My friend Sandy says that in Guyanese folklore, spirits are attracted to clean places. If you think you have a spirit in your home, it’s recommended to wipe the walls with a brush of toilet water. That ought to clear your place right up.
My boyfriend orders me to swear the spirit away. “But don’t think about It,” he warns, “because your thoughts feed It.”
Mike, a coworker, put on an all-knowing voice and said, “it is possible that you have a ghost. It’s more likely that you have a homeless lady living in your cabinets, eating your food.” According to him, that happened somewhere in Japan.
“Is there no scientific explanation?” Alex, another coworker, inquired.
I knew I sounded nuttier than usual when I summarized how I was kicked out of my apartment by unseeable forces. It didn’t help that I was ranting on a park bench. “Things are ‘scientific’ until proven not.” Lauren shrugged. “The earth was flat until it wasn’t. The sun revolved around the earth until it didn’t. Just because there’s no ‘scientific proof’ right now doesn’t make spirits unreal.”
It started, like most bad stories, with a bang. I shot straight out of my sleep and said “HOLY SHIT” before I even realized what had happened. What had happened was that the window had fallen on my boyfriend’s head. Frame and all. Came crashing down on Ulises' fucking face in the middle of his sleep.
That could have been blamed on a faulty window and the wind. But it was weird. Our apartment has one of those New York windows that faces another brick wall. I can't imagine much wind gets in.
We called the building super. He stood there scratching his head. After popping the window back into the wall and ordering the missing part, he recommended Ulises get checked out at the hospital. The window had hit him on the upper cheek an inch from his temple. I remembered “Talk and Die Syndrome” and began freaking out. The name says it all.
Ulises was bruised but fine. We were feeling refreshed about making the most of life. Who knows if a window will hit you in your sleep, and it'll all be over? We went to the park and climbed trees.
Two days later, the repairman came with the part for the window. We had him look at the second window, the one by the fire escape. Ulises is obsessed with keeping that window down. Less because intruders can break in and more because a stray cat entered our apartment once. I don't know how that cat got up to the fourth-floor fire escape, but it did. I love cats even though my boyfriend would rather not have felines around. The point is, Ulises keeps that window closed.
The Repair Guy didn’t take long. It was before 10 and we wanted to sleep until noon. After all, sleep is free, easy and usually fun. Soon, I was dreaming about playing with the cats that came through the window.
Mid-dream, Ulises and I were awakened at the same time by a sound. Whatever it was, it came from the fire escape window. We jolted up and saw that the window was open.
“Babe. I swear that window was closed,” Ulises said.
“Nah. It was probably open before. You were half asleep and probably didn't notice,” I suggested, trying to pretend the noise that woke us up didn't sound exactly like the window being hoisted open. The dream I was having, its connection to that precise location, was clearly just a coincidence as well.
A few days later, I was riding the E train home after work. I got a seat and started reading. I was oblivious to the other passengers until the lady sitting next to me said, “Excuse me, can I tell you something?”
“Yeah, what's up?” I asked her, expecting her to say something like “your dress rode up and I can see your underwear.” She seemed nice and normal — blonde, thin, fashionable.
“You're very strong, even though you often don't feel like it.” she said, which is a nice thing to say to a stranger, albeit intense. “There's a very strong spirt about you,” she continued, and I got chills. I was unsure if she meant I have this spirit in me, or if a “spirit” is in my life. My mind raced back to the Window Thing. I wish I had asked.
The woman finished up by saying, “I feel like God is trying to make up for injustices that have happened to you.”
My only thought at the moment was: OK, a religious thing. I smiled politely and said, “Thank you. That was very nice of you to say.”
When I got home, I told Ulises about my encounter with the woman on the train.
“Crazy things always happen to you when I'm not around,” he said. I agreed and went to grab a snack.
I was eating at the kitchen table when I heard the sound of falling water. It was rainy that day, so I chalked it up to the weather. I ate my cereal and thought about how much I used to love the sound of rain.
A couple minutes later, Ulises walked to the bathroom and said, “You left the hot water on again.”
It wasn't the first time Ulises had caught the hot water running and told me about it. The other few times I figured I was in a hurry. I was raised in a house where my mom would constantly remind us that “water's more precious than oil!” She would go so far as to regularly shut off the faucet, leaving us standing there, still soapy-handed. Water is something I'm very conscious of. It's ingrained in me to notice when the sink is not shut.
