present. I’ve learned ways to wrangle it into submission. When it appears, though, it’s much like the ghoulish figure at the end of a hallway—the spirit ripping at my bedsheets.
It’s me—the phantom me, and scarier than any damn thing special effects could possibly offer. Cabin in the Woods won my admiration. Paranormal Activity made me laugh. Saw made me sick. None of them could come close to me.
I can convince myself that my maturity and spiritual life rid me of fear—make all of my insecurities vanish with a chant and a bow. Make anger and jealously and grief vanish like an nighttime apparition. It doesn’t, though. It becomes less powerful, but only in death will it disappear. I’m beginning to think I should stare it down and find out who it is and what it wants and why.
There is no ghost, no monster under the bed, no clown in the closet. I have found that the American Horror Story is me. Letdown. Namaste.
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger
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