I remember the last time I liked Halloween. I was sixteen and wanted to go trick-or-treating, but none of my friends wanted to. I dressed up in my dad’s Navy whites and walked around the neighborhood. I never stopped at a door to ask for candy though and went home early, suddenly feeling too old. In subsequent years Halloween night was the only night I felt safe outside alone.
When I was young I remember that sometimes playmates would ask if they could have something of mine. I never knew what to do and sometimes gave them what they asked for. I think that’s why trick-or-treaters bother me. The bolder costumed kids push the limit and either grab more than their share or ask if they can have more (we give out full-sized candy bars for this reason – so not to appear stingy when we say no to those children).
I really love the vacation house in which we are staying this week. It is our second time here and I love its history (former home of Washington State’s first female doctor), its layout (3 bedrooms, huge living room/dining room, great kitchen & amazing pantry), its proximity to the Puget Sound (just out the front window) and the fact that it has everything anyone would need for a relaxing vacation. I love that Clare and her partner are visiting later this week for an early Thanksgiving celebration.
What I don’t love, however, are the noises I hear at night coming from the restricted second story. I don’t love the long walk down the dark hallway to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I don’t love knowing the basement is huge and scary (and also off-limits).
We’re here Halloween night. Spooky.
My brother is nearly seven years my junior, and we were not close until we both had kids around the same time. I always thought he was a thoughtful, kind, loving person and I was proud of him.
I knew he was a republican and it never mattered. I even, usually, kept my mouth shut when he bashed Barack Obama. I once asked him why he hated Obama so much. He didn’t have an answer.
I worried when I saw he was a member of the tea party movement group on Facebook, but was okay with it thinking that at least he was beginning to be interested in politics.
Then I saw the MAGA paraphernalia at his house. I was astounded and asked if he was serious. He was, but could not explain why.
This past weekend he reacted to two extremely not-funny things I posted on FB with a laugh icon.
We’re through on Facebook. I can’t deal anymore.
Dean was a PhD candidate in the statistics program at Carnegie Mellon University from 1981 through 1985. During his time there, the head of the statistics department was a caring, fatherly figure named Stephen Fienberg. Not long after we both moved to Pittsburgh, Stephen and his wife, Joyce, hosted a reception for new students. It was the most cultured event I’d ever attended. The hosts served exotic (to me) wine, international cheeses, and other fancy snacks. People talked of foreign travel, Broadway plays and museums to visit. Mrs. Fienberg was gracious and kind. This event became a template for my future entertaining.
Professor Feinberg passed away in 2016. His wife was murdered, along with ten others in her Pittsburgh synagogue, on Saturday by an anti-Semite trump supporter.
It’s not going to stop, is it? Schools, college campuses, churches, synagogues, theaters, malls, dance clubs, etc. will never be safe again. Angry gun-wielding American citizens will continue to shoot at crowds of innocent people because they don’t agree with them or their way of life, or because they have a crazy-ass vendetta or because they are pissed off at their mother or because they listen to that asshole that this country elected to be its leader.
Dean and I frequented Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh often. There was the Squirrel Hill Café where we drank. There was that bagel shop where I had my first ever bagel. There was a rib shop that also sold Buffalo wings that I loved.
Each trip to Squirrel Hill took us past the Tree of Life Synagogue. We never paid attention, how could we possibly know?
One of Olympia’s peculiar denizens is a dentist named Duane. I know nothing about his dental practice, although I would never choose him as my dentist, but I know a little about his other businesses. He owns a bar called the Cryptatropa Bar which is painted black outside and inside. It hosts, among other things a statue of Lucifer and a vintage mortuary ceramic table. Dr. Duane also owns King Solomon’s Reef a decent café that has a back room behind a black door. He also owns several rental houses in Olympia, all painted…, you guessed it, black.
We’ve been to both the Cryptatropa Bar (excellent drinks) and King Solomon’s Reef (try the grilled cheese and tomato soup) and we know at least one person who lived in one of the black houses. It’s all a little macabre on the outside, but tamer than it sounds.
