The house has always been creepy. Benign in the daylight, the setting of the sun brings on a wakeful presence. Being in a rural location, the surrounding darkness is unbroken by light and the windows, eyes that look out on the beauty of nature by day, turn inwards at night. Only the inner rooms are reflected, and you within them. I have learned to close the curtains when it is dark, partly because the windows are a movie screen for anyone outside, and also because I am afraid to catch not only my own reflection, but whatever…else…might be there with me.
I guess it all started when I was 4 1/2…at least the first memory I have is during the summer after we first moved there. Although it was still light out, I was in bed, listening to the faint voices of my family and neighbors in the kitchen. We had settled easily into our new life, having relocated from an ever-smoggier Anaheim. I had already become accustomed to the dry grass, the oak trees, our horse in the pasture, the sound of the ongoing basketball game in the driveway between my brother and the next door boys. I liked my room with its closet wall of mirrors, the gold carpet, my brother’s room right next door. I had yet to be afraid of the dark, or the house.
As I was drifting off to sleep, I heard my name called.
It was loud and startling. My eyes flew open and I looked towards the ceiling, where it seemed to emanate from. Nothing. I closed my eyes again.
Frightened, I called out for my Mother, who, like all good mothers after a child’s bad dream, assured me it was nothing more. Again I drifted off to sleep.
Wide awake and staring, I watched as a face came quickly out of the ceiling and said,
I am God.
Then it was gone. And I’m not sure what I did next, but it probably involved screaming. I remember more admonishments to just go back to sleep. I must have, although as an adult I can only marvel at a child’s ability to trust in the grown-ups around them. Because as a grown-up myself now, I would have packed my bags and never come back.
Fast forward to age 5 or 6. I awoke in the middle of the night from a bad dream involving the old stuffed rabbit that used to belong to my Mother. I only remember being very, very frightened, and also very, very thirsty. For whatever reason, I was terrified to get out of bed and the door seemed impossibly far away. I finally gathered enough courage to make the leap away from arms length under the bed (you did the same, avoiding those arms, I know it.) and approached the door. As my hand reached out for the handle, I felt a large hand on my chest, and it pushed me away. Hard.
Again, I don’t remember what happened next. I think I may have called for help, and I also vaguely remember still getting the cup of water. I do know that I never slept with that toy rabbit again.
Episodes of phenomena cut out at this point, except I just had a growing sense of fear. I was afraid to close my eyes in the shower, I had to always have a night light, I kept the radio on for company. Like most children, I believed what I was told…that it was just my imagination. Even when the darkness of my room would start to coalesce as bright lines, forming shapes and figures standing by my bed. Even when I became so terrified and would scream at a slightly open closet. Even when I froze like a statue in the garden, surrounded by a force I could not explain, screaming until our next door neighbor ran across to help me move. Even through all that happened as a teen, even until just a couple of weeks ago, I let “rationale” prevail.
As a teenager, I struggled with deep depression, brought on by the culmination of years of being bullied in elementary school, and the trauma of a friend’s passing at age 15. I spent a lot of time alone in my room, listening to music and crying on my bed. After my friend passed, I became afraid of the dark again. And then…it…came back. The radio that I counted on for company became an instrument of my torture. Too attached to the sound, I kept it on, even though each night the songs and voices would begin to morph as I fell asleep. Deep, scary, demonic type voices with threatening gibberish came out of my little boom box. I tried to go it alone, although one night I finally had to wake my parents and beg for them to let me sleep in the living room. I stopped playing the radio after that.
Apparently not to be deterred, whateveritis looked for other outlets. As 2am would roll around each night, my bed would begin to vibrate, and then shake. Kind of like those old hotel beds that you could drop a nickel in for a “massage”. I tried to use the rationale, thought maybe I was just waking myself up with those body jerks that we all do as we “fall” into sleep. Except that the vibration and shaking grew stronger, continuing well into my wakefulness.
I was fortunate at this point to be seeing a psychiatrist, who I resisted at first and whom I now credit with saving me from suicidal darkness. My good luck emerged as I realized that my burgeoning spirituality and interest in earth based religions was not only not pathologized, but embraced by my doctor, who it turns out was as Woo Woo as they come. This was Redding in 1987, otherwise known as the Republican/Libertarian hotbed of Northern California, so you can imagine how remarkable it was to find a doctor with “New Age” leanings. After I gathered up the courage to tell him about my vibrating bed, he helped me problem solve. “Where have you done most of your crying in your room? Perhaps your bed has soaked up so much negative energy that it is now manifesting as shaking. Have you ever heard of smudging?”. Upon his instruction, I bought some frankincense and myrrh, some self-igniting charcoal, and a metal bowl. I fumigated my room…and my bed never shook again.
I moved away to college in the 90’s, and left my fear of the dark behind. Even though I eventually moved back to our house, and stayed there, often by myself for months at a time, I ceased to experience the threatening, thick presence that had haunted my childhood. But in my late 20s, another kind of presence violated our home in the form of a burglar. During a summertime visit with a boyfriend, I awoke to find our belongings scattered and some things missing…including my car when I looked in the driveway. The latch on the front door screen broken, and the inner door left open on a hot night, he had swiped our backpacks and my keys. My car was later found an hour away on a dirt road, only a blackened shell, having been set on fire. The burglar was found too, weeks later when his fingerprints were matched after the murder of his downstairs elderly neighbor. My sense of rural safety shattered, I always locked the deadbolt from then on out.
With experiences such as this, or the one from last April, it would stand to reason that perhaps I am traumatized, with some kind of unconscious story looking for resolution. That sounds completely reasonable. Completely…rational. Except what happens next, what keeps happening, doesn’t feel like left over trauma. It feels exactly the same as it always has…like something is awake in the house. Like something that feeds on fear and grief, something that is not neutral and something that is way, way too interested in me.
To be continued…