Letting Go

I believe in ghosts.

Let’s just get that out of the way before I go any further with the story I want to tell today.

I don’t necessarily believe in all kinds of ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night, but I’ve seen and heard too many things that just can’t be explained for me to be a total skeptic. As good ol’ Billy Shakespeare said, “There are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

And with that out of the way, let’s move on with the story.

When The Big Guy and I bought our big old house in the country, we joked about it being haunted, but there was never any reason to treat that as anything more than a joke for about the first four years. Then, something changed. We’d see the curtain flicker in the kids’ bedroom when we pulled up in the driveway, but the house was empty. We’d catch a glimpse of movement in an empty room, as though someone had just moved through it. Lights and appliances would suddenly turn themselves on with no explanation.

Nothing major. Just a few weird moments that gave us all the heebie-jeebies.

One night, I woke up from a strange dream and looked up to see her standing over my husband’s side of the bed. She was young and blonde, with big blue eyes, and she was just so sad. Waves of sadness rolled from her across our bed and hit me so hard that I couldn’t breathe. I wasn’t really afraid yet because I was still half-asleep, but the enormous weight of her deep and lingering sadness felt like it was crushing me. I couldn’t move or call out to my husband.

Then she looked over at me and smiled, and just like that she was gone. I could move — and you’d better believe I moved. Hauled ass out of the bed, down the hall to check on the kids, and back into the bedroom to wake up The Big Guy to see if he had noticed anything.

Of course, he hadn’t.

I dismissed the whole thing as a dream. A realistic and terrifying dream, but a dream nonetheless. Until it happened again.  And again. Over the course of the next few years, I saw her a total of seven times, always so sad at first and then smiling at me from the other side of the bed.

I started asking around town about the people who had lived in our house before us. As it turned out, there was indeed a young woman matching our ghost’s description who had spent a great deal of time there with her uncle. It sounded like she had a good childhood, but her adult life had been pretty rocky.

I’m going to call her Alice here, and I’ll skip a lot of the details that don’t really matter. It’s enough to say that she struggled as a mom and died much too young about four years after we bought the house from her uncle.

When I found a picture of Alice in an old yearbook at the library, I immediately knew that she was our ghost. And looking back, I realized that every one of her appearances in our house coincided with times that were difficult for the kids or me. I saw her shortly after both of my miscarriages; she showed up when my son had a bad case of Strep or when my daughter struggled with a bully at school.

I never actually saw Alice again after I identified her, but her presence lingered in the house. The TV would turn on in the middle of the night, and we’d come downstairs to find all of the lights on. A radio would suddenly blare out a favorite ’80’s song when no one was around to touch the dial. And always, there was that flash of movement, that presence glimpsed out of the corner of the eye.

Little things. Always when the kids or I were struggling with something. It was like she was watching over us.

She became really active after my car accident. Each night, The Big Guy would turn off the TV and the lights, help me up on my walker, and begin guiding me to the bedroom. About half-way there, the TV would come back on and the lights would start flashing, and I’d have to reassure her. “Alice, it’s okay,” I’d say. “I’m all right. I’m just going to bed.”

And she’d stop.

Years later, after my husband and I split, she made it clear that she didn’t approve. The Big Guy would wake up every so often to the sound of the TV blaring and kitchen cabinet doors banging, and nothing he said would calm her down. Every few months, he’d call me up and ask me to drop by to talk to “my friend” as he referred to her.

“Alice, honey,” I’d say, “Everybody’s okay. The kids are doing well, and I’m good. Could you please leave him alone?” And he’d be all right for the next few months.

It’s been a lot of years now since the first time I saw Alice. Our oldest kids are grown and away at college, and the youngest splits his time between his father’s house and mine. And Alice has become just something my ex has to deal with at his house, like a leaking faucet or a loose floorboard.

And then things changed again.

At the hotel where I work, a familiar-looking woman checked in late last night. She seemed stressed and a bit frazzled and overwhelmed. “I’m in town for my youngest niece’s graduation,” she explained. “It’s just really hard for me because her mom– my sister– died a long time ago. I miss her so much.”

She handed over her driver’s license and I gasped when I saw her last name. “Was your sister…Alice?” I asked. Ridiculous question; the woman looked almost exactly like our ghost.