I was pleasantly surprised when Andrew called us on a Saturday afternoon a little over a year ago. The call started out normal, how are you? Fine, thanks, how are you? but when he said something happened and was Dad there? and could I put the phone on speaker so he could talk to us both, I knew something was wrong. I could hear it in his voice.
On speaker, Dean next to me, Andrew told us that Leo was dead. We asked Leo who? Leo from college or Leo, Andrew’s friend from high school, and still one of Andrew’s closest friends. It was Leo from high school. Leo who had, just the week before, picked Andrew and Alex up from our house. Leo whose mother was not only a friend, but Dean’s work colleague.
He fell to his death from his apartment window. It was not suicide. It was a tragic accident.
One year later I still cry.
Not that this is horrific, but I’ve thought about mortality many times throughout my life. The first time I realized I was going to die was when my mom, looking at a kitten, remarked, “Animals are so lucky that they don’t think about dying.” My reply was, “What? I’m going to die?”
The second time I remember thinking about my mortality was when I was about 13 and realized that I’d not live long enough to read all the books in the local library. A few years later, I made my loved-ones promise that if I suddenly died when I was in the middle of a book, they must finish reading it to my corpse.*
A more recent memory of knowledge of my eventual demise was when I understood why I became melancholy in the spring, my favorite season. It was because I only had so many springs left in my life.
*this is no longer required
I know I said earlier that I don’t like scary movies and have not seen many, but I was lying – I mean I don’t watch them anymore, but I have seen a few. Here are the scary films I remember seeing:
The Haunting (1963)*
The Haunting (1999)
The Shining (1980)*
Pet Sematary (1989)
Halloween II (1981)
Salem’s Lot (1979)
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Exorcist (1973)
The Orphanage (2007)
Let the Right One In (2008)*
The Others (2001)
The Sixth Sense (1999)
The Turn of the Screw (1974)
The Amityville Horror (1979)
The Birds (1963)*
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
The Hunger (1983)*
After Mom called and told me she could not “do it anymore,” I knew I had to help her put my father in a nursing home. I won’t go into details about the process, but after visiting a number of nursing homes, some quite nice, some horrendous, Mom chose one on the lower end. Because, although she had long-term care insurance, she was worried it wouldn’t last long enough if we spent more money.
Getting him into the nursing home took us being deceitful to him. We told him it was temporary and I think he believed us.
He believed us until mom brought this photo of him and his youngest sister. He told her he knew he’d die there.
He did die because he was there, less than a month after he moved in. Eight years ago, today.
He was a handsome man, not that you can tell by any photo taken of him in the last ten years of his life.
It was bad enough when Dad was diagnosed with dementia, but his, I reasoned, was probably preventable brought on by years of alcohol abuse. When I learned Mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s I went cold. By the time I was told about Mom’s Alzheimer’s she was too far gone to be able to talk to me about it. I asked her doctor if Mom knew about the diagnosis and the doctor assured me she’d been told years ago.
Either Mom didn’t want to worry Kevin or me, or she didn’t understand the diagnosis. I remember thinking something was not right in 2010, but attributed it to stress over Dad’s illness and death.
I think it started long before then though, because she stopped talking to me on AOL IM and said it was because she couldn’t spell. I noticed it on cards she sent.
My spelling is getting worse. I am worried.
One of my favorite authors is Shirley Jackson but that doesn’t mean I have read all of her books. I read The Lottery in high school, but it wasn’t until the last ten or so years that I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I read her two memoirs: Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons and then I read Come Along with Me, just last year.
I bought The Haunting of Hill House because I do want to read it, but also because its cover art matches We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but haven’t brought myself to open it because I’m afraid to. I’ve seen both films so I know the plot and where the scary parts lie but the book feels more scary somehow. Make sense?
Shortly after we moved into our house in Bethesda we discovered we had bats in the attic. We were not concerned. I loved bats (even after the Pittsburgh bat) and we saw no way for them to get into the house proper.
One afternoon we were getting ready to go somewhere. Clare, then about 3, walked into the bathroom and announced there was a bat in the house. I told her that, yes, there were bats in the attic, but none in the house.
