When was the first time you saw a ghost? I’ve been asked this question a few times. I took some time and thought about it this morning. I set aside the encounters I’ve had as an adult and thought back to my childhood. I had to access my memory vault – it’s actually a moldy cardboard Keds box tucked under the stairs of my mind house – and found this:
My earliest memory is of me waking in the night. A shaft of moonlight streamed in from the from one the high windows of our corner bedroom in the ranch home where I spent my childhood. It illuminated a tall white mass in the corner by the large chest of drawers between me and the door. My parents’ room was just across the hall. I knew if I could just get to my mother, all would be well. But how to get there unnoticed by the ghost? If I stood up, my four-year-old body surely would have been noticed, so I slipped down to the floor from my bottom bunk of the trundle bed set I shared with my older sister.
At four, my knowledge of ghosts and bumps in the night would have come from listening to my older siblings, tales either overheard or told to scare me. We all accepted that Great-grandma’s platform rocker rocked at night. That was a given. We all heard the low creak from time to time. According to my sister, there was a ghost who peered in at us from the windows at night. I remember envisioning the face of a Native American in the window after hearing my sister speak of it. Why a fully head-dressed chief would be staring in our window never occurred to me. I was four.
I lay momentarily on the floor, debating if it would be better to crawl or to run. I decided to keep a low profile. The wood floor in our room had been recently buffed, so I didn’t make great traction as I wiggled like a worm towards the door. Closer and closer, I moved towards the white mass. Cold sweat chilled by fear pooled in the middle of my back as I crept nearer and nearer.
My sister called out from a dream in a language not decipherable by waking ears. She wasn’t having a nightmare but having a loud conversation, probably dream fighting with our brother Steve. I used this distraction to launch myself off the floor and open the door.
The hall light – kept on until my father went to bed post Johnny Carson show – blinded me momentarily. I don’t know what made me look back at the specter, but I did. Gone was the filmy garb the dead wore in my siblings’ stories. In its stead was a sheet draped over the corner of the dresser. I’m not sure why it was there. A few years ago, my mother and I spoke about the incident, and she said that probably the sheet wasn’t dry enough to fold and was forgotten in the turmoil of trying to get me settled into bed at night.
I stared at the sheet, part of me relieved, part of me mad, and a small part of me was disappointed. I wandered down the hall past the rocker and into the television room. My dad didn’t scold me for being up. Instead, he patted the couch beside him. We watched the host and a comedian - I can’t quite remember who - trade banter. I fell asleep to my father’s deep laughter. I was safe.
Yes, my first ghost wasn’t a ghost at all. I debunked it decades before I would understand what debunking was. But that sheet hastily placed on the chest of drawers to dry was real to me. It raised my heartbeat, took away my vocal chords, and caused me to memorize everything in my room before I closed my eyes at night. I still do that. Some habits are hard to break. Oh, and I never look at uncovered windows at night…
Do you have a tale you wish to share? Please comment below, on Facebook, or send me an email. Until then, drapes closed, and laundry folded.