The thing that goes "bump" in the night might not be just in your imagination
Shadow in the Hall
When I was nine wanted to become a ghost; when I was forty-four it finally happened. I thought that all people become ghosts after they die; just some people remain here on earth for various reasons. I also thought that my mother would chose to remain here to watch over me after she died. I wanted to join her in death so I tried to become a ghost that night by willing my heart to stop and my spirit to separate from my body, but failed. I did, however, sense something looking into my bedroom and was afraid. When I turned to look, I saw something shadowy standing in the hall looking into my room. I sensed sadness, but not the presence of my mother. I cried myself to sleep that night and many nights afterward.
I did succeed in separating my mind from my body with alcohol when I got older. One of the things about my alcoholism was how easily it made me forget. I drank to forget the loss of my mom and the life I had with dad afterward. Eventually I tried forgetting my divorce, the loss of my job, and my loneliness. I forgot everything, except how to drink, so I don’t recall anything about the crash. I was suddenly outside of the car, standing unnoticed among a few bystanders and watching the EMT’s take me out of my smashed pickup and put me into a body bag and drive away.
The sensations that normally went with being alive were gone, including touch. I could feel no sadness, or fear. I had no pulse nor did any breath come into or out of my body -- I just was, but wasn’t. For the first time in decades I was entirely sober and without the inner pain of being me.
Yet, I sensed that I wasn’t alone. I just didn’t know where anyone else in this realm was hiding. Then, as one always knows it in dreams and nightmares, I realized that time no longer had control of me and I could slip back into any time in my past. And I was being pulled toward a certain night, years ago. I was drawn to the time when I was fourteen, the sad day that my mother was buried.
I began moving through the gloomy, moon-lit night and soon found the old house on Fairfield Road, except that it wasn’t old then. The two-story house where I had spent most of my youth was different from how I saw it in my mind. I did not recall how bright the paint was and how nice the yard looked – then. The memories there weren’t very good after this night and must have affected my recall. My father had not been able to cope with Mom’s death either. Dad couldn’t be both mother and father and deal with his own grief. His alcoholism became a problem and we lost the house about the time of my eighteenth birthday. That was the year I truly wanted to die and become a ghost. I considered suicide, but something stopped me. Maybe I just did not have the courage.
Of course, my drinking in the years between then and now had distorted many memories. I never recall Dad ever lifting a finger to strike me, or ever loosing his temper toward me, probably because so many people told me how greatly I resembled my mother. Yet, I was a non-person, a shadow of his beloved wife that walked through the halls of the house. I was as good a son as he allowed me to be, considering the pain he must have felt every time he looked at my face and how uninvolved with my life he kept himself. My sister, my brother, and I were raised by caring Aunts on weekends and watched over by neighbors during the week. We all survived into adulthood; that’s when life went wrong for all of us.
Being a non-living entity now, I passed easily through the front door. The most remarkable things I first noticed were the knick-knacks everywhere on every flat surface. I did not remember so many. I do recall them being knocked off shelves and end-tables over the years and tossed away as just shattered pieces of colored glass. They meant something to Mom, bits of memory of a place visited during vacations, a wish, or a dream, but nothing to the rest of us, then, at least. Not to me, now, after my own death, except one; the clown she kept on a shelf in her kitchen. His baggy pants were painted a bright red, as were his hat and around his mouth. In his ceramic hand he held an umbrella, a green one. I recalled playing with him often. I don’t know if he was Mom’s favorite of her collection, or I just found him fascinating, but I was drawn to him then, like now. I kept him in my room for a few years, until the umbrella broke off. I guess I thought he could keep her memory alive for me. It didn’t. I tried to glue the umbrella on, but it wouldn’t stay, so I threw the clown into the garbage and let it die as she did.
I moved through the house like a dark cloud slowly drifting over familiar territory, but the things I touched I could not feel. I could not inhale the fragrance of her kitchen. I missed the odor of spaghetti sauce that was such a big part of her menu. I recalled coming in from school during the winter to the fragrance of her Italian meals. Even now I could envision her short, thin form standing at the stove, stirring the large pot of red bubbling tomato sauce. It seemed that pot was always on the stove and she spent a lot of time stirring it, unless she was sitting at the table reading a book or writing another poem in one of her steno pads.
Mom was quiet, much quieter than any other woman I’ve ever known. She seldom spoke on the telephone, or went out with her friends, or watched TV. Her passions were books, magazines and poetry. She had reams of notebook paper on which she wrote. I was never allowed to share what was on those pages and Dad threw it all out after she died.
But that wasn’t the reason I’d come here, I realized that much. I knew that I, as a nine year old boy, lay on my bed upstairs, the last door on the right. This was a night that long haunted me, the night I realized what death was and that people you loved were never really coming back. I recalled sensing something in this hall that night, something that I truly wanted to believe was my mother coming back, and I felt compelled to go up and see what had been there.
I moved up the stairs slowly and down the hall until I could just barely peek into my old bedroom – at myself. It was like looking into the deepest, blackest hole in eternity. A rush of despair and depression clutched me like a hand and tried to pull me down into that hole. I passed from my form into the boy I was at nine. My thoughts of that night flooded back into me. I felt the hot tears on my face, the sobs of fear that I muffled into my pillow. I remembered everything I had thought, every sad prayer and promise to God to be good … if He would only bring my Mother back. Or I wanted to die and be with her. To see if my prayers would be answered I listened for my mother’s soft steady tread in the hallway. I sensed something in the hall and turned my small head toward the hall. I believed at age nine that some ghosts walked in the night to scare little kids, maybe even steal them away to a horrible place, but that my mother would come and take care of me. Through my tears, I expected to see her standing in the door, smiling. She would then come and sit on my bed and tell me that everything would be all right, that she would always be with me.
And in the hall I took one more step forward and myself at nine turned on the bed to look out the door. I remembered seeing a pair of eyes looking in on me that night, but not my mother’s soft brown eyes. Nor were they eyes of a monster come to kill me; they were deeply sad eyes. I had been frightened by the sight and managed over the years to convince myself that I had created the event in my mind only; the feeble attempt of a nine year old broken-hearted boy trying to resurrect his mother, but managed only to conjure some eyes.
The world I was now in, a world where things could be seen but not felt, swirled; the things in the room melted and ran together in the darkness. Time was as a tide that ebbed and flowed and showed all the days of the intervening years in a few swift moments. For a few seconds I nine again looking out at myself, then I was me again looking in at myself in my room.
I realized that what I saw that night in the hall was not my mother or a phantom that had come to steal me away, but a glimpse at the future; me, the man I would grow into -- and die as. I would become man who brought on himself pain and sorrow, too many failures, and had merely surrendered to his fate.
I tried to move forward, to explain to myself what to avoid in the future. I wanted to inhabit my nine year old body again and go through life again, this time living up to my potential. Or just talk to myself and warn what was to come in the future. But I could not. As me at nine turned in my despair toward the wall and a fitful, nightmare-filled sleep, I felt a jarring tug.
What I now understood was that I, as a child, had sensed what he would become as a man, but I did not understand then that this was part of my judgment. I fled downstairs, fearfully following a strong pull toward the horizon.