I was alone in the house after school, sitting in the vortex watching Guiding Light and eating a bowl of Lucky Charms, when I heard noises coming from the garage.
This wasn't a mysterious tapping or a distant ka-chink-ka-chink -- it wasn't a ghostly racket -- it was physical; it was loud enough to make me drop my spoon with a clatter and splatter milk on my face. I made one of those involuntary, nonverbal, animal sounds where your first conscious thought beyond surprise is embarrassed relief that no one heard it come out of you. A cross between the yelp and the moan that a fitful sleeper utters in an attempt to cry out in a bad dream.
The White Cat had not yet made its appearance; therefore, the vortex was not activated. I wasn't nearly as afraid of ghost activity as I was of a home invasion. In that moment I was merely a latch key kid about to surprise a potential burglar. (An all-too-real -- completely un-supernatural -- experience that had happened before.)
The year we moved into the Green House was when my mother "went back to work" after years of being a stay-at-home mom. My brother was in kindergarten and an after-school day care where Mama would pick him up on her way home; I was old enough to ride the bus, let myself in with a key hidden behind a gutter, and occupy myself for an hour or two with light chores like unloading the dishwasher or watching television.
I Indian-walked to the bottom of the stairs to investigate the noises in the garage. Now, at this point, most narrators would simply say "I crept to the foot of the stairs" and be done with it -- but how often do you use the word "crept" really? When do you really say "I crept to the foot of the stairs" except if you're trying to sound like a bedtime- ghost- storyteller? The action -- the way that I moved -- was much more complicated, specific, and conscious than a creep in past tense. I moved like an Indian, in a manner we practiced out in the Trails all the time -- on the balls of the feet, preferably barefoot or in soft-soled moccasins, knees bent in a half-crouch, shifting your weight in slow motion from one foot to another, so that you can avoid snapping twigs or scuffing dirt or kicking gravel -- the goal is to creep up on an enemy in total silence.
So, I Indian-walked down the stairs to squat in the same position and spot where I knew myself to have previously sleepwalked. I was aware that I occupied an uncomfortable proximity to the dark room with its creepy crawl-space and mysterious skeleton key, to the den with its carpet-eating monster and the single-fanged ghost biter by the sliding-glass door... and now there was Someone in the garage dragging around my Daddy's tool boxes.
A very real Someone; a thief.
Here is an opportunity for me to insert another of the admittedly forced half-assed grammar lessons which seem to want to serve as some kind of stylistic theme running through this series of posts. A simile is a specific kind of metaphor where you use the word like. The noise I heard in the garage was not like the sound of heavy metal tool boxes being dragged across a concrete floor; it was that sound, quite literally and without question. No simile or metaphor required.
My bedroom was above the garage, and I recognized the gritty slither of the tool boxes sliding across concrete. Daddy often referred to the irreplaceable material investment these tool boxes housed -- he would not leave them at job sites or in the bed of his truck, but would load and unload them daily, depending on which ones he needed. They were enormous, three- or four-foot long red metal caskets, weighing hundreds of pounds each. A grown man could not lift and carry them on his own. Each morning while I was still in bed, just waking up, I would hear (and feel) the garage door roll up beneath me, the coughing purr of the truck engine backed up close to the house, the dented squeak of the tail gate letting down, and then that scratchy heavy metal sliding across smooth cement as he pushed the tool boxes one at a time, stood them up on their ends and let them fall into the truck bed, partially assisted by their own weight.
Maybe my Dad had come home early and the noises came from his familiar routine. But I hesitated, unable to throw open the door, because the dragging tool boxes were not accompanied by the sounds of the truck or the garage door rattling up along the ceiling. Maybe I just could not have heard the full sequence of events watching TV on the other end of the house.
I ran back up to my room to look out the window, expecting to find the white truck, expecting to feel foolish but relieved.
There was no vehicle in the driveway.
It was one of those moments when the brain trips, unable to justify or connect the reality of the data it's receiving with the explanation it has chosen only seconds before -- here's a simile: like when you go to drink a glass of what you know to be water and there's that half-beat of confusion when you realize you've swallowed a mouthful of Coke.
The noises in the garage had suddenly stopped. I froze, listening, realizing I had forgotten my stealth and I was directly above the intruder -- only inches of creaking floorboards separating my un-Indian footsteps from his head.