But this time, I know I had turned it off.
Not only that, but I had heard it start.
Neither of us had turned on the water, and yet the hot water handle was switched on high.
“I'm getting holy water in the morning,” Ulises said.
Appetite ruined, I tossed out the rest of my cereal.
I began to be scared to be alone in the apartment. The next night I waited for Ulises at his bar so we could go home together. We sprinkled the holy water in each room, chanting “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” because we didn't know what else to say.
I've never been religious. All my life I was fine that way. Now all of a sudden I was scared. The things that were happening couldn't be explained. Plus it was all occurring in a matter of days. It was a lot of weird at once.
Ulises said he felt better after using the holy water. I was still experiencing a heart-racing feeling. Whatever It was, It was very attached to our apartment. I'd be fine at work, at the gym, wherever, but as soon as I was heading home I started feeling insanely frightened. I know Ulises did, too. He denied it, though it was obvious he was avoiding staying at the apartment alone.
That night or the next night, I had this dream. It wasn't like a nightmare or anything, but it stuck out for its strangeness. My boyfriend and I were in our bed. It was a dream bedroom, not our actual one, warped and different but still somehow our room. At the end of it, a little balding man threw a sweatshirt onto the foot of our bed.
That was it.
I woke up thinking, “Weird, at least it wasn't a nightmare.” I stood up to go to the bathroom but stopped when I noticed that the pillow we keep on our couch was at the foot of the bed.
“Was that there all night?” I asked Ulises, pointing to the pillow.
“Yeah,” he said without looking up. “You probably didn’t see it because you took your contacts out.”
I was relieved. I started making breakfast when Ulises came into the kitchen.
“Babe,” he said. “I'm calling a priest.”
“What, why?” I asked, starting to feel panicky.
“I lied to you so you wouldn't freak out. When I woke up last night to go to the bathroom that pillow was on the floor. I didn't pick it up.”
I told him about the dream. He asked me to describe the man. Apparently he saw an identical guy in his dream the night before, when he had a warped dream about being at work.
I told a colleague and she said something similar happened to her friend. Her grandmother had died in a bad way, and strange things were happening in their house. I asked her what kind of things.
“Pennies flying and stuff,” she said.
If she had told me a month earlier I would have laughed. I wasn’t in a place to laugh anymore.
I don't think I'd ever seen a priest’s shoes before. Father Anthony had on these black gothy work boots. He sat down on my purple furry ottoman and lit my Peach Mimosa Bath & Body Works candle. He read the part of the Bible where it says “lucky is the man who fears The Lord.” He blessed Ulises and me with holy water and drew a cross on our foreheads with his thumb. On his way out, he made sure to tell us we were living in sin, since we’re living together and not married. Essentially, we couldn’t be surprised if a demon came to a place where people were living in sin. We nodded.
We’ll never know if blessing the apartment changed anything. All day after the priest left, I caught myself struggling to convince my brain that everything was fine. Having a priest bless your home has elements of an exorcism. We were exorcised, right?
“Let goodness surround us. Let goodness surround us. Letgoodnesssurroundus,” I chanted, hoping the positive energy would reassure me. Still, the words of my friend Celia wouldn’t shut up in my head. “Sometimes when you bring in religion you scare the spirit away, and sometimes you piss the spirit off,” she had said offhandedly. Her knowledge, like mine, mostly came from movies, but I didn’t want to stick around to see if life imitates B-list films.
Back in the apartment that night, Ulises seemed relieved, but I had a breakdown. I couldn't be in the apartment anymore. Not every exorcism is successful on the first try. I could feel It there, even after the priest. For the first time in our year together, I started crying in front of my boyfriend. I told Ulises that this is how it starts in the movies. My one question for the characters in those movies has always been: WHY DON’T YOU LEAVE? So why didn’t we leave a place we didn’t feel safe in? I had savings in the bank, and what the fuck are savings for if you don't use them to escape a haunted apartment?
“Let’s go for a walk,” Ulises said.
I had never held a rosary before, yet there I was, walking down the streets of Queens wearing one as a necklace. A few minutes later, we ended up at St. Joan of Arc Parish. A young pastor in a suit, also named Anthony, came to speak to us. He spoke some English but not well. Ulises needed to tell him our story in Spanish, which was just as well, since I was too busy choking over my tears to talk.
