Saturday, October 30, 2010

Once upon a cold, dark night (re-visited)

Hmmm, here I am with a great place to write and yet when I sit down to do so, nothing happens. I used to write so flowed like water. What happened? I need to reconnect with that part of me again, because buried deep beneath all the layers of my life I know the writer in me is stirring.

So, until I find my muse (or vice versa), I'm reposting a previous entry I created in 2005 when my blog was a part of the AOL J-Land community. You can find the original entry here

With Halloween just around the corner, many are sharing scary stories. Sandra, owner of Sandra's Scribbles often finds a ghost story to share. And our beloved Blogfather, John Scalzi is prompting us to write, to draw on our own experience and relate a bone chilling, flesh crawling, hair raising Halloween story. Well, maybe not flesh crawling.

Okay. If you thought I was a little bit crazy before, well I'm about to remove all doubt from your mind.

Somewhere between fear and imagination lies the truth. And many years ago I learned the line between is often blurred. During the time that followed I have struggled to grasp the meaning of what happened to me on a cold dark night. Even now I do not fully understand exactly what happened; but I do remember.

It is September 19, 1978. I am a newlywed of just three months, spending the night at the home of my in-laws. They live in a split-entry house with four levels and the guest room is downstairs, in the daylight basement. A few hours before, at 12:45 a.m., I received news of my mothers passing. It is now 3:30 a.m. and I can't sleep. I keep wondering what life will be like with her gone. I feel cold, chilly, and alone, even as the heat of my husband's sleeping body radiates next to me under the warmth of several heavy blankets.

When I feel the internal urge, I get out of bed and silently make my way through the dark house to the bathroom across the hall. I switch on the light, shut the door and go about the business that called me out of my bed. The events of the night play out in my mind, and I think about what the days ahead hold for my young sisters. At only 12 and 14, they are so tender and young, too young to lose their mother.

I finish and wash my hands, struggling with the loss I feel in my heart. Looking up at the medicine cabinet mirror, I stare at the reflection; is the person looking back at me strong enough to deal with this? Do I have what it takes to help my sisters cope with the heart break I must deliver to them? Beneath my eyes the bags and dark circles belie my age. I am only 21 yet I look to be in my 30s. My mothers illness has taken its toll. I rub my eyes, take a deep breath and step away from the sink.

Without warning, I begin to shiver, as if the temperature of the room suddenly dropped several degrees. I shake it off, rubbing the skin on my arms vigorously with my hands, eager to slide back under the warmth of those heavy blankets on the bed. But when I reach out and grab the doorknob, an electrical shock stabs my fingertips. I stop and pull back my hand. Thinking it is static electricity created by rubbing my arms, I reach out again, and quickly withdraw my hand when the vibration of electrical energy touches my skin.

 I look down at the linoleum, then at my bare feet. How can I be getting shocked? I glance at the sink, step toward it and touch the metal fixtures. Nothing. Slowly I wrap my fingers around each knob. No shock. Okay, so it wasn't static. It's nothing. Feeling relieved, I turn away from the sink and cast my sight on the door knob. That's when I hear it. An inner voice that stops me in my tracks with the words, Don't look.

Look? At what? Gathering my wits about me, there I stand, thinking about being shocked by a door knob while standing barefoot on the linoleum floor in my pajamas listening to some voice telling me not to something.
 Nonsense! This is crazy, I tell myself. Not to mention silly and stupid. Again I reach out, ready to take control of the situation. Even as I wrap my fingers around the door knob, my sense of touch vibrates with electrical energy. I withdraw my hand, staring at it in disbelief.

What's happening? This can't be real.

Don't look. You must not look.

Slowly I back away from the door. Look? At what? Is there something out there?

Get a grip. I shake my head. I've been reading too many Stephen King novels.

This is just my imagination getting the best of me. I'm tired, physically and emotionally. It's late at night, everyone in the house is asleep, and my overactive imagination is working overtime. Go to bed. Just open the door, turn off the light and go to bed. You've done it before, hundreds, if not thousands of times in your life. Do it again, like before. Open the door.

Even before I reach out a part of me resists. I am tired. I need sleep and I am not going to get it standing in this room. Once again I reach out, only to stop and withdraw when the shock of electricity hit my fingers.

Don't look.Again, I back away from the door. My heart is pounding in my chest, I hear it thumping in my ears. My pulse is racing. This isn't happening. This isn't real. I know what is real. This is not real. As if to convince myself, I do everything I know is real. I wash my face, splashing the cold water on my skin, willing myself awake. I'm still dreaming. I brush my teeth. I brush my hair. I run in place. I do jumping jacks.

And still the knob shocks me and the voice reminds me, Don't look.

I'm going crazy. My mother's death has pushed me over the edge of reason and sanity. There is nothing out there I tell myself. There is no need for fear. And yet my feet refuse to move, silently disobeying the order given by my brain.

It comes on suddenly, a sense of disturbance in the air. A feeling of unrest. In my minds eye I can see something, beyond the bathroom door, up the stairs, past the kitchen and dining room, where the drapes are open, on the other side of the sliding glass door. It's there, in the car port.

At first I think it is my mother's spirit, checking on me, wanting to know how I am coping. Dressed in white, she waits for me, calling out my name. The feeling permeates every pore of my skin, drenching me with an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. I lean against a wall, propping myself up, my mind swimming with thoughts, desperately trying to make sense of the here and now. It wanders back in time to conversations about the weakness of the human spirit; particularly when dealing with the loss of a loved one. I remember stories I heard and read about people who, faced with the death of a loved one, claimed to be visited by something. Each person thought it was the spirit of the departed, bound by love, unable to leave the other's side. It made sense; what could be deeper than a mother's love for her children. Maybe what I sensed was my mother's spirit nearby, hovering, lingering, wanting just one last look, before moving on to the other side.

No. It is not your mother. It wants to hurt you.


What wants to hurt me? Mom wouldn't do that!

Don't look. It wants to hurt you.
 I feel like the room is shrinking and the walls are closing in on me. I need to get out of here! I want to get out of this room. A part of me needs to confirm I haven't lost my mind and there is something out there. But I'm too scared. There's nothing out there. It's just my imagination getting the best of me. I try the door again. Shock. Okay. I won't look. Just let me out. I'll keep my eyes straight ahead. I won't look up the stairs. Just let me out of here!

Don't look.

Out loud, I say it. I won't look! Tentatively, I lift my arm and reach for the door knob. Nothing happens. I wrap my fingers around the metal and take a deep breath.

Do it. Go! Open the door, eyes straight, and move quickly. Don't look!

I turn the knob and with the other hand I switch off the light. My chest feels like it is about to explode! I jerk the door open and bolt across the threshold toward the guest room. As I pass in front of the stairs and the open drapes an ice cold chill runs down my spine.

Go! Don't stop or look.

My knees feel like Jell-O, my feet feel like concrete and I lose my balance, slamming into the bedroom doorway. I stumble in the darkness, bent over with my arms out, searching for the bed. What just happened? I feel the comforter and follow the bed, flinging my body down onto the mattress, then under the covers. He doesn't move. I feel like I've made enough noise to wake everyone in this house, yet my husband lies beside me. Undisturbed, the sound of his slow breathing fills my ears.

I don't feel safe, just yet. I feel like whatever is out there is now right outside the window above me head. Go away! Whatever you are, leave me alone. Go away! Fear racks my body and I shake as I pull the sheets over my head, burrowing myself under the safety of the covers. Go away. Leave me alone. Seconds pass, the tension in my muscles begins to ease, I close my eyes and slowly drift sleep.

When I wake up I am alone in the bed. I check my watch and remember what happened last night. What had happened? Whatever it was, I knew I could not, would not tell my mother-in-law, or my husband. Neither would believe a word and write it off as a bad dream. They would do their best to convince me it never happened. I imagined it all in my sleep and it was just a nightmare.

Thing is, it was. At least the part about losing my mother. That morning I remember the haunting feeling of being abandoned. Sitting on the edge of the bed, with the sound the words I didn't want to hear resonating in my ears, I realized my worst childhood fear had just come true. My mother had abandoned me. And that little girl who suffered from the nightmares which woke up her, and everyone else in the house, now found herself alone in the company of strangers.

 Until this moment I have shared this experience with a handful of people. My sister and a few close friends, as well as religious and spiritual advisors. A couple of pastors and priests scoffed at my words, explaining the events of that night as just the workings of my imagination as they patted me on the back and led me to the door. But the majority, they listened intently and many came to the same conclusion. The death of a loved one makes a person weak, spiritually. On that they all agree. From there, their interpretations vary. Some say in my weakness, the devil came to take my soul. Others say the devil only exists if you believe that it does. As for me, I think there is truth in both sides.

Throughout my childhood, I had nightmares; dreams in which my mother abandoned me. On those nights I would cry out for her and she always came to my side, her gentle voice soothing away the fear as she held me tenderly, rocking me back to sleep. She said she knew when the nightmares would come because an angel told her. My mother always said I had an angel at my side, silently watching over me. She said the angel spoke to her, but I never sensed it, or even heard it speak to me.

Until that night. I wonder if it was the voice of the angel I heard, telling me not to look, warning me. Guiding me through the darkness and reminding me...I am not alone.