As I listened I felt him listening back.
Beyond the ringing in my ears was the manic opening music of cartoons coming from the TV that had been on all along, that anyone in the house could hear.
I had to get to the phone.
There was the White Cat, scrambling to get out of my bedroom doorway. As I passed my parents' room I heard that sotto voce -- that loud stage whisper -- "Don't look in there!" (That voice never felt like a warning intended to protect me; it was a hateful, annoyed, put out, snappish command -- it was protecting itself.)
I held my hands up to hide my face in a posture of compliance and ran to the kitchen. My mother's number at work was posted by the almond phone, on an index card that lined up with the stripes and clusters of the mushroom images on the wallpaper.
The kitchen door was at the top of the main stairs, and in those pre-cordless days I was dangerously tethered to a relatively fixed position. As I waited through the dial tones, I stretched the cord as far as it would go to look and listen for activity coming from below.
When Mama answered I walked back deep into the kitchen and turned my back on the stairs, trying not to speak too loudly.
"There's someone in the house!" I tried to explain while whispering and not crying. (A memory like this -- can you imagine? your child calling you at work hysterical about an imminent home invasion? -- makes me aware of at least two things: 1) that my mother has nerves of steel; and 2) just how completely fragile and psychologically unfit for parenthood I am by comparison.)
As quickly and quietly as possible, I told Mama about the tool boxes in the garage, and she told me to stay calm, that she was going to have to hang up and call someone, to send someone over to me. I panicked that she couldn't stay on the phone with me, but the sound of the door leading from the garage into the house opening and shutting made staying in the kitchen to greet the invader coming up the stairs an impossible prospect. There wasn't a locked door knob jiggling; there wasn't any forced entry -- someone had simply opened the door, slammed it shut, and there were heavy footsteps already on the stairs.
"They're in the house! They're coming up here!"
The last thing Mama said to me was "Hang up and HIDE!"
One more second and I'd be face-to-face with the intruder, as he rounded the split-level landing. Even as I ran back down the hall I could feel his eyes on the spot where I'd just been standing. I should have gone the other way, through the kitchen and out onto the deck, outside the house entirely, because in the moment I headed for the bedrooms I was blocked from leaving without a direct encounter.
With no other top level exit available, my impulse was to flee to the greatest distance that the floor plan allowed -- through my parents' bedroom and into the master bath. I saw a flash of that old man on the bed, and the German Shepherd on the floor, watching me dash past them with surprised expressions on their faces.
I shut and locked the bathroom door and got into the tub. I suffered the rain-stick racket of the ball bearings in the frosted glass door giving away my choice of hiding place as I slid it open; I didn't want to take a chance repeating the noise, so I didn't close it behind me. I laid down flat in the tub, hoping that if someone opened the door, maybe the room would at least look empty on first glance. (Much about my decisions was pitifully lacking in planning... I beg you to consider the circumstances.)
Except for the soft echo of my breath off the tiles, the house was silent. I peeked over the edge of the tub, expecting at any moment to see the door knob shift as someone tried it and found it locked. There was a strip of light in the gap along the threshold between the carpet edge and the bottom of the door.
As I watched, a section of that strip darkened. A slice of shadow moved from side to side. I heard the most subtle thing -- audible evidence so faint it must have been supplemented by vision: the sound that carpet makes when someone shifts their weight from one foot to another.
Someone was standing outside the door, listening for me.
The front door bell went off in rapid succession, machine-gun fire of ding-ding-ding-ding-ding and then an alternate frantic hammering knock. I could hear an unrecognizable man's voice yelling my name, muffled by all the doors and walls between us.
The slice of shadow slid along the gap at the carpet's edge and disappeared.
When I worked up the courage to come out and go to the front door and look through the peephole, I saw a frazzled and desperate looking man on the front stoop, barefoot, in disheveled pajamas, bed-head hair standing out in mad spikes, wielding a claw hammer.
He was a neighborhood Dad from across the street, one who worked third-shift and slept during the day. Mama had sent him to rescue me, and he was barely even awake yet when I let him in. I followed him through the house as he checked under beds and opened all the closets, eventually making his way to the garage.
