I began believing in ghosts at a young age. When I was a little girl I watched a Hall-Mark television Christmas special “The Littlest Angel” where a little shepherd boy named Michael–well known at the time for his role as Buffy’s sidekick Jodi on the TV show, A Family Affair–fell off a mountain while chasing a butterfly and he died. After he was in heaven for a few hours, God let him go home to get his treasure box that he kept under his bed as a gift for the baby Jesus. After he retrieved the box, the boy watched his parents crying over the death of their son. He tried to reassure them that he was all right, but as hard as he tried, he wasn’t able to speak to them. The frustration I felt for Michael/Jodi was so real—I was devastated that he could not communicate with his parents and it was then that I became certain about the existence of ghosts. I became convinced that once you die your spirit can come and go as it pleases. I believe that spirits exist all around us; especially tortured souls who hang around trying to right a wrong or wander aimlessly in search of happiness.
It wasn’t until I was much older that I encountered my own ghost. Mark and I were at a Bed and Breakfast in Vermont. It was a cold late fall weekend and we had booked a room at the old farmhouse hoping for a few days filled with hiking and snuggling by the fire. As it is in many Bed and Breakfast type inns, often there is a communal bathroom – something I never liked –so I always insisted on a room with a private bath. This particular Inn only had one room with a bath available but it was an “Attic Room”.
Three flights up and we really were in the attic. Sloped ceilings, cobwebs, gapped plank wood floors and all. The tiny windows sat at floor level and looking at them from the massive four-poster canopied bed made me feel enormous, much like Alice in her rabbit hole. Across the room where the roof met the windows at the dormer, there was a rocking chair, which looked out onto a meadow replete with sheep, next to that was a small end table with an off-white dialed radio, circa 1950. It was on this chair one morning that I encountered Amanda.
“Mark, wake up.” I tried to prod him awake so he could see what I was seeing. It was early morning, the mist was still on the sheep field and the light was just filtering in through the gossamer curtains, I shook my head and tried to clear my vision. “Mark, there is a woman in our room.”
It was her profile I saw. She sat in the rocking chair, straight backed and silent, looking out the window. Her hair was up in a tight bun and she wore a floor-length dress. Her hands—tiny delicate hands—were folded in her lap. She did not move; only sat and stared.
Thirty seconds passed, if that. I hit Mark again. “What’s the matter?” he said.
I pointed to the window, “There is-a-woman-sitting-in–that-chair.”
Mark reached for his glasses on the bedside table. “Blind as a bat” some would call him. Without his contacts or glasses he can’t see inches in front of his face. I have always said that is why he married me, because he could never actually see how horrible I looked in the morning.
By the time Mark found his glasses and focused on the spot I was pointing to, the sun began to stream through the tiny dusty windows and Amanda was gone.
“It was probably just the light.” He said, rolled over and fell back asleep.
Later at breakfast I found out from the waitress that indeed I did see Amanda. I learned that she had come to the farmhouse in a blizzard with her husband at the turn of the century and that she was pregnant. I believe she died that winter, maybe in childbirth, I forget the particulars, but that she was so attached to this house that she refused to leave it. In the breakfast room as word got around that I had seen her, I got lots of stories from the girls who clean the rooms:
“ I will go up to that room and fluff and straighten the pillows, and then I go back 10 minutes later and they are all a mess.”
“I always get in trouble from the owner because I will turn the heat down, I know that I do, and she keeps turning the thermostat back up.”
“Once a woman stayed in that room and her husband was far away in a boating accident, the woman claims that as she lay there she felt comforting arms enfold her and she knew that her husband was going to be alright—and yet she hadn’t been told of the accident yet.”
I squinted and sneered at Mark as if to say “SEE, I am not crazy, and I do NOT need glasses like you said.”
Needless to say, after breakfast I threw my clothes into my suitcase and high-tailed it out of there –cutting our vacation short by a day. Amanda may have been a nice ghost but it was a little too close for me. At this point in my life ghosts were still a scary prospect –Ametyville Horror style. And again, like The Littlest Angel, a sense of sadness surrounded Amanda –a feeling of loss and an inability to communicate.
I am older now, and no longer afraid of ghosts. The ghosts from my immediate family, my two brothers, dad and mom have never revealed themselves to me. I am always looking for my father and mother to show themselves to me; I would love to see them in a chair by my window, but it seems they have moved on. Maybe that is good, maybe that means they have left nothing unresolved –with me at least. I do often feel their presence when I am frightened or sad, a general feeling of someone watching out for me, which I still believe is what ghosts are supposed to do—keep us safe, like Clarence did for George Bailey.
Recently, it occurred to me that it is the living ghosts in my life that are far more disturbing than the spirits that hang around after death. These living ghosts are the relationships that have ended, loves unrequited, friendships lost over petty differences or misunderstandings or people that I have just let slip away out of laziness. These are the ghosts that lurk just outside the periphery of my vision now. These haunt me more than any dead spirit. These are real human beings and there is often great sadness in their losses. Memories pass through my mind occasionally and I have clear images of times spent laughing with these old friends, or maybe I will see someone out of the corner of my eye as I walk down the street—is that them? No just a similarity. Or maybe it was. But we don’t speak anymore. We can’t communicate – like the littlest angel and his parents—we exist on different plains. I suppose I could wait until we all pass on and hope that there is some great reconciliation that takes place in the after-life. Or I could continue to live with these ghosts as I have for many years. I think instead, I will make a vow to myself in this New Year, this New Decade, that I will attempt to rid myself of these living ghosts. Maybe not all of them, but I can start with a few– I can make a phone-call, send a letter, learn to forgive. Maybe then, with nothing left to resolve, my ghosts can move on.