SUNDAY, AUGUST 19, 2012The Thing That Lives in My GarageWill saw a ghost when we were in Savannah.
This wasn't exactly unexpected; that's what was supposed to happen. We were on the after-hours ghost tour that took us through a humid, mosquito-infested Savannah. Approximately a dozen times I was sure someone had just tapped me on the shoulder, and I whirled around to find it was only a long string of Spanish moss.
Our group was composed of us ("All the way from California!"), a few other couples who seemed to have stumbled upon the tour, and a small horde of teenagers who shrieked loudly every other minute, much to my dismay. The experience was unnerving enough without someone hissing "Got you!" and then collapsing into peals of laughter.
Near the end of our tour, we approached "the most haunted house in Savannah" (said our guide in his spooky whisper). "This was the only time an exorcism was ever performed on a house."
No problem. By this time we were jaded to the stories of Savannah's long-dead: the murder-suicides, the mysterious tumbles down flights of stairs, the little girl with pneumonia. We snapped a few pictures with our iPhones and moved along.
At our next stop, Will reviewed his pictures. Suddenly, he grabbed my arm. A note of panic edging into his voice, he demanded, "What is THAT?"
* * *
We took a closer look at his photo later, when we were back in our B&B. On Will's laptop, zoomed in to the picture, there was clearly... something. A strange, dark, Casper-the-ghost looking shadow was clearly visible on the shutter of an upstairs window, although it wasn't visible in his other pictures or in mine.
"Wow," I said, scratching a mosquito bite on my leg. I would later come to discover that, although I was wearing pants at the time, I had forty-two mosquito bites on my legs. Talk about mysteries of the unexplained. "Are you going to eat that last cookie?"
"I can't believe it," Will said, his face an inch from the monitor. "That's just horrifying. What is it? Where did it come from?"
Sensing from the rising hysteria in his voice that this might be a very, very long night, I suggested we sleep on it.
"But how can we sleep knowing this thing is here?"
It's not here, I pointed out. It's approximately seventeen blocks away, haunting the people at that house. It's there.
Will looked at me in awe, as if not sure where this bravery had come from.
* * *
When we returned from the South, just about everyone we talked to had a ghost story. Mom woke up in the middle of the night to find the television on downstairs. In her old house, B heard people walking around upstairs when everyone else was gone. S wasn't sure if it was a ghost, but suddenly her oven, set at 350, shot up to a thousand degrees, locked itself, and roasted her Jewish Apple Coffee Cake. When talk turned to the old farmhouse, B remembered another ghost: our ancestor Adelheid, who was sometimes seen wandering the upstairs rooms.
Will was insistent. "But do you see this ghost?" he asked, holding his phone dangerously close to their retinas.
Sure, everyone agreed. But no one seemed too concerned.
That ghost was, after all, thousands of miles away.
* * *
A week ago, I was on hold with an Internet security company, which had accidentally charged me twice for the same service. Although the wait was long, I was determined not to give up and try again later. Sprawled out on the couch, eyes closed, elevator music wafting from my phone, I heard a sound from the garage. Now, I'm scared in general of our garage, due to poor lighting and landscaping implements that cast long shadows. A few years ago, to remind myself, I posted a sign on the door: "Enter at your own risk, and never after dark."
But this was a very recognizable sound. It was the washing machine, which had just started a load.
"Hello?" I called through the door leading from our kitchen to the garage. "Is someone out there?"
Nothing; only running water. Armed with a fairly dull chef knife in one hand (but still, stupidly, clutching my phone in the other), I swung open the door. As I saw it, there were two possibilities: someone had broken into my garage to do laundry, or I had a ghost. No one was there, but the washer was humming merrily along, water sloshing around in its empty drum.
A ghost, then.
I locked the door carefully behind me, returned the knife to the rack, and began to consider my options.
Where have I been?
Living -- and enjoying every minute of it.
It's funny, but I woke up this morning and realized that I've turned some kind of corner. What I realized is, I've been so anxious and tense for so long that I haven't been able to enjoy life. I was seeing my day as one long checklist of things to do, and taking no enjoyment in doing any of the tasks.
Of course, I was also accomplishing this massive to-do list at a breakneck pace, which simply couldn't be sustained. The crash was coming -- and hit hard.
When school -- both my day job and my night job -- ended the last week of May, I was really too stunned to enjoy it. I didn't have as much to do but I did it anxiously. Walked the dog anxiously, read anxiously, pounded the treadmill anxiously, folded the laundry anxiously. On the rare occasions when I saw friends, I coudn't even sit still. My mind raced. Every 20 seconds or so, I took out my phone and added another item to my to-do list.
In the last two weeks, I've rediscovered relaxation. I've indulged in daily naps. I've read a dozen books, picking up whatever interests me at that exact moment. I've spent ten, fifteen minutes at a time doing nothing but petting Baxter and listening to him groan with happiness.
Yesterday morning I sat on our back patio with a glass of iced tea and listened to the sounds of the neighborhood, grinning like a fool. Last night, six of us sat around the same table, draining three bottles of wine and telling fantastic stories, ranging from squid sperm to Stephen King to our favorite series finale episodes. (The new me is even willing to forgive the others for not agreeing that it's absolutely, hands down, the last episode of M*A*S*H.) Meanwhile, Baxter dragged water bottles from the recycling and crunched them in the yard.
At some point it occurred to me that life was pretty much perfect.
This morning, once my wine-induced haze faded, I knew I just needed to enjoy it.
Paula Treick DeBoard