She then found her dad and told him there was a bat in the house. He told her that, yes, we had bats in the attic, but none in the house.
She insisted there was a bat in the house and Dean and I sighed and looked at each other, knowing that Clare and a vivid imagination.
Round about then, a bat swooped down between us and Clare said, “See! There’s a bat in the house!”
She reminds us of it often.
One night I was awakened by the loud call of a katydid, next I heard the noise of claws on the screen and a soft whoosh of wings. I looked towards the sound and saw a creature flying around the room in the dim light from the streetlight. It took me a while to register that it was a bat, but when I did I yelled for Dean to wake up (he can sleep through anything) because there was a bat in the bedroom.
I then jumped out of bed and said I’d gather the cats and hide in the bathroom until he got rid of the bats because I was worried the cats would try to catch the bat.
According to Dean he spent the first few moments hiding under the covers. The way he tells it, he’d take his head out and the bat would swoop towards him and he’d hide under the covers again. Then he got up and opened all the windows in the house and the bat flew out.
In Pittsburgh, we lived the Shadyside neighborhood – not the part near the fancy shops and fine homes, but on the border of East Liberty (or “sliberty” as the locals called it). We rented the top apartment of a shabby, but affordable, three-story walk-up on a tree-lined street.
Dean is a window person so the head of our bed, in the summer months, was up against the radiator, under the window (windows really – two side-by-side double-hung windows) at the front of the house. Outside the window was an old horse-chestnut tree. We slept with the windows open to the screens all summer long because we had no air-conditioning.
We knew there were bats in the neighborhood because we’d seen plenty flying around at night, catching insects near the mercury-vapor streetlight a few doors up College Avenue.
It’s autumn, which means the leaves on the trees in our yard are turning brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow. The birds are in transition, some leaving us, some arriving in our back yard. The garden is finished, only a few straggler tomatoes hanging on the vine, and the zinnias are nearly done blooming. The sun is noticeably lower in the sky at noon and the temperature is gradually dropping.
Unfortunately, the autumn also brings the stench of our female ginkgo tree’s rotting fruit. I never quite remember how bad it is until I get my first whiff of it, and often cannot place the smell.
Yesterday I put some trash in the garbage bin outside the kitchen and wondered what the hell was rotting in the bin the day after the trash had been collected.
Then I remembered. Ginkgo ball season has arrived.
Clare developed a fascination with post-mortem photography a few years ago and I believe she is still interested in it.
I think it is morbid and gruesome. I understand the reason behind it, but I think that owning one of someone you never loved is akin to freakshow mentality.
Last autumn Clare called and said a local photography buff and antique store owner found a photograph that he thought could be a post-mortem photo. She sent me a photo of the photo that she wanted to buy from this man.
After reluctantly examining it and showing it to Dean and friends, we all agreed that it was not a dead child in a crib, but a sleeping child. Clare was not convinced and asked for money for Christmas to buy the photograph in a gilt frame to hang in her apartment.
She ended up not buying it. Maybe she came to her senses.
Fifteen years ago, the kids and I, while visiting friends in Lake Tahoe, took a side trip to Reno, Nevada where we visited a local cemetery. It was very old and extremely “Western”.
I took dozens of photos at the cemetery, having just got my first digital camera. One photo stood out from the rest when I opened it on my computer. It is of a bleached-from-age fallen tree near a fenced-off grave with what seems like mist hovering over the grave in three spots.
The photos I took just before that and just after that show no mist, so it was not caused by smudges on the lens of the camera. It was not a misty day, nor was it at all windy, so I don’t think it was dust. I don’t know what it was, but that photo haunted me enough to never leave it on my computer.
Here is the photo. What do you think? Mist? Dust? Smudge? Spirit?
I have a collection of old electronic devices that sit in a box on a shelf in my office closet. Some are Clare’s, some belonged to my mom, the others are mine.
I purged the large electronics a couple years ago, which felt good.
Some of these items are waiting for one of us to visit the county transfer station, but not all of them.