He kept muttering "There's nobody here" and glancing back at me with restrained annoyance. I felt an increasing sense of embarrassment and shame -- especially when I saw the big red toolbox in the garage, perfectly aligned with its assigned corner.
When Mama's burgundy Monte Carlo finally careened into the driveway and screeched to a halt, I was most grateful to let her take over apologizing for me. I overheard my active imagination referenced more than once -- a character flaw I'm still working hard to justify to the world, three decades later.
Flashforward to 2003
My brother and I are living together again in another haunted house in another city, this time as grown men.
Soon after moving in to the house on Daniel in the Kirkwood section of Atlanta, I noticed the frequent paranormal activity, more than I normally experience. It even crossed my mind (a potential theory?) that somehow the combination or synergy of our energies, together, worked as some kind of "magnet." (In high school, my friend Catherine and I had light bulbs constantly blowing out in our combined presence.) I didn't mention the phenomena to my brother -- although I have long suspected that he is one of the most sensitive empaths I've ever known, the subject is extremely uncomfortable to him. He does not like to talk about it; he avoids it out of a sense of self-protection.
One morning, after my brother's girlfriend had spent the night, I discovered them talking about the activity that had woken them up. She was excited by it, eager to tell me about what they'd experienced. Maybe her attitude was infectious, or he picked up on an opportunity to impress her, but I was shocked when my brother very bluntly declared "We lived in a haunted house for a while when we were kids."
"The Green House," I said.
I had never heard him speak of it. Until that moment, over twenty years later, I wasn't even sure that he consciously remembered. Beyond remembering and acknowledging that he remembered, he recalled details that I had forgotten, and it some cases seemed to have picked up on even more than I did.
"There was a man that died in that house," he said. "Remember, a man with a dog?"
It had never occurred to me before he said it, but the second it came out of his mouth, I knew it was true.
I jumped at the opportunity (one I thought I'd never have) to compare notes with him, having believed I would always be alone in my memories and impressions. "Wait, before you say anything else..." I grabbed two empty yellow legal pads from the office, a couple of pens, and he agreed to an exercise.
I told him to list every detail of what he remembered about the man who died in that house. I did the same, prompting us both from time to time with specific questions, like "How old was he? Where did you see him? What was he wearing? What kind of dog was it?" etc.
When we both finally stopped writing and couldn't think of anything further, I gave both pads to his girlfriend and asked her to compare them. "You'll just have to trust me that we have never talked about this until this day."
The details were all there, identical -- everything that I've related in this series of posts; indeed much of what I've been able to reconstruct came from my brother's recollection. Even our subjective impressions coincided, like what the man in the bedroom with the German Shepherd might have died from (we both wrote that "he couldn't breathe").
The End of Shift Your Spirits?
See, the motivation for asking you to indulge me in these memories is not so much the haunting in the Green House of my childhood, but a series of events that began while living with my brother in 2003. As Shift Your Spirits approaches its four year anniversary, I've been considering how this blog, this recent period in my life, might be "resolved." Does it continue indefinitely, or do I allow it to end? And if I'm going to end it, what do I have left to share about how I became an intuitive?
Much of what has been left unpublished is about how and why Shift Your Spirits began -- the turning point in my life that occurred over a span between 2003 and 2006, when I launched this blog. Living with my brother and remembering the Green House together -- acknowledging it for the first time -- marks the Psychic Closet Doors beginning to creak open. This is when my guides "became loud," when I could no longer repress the messages I was receiving, when I was presented with an ultimatum from Spirit to use this part of my life, and when I began to informally perform my earliest readings.
What's "missing" from Shift Your Spirits are these prologues -- circles within circles of "plot" that "go together" because hindsight allows the pieces to form a bigger picture. Living with my brother again in 2003 brings us back to the significant time in my life immediately following my encounters with Jesse and other stranger angels.
Memoir is not the same as autobiography -- memoirs are non-linear; they are the fragments strung together by your life viewed through a topical filter. They are the moments in your life that come together by association, that end up side by side, even over great leaps of time and place.
What are ghosts if not the memories we carry? Hauntings are the echoes held in place by -- or bouncing around within -- the spaces that they occupy. Psychic events, so emotionally charged, that they transcend time.
The Next Chapter in The Paranormal Memoirs is here.