Esse Est Percipi

To be is to be perceived.

Okay. So I feel the same way. Tell me a story about some good ole boy out frog-gigging one moonless night and the next thing he knows, it’s two days later, he’s in Old Ned Compton’s pasture 50 miles away, and he _knows_ he’s been abducted by aliens — and I’ll just smirk.

So smirk away. You’re entitled.

Nonetheless, I believe in ghosts. I really have no other choice.

Situation the First

It was nearing Christmas. Perhaps I was in junior high school. Almost certainly, I was still into Santa Claus. No, I knew that my parents did all the dirty work, but I suspected that there was some other being that embodied the season, whose benevolence provided the specialness of that time of year. (This was an old passion. When I had chicken pox at the age of two, in a delirium of fever, I constantly recited “The Night Before Christmas.”)

At any rate, I was asleep in the downstairs bedroom I shared with my sister. I felt something cold on my leg and looked to see if the
blankets had come off during the night. The blankets were intact –
after all, my mother was a nurse and knew a thing or two about hospital corners. But lingering at the foot of my bed was a shadowy figure — thin, in a blue robe. “Oh,” I thought immediately, “Must be a ghost.” I turned over and then it hit me. A ghost? In my room? I tuned quickly just in time to see the figure evaporate. I lay awake pondering what had happened.

In the intervening years, I spun the story in my mind. Must have been my father. Must have been Santa (wishful thinking). Must have been bad food.

All the ‘must haves’ disappeared one afternoon recently. My sister and I had been chatting. She had seen the ghost as well.

Situation the Second

It was a time of great change. I was on the cusp of graduate school but still had two feet firmly planted in the Wild World of Middle School Teaching and all its accoutrements. To save money for my impending foray into the groves of academe, I moved into a house with a friend and her boyfriend and her dogs and her cats and her raccoon. Oh, and another one of her friends and that friend’s sheepdog.

My room was on the same floor as the living room and shared a window with a screened-in porch. Due to the house’s semi-clever architecture, I had to go into the living room in order to go out on the porch. At any rate, the porch was locked and basically unused.

Except by this strange presence that made my life a complete nightmare. Every summer night, I baked because I didn’t dare to open the window. (In retrospect, I guess it didn’t matter.) Sleeping on a mattress on the floor, I existed in a state of semi-panic for months. The porch thing was noisier than any earthly neighbor. It wailed and howled all night. It took furniture and moved it around, once upturning a charcoal grille full of ashes completely on itself, so that the ashes were completely covered by the upside-down grille. I don’t know if I could have done that even if I tried.

The rest of the house thought I was crazy and had little to say about
my morning reports except an exaggerated “Riiiight.” At first, they
thought I was hearing burglars, and would respond to my nighttime calls for help. That soon faded. It was clear I was on my own. I spent many hours sitting on the stairs to the rest of the bedrooms, hoping for morning.

It seemed poltergeistian to me, the porch thing, and definitely
something out to disturb or harm. Unlike my preteen ghost at the foot of the bed, this one was to be feared.

Situation the Third

My baby sister was getting married. Her fiancé lived in Emmitsburg in an ancient home — a log cabin that was built in the late 1700s. To boot, he collected Civil War memorabilia, including the bloodied boot of a wounded soldier he found while detecting in some odd corner of Maryland. As could be expected, the house was dark with low ceilings and few windows. Its edges were muted. Its floors uncertain.

After the wedding rehearsal dinner, we stopped back at the house the two were soon to share. The groom-to-be wanted to give us all a
present. The house was crowded into itself, guarded by a privet hedge with a negligible slit through which we entered, trying to avoid the remainders of an ice storm that came the day before.

We awkwardly moved around the small space. The gifts were display cases of Civil War bullets — mostly unspent. It was a gift of the heart, and I welcomed it, especially from someone I had just met. Would we like to see more? He beckoned us up the twisted stairs.

We formed a long line. I was at the top of it. As soon as I entered
the room, I held my hand up as if I were stopping traffic. He came to
me. I told them that someone there wanted them to know he was very happy for them on the eve of their wedding. The line stopped abruptly.

My niece said she was getting out of there, and fast. She pushed the
others downstairs, and, almost certainly (though I’ve forgotten now)
out the door.

My sister and her fiancé just grinned. They had heard the man before. I had just given them validation.

There were other smaller events. Perhaps they were figments of my imagination… My cousin stopping by after a far-too-sudden passing, as a neighbor lady did to my sister the night she died… my mother-in-law as I held her broach. …Others. Most were gentle. Most were there but for a moment.

I’ve thought about reasons and definitions for a long while. What are
these creatures and why did they come to me? Why have so many tried to explain them and just wound this Gordian knot even tighter and more unfathomable in my mind?

This is the best thing I can come up with: Perhaps death is some kind of magnificent explosion — a fantastic and all-encompassing transfer of energy from one form to the other in the briefest of seconds. In this eruption, I imagine, some of the being is left behind, lingering like smoke after cannonfire, awaiting acknowledgement by some collector who sees its significance.

I guess I am a collector.

Article © 2004 by Ann Klimas