How can I dispose of my old Sidekick? And that Franklin Language Master was a godsend when I had to write anything because my spelling was so bad. I cannot get rid of Mom’s phones, not yet. Clare will let me know about her old phones when she is home for Christmas.
So now they sit in a box on a shelf in my office closet. And haunt me.
The PE teacher told me that the sanitary pad machine only took nickels, so I headed to the restroom where I bought a sanitary napkin and secured to my underwear with safety pins.
After taking care of the immediate issue I went back to the phone and called my mom. She said she could not pick me up and that I should walk home.
I went to the school office to sign out and to tell them I needed to walk home. The secretary asked why, and I whispered to her that I had just gotten my first period. She then shouted across the office to the assistant principal, Mr. Block, that this girl just got her first period and wanted to walk home.
Mr. Block said I could not walk home alone but could walk with an office page. As we left the building and walked towards my house I saw my mom’s car in the parking lot. Apparently she changed her mind.
It began as a regular day. I awoke, got dressed, ate breakfast and walked the roughly five blocks to my junior high. I was thirteen and in seventh grade.
It was in algebra, or maybe history class when I felt a warm rush of liquid between my legs. I immediately knew what had happened. I’d begun menstruating. I asked my (male) teacher if I could use the restroom and he must have seen panic on my face because he let me go.
In the restroom, the red spot on my underpants confirmed I’d started my period. All I wanted at that moment was to go home so I headed towards the pay phone to call my mom.
As I was getting ready to put money in the slot of the phone my PE teacher asked why I wasn’t in class. I explained to her what happened. She asked if I had a nickel. I thought she was talking about the pay phone, so I said I had a dime.
Dean and I spent the summer of 1984 in Los Angeles while he interned at RAND. His aunt and uncle who live in Pasadena loaned us a small, white pickup truck while we were there.
One sunny day on our way to a beach we were driving along the Pacific Coast Highway and the vehicle directly in front of us, a small truck with a covered bed, suddenly swerved up along the hilly side of the road, then flipped over on the road and burst into flames. Dean slammed on the brakes and jumped out of the car and ran toward the truck. He didn’t get close because of the heat coming from the fire. No one else stopped. We never saw anyone get out of the truck. It haunts me still.
I meant to write about this nightmare of a dream during the month of September, but never got around to it. I think it’s one of those sleep paralysis dreams.
I’m lying on my back and open my eyes. From the ceiling a large, black, hairy spider slowly bobs down on a silk thread until it is about a foot from my face. I try to move, but I can’t. I can’t get out from under the spider. I can’t swat it away with my hand. I just lie there, terrified.
Eventually, I wake up and realize the spider was a dream but the dread and fear and feeling of helplessness sticks around for a while.
I like spiders, at least ones not in my dreams, so this recurring dream surprises me.
I am afraid of my work email box. Every time I open it there’s another request for my time. Time I don’t have to give because what I do has become very important to some project managers and because another part of our company suddenly discovered my team. Unfortunately, my team is a team of one. Me.
I’ve not taken a vacation without my work laptop in years. I’ve not taken a full week off in years.
Efforts to hire another person for my team was stalled in March when the higher-ups decided it was not necessary. Efforts to hire another person this month has stalled because of salary requirements and immigration labor laws.
Thus, I constantly work. I sit at the computer from morning to night, getting up only to use the toilet or to grab a snack to eat in front of the computer.
And fear the “ping” of a new email.
One of the many stories my father liked to tell people was one that haunts me still. For years my mom would make me leave the room when Dad started telling the story, or shush him if I couldn’t leave.
As a kid in farm country, young Elvin took some odd-jobs in his community to earn spending money. One was warming the schoolhouse in the winter by feeding the coal furnace before the teacher and other pupils arrived. Another was caretaker of the old cemetery across the street from the schoolhouse. Dad would cut the grass and tidy up the graves.
He was happy doing this until he noticed clumps of what looked like hair near the graves. When he asked an adult about it they told him was caused by rodents: rats, mice or chipmunks, who’d gotten into the coffins and pulled off the hair of corpses to make their nests.
