When you encounter a ghost, it’s usually just a feeling. That’s how I met Elliot, anyway.
My second night in a new place, in a new city, Brooklyn, and I’m in the bathroom, brushing my teeth. I turn around, lean against the door, and, as if pricked by a pin, my spine straightens. I feel a coolness and I have this thought: "Someone is sniffing my hair." I shake my head, spit my toothpaste and turn the light off. I forget about it.
I’m having tea with my new roommate one evening before she leaves for a month long trip to LA. She tells me, deadpan, “I’ve felt a male presence in the house. In the bathroom.” “Yeah?” I say, my color draining.
It’s almost 4 am. A stifling night when sleep refuses me, near daylight but not near enough. I can't lie down or stay still. I’m in the kitchen drawing. Sweat collects on my face and I go to the bathroom to splash it off.
I stop before the sink, in front of the tub and instantly I feel like I’ve walked into an electric cloud, like I've been plugged softly into a socket. The feeling is good, but marked, and it's building, flowing purple and oily through my veins. This energy is excitement, euphoria. I start swaying. I feel high, a little dizzy, weightless, rolling. I let it move me.
A minute passes, maybe 2 or 6, until a hot shot of panic shoots from the part of my brain that makes logic, right down to my gut. I remember two things: “I’ve felt a male presence,” and “Someone is sniffing my hair.”
I propel myself back into the kitchen and grab onto the dinner table in hopes it will awaken to help me. I notice the feeling has dropped from my body. I exhale and say, sounding miniature, "…Hello?" I look into the bathroom, my head down but my eyes square, and as I do, the light goes off. Click. And back on. Click.
"OH, COME ON!" I say with a bit of gusto now, tossing up my hands and knocking over a mug. I offer again, “Hello?” The light blinks once more. Click, pause, click. I fling open the door to the hall and jettison to collapse at the opposite wall. I attempt a “fuck” but my tongue has deflated.
I’m whimpering in fetal and realize I’m not wearing pants, only an XXL T Shirt. Poltergeist wear. My immediate plan to run to the bodega for a casual hang until dawn is thwarted unless I go back for shoes.
My phone is in reach on a wooden chair near the door. I call the one friend I know will be up working until dawn: Harry. I make him keep up a video chat until light hits and I can sleep.
I begin a little research in the morning. How can you tell if you have a ghost? The usual comes up: strange feelings, sudden change in temperature, doors slamming, odd animal behavior, lights flickering, apparitions, sounds, sudden, inexplicable hunger, displaced objects, disturbances in technology.
I read about other people’s experiences on historic battlefields, in homes or hospitals. I learn that in California you need to disclose a house’s “emotional defects” when selling. I search other haunted places in NY online, get a book.
Most of the well-known spots overlap. Three spirits alone at the newly re-opened McCarren Park Pool. The Dakota, not surprising. The Empire State building is visited by its suicide victims. I read on a psychology website that people with particularly sensitive temporal lobes encounter “ghosts.” I must have one of those lobes.
I e-mail a guy called Dom from the Paranormal Society. He writes back the same day asking for my address, an account of my happenings. He says he can do a background check of the building, that he can come by and run some tests. Tests?
That afternoon my friend Rebecca calls while I'm in the kitchen, fan whirring above my head making lines of light vibrate on the wall.
"So Becky, I've got a ghost. Last night..."
The call drops, my fully charged phone shuts off. I call back.
"So Becky” I repeat "I've got a gho..."
The damn thing shuts down again. Disturbances in technology. I walk into the bathroom and stand looking at the ceiling above the tub. I wet finger as if testing the wind. I can’t feel him like I did last night, but I can feel him.
“You don’t need to worry about Becky, pal, she’s harmless.”
I go outside, sit on a bench in hope of a breeze and my dad calls, first time in weeks, maybe months. Tired drags on my eyes.
"Dad,” I ask "Do you believe in ghosts?”
"What, you think I'm an idiot?” his voice raises, igniting his smoker's cough, “Of course I believe.” I hear his wife smack his back.
My mom calls that evening when I'm at the grocery store.
"I think there’s a ghost in my apartment." I say, grabbing a grapes bunch. She's an animal whisperer and a triple Aquarius, but she wears a hard hat when it comes to my neuroses. I figure I'll get a similar response to when, age 9, I told her I thought I had AIDS. “You need to get a grip, hard and fast."
This time the line cracks silent before she lands with, “I get a solid feeling it was a suicide.”
I start calling the ghost, “Elliot,” greeting him, telling him to keep calm. The apartment feels like pea soup these days and I wonder if I should leave him a glass of water or a DD Coolatta.
At random I’ll be reading, writing, laying in a hot exhausted heap on the floor when I feel him again, my skin standing. Strangely, his presence gives me a certain comfort.
I start telling people about him, and realize in my talking, how old people do things like this. Create characters out of their animals, focus on inanimate collections or worry about one particular bush in the yard. I just moved to a new city, a city oft recognized as "the greatest of them all," and I’m anthropomorphizing a feeling I get, usually in the bathroom. Part of me realizes I need to get out there more, whatever the hell that means.
I sleep in my roomate’s room one night, she’s still gone. She has an AC but it’s crap so still the heat is too much to bear. My body feels limply awake, ringing constant and warm at a low vibration so I never quite drop to sleep. Living dead indeed.
I put on "All About Eve." I wake up with the DVD menu repeating and both hands over my heart. It’s early, already damp as a fever. I reach for my phone and feel something hard next to me, lying by my shoulder.
“What …” It's a small porcelain bust of an angel. It usually hangs high on the wall on the opposite side of the bed. The angel cherub cheeks smile round. Displaced objects! Oh, Elliot. I think. Oh, No. You like me.
I put the angel back and leave to get coffee at a little Frenchie café. I think the waitress notices something is wrong, how weakly my head rests on my palms, so I offer “I’ve got a ghost” like I'm telling a friend about a new beau with whom I’ve been up all night.
I begin to imagine Elliot as that waif who played Keats in "Bright Star" and wonder what it’s like to eff a ghost. Probably equal parts soft and transcendental.
The waitress is confused, tries to smile, and her earnest, vain attempt at kindness withers me a bit. You’re happy to imagine a ghost wants it from you? I scold myself. You are b-o-r-e-d.
On the 4th of July, I go to a party on my friends roof. There's a guy there who could be a timber-farming Disney prince, and of course, baby I am, I sit tall as a cat in the corner and talk to my friend’s mother.
"So I think I have a ghost!" I tell the story. “You look skeptical, Pam.”
She responds, hands up; “I say this only because you asked. What I think you have is anxiety. When you confront the ghost, you confront yourself.” She’s good. I think. I wonder if she’s right. Then I remember that porcelain cherub.
That night I tell Elliot, firmly, “Listen, you can stay, but no more physical indications of your presence. I can’t deal.”
Dom from the Paranormal Society writes again and says, I'm free Sunday for some tests. He signs each e-mail so sweetly. Blessings. Sunday would be fine, I’m open.
I sit in front of the computer, have a think. If Dom comes, what if Elliot disappears? What if he gets mad or distrusts me or things turn sour? What if it feels empty after? Voided? What if Dom whips out a ghost radar and he tells me it’s just tricks of the light? What if I stop believing in Elliot, just because of what Dom says?It’s better to know. It's better to stop these childish antics.
Dom, I type, Sunday actually isn't good for me. I feel a breeze, a breath, a coolness on my neck.