She stared at me, nodding slowly.

“My ex-husband and I bought Floyd’s house,” I told her.

“She always loved it there. She adored Uncle Floyd. She was always his favorite,” Alice’s sister told me.

I told her everything then. How Alice watched over my kids and me over the years. How she had seemed to emanate sadness at first, but later became more mischievous and even peaceful in her own way.  I worried that I might offend her, that she might feel that I was disrespecting her sister’s memory, but she squeezed my hand and thanked me for letting her know that Alice had been at peace with a family to watch over.

I cried all the way home from work last night. For Alice, for her children, for her sister. For all of the moments, good and bad, that both Alice and I have been through in a house that no longer belongs to either one of us.

I feel like I’ve lost someone.

Because I don’t think we’ll hear from her any more. I’m going to pay a visit to my ex-husband’s house today, and I plan on telling Alice that I met her sister. I’ll tell her that her kids have all grown up just fine and they’ve finished school. I’ll thank her for watching over my kids and me all these years. And then I’m going to tell her that she was a good mom, and it’s okay to let go now.

Because I understand how hard it is to let go and move on.

Rest in peace, Alice. You deserve it.

 

 

Wagon Boss

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It hangs on my living room wall because I am the only one in the family who couldn’t say no.  It hangs there and it mocks me, and I hate it.

“It” is a Charles Russell painting.  Or to be more accurate, among my family members it is the Charles Russell original.

According to family legend, it was my Grandmother’s prized possession.  I don’t remember Grandma Hyde, but I remember the stories of that painting.  How Grandma fell in love with it on a visit to the Charles Russell Museum, how the family all chipped in together to “invest” in it for her, how it would someday be a great inheritance for my sisters and me.  Every time we heard the story again, we nodded and promised to cherish it forever.

We gave our word.

Later, our inheritance was expanded to include figurines from Gorham, Grossman and others.  The aunts’ house became crowded with curio cabinets stuffed to overflowing with Norman Rockwells, Hummels, Lladros, Andreas, and Swarovskis.  Chubby pink-cheeked children in lederhosen peered out from behind graceful nuns in soft pastels; a cheerful cardinal sat on a porcelain tree branch beside a scene of small-town Americana.

There are Hallmark stores with fewer figurines than my aunts had in their home.  Aunt Marian also dabbled in Precious Moments, Fannie-kins, Snowbabies, and Royal Doultons.   She hung collectable plates from the Danbury Mint and Bradford Exchange and spoke of every new addition in a hushed voice, reminding us that these treasures would all be ours someday.

Someday came, and my sisters and I were left with a collection of useless tshotskes for which there is no resale market.

I sold some on Ebay. Traded some on Listia.  We set up a display in the back of the church at Aunt Marian’s memorial service and invited her friends to take one with them to help remember her.  And still, I have hundreds of figurines boxed up in the back of my closets.  Thousands of dollars’ worth of useless figurines that mean nothing to me.

And then there’s the painting.

It’s called “The Wagon Boss.”  My sister and her husband put on white gloves, wrapped it in a sheet, and took it to an expert to find out just how much it is worth, only to discover that the cherished Charles Russell “original” is a poster.  A beautiful poster, carefully mounted and framed, but a poster.

The fifty year-old frame has more value as an antique.

And there it hangs.

On my living room wall.

I hate it.

It is dark and dreary and it makes me sad.  I don’t want it, but I can’t seem to let it go.  When I think of dropping it off at the GoodWill, my heart aches. I get teary-eyed at the thought of it ending up in a Dumpster somewhere.  It has value.  It must have value to someone, somewhere.

I can’t just let go of something that I promised to love forever . . . can I?

I gave my word.

A promise is supposed to be forever.  I made a promise, gave my word, made a vow.  Going back on my word means I was wrong.  Gullible.  That I was fooled into seeing value in something utterly worthless. That I believed in a lie told by someone I shouldn’t have trusted.

Kind of like when I said my wedding vows.

I am fool.  A gullible, divorced fool surrounded by boxes of Norman Rockwell figurines and a dusty old Charles Russell poster, and nothing else.