The disaster area that is my side of the attic is getting worse by the week. I pull things out of the closet and knee-walls and then shove everything back in. Two weeks ago, I started cleaning out my file cabinet and today tossed an extra-large grocery bag full of papers and folders into the recycle bin. Of course, I had to look at each paper because I didn’t want to throw papers with my SSN into the bin and need to burn those papers instead (we don’t own a shredder).
Today I spent several hours trying to fix a refurbished Chromebook whose battery wouldn’t keep a charge. Nothing I did worked, and I wasted all that time on something that I probably won’t use anyway.
The horror aspect is that if I am lucky I have maybe twenty good years left and I’m wasting every weekend playing hide and seek with all my shit. Help!
I went dead cold, remembering the program, remembering the nightmare. I was terrified by the statue and vowed to not look at it again, praying the girls would not wake up while their parents were gone so I didn’t have to go past it again.
I returned to the living room and could not stop thinking about the statue and the peeping Tom. The television program could not keep my interest, so I decided to try to go to sleep. I reclined on the sofa and looked at the ceiling, where a chandelier hung.
As I stared at the chandelier it began swaying, very gently, but very definitely. I had never been more terrified in my life.
The next thing I remember was the parents coming in the door, several hours after I’d checked on the girls.
I think I might have passed out from fear. Needless to say, I never babysat there again.
Walking back down the stairs I saw it. A pure white statue stood in the corner next to the front door and would have been behind the door when I entered the house. The statue was the likeness of an elderly man with a staff and a long beard (think Gandalf), and a large shaggy dog that I now know was a wolfhound wrapping itself around the man’s legs, looking up at its master with affection or fear.
While the statue itself was not frightening, I’d seen a scary TV program earlier in the summer when I was at my grandparents’ Wisconsin house. In the TV show a white statue that looked a lot like the one in the corner haunted a man and appeared to him suddenly, wherever he went. These appearances of the statue eventually killed him out of pure fright. After seeing the show, I had a nightmare the statue was haunting me.
The house seemed huge to teenaged me. It had a real second floor and not just a converted attic like ours. It seemed old too. I remember it as a Victorian, but the street it was on has no Victorians now, and probably didn’t back then.
I was happy to be babysitting in such a place — at first. The parents told me the kids were sleeping upstairs and I should check on them in about an hour. They also said I could have a pop from the refrigerator. Finally, just before they left they warned me to not answer the door because there had been reports of a peeping Tom in the neighborhood.
I then walked around the main floor, checked the fridge to see what kind of pop they had, then went to the living room to watch television. After an hour I went up and checked on the children, two girls, one a toddler and one a little older.
I am 62 years old and am afraid of the dark.
Unless my eyes are closed I cannot be alone in a dark room and not feel terrified. I know it stems from my teenage love of horror films and maybe only that one film where a ghost’s evil and contorted face pushed out from a wall. I am afraid I might see that if I open my eyes in the dark.
I take many unnecessary steps at night to ensure I am not in a dark room. I turn on one light, walk to the next room, turn on that light then go back and turn off the first light, repeating the steps until I am in my bedroom and close my eyes.
A flashlight (or cell phone) does not help because it only lights up a narrow path. I can, however, read my kindle or cell phone, as long as I don’t look away from the screen.
I am also not nearly as afraid of being outside in the dark as I am of being in a dark room.
I used to watch a lot of horror films as a teenager – usually the kind on late-night TV featuring ghosts, vampires, mummies, werewolves, etc. They rarely bothered me at the time, but something changed as I grew older. I’d recall those movies and my imagination went wild, especially when I was alone, especially at night. Vampires never scared me, but the other preternatural beings terrified me.
These days I am reluctant to watch anything that might be scary, although I don’t mind psychological thrillers and I’ve only seen one slasher movie (the original Halloween) and will not ever watch another (Serial Mom which we watched last night doesn’t count because it is John Waters). Even trailers of scary movies or television shows are enough to make me keep the hallway light on while I try to sleep.