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.
We’re going to Vancouver, BC this summer. Dean has a conference, I like luxury hotels and Clare and her boyfriend are joining us. Clare let us know last night that they are going to stay in a “super old super haunted house” belonging to her boyfriend’s “punk Vancouver friend.”
She sent me a link to a blog post about a man posing as a doctor in 1931 who set up a hospital in a house in Vancouver (the house where Clare will be spending about 4 nights). He then talked ill people (and now residents of the house/hospital) into making him their beneficiaries. They died shortly thereafter. Apparently this happened to about 20 people. He was eventually caught and hanged.
Anyway, after reading about the house and murders, I selected a link in the blog post and found a book that I think Helen (maybe Maureen too?) would like: Blood, Sweat and Fear by Eve Lazarus. The story about Clare’s boyfriend’s punk friend’s house is Chapter 10.
Hell, I think I would like it too!
A few years ago my husband was encouraged to apply for a job in Seattle, so he did. I said I was ambivalent about moving:
- Clare’s there.
- Andrew’s here.
- All our friends are here.
- The PNW is breathtaking.
It was very close but when he learned that someone else got the job I was secretly delighted.
On the way home, this time on an airplane, I realized that when I was in that empty house, in my mother’s empty bedroom, I forgot to see if the mirror was still there on the back of the door or if the estate sale agents had sold it to someone wanting a sturdy mirror. Either way, someday someone else will look in that mirror. Will they see the shadow of a lonely teenage girl, angry at her mother about this or that injustice? She’s still there, I know it. I just wonder if it is me or her.
[Author’s note: Here’s the whole story with a photo of the mirror]
More recently I visited my childhood home for the last time. It was empty, the estate sale agents had done their job well. It was void of everything I knew from my childhood and teen years, from my visits as an adult. It was missing the people I loved, the furniture I sat in, the art on the walls. I walked around, taking pictures for a possible blog post. I went into every room, opened each closet, and peeked into drawers and cabinets. I expected to feel sadness, but instead just felt emptiness.
On the way back to Bethesda, hauling a U-Haul loaded with furniture, boxes of photos childhood memories, and my dad’s old chainsaw, I felt a pang of regret in my gut that I’d not taken the mirror with me. We surely could have found room for it in our house and it would have been safe. It would have been comforting to have her with me all the time. (You might be thinking that she’s in every mirror, but there you would be wrong. She is only in that one mirror. I have never seen her in any other.)
Six months after my mother’s death I visited the mirror again while gathering memorabilia from my childhood home, but could not look directly at it, could not say goodbye to my friend from fifty-something years ago. I noticed she was absent too.
After my mother died, I assumed her mother died too; but did she die like my mother did, slowly forgetting words, places, people, how to walk, how to form coherent sentences, how to swallow? I hoped for both their sakes they were spared that nightmare.
We never considered changing places again, but I always still wondered what life in that other world would have been like and if it was really my life in there.
Despite being a grown woman, each visit to my mother’s house after that included a visit to her bedroom mirror to remember the child, the teenager, the adult who looked just like me but was somehow a better version of me, who lived in a better place than I did.
She was right; I was happy. I had a husband and two children that I loved very much. My daughter and I were much closer than my mom and I had been, and while my son had inherited my volatility, he was growing out of that (very long) stage.
We still looked alike and her house still looked more real than my own childhood home. She didn’t remember if we’d changed back, and asked if it really mattered. Weren’t we both happy right now?
“Thank God,” I thought, as I hurried to the bedroom, “she is still safe. I can still see her.”
My mother heard me say, “Mom, what happened to the big mirror in your room? Did it break? Did you get rid of it?”
My mom replied that she’d only moved the mirror to the back of her bedroom door. She seemed to sense panic in my voice, but didn’t ask why.
…she was not where I last saw her. I asked my mother where she went. What had she done with her?
I decided to visit her again, to see if she could remember if we ever switched back that last time, if she remembered that last time. I walked to where I always met her…
Talking about it, I wondered if we ever switched back that last time, whenever that last time was? Was I living the wrong life? Was she living the life I should have lived?
Then I told my daughter about my time as a teenager, growing up in the house on Heine Avenue. I told her of the fierce arguments I had with my mother. I told her about the girl in the mirror. I explained how we switched places: the girl and I placing our foreheads together, then our fingertips, then pushing through to the other side.
One day, long after that first exchange, I was back visiting my childhood home. Something made me remember her (perhaps my own teenage daughter’s presence) and I started thinking about the switches.
We forgot about each other. We forgot about our trips into each other’s lives. We became adults, married and had children.
Eventually, gradually, we no longer needed to switch. The fights with our mothers slowed down, our brothers quit annoying us so much. We got jobs, went to college, moved out of the house on Heine Avenue, and moved away from our hometown.
Through the following years we did the switch scores of times, each time staying longer and longer in each other’s world. Sometimes we switched places even if we hadn’t just had a fight with our mothers.
That first time, we didn’t stay long in each other’s houses. We looked around, we talked to each other’s mother and young brother then returned to our own homes, refreshed; calmer than before the exchange.
Her house felt brighter, more dimensional, happy, carefree, loving, kind.
The first time we exchanged places it was like stepping into another world, at least for me. I don’t know what it was like for her, we never talked about it. I saw her mother, who looked like my mother, in a different way than I’d ever seen my own mother. Maybe it was because her mother was a stranger to me and strangers don’t yell at other people’s daughters.
Maybe her mother was not as demanding as mine was. What if we could change places, just for a while; just to get away from the anger (our own and the anger that was directed at us)? Would anyone know? Would anyone care?
I’d look past her, though her doorway, into her house and think how much more calm and quiet it seemed there. She said the same about mine.
She had stories too. Her mother was demanding and sometimes irrational (so was mine!), she had few friends (me too), her father didn’t understand why she loved to read so much (same with me).
I don’t remember what made me go to her that first time, but I remember standing in front of her, talking to her about whatever (seemed) injustice I’d just been dealt.