Pastor Anthony’s response was that he believed our experiences were God’s way of trying to reach us.
“Why would God try to reach us like this?” Ulises asked.
“I guess I wouldn’t be able to believe in God unless I was scared into it,” I said, my voice cracking.
“Maybe God wants you to be a great woman,” Pastor Anthony said to me. I wasn’t so sure about that, but sitting in the safety of a religious establishment calmed me down enough.
Outside, it was getting dark. Ulises asked if I wanted to see Father Anthony again, the priest who had blessed our house, so I could express myself better. I said yeah, even though I doubted it was any use. We met with him in a small room with a couch, a table with the Good News Bible, and an old-fashioned drop-down desk. I stared at the religious paintings on the wall. I used to be put off by devout images with their use of gold trim on everything. What I had once felt was old-timey and corny was now a soothing and good sight. The father asked what was going on and we explained in detail.
“Well, leave the house!” he said. He told us he believes that once a home is blessed, the spirits leave. If you feel like they haven’t left, you have to say “In the name of Lord Jesus Christ, I command you, stay away Satan!” I thought back to my coworker Ryan making fun of me. “The power of Christ compels you!” Ryan had repeated himself, cracking up over and over after. Before we left, Father Anthony gave us a Bible, told us to call if we needed anything, invited us to mass, and said that he would continue to pray for us.
“Feel better?” Ulises asked on the walk home.
I did, but my mind was made up. I wasn’t going to stay in the apartment anymore.
“It’s been blessed,” Ulises reasoned.
“It’s too fucking weird.” I said. “All of it is so messed up. And what’s even weirder, what’s even worse, is the address.” The address to the place is not 666 or something with the number 13 in it, like you’re probably rolling your eyes about. It’s the innocent combination of numbers 37-41. What’s so special about the numbers 3741? you might ask. Nothing, except those are the last four digits of my phone number.
When we had moved in a few months ago and realized the coincidence, I joked that it was a sign. “The devil’s luck!” my best friend Albert had said. His choice of words seemed too real to deal with.
Ulises was silent for awhile. Then he called call his dad, asking if he could come quick.
We left the apartment that night.
After a month of nothing but nightmares, I consulted a certified practitioner in energy work who is trained in Access Consciousness. The practitioner, let’s call him Edward, graciously volunteered free counseling via chat, but asked to remain unnamed for publication purposes. For readers interested in in-depth information on his practice, Edward cites the work of Doreen Virtue.
Edward says you must “declare that you only allow helpful beings who are for good and light into your space.” The declaration is imperative. Whether or not you are religious, in times like these it can’t hurt to pray. People can call the archangels to invoke their help and protection. Edward described doing so as an “invitation of free will,” a suggestion that threw me off. Free will is so much the opposite of what atheists assume spirituality involves. The lack of free will is one of the many existential reasons I have been resistant to religion.
Edward's advice goes on. Invite good things only and that’s what you’ll get. A spirit can’t stay if you say go. Edward says there’s a theory that “bad spirits are nothing but humans who’ve died and are scared to progress and evolve. They are stuck in fear and thus we feel their fear and they are attracted to it.” The important thing to keep in mind is that they can’t hurt you.
“We control our reality” says Edward, and he’s right. The tricky part is, spirits don’t exactly fit into a tangible reality. Most people won’t knowingly encounter one. That sound from the walls is probably a rodent problem. But fuck it. I believe in spirits now just as strongly as I think I have free will.
Out for drinks one night, my friend Theresa concluded that it’s unusual that the spirit came to us, since spirits usually only come to people who believe in them. Funny how circular the belief of spirits is in that theory. Natasha talked about how when she was little, she lived in her grandmother’s house. After her grandma passed away, the dog would stare at the wall to her room in a trance, wagging its tail. Animals are attuned to spirits, or so people say.
Sharing the latest updates with Alex at work, she states that she’s the most heathen person she knows. All her life she’s been waiting for something like this to happen to her, wanted anything to happen, but after hearing my experience she’s not so sure.
John, another coworker, jumps into our conversation. “The human brain is very, very powerful,” he says, admitting that he doesn’t believe in God or ghosts. “But,” he says, “I believe in other people’s experiences.” He asks me to repeat the story to him so he can hear it in full. After I tell him about my haunted address and phone number correlation, he smirks. “Have you thought about playing the lotto with those numbers?”