Maurice’s Review: What a bonus! Reading this plagued me with not one but two ear worms:
the Ghostbusters Theme and Sounds of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel.
As I energetically washed the back windows of my new house from the patio, I heard a loud crash from inside. Of course, I thought the meticulously and artfully arranged mountain of pots and pans I had created beforehand must have finally crashed to the floor. Except that I had not assembled any such construction. But that’s what it sounded like. Curious as to what else could make such a cacophony, I walked inside to investigate. As I opened the back door, I got the sensation of a suddenly stopped conversation. There had been a short susurrus of sound and then dead quiet. I remained clammily paralyzed in the back entrance of my house. I stood for a while, actively listening. Nothing.
My mind played over the various scenarios where either of these two sensory experiences might be explained. My toddler was napping in his room, so I mustered up some motherly courage to charge forth, ready to be relieved by my child happily playing with noisy, clangy things. He was still fast asleep. Determined, I began a search through every room and closet, happy we did not have a basement. Nothing. No heaps of stuff that fell from any sort of height. No stereo inadvertently left playing. No tumped-over furniture, books or framed art. Nothing. This was the first of many such explorations of unexplained sounds.
If I hear a noise in my house, I will go investigate its origin. I admit to playing the role of stupid teenaged victim who simply must go searching for the source of an unusual noise only to be horrendously rendered into hash by the evil, supernatural entity lurking in the darkness, while everyone offscreen is yelling at them “Don’t go in there!” If it is a burglar, I am prepared to defend the castle. If it is an evil entity then I will be joining the ranks of dumbasses that meet an untimely demise in every second-rate slasher flick. If there seems to be no discernable cause of the noise, I am prepared to chalk it up to the poltergeist, though it took me a while to reach this state of nonchalance.
Houses make noises. They creak and settle and suffer the bangs of loose shutters and the scurrying of rodents. They do not, however, turn the TV on. Nor do they make strange lights on the ceiling nor whispering voices (unless they turned on the TV of course). An unexplained noise, day or night, can be disturbing. A good explanation goes a long way to ramping down a creeped-out angst. That is why I have always gone looking, the need to calm myself down. To find nothing is perplexing, but is, in the long run, safety-affirming. To find nothing means no terrifying menace hiding in the hall closet, no danger lurking behind that partially opened door.
My house made many unexplained noises during the 21 years we lived there. I was the only one to hear them, except for once, when my husband “heard it too!” By that time, I had relaxed a bit over the sounds emanating from the rooms on Carriage Hill Drive. My anxiety over sounds diminished as I got used to hearing them, felt no malevolent intent from them and remained unscathed when they occurred. I still investigated each noise, but became less upset when I could find no reasonable explanation.
I was relaxing in the beanbag chair in my son’s room, reading Lemony Snicket or In the Night Kitchen as part of his pre-bedtime ritual, when I heard the noisy whir of the garage door opening. I heard the back door open and footsteps walking around on the linoleum floor in the kitchen. Then nothing. He must have stopped to read the mail, I thought. I completed our reading and tucked my son into his bed, leaving the door ajar as I left the room.
My husband was not in the house. The car was not in the garage. The mail was still on the kitchen table. I felt an uneasiness worm its way under my skin. I searched the house, including all the closets and under the beds. Finding nothing more disturbing than dust bunnies, I reasoned he must have forgotten something and left again, not wanting to disturb us. When he actually arrived, I questioned him. No, he had not come home an hour earlier and gone back out again to buy beer, gas for the car or new shoes. Was this a gaslighting situation? I had no explanation for the noises I had heard but also had no reason to believe my man was messing with my sanity.
When we got our new television, we were delighted with the big screen and the updated technology. Except for the fact that it occasionally turned on without any human encouragement, it was a delight. The damn thing came on by itself, which was unnerving when I was in the kitchen and became aware of The Today Show programming emanating from the living room. Unknown technological energy? Malfunctioning electrical spontaneity? We did not have Alexa to blame, only whatever it was that shared space with us in that house and wanted to see the news from time to time. It was uninvited and creepy but not threatening to suddenly hear Al Roker chitchatting about the weather on a hot, summer morning as I rattled around in the kitchen by myself.
These strange occurrences continued over the years. The feeling of an abruptly silenced conversation when entering through the back door was the most common among an odd assortment of thumps and knocks. I had also heard whispery “voices” when lying in bed, usually when napping in the afternoon. We lived in a city, so housing was close enough that a loud conversation from the neighbor’s driveway might be heard from the other side of my house. Several times I would hear an exchange without comprehending what was “being said.” It sounded so much like human voices that I jumped up to look for the neighbors standing outside in their driveway or backyard, only to miss catching them in the act. Nobody was out there. This put an end to the intended nap. A light dream state may have been a possible explanation…or not.
Only I heard these emanations. Perhaps my hearing was better than my husband’s, his ears having been assaulted by loud rock music in his youth. That was my explanation until one night as we sat in our living room, television purposely turned on. I heard a jangling noise from the vicinity of the front door. As was my usual reaction, I became perfectly still and silent. I asked, “Did you hear that?” and to my surprise, he said yes! The man is a scientist. He always believed that I heard something. He never attributed it to anything supernatural or spectral. Everything had a reasonable explanation even if we did not know what it was. I had been the one to label these auditory phenomena as the poltergeist.
He went to the front door to investigate. Nothing was found. What could have made that jangling noise, a sound that a well-equipped percussionist could replicate? Traveling one-man band? Sneaky neighbor kid with a wind-chime? Mystical murderer with a wish to enchant us out the front door? We simply did not know.
Now we live in a new house. One in which I have not experienced the poltergeist. The same television sits in our new living room, dutifully silent unless we turn it on. No ghostly halted conversations give me the chills as I walk through the back door. When I hear the neighbors in their driveway, I recognize their voices and can see them as they get in their car or play near their garage. I spoke to my husband during the writing of this essay, pointing out the quiet of our new home, satisfied that the poltergeist had remained behind when we moved. He gave a short laugh then told me that when he is home alone, in his basement workshop, he hears “things.” It sounds like someone is walking around upstairs. These old houses creak and make noises that we interpret to be human-driven activity. On hearing this, I became still and silent. My well-reasoned response was, “Stop gaslighting me!”
Guest Editor Maurice screamed when he edited this post, then said I could edit out the scream. I would never do that! I always appreciate his editing skills. He politely pointed out my tendency to be over-wordy. Was that what made him scream? After all…he ain’t ‘fraid of no ghost!