On Ghosts

We told ghost stories at the residency I’m at tonight. Some of them were funny, and some of them were actually very creepy.

The idea of ghosts is a recurring theme in my memoir.

I am not saying that I believe in ghosts, but I have some very good ghost stories.

The building that this residency is housed in is known to be haunted, and I am in the room that is supposed to be the most haunted.

At my last residency, we had a writer’s salon one evening in the house I was staying in. One of the other writers said, “I have heard this house is haunted.”

I replied, “It’s not. I’m very sensitive to ghosts. If it was haunted, I would know.”

Then, I realized that I sounded like someone who believes in ghosts.

I have sleep disturbances.

I have had two sleep studies done. I was still married to Caleb at the time, and I was at my most miserable in my marriage.

The sleep doctor asked me if I had ever felt a sudden loss of strength in my limbs. I told him that I had when I was an adolescent.

He said that loss of strength afflicts adolescent girls more than anyone, and it is connected to sleep disturbances.

I thought, So do poltergeists.

When I think back on adolescence, I can think of nothing but sadness and ghosts.

I couldn’t sleep back then because there were too many fucking ghosts.

During my sleep studies, the technician Todd would take my blood pressure, which was always high. Then, I would sit on the bed, and Todd would scrape a paste on to my head. He would attach wires to the paste, and though he was trying to be gentle, it hurt.

Soon, there would be wires all over my head.

Todd seemed fond of me, and I appreciated his tenderness.

Then, I would sit in the bed and watch television until ten pm when Todd’s voice would come in over the speaker and tell me that it was time to sleep. I would lay down and not-sleep.

During my first sleep study, I slept for less than an hour. It wasn’t enough time for them to get any conclusive evidence, but the doctor’s theory that I was narcoleptic turned out to be unfounded.

Caleb picked me up, took me home, and I slept all day in the bed that we shared together. I remember that he crawled in around 1pm when Reed went down for his nap–that I was still so sleepy, so groggy, but I wrapped my legs around Caleb, pulled him into my arms, and we had this almost psychedelic sex before falling asleep while wound together.

I remember that my dreams during that nap were disturbing, and I felt terrible when I woke up around 5pm.

I remember going downstairs to Caleb and Reed. Caleb was making me a fancy dinner, and he said to Reed, “Look, Mommy’s awake!”

I remember thinking, This is my family, and I can never leave them.

I used to scream and thrash around in my sleep. Caleb would wrap me in his arms so tightly. He would whisper into my ear, “It’s okay. You’re okay.”

My eyes would open. Heart racing. Then I would relax into his chest.

He would whisper, “You’re safe. You’re safe.”

After I left Caleb, I stopped seeing ghosts.

I can’t attribute the ghosts to Caleb because they predated him, but why did they disappear when I left him?

Maybe, all along, they were just trying to warn me.

Maybe, all along, they were friendly.

I have a ghost in my room here. A friendly ghost.

And suddenly, I am also feeling that loss of strength in my limbs again. I stood up from a couch the other day, then walked into a hallway before I felt the weakness, almost sunk to the floor, but held my hand to the wall and steadied myself until it passed.

I can’t help but feel like the ghost and loss of strength have something in common, but the truth is that I know the loss of strength is likely tied to my blood pressure. I am on blood pressure medication, and I need to ask my doctor to lower my dosage because my blood pressure is now, not only normal, but low.

During my second sleep study, I talked to Caleb a lot on the phone. I wanted to leave him, but I was conflicted. I didn’t know what to do. We talked for hours. I told him how miserable I was, and he tried to talk me out of being miserable. I might have cried.

Todd’s voice piped in at 11 pm to tell me that I needed to sleep.

I realized that he had let me stay up an hour later than he should have. I realized that he had heard my end of the conversation.

The next morning, Caleb brought me breakfast. Reed ran in, shouted, “MOMMY!” and hugged me.

I knew that Todd was not supposed to let Caleb in to see me, but he did, and I could see Caleb’s desperation. I knew that I wasn’t going to leave Caleb for good yet, but he didn’t know that yet.

I stayed at the sleep lab until noon. I slept for something like three hours during the entire 12 hour period. It was enough for my sleep doctor to diagnose me with apnea. My tonsils are oversized, and I have probably struggled with this since I was a child.

This is likely where my ghosts came from. They were a manifestation of my sleep disturbances.

They were never real.

When I wake in the middle of the night, it is so hard to tell what is real and what is not.

Is it a ghost, or a dream, or just my own fears?

The truth is that I am always haunted.

Sometimes I still find a bruise on my body and think, When did he give me that?

After my last sleep study, I went to see the sleep doctor for a follow-up. Todd took my blood pressure. “It’s normal,” he said to me. “What did you do?”

“I left my husband,” I said.

“Looks like you made the right decision,” he said.

He stared into my eyes. I knew that he was thinking of that night when I had been on the phone with Caleb, when I had said, “I don’t know how to do this anymore. I can’t do this anymore.”

“The doctor will be in shortly,” he said, then left the room.

I sat on the same bed where I had talked with Caleb on the phone.

The ghost of the woman I had been only months earlier was with me while I waited.

The second night that I was in my haunted room here at the residency, I woke up to a knocking sound. I was in a sleep delirium. I thought it was a ghost. I shouted out, “GO AWAY.”

Then, in the same sleep delirium, I thought, Yelling will not fix this problem.

I said, “I’m sorry, but I’m really tired. Would you please just let me sleep?”

The knocking stopped.

Why am I haunted again?

I had a very detailed dream last night where a friend was being abused and I wanted to support her, but also to keep her safe.

I kept trying to leave the house where her abuser was, but I couldn’t.

Finally, in this dream, I backed the abuser into a corner. I wasn’t as tall as him, but I grabbed a foot stool, stood on it, then towered over him.

I said to him, “If you ever hurt me, you will die.”

He grew larger, stared down at me, then bellowed, “Are you daring me?”

I stared back up at him. I said No.

The man cowered. Backed down.

But there’s more.

In my dream, I grabbed my friend, and I told her that we needed to leave. Then, she told me that she believed in her abuser, that she trusted him, that she didn’t want to leave him.

She made herself grow very small and climbed into a baby stroller (this was a dream, after all).

I told her, “I am not going to tell you how to live your life, but I think that you are making the wrong decision.”

I left my dream-friend in the baby stroller, and I walked away.

Then I woke up.

I used to be the friend in the baby stroller. I used to make myself very small.

Now I know how to make myself large–how to say, If you hurt me, you will die.

Sometimes, I still wake up and see a bruise. Sometimes, I still think, “When did he do that?”

But he didn’t do it.

And he never will again.

The ghosts didn’t do it either.

I am still haunted, but the ghosts don’t scare me anymore.

They’re friendly